Tag Archives: Lion

Autumn Adventure – Boys will be boys, even if they’re lions

Early into the third morning of our latest visit to the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, we happened upon a pride of lions on the bank of the Hluhluwe River at a spot called Sitezi. Most members of the pride quickly walked past, but at the rear of the family were three teenage males with boundless energy! They had great fun, and so were we watching them with cameras clicking away.

Autumn Adventure: Flirtatious Lion

I can’t be sure of course, but I think this young lion we saw in March while visiting the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park was only this charming because he wanted us to hang around for breakfast…

Satara Summer 2021 – Big Cat Royalty: Lions!

The plains around Satara in the Kruger National Park is renowned as one of the best places in South Africa to see the most regal of cats, the Lion. It therefore wasn’t surprising that our visit in December 2021 yielded no less than twenty encounters with the Kings (and Queens) of the Jungle.

Finding fresh tracks like these in the early morning is really exciting, even if you don’t find the owners on the road.

Majestic they may be, but Lions are notoriously lazy too. Out in the midday heat they’re usually far more likely to be lying flat on their sides and deep in dreamland than moving around or hunting. Luckily we only had a few sightings like that, otherwise this post would not have been very exciting.

Being one of the first cars out of Satara when the gates open in the morning is often rewarded with wonderful lion sightings right on the road. Like this one, just 100 meters – I kid you not! – from Satara’s gate. As we left camp in the pouring rain two magnificent males came walking along the road from the left, straight towards us. Pretty soon the two had a large convoy following them as more cars departed from camp, so we opted to return to our campsite.

Shortly afterwards, a roaring close-by alerted us to the presence of another lion next to the fence, and Joubert got this shot of a third male as it walked past the open gate to the camp. Perhaps I should be more worried about the boy’s fearlessness when it comes to our wild places and the creatures that live there. Turns out these three enormous lions are the brothers of Satara’s famous white lion and we’d see them a few more times before our time at Satara was at an end.

Joubert got this shot of a third male walking past Satara’s gate a while later

On Christmas morning we saw a few giraffe and zebra acting very nervous on the H6. While they were out of view at that time, we could deduce from the herbivores’ behaviour more or less where the predators lay hidden, and sure enough our wait paid off soon enough when the lions gave away their presence, ending any chance they had at a successful hunt. These young lions were part of a bigger pride of which we encountered various members on several occasions along the H6 near its junction with the H1-3 during our stay at Satara in December of 2021.

On the 27th of December we were the first car that morning to turn onto the H6 main road towards Nwanetsi, and less than a kilometer further along came across these three “teenage” lions right on the road.

On New Year’s Day we had another encounter with some of the members of this pride, when we again came across them lounging on the H6 road to Nwanetsi.

As we left Satara on the 2nd of January 2022 to head home, this Lioness walked along with us a bit of the way. We were most grateful for the royal sendoff.

Later on the same day, just before Tshokwane, a young lion stepped into the road ahead, though he was off into the long grass again after just a brief moment.

In the early morning of the 17th of December, as we were heading along the main road northwards, we encountered these two lovely males with their stylishly maintained (“mane”-tained?) manes heading towards the Mtomeni Spruit. Just look at how beautifully their manes have been blow-dried – not a hair out of place!

It was at around 6am on the morning of the 18th of December, with the sun just nicely risen over the horizon, that we came across this small group of lions at the junction of the H7 and S106 on the way to Orpen. Two magnificent males attending to a single female, in all likelihood a trio in the throes of mating judging by the fresh scars both males were carrying on their faces and bodies. The female was the first to rise and lead the males, and all of us humans in our metal cocoons, on a walk along the H7 for about three kilometers before she was distracted by a herd of impalas and stalked off into the thickets. In the end we spent about three quarters of an hour in their company.

Just before 4pm on the 21st of December, with the weather still stiflingly hot as we left Nwanetsi Picnic Site and turned onto the S41 gravel road, we came across two lionesses lying next to the road. They didn’t appreciate our attentions though and immediately got up and walked off. Someone should tell them that this is not the way to treat their adoring fans!

