“It was a dark and stormy night” is the often mocked and parodied line of purple prose that comes from A wrinkle in Time, written in 1962 by Madeleine L’Engle. Although this was none of those, it was a bitterly cold and dark morning as I prepared to head out on a game drive. Thank goodness for a blanket and a hot-water bottle or I would REALLY have frozen. As it was, I was so cold that I wished I had worn long pants…and for those who know me, that is quite an admission. Next time I will take my sleeping bag on the vehicle to cut down the wind-chill factor. That being said, the excitement and the adrenaline rush as I set out on any drive makes up for the cold on most occasions.
Eventually, the sun started to make an appearance from beyond the mountain range that surrounds the reserve we were driving on. As a result of this ‘protective’ ring that is aeons old, the sun is seen later than usual on a chilly winter morning.
It seems that the sound of our engine had awoken this Black-backed Jackal from his evening slumber…or perhaps he was trying to communicate his displeasure at being disturbed?
While glaring over his shoulder at us, he still took time to complete his morning Yoga regime. Could this be the jackal version of a Downward Dog pose?
This reserve has more Red Hartebeest and Eland than it does Impala. An unusual situation where most reserves/parks have these species skewed in the opposite direction.
The landscape in the cold morning light. With this vista as a backdrop, it was the ideal place to stop for a hot beverage and a muffin (or two). There is an innate beauty, even in what at first glance looks like a rather barren and desolate area.
“Excuse me, but do these stripes make my bum look big”? An eternal question to which there is NO safe response. Suffice to say that Zebra are one of my favourite animals to photograph.
This Klipspringer is scent marking on a grass stalk. Unusually, this one, together with his mate stood and watched us watching them, instead of heading off into the bush which is what they normally do.
To help the animals get through the lean winter months, the reserve puts out molasses blocks, which, I am reliably informed, is like chocolate for them. This troop of baboons was enjoying sole ownership of this particular slab, but it was not long before they were challenged for a part of this find.
A behaviour that I have not seen before. I was told that this female warthog has taught herself to forage while lying down! She obviously figured that ‘eat smarter and not harder’ was the way to go.
Given that the Kudu is a large and imposing animal, his coat camouflages him so expertly that he virtually vanishes before your eyes. No wonder that they share the ‘grey ghost’ nickname with elephants.
This is what you DON’T want to bump into while out on a trail walk. Even sitting in the relative safety of a game viewer, this was probably the closest I have come to a wild White Rhino.
Many of us read ‘The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe” by C.S Lewis when we were children, or perhaps we only discovered the book when we were adults? Or you have never read it and the reference makes no sense to you at all.
But persevere dear reader and all will be revealed…
The only reason that I mention the book was that the paraphrased title came to mind after this incident that occurred on a recent trip to a reserve in the Waterberg.
Those who have been on game drives, either morning or evening, invariably get to a point where a ‘comfort break’ starts to take precedence over any game viewing. Your mind becomes focused on that special tree that we all know so well…the lavatory( pronounced lava-tree).
This particular drive was no different. I together with two other guests and our guide had been bumbling around for a while with no success as far as predator sightings were concerned. That was not an issue as there had been more than sufficient plains game as well as 3 of the Big5 species to keep us occupied and entertained.
However, it had come to that point in the drive where our ranger was looking for a vantage point for us to stop for our evening sundowners and to watch the spectacular sunset that this area is well-known for.
I always check with the guide before I get off a game viewer, and this time it was no different.
“All clear to get off and take a comfort break”? I asked. The guide scanned the surrounding area and pronounced it safe for all of us to get out and stretch our legs while he set up the table with beverages and snacks.
My usual modus operandi when walking into the bush is to clap my hands, thus warning any animals, large or small, of my impending arrival. And this time was no different, as I walked noisily towards my chosen spot.
There was a moment after I unzipped, that the hairs on the back of my neck started to rise but then quickly settled again and as a result, I thought no more about that. I finished up and walked the 20 or so paces back to the vehicle.
The four of us stood around, socially distanced, chatting about what we had seen, what we were hoping to see and what we could expect on the drive back to the lodge. It was the usual relaxed banter that a game drive engenders in guests.
There was a lull in the conversation and our guide quietly said, “Could everyone get back in the vehicle please” and he looked to the bushes not far from where I had recently taken my break.
From this spot emerged a rather large lioness that looked at us askance while walking purposefully on a path that took her parallel to where we were now seated back in the vehicle with camera lenses trained in her direction.
The snacks were of no interest to her as she never wavered from her chosen direction and only stopped to look at us momentarily before vanishing into the bushes and the encroaching darkness.
What did the encounter teach me? Firstly, trust your instinct and if something does not feel right, move to a safer spot.
And secondly, obey your guide without first questioning him or her. They are trained for situations like this. I have to stress that at no time during the encounter were any of us in danger, neither did the lioness show any signs of aggression towards us.
I retrospect I wonder how different I MIGHT have reacted if this apex predator has stepped out WHILE I was ‘watering’ the vegetation.
As the sun fades over the Waterberg Mountains, these Chacma Baboons soak up the last vestiges of warmth before heading off to find a safe place to spend the night.
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