Tag Archives: lioness

Some days are diamonds

Have you ever had one of those days when just about everything goes wrong?  I’m sure you have.  How about one when absolutely everything goes right?  We recently had a diamond day in Kruger National Park.  We visit parks often and this has to have been our best time ever anywhere.  Let me tell you about it.

Lion Pride KNP

We left our campsite at Satara, planning to make our way slowly to Lower Sabie.  We hadn’t driven far when we saw a pride of ten lions in the bush next to the road.

Lion Pride KNP

The left the grassy area and walked along the road in front of us for about two kilometers.

Lion Pride KNP

Apart from seeing so many lions at one time, we were delighted to watch the young cubs playing games with each other as their parents walked purposefully ahead.  There were about six cubs of various ages, three older lionesses and one male lion.  What a sight that was.  Our best ever close up sightings of so many of these beautiful animals.

Male Leopard KNP

Feeling like things couldn’t get much better than this, we continued driving towards Lower Sabie.  It wasn’t long before we came across a number of parked cars and realized that the folks were watching something special.  This time it was a magnificent male leopard walking beside the road.

Male Leopard KNP

I turned our car around so that Rob could take photos and the leopard obliged by walking next to us and then sitting down at the side of the road.

Male Leopard KNP

What a sight he was.  We were absolutely blown away by this incredible animal.

When the leopard eventually disappeared into the bush, we happily continued on our drive.  Our next bonus was another sighting of lions, a male and female.  Once again we were in the perfect position for photos and we made the most of our special time with them.

Lioness KNP Lion  KNP

At the Mafagalamba Dam, close to the Tshokwane picnic area, we spotted a mother cheetah with three cubs.  She left her cubs briefly to drink at the dam.

Cheetah mother  KNP

Whilst there she spotted an impala and immediately gave chase.  We held our breath thinking that we would see a kill, but the impala managed to escape and the cheetah made her way back to her cubs.

Cheetah cubs  KNP

With that, a lioness appeared and saw an opportunity to have a cheetah cub for a meal.  The cheetah hastily departed with her three cubs.  Here was another chance for us to watch a chase!

Lioness KNP

There was a flurry of activity in a bush as the lioness caught up with them.  Unfortunately by then it was too far away for us to see what happened – we can only hope that the cubs escaped safely and that the mother took on the lioness.  We will never know the outcome, but our day was getting better and better!

By this time it was almost sundown and we were making our way back to our campsite, when we came across a smallish bird sitting in the road.  On closer inspection it turned out to be a Harlequin Quail – a lifer for us.

Harlequin Quail  KNP

I was concerned that it would be run over by a passing car, so I opened my window and flapped a towel near it.  The quail flew off into the safety of the bush.  Our day was over and it will be etched into our memories as the most amazing one ever in any game reserve.  We consider ourselves extremely lucky to have been witness to the best that the bush could offer in a single day.

Khwai Me A River

Botswana has many amazing campsites, especially in the Okavango Delta, and they can be jolly pricey to stay at too.  Just occasionally you strike it lucky and come across a place that was merely meant to be a stop-over en route to somewhere great, and find that it too is an absolute gem.  We found this when travelling from Savuti to Xakanaka.  We decided to head for the Khwai Community Campsite, having heard that it was reasonably priced and a good place to stop between the two.  And what a lovely spot it turned out to be.  In fact a stay of more than one night was warranted.

Road to Khwai

The sandy track that we turned on to just outside Mababe Gate took us on a narrow and windy drive to the Khwai Community Campsite.  Only once we turned off it onto the main road did we realize that it was a shortcut and we could have taken a much easier route.  It was fun though negotiating the narrow track and dodging the bushes (when the thorn trees scratch your vehicle on both sides it’s known as a “Kalahari car wash”.  We certainly had that! ) There didn’t appear to be any locals manning the campsite when we arrived, so we drove around and settled ourselves on campsite no. 3, right on the banks of the Khwai River.  There were no amenities whatsoever, but that made it more special as it was quite wild.

Sunset on the Khwai River

A safari vehicle pulled up in the afternoon and informed us that there were lions on campsite no. 10 – gosh, that was exciting news!  We hastily made our way a few hundred meters along the river and found a pride of nine lions enjoying an afternoon rest.  Most of them were lying on their backs, feet in the air, trying to keep cool while they slept.   This beautiful lioness showed only a glimmer of interest in us as we drove into the bush alongside her and waited for some movement from the other sleeping cats.  Alas, it was not to happen – they all appeared to be settled for the rest of the day.  It doesn’t matter how often you see lions, they are always a thrill to spot in the wild.  They are such majestic animals – you just know that they rule the bush.  It was quite exciting knowing that they were just a few campsites away from us.

Beautiful lioness

The broken trees around the campsite bore testimony to the elephant activity in the area.  This  place is a conservancy, but is not part of the Moremi Game Reserve, so seeing wild animals is a real treat.  We woke up to find that we had a visitor occupying the river just meters from our campsite – an enormous hippo wallowed in the shallow water and kept an eye on us as we ate our breakfast.