On the 22nd of December we explored the roads around the Tshokwane Picnic Site. We found a pride of lions at a small waterhole on the S37 gravel drive very near to its junction with the main H1-3 road. They stayed in the general vicinity all day and we could return to them twice more before heading back to Satara.

On the 19th of December, while we were having breakfast at Nwanetsi, I realised that I left my insulin pens at Satara. This meant an adjustment to our planned route for the day in that we’d have to return to camp first. The unexpected detour turned out to be a real blessing in disguise though when we happened upon a pride of 8 lionesses about 5km from the H6’s junction with the H1-3.

The unfortunate forgetting of my insulin turned out to be even more of a boon when we arrived at a traffic jam where the main H1-3 road crosses the Nwanetsi River. The reason for the traffic jam was Satara’s White Lion and his brothers! While all we saw of the star of the show first time around was him fast asleep, he did co-operate a bit better when we returned to the scene later in the day.

When we left Satara at gate opening time (04:30) on the first morning of 2022, the air was filled with the nearby roaring of lions. We didn’t have to travel far before we saw two mighty Lions strolling towards us along the road, followed by a couple of cars. Yet again they were near the Nwanetsi Bridge and we immediately recognised that they were two of the four-brother coalition that includes the White Lion, affectionately known as “Casper” by many regular Kruger visitors. Of course we were wondering where “Casper” is, so we decided to join the cavalcade following his two brothers and see whether they’d lead us to him. Soon though both males took a game trail into the bush and disappeared from view in the long grass. Now we are driving up and down the one kilometre stretch between the Nwanetsi Bridge and the S100 turnoff when suddenly, out of the bush in the pitch dark, appears a third male – the third “normal” coloured Lion. Again we drive the short stretch beside him until he also heads of along the same trail the other males took earlier. The question now is whether the White male is ahead of or behind his brothers…

Again we slowly patrol up and down the same stretch of the road, hoping that the White Lion will also pop out of the bush like the ghost he’s named after. After 15 minutes he’s still not appeared and we start believing that he must have been in front of his brothers, and might actually already be on the road to Orpen in which direction we last saw his brothers headed. So we go around the corner, drive 2 or 3 km along the H7 road, but come out empty-handed again, and turn around to go scour the area around the Nwanetsi Bridge again. You would not believe the excitement in our car when we come around the turn to see the White Lion heading straight toward us, entourage in tow, exactly half-an-hour after we last had eyes on his brothers. Since we saw Satara’s White Lion two years ago, he has grown into a very impressive specimen. The oldest and largest of only three known wild White Lions in the world – all of them living in the Kruger National Park – and here he is walking just inches away from our vehicle. We reverse to stay alongside him as he strides down the road, and then let him pass when vehicles start arriving behind us. We couldn’t have asked for a better start to 2022…

With this post then ends the recollections of our epic December 2021 holiday at Satara in the Kruger National Park. We hope you enjoyed it along with us.

 

The Birthday Boy, The Angry Lions, and the Sweni Wilderness Trail

For almost as long as he’s been able to talk, Joubert expressed a wish to go walking in the Kruger National Park. The challenge with that however was that children younger than twelve years old are not allowed to take part in the guided walks on offer, due to the danger and distances covered (and, I suppose in some cases, short attention spans).

However, at short notice we were made aware of availability on the Sweni Wilderness Trail – the most popular of the trails in Kruger – running from the 18th of August 2021 and, with that being Joubert’s 12 birthday it seemed a blessing straight out of heaven, too good to pass up even if it meant he’d have to miss a week of school…

Unfortunately work commitments meant Marilize wouldn’t be able to join us, so it was just the two de Wet boys that departed Pretoria on the 15th of August for our wilderness adventure. Over the past few weeks we showed you most of what we saw and experienced in the three days leading up to the trail as we traversed the southern reaches of the Kruger Park and then made our slow way up to Satara on the 18th of August.

It is at Satara Rest Camp that the ranger-guides meet their guests at the start of the Sweni Wilderness Trail, every Wednesday and Sunday. Having been introduced to our fellow trailists as well as rangers Orbet and Rhulani who’d be guiding the trail, and with all our luggage stowed in the trailer, it was finally time to get onto the open safari vehicle and head into the wilderness. With some wonderful sightings along the way it took us quite some time to cover the distance between Satara and the Sweni Trails camp, and so it is already almost dark when we arrive. Finally Joubert’s wish was coming true, and on his birthday no less.

Guests spend three nights in a rustic, remote base camp on the southern bank of the Sweni stream, from where they are taken out into the wilderness on four guided walking excursions before being brought back to Satara at the end of the trail. Joubert and I were allocated the sleeping hut in the furthest corner of the camp. After settling in we all could sit down to the delicious cooking of James, the camp caretaker and chef, rounding off our meal with a slice of birthday cake before Orbet and Rhulani made us aware of the rules of walking in the wilderness in the days to come. Lions roaring nearby lulled us to sleep that night. What would tomorrow hold?

At sunrise, and after enjoying hot coffee and rusks, we were ready to set out exploring. A beautiful clear morning forewarned that it was going to be a hot day, so we made sure we had plenty to drink in our backpacks, in addition to the fare we’d be enjoying whilst having a picnic somewhere in the bush later.

A short drive westwards out of camp, and in the direction from where the lions were roaring the previous evening, brought us to the area where our ranger-guides determined we’d be walking this first morning. Our walk followed the course of the Sweni stream where the tracks of numerous animals around the remaining pools of water was a sure sign that we’d be encountering lots of wildlife on our morning amble.

When we came across the lion pride feeding on their wildebeest kill, I was surprised at how close we were to them. Surprised and excited, and entirely unafraid. A good chance at having close encounters with lions while on foot is after all the reason why Sweni is the most sought-after wilderness trail offered in Kruger, and the rangers are experts at keeping their guests safe under such circumstances. One of the lioness were keeping a calm eye on the approaching humans, while the others – three more females, one male and seven cubs – were feeding entirely oblivious to our presence. That was until the male looked up. When he saw the humans just a stone’s throw from where he and his pride were feasting the great beast gave a mighty growl – and fled for his life! This sent the cubs fleeing in every direction while the females were immediately ready to go to war to protect their cubs and their prey. While one female slinked away to go round up the cubs, and the male turned around after a hundred meter dash to stare at us from  a distance, the three remaining females left us with no confusion that we were not welcome at their breakfast table. The intensity of their growls was like thunder rumbling from inside the earth; you could feel it resonating in your chest. With lightning in their eyes, their snarls exposing their deadly weaponry, ears pulled back and tails flicking from side to side there was only one way for us to go. Backwards. Slowly. Don’t turn your back on them, or they will charge. And when they do charge, stand still and face them. When she stops, you move backwards again. Slowly, without any sudden movements. And without turning your back! An amazing experience I will never forget. And I don’t believe Joubert will forget it either. No fear, just an amazing sense of respect and gratefulness for being there in the moment.

After the exciting encounter with the lions we continue along the Sweni, criss-crossing it and its tributaries at several points, enjoying a well deserved picnic at a beautiful turn in the stream and just soaking in the wildness around us.

Just before we arrive back at the vehicle, and with the sun sitting very high and very hot already, we sneak up on a herd of elephants sleeping in the shade of a tree.

The hot midday hours we spent in camp (after enjoying the delicious lunch James welcomed us back with). The waterhole in front of camp is a magnet for thirsty animals, there’s a lot of habituated birds attracted to the birdbath and there was even a brief appearance by a good-sized African Rock Python in one of the large trees next to the river, meaning there was more than enough entertainment to keep us occupied until the afternoon outing.

On the way to the area where we’d be walking in the afternoon, our guides took a detour to the feasting lions we encountered in the morning. They were still in the same spot, and still gnawing on the remains of their wildebeest prize. We didn’t venture off the vehicle this time, enjoying this meeting from even closer and much safer quarters.

The afternoon walks cover a shorter distance, and take in a pleasing spot from which the African sunset can be enjoyed with something cold in hand. While we didn’t cover as much ground in the afternoon we were again treated to an encounter with lions – this time a mating pair some distance away – as well as lots of other animals and inspiring scenery. From atop the rocky outcrop where we sat enjoying the sunset we also realised that the mating pair of lions were in fact a threesome – two males attending to one female in oestrus.

We arrive back at camp around 7pm that evening, but not before we enjoy some thrilling night time sightings along the way – and of course we paid “our” lions another visit!

The next morning is a lot chiller than the previous, and it soon clouds over. Our route takes along the Nungwini stream and past a natural fountain. Despite the inclement weather we again have wonderful encounters with a wide range of animals, including a lone male lion, elephant bulls, giraffes and honey badgers, and by the time the vehicle comes into sight again I’m sure all of us still had a good few kilometers in the tank.

Back at camp for lunch and (if you were so inclined) a siesta, a wildebeest bull harassing cows around the waterhole had Joubert happily clicking away, and later the little birds at the birdbath received his full attention.

On the way to our sundowner spot, Orbet and Rhulani took us to a beautiful stretch of water along the Nungwini stream, just a short walk away. We weren’t there very long, when we had to vacate our prime spot at the water’s edge to allow an approaching herd of elephants to have right of way.

Ted’s Place, a cliff in the foothills of the Lebombo Mountains looking out over the plains of the central Kruger Park with the course of the Sweni River snaking through the scene, was a fitting location to reflect on a memorable trail before heading back to base camp, where a pair of honey badgers were waiting for us to return.

It wasn’t easy to say goodbye to the Sweni Trail’s base camp that final morning, and the drizzly weather certainly reflected our mood. Aside from a wet family of spotted hyenas, there wasn’t a lot of animals to be seen along the road back to Satara.

After saying goodbye to Orbet, Rhulani, James and the other guests that shared our experiences in the wilderness in those three short days, it was time for Joubert and me to head for home… Leaving through Orpen Gate really was our only option if we wanted to beat the government COVID-curfew, though we delayed our departure just a smidgeon by detouring past Muzandzeni Picnic Site and Talamati Bushveld Camp.

We were already quite some distance out the gate at Orpen, and passing one of the many game farms along the road, when we saw a leopard next to the fence of one of these farms. While we were still despondent about no longer being in Kruger this unexpected find made us realise all over again that we were still in Africa, which means we’re more blessed than 6.5-billion other people on earth…

 

Summertide Diary: Exploring Mountain Zebra (part two)

2 January 2021

When dawn found the Mountain Zebra National Park under heavy skies this morning we were already underway along the Kranskop Loop.

When we arrived at the start of Rooiplaat Loop we found a male lion lying there, flat on its right-side. We sat there as the minutes passed, studying it through cameras and binoculars and finally coming to the sad conclusion that this lion was dead – there wasn’t even a twitch of an ear or any movement of its stomach to indicate a breath being taken. Disheartened, I started the car to drive off.

King Roy, fast asleep

The sound of the Duster’s engine had a miraculous effect. The lion lifted his head, sleepily. He rested his head on his paws for a while, then gave a mighty yawn before getting up, stretching his legs and then lying down again to look at us in irritation. He is magnificent, known as Roy, and despite his advanced age one of the ruling coalition of lion males here at Mountain Zebra National Park, along with Nomad whom we saw at a distance the day before .

When the next vehicle arrived at the lion sighting we moved of so that those visitors too could have a private audience with The King. The skies have cleared and it’s turning into a glorious day. On our way back to camp we passed Roy again, and he was fast asleep again.

With it being our last afternoon at Mountain Zebra we opted to visit all our favourite spots along the Ubejane and Rooiplaat Loops and the Link road between them again. There’s just something so indescribably peaceful about driving around wild Africa as dusk approaches.

We posted a special feature about Mountain Zebra National Park following a previous visit, if you’d like to learn more about this special destination.

Map of Mountain Zebra National Park from the SANParks website (https://www.sanparks.org/images/parks/mountain_zebra/mznp-map.jpg)

Summertide Rambles 2 January 2021

This morning we were treated to a very special audience with the King of the Mountain Zebra National Park at his residence on the Rooiplaat loop road.

A day in Pilanesberg: Hour 6

We’re still on a high from our sighting of Rain the cheetah and her cubs when we turn from Nare Link into Sefara Drive in the Pilanesberg National Park, following the road uphill. Before we even crest the rise we become aware of the sound of thundering hooves moving at speed…

Buffaloes!”

The Park’s buffaloes are so seldomly seen that they’re known as the “ghosts of the Pilanesberg”, and any encounter with them is a thrilling treat. Even more so these particular buffaloes, as they are in quite a rush to get away as quickly as possible, allowing only a few photos as they run past us, thankfully without smashing into our vehicle. Was it us who scared them?

As the buffaloes stampede down into the valley, we get back our composure and drive on. We don’t get very far however before Joubert yells out, again, “Lions!” Could it really be our third lion sighting of the morning!?

Indeed, there obscured behind some twigs and branches, are a pride of 5 lions wrestling with a buffalo cow on the ground! Now the stampeding herd of buffaloes we saw half-a-minute ago makes perfect sense!

As the bellowing of the cow dies down, no longer to be heard above the sound of raindrops on the car’s roof, and her feverish kicking stops, it’s clear that the fight is all over. In the excitement it takes a while for me to figure out that if I drive past the scene we’d have a much clearer view of it looking back. Just as the feeding starts one of the younger lionesses gets up and walks off, presumably to collect the pride’s cubs to join the feast. While we wait almost an hour for her to return, she doesn’t, so the cubs must’ve been quite some distance away. In the meantime the sights and sounds of the lions tearing the buffalo cow open and apart is as bone-chilling as you can imagine.

And to think we’re only half-way through our day in the Pilanesberg!

If you’d like to follow along as we explore the Pilanesberg, a map may come in handy (for a large format version click here)

Scene where we saw the buffaloes and lions on Sefara Drive

If you need to catch up on our drive through the Pilanesberg National Park, you can read all the previous posts here.

To be continued tomorrow.

A day in Pilanesberg: Hour 4

Mankwe Dam, a large man-made impoundment that holds water throughout the year and that’s a veritable magnet for wildlife, is located in the heart of the Pilanesberg National Park. On its banks you’ll find the Mankwe Hide, very popular with photographers and recently rebuilt after being destroyed in a veld fire. That is where we are headed next.

Back in the hide’s parking area this southern masked weaver is enjoying a bath in a small puddle- as if he is too scared to go swimming in the big pool on the other side!

Almost immediately after driving out of the parking area at the hide, we come across a pair of lions – our second lion sighting of the day and less than 200 steps from where we were standing outside our vehicle just a few seconds ago! Luckily, being a mating pair, their attentions are focused on satisfying other base instincts than finding food. Our day just keeps getting better!

Leaving the lions to their honeymoon, we head north along Kgabo Drive and take a left into Tlou. Along the way we add further to our list of birds seen, including this rufous-naped lark singing its lungs out from a prominent perch.

Rufous-naped Lark

Just as we get to the junction of Tlou and Thuthlwa drives we find another brown hyena, walking quite purposefully away from an old elephant carcass with a large chunk of bone in its jaws. We follow alongside until it disappears into a thicket, its destination remaining a mystery to us but we like to think that it is headed to a den with hungry youngsters waiting.

If you’d like to follow along as we explore the Pilanesberg, a map may come in handy (for a large format version click here)

Mankwe Hide to Tlou Drive

If you need to catch up on our drive through the Pilanesberg National Park, you can read all the previous posts here.

To be continued tomorrow.

Pilanesberg for a day

Yesterday, Joubert and I slipped away for a day visit to the Pilanesberg National Park. We’ll soon be telling you all about our amazing day in the bushveld, but until then we’ll share this little teaser of what’s in store.

 

Waiting hours for a glimpse at a White Lion

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.

While they can not be considered wild, there is a pride of White Lions on view at the Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve near Johannesburg.