At the end of our Satara Summer, on the way to the Kruger National Park’s Orpen Gate from where we were to head back home to Pretoria, we were lucky to see a lone Cheetah resting in the shade of a small thorn tree. Having stopped for a last photo or two, it was Marilize who noticed a Spotted Hyena heading straight towards the Cheetah. Knowing just how hateful the relationship between Africa’s large predators are, we were sure we were probably going to witness a tremendous fight when the two meat-eaters meet, especially when the Cheetah noticed the Hyena, snarled at it viciously, and got up to defend its turf. But turns out this Hyena was not a fighter; he walked straight past the Cheetah as if it wasn’t even there, and not paying the cheetah’s tantrum any attention whatsoever. It was rather amusing seeing the Cheetah standing by himself, looking decidedly confused, as the Hyena disappeared from view…
White Lions are exceedingly rare and especially so in the wild. Several zoos, “safari parks” and circuses around the world house White Lions, but these are often horribly inbred. These lions are not albinos, instead being the result of a mating between two lions carrying a recessive gene for white (leucistic) fur instead of the usual tawny colouration. Naturally White Lions are only ever found, from time to time, in South Africa’s Lowveld, where the Kruger National Park and a few renowned private nature reserves are situated. As far as wild White Lions are concerned, at present, there are known to be two young white cubs in the same pride that roam around Orpen in western Kruger and the adjacent Timbavati reserve, and a single young male born to a pride near Satara and fairly wide-roaming since he and his brothers were ejected from their natal pride.
It is this latter individual that we came across on the 3rd of January 2020, the final full day of our Satara Summer. Having fairly often visited the Kruger National Park my entire life, it was always my, hitherto unfulfilled, wish to see a truly WILD White Lion, so you will appreciate just how excited we were at this opportunity! It was an exceedingly hot day, and on hot days lions are seldom very active. So we sat for hours in our vehicle in the blazing sun, waiting, hoping, that he might get up, and move around just a little, so that we can get more than just a glimpse. He obliged, for a minute or two only, to move from the large tree where he was lying with his three brothers to a smaller shrub a few meters away. That was it. He didn’t move again until we had to leave to get back to camp before the gates closed. But we were thrilled and grateful for the chance to see such an enigmatic animal.
The 2nd of January 2020, almost at the end of our Satara Summer, delivered one of the most memorable sightings of the month we spent in the Kruger National Park. About half-way between Satara and Olifants we came across this pair of Leopards, and did they put on a show to remember! Trust us; seeing Leopards like THIS happens only very rarely…
While driving slowly back to Satara Rest Camp along the S100 one evening, we came across a mixed group of Impalas and Baboons peacefully whiling away the final minutes of sunlight at Shibotwana waterhole. It is then that we noticed a Black-backed Jackal moving through the group, obviously looking for an easy meal. The Jackal spied a young Baboon and gave it a little more attention than the Baboon wanted; it shrieked and set off running towards its mother and then things took a very quick turn for the worse for the Jackal, who managed to escape a serious hiding by the skin of his teeth!
One of the most touching sightings of our recent Satara Summer in the Kruger National Park was of an elephant bull trapped in a shallow pan (waterhole) and unable to get out. Just how the bull ended up in this predicament was unclear as we arrived on the scene too late to know – perhaps it was simply something as benign as taking a mud bath gone wrong, or perhaps something as violent as a debilitating blow received in a fight for dominance. However it may have occurred, we spent several hours in the exceptional heat wishing him on every time he tried lifting his massive bulk out of the mud, watching with lumps in our throats as other elephant bulls, obviously distressed, tried to help and failed, how they had to give up on their valiant attempts, extending trunks towards their comrade as if in a final greeting. Eventually the hopelessness of his situation became too much to bear for us too and with every pause in his feeble movements we hoped that he has finally breathed his last, only to see the tip of his trunk being raised limply above the waterline once again, over and over. Why won’t he just let go..?
Dusk settled over the plains and we had to leave to get back to Satara in the knowledge that he was unlikely to see the sun rise tomorrow. Difficult as it was to watch, we realise that tragedies like this have played out in the wilderness for millennia, nature taking its course without human interference, as it should and will continue to do in places like the Kruger National Park, and whether we were there to witness it or not made no difference to the outcome.
One of the most exciting sightings (and we had many!) of our Satara Summer was this epic battle between two big Kudu bulls, encountered near the Kruger National Park‘s Nhlanguleni picnic site. At times the fight was so heated that we were sure one of them was going to break the other’s neck or stab a hole straight through his adversary. After several minutes the fight ended abruptly when they found themselves in thicker vegetation and one of the combatants threw in the towel.
While out driving one rainy afternoon near Satara in the Kruger National Park, we came upon a lonely and obviously terrified lion cub, running in the road and trying to hide in roadside bushes, all the while calling for his pride. We were still feeling sorry for the little one when suddenly his demeanor changed totally – he picked himself up and confidently started running past our car. It is then that we noticed his mother standing, and looking quite intimidating, behind the assembled vehicles, ready to attack anyone or anything that threatens her little one. When he reached her they both gave the human spectators a parting glance, joined the rest of the pride and confidently walked off into the bush. The encounter made a wonderful impression on all of us.
When we visited in September, there appeared to be a convention of Lions around Lower Sabie Rest Camp in the Kruger National Park. Whether you were following the river in an easterly or westerly direction from camp, you would have been very unlucky not to encounter at least one pride of lions within the first 4 kilometers of your drive.
On one occasion we even saw two lions right in front of camp while we were taking an afternoon stroll on the lawns! They spooked a herd of fleet-footed impala, alerting us to their presence as well.
Finding Lions in Kruger is not always this easy. With the dry season now coming to an end, surface water is hard to come by, and the lions take advantage of this by ambushing herbivores coming to slake their thirst from the Sabie. We also found lions in other parts of the park while we were driving around, and in all instances they were close to or at a water source, lying in wait.