Hippo meters from our campsite

The birdlife along the river was amazing with Openbill storks, African jacanas and White-faced ducks feeding in the shallows.

White-faced ducks

Openbill Stork

In the campsite we were visited by this beautiful little Barred owlet, which, at the time, we identified as a Pearl-spotted owl.  It was only when we got home and saw the photographs that we realized our mistake.  This is something we have learned with our birding photography – it’s very easy to misidentify a bird in the field, so it’s good to have a photo to confirm what you actually saw.

Barred owlet

 It’s a veritable Garden of Eden there – well worth stopping off for a day or more, and by doing so you will not only enjoy the amazing wildlife, but you will also benefit the local community with your tourist dollars.

The Big Five : Part 3 – African Lions

I started my Big Five blogs with articles about leopards and buffalo.  Today is the turn of the mighty lion – one of the most impressive animals in Africa.  We’ve been fortunate enough to spend holidays in Botswana’s national parks, as well as Etosha, Kruger National Park and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, all of which have magnificent prides of African lions.  One of the most exciting things when camping in the wild, is to lie in bed at night and hear the deep roar of a lion.  They can be heard from up to five kilometers away, but it sounds closer and that booming roar always sends a tingle up my spine.

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Lions are sociable animals, living in prides of ten or more lions.  The male is the great protector of his pride and he usually has a number of lionesses in his harem, all related, that take care of the hunting and the provision of food.  The females work in unison once they decide on which animal they are stalking and they plan their attack from all fronts.  Once the animal is downed, the male then comes in to eat first, followed by the females and lastly the cubs.

    Getting stuck in to the kill

You can read all about a lion kill that we came across in the Central Kalahari by clicking here.  It was so exciting to be able to park the car meters away from the feeding lions and spend many hours watching the drama of hierarchy unfold as they all got stuck into their meal.  Lions can eat up to 18 kgs of meat at a time, which is probably why, once sated, they sleep for the next twenty hours or so.  They mainly kill at night and then sleep off their excesses during the heat of the day.  Look at the size of the full belly of this lioness after she had gorged herself on an Oryx – she lay on her back with her legs in the air for hours afterwards.

    Pull your tummy in its disgusting!

Females usually have between two and four cubs that are born after a gestation period of one hundred and ten days.  They mate all year around and once the cubs are born they are protected and fed by all the lionesses in the pride.  They love to romp and play and are very affectionate towards one another, although male lions have been known to kill their own cubs under certain circumstances.

    My favourite cub picture!

Lionesses take up to four years to reach their adult size, whilst male lions mature after six years.  Males develop a beautiful mane around their necks which makes the sexes easily identifiable.  In the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park one can see the red-maned lions which are very impressive.  Even more so when you see them on red sand dunes! They can live up to fifteen years in the wild, although this is not really common as they fight continually with competitors in both the lion and predator arena.

    Red-maned lion in Kgalagadi

Lions are also known as Panthera leo from the family Felidae.

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Passarge Valley in the Central Kalahari Park

Days 6-8 – Piper Pan to Passage Valley 80kms

Jon drove in front for the first part of our trip to Passarge Valley as he and Hillary knew the way. The road was sandy in parts, but generally the surface was like hard clay and it was a very pleasant drive. We stopped often to photograph birds and look at tracks on the road.  Jon and Hillary both trained as Field Guides and Hillary, in particular, is something of an expert on animal tracks. It was interesting to have their input on fauna and flora that we didn’t know about and they in turn appreciated our knowledge of birds, so our relationship worked extremely well.

Just before the turn off to Tau Pan, Jon stopped to let us take the lead. At Piper Pan, on one of our many game drives, we had laughingly given rand values for each unusual animal that anyone spotted. For example, whoever saw a lion first would be paid R20,00 by each person in the party, R20,00 for a leopard and R15,00 for a cheetah. We were delighted when we had just taken up the lead on the way to Passarge and I spotted a big lion asleep under a Catophractes bush right next to the road. At last! I was in the money!

Lion on the way to Passarge

He didn’t let our ooh’s and aaah’s disturb him at all and merely lazily opened one eye to look at us before going back to sleep. Seeing this enormous lion actually gave me quite a laugh because whenever we stopped, Jon would jump out of his car, binoculars in hand, and come running up to us to find out what we had seen. Imagine if he was at Rob’s window and we pointed out a lion five meters behind him! The thought gave us the giggles for minutes afterwards. In all other game reserves we’ve been in, one isn’t allowed out of one’s car for this very reason. The Botswana game reserves are quite different as most campsites are not fenced off at all. One just has to be extremely careful and aware of the danger.

The trip to Passarge is only about 80 kms so we took our time and enjoyed the many sights. We passed a number of small pans on the way, some with little islands of trees in the middle of them. Game would often gather around the trees for shade and it appeared that there were more animals in this area than at Piper Pan. We came across a group of about fifteen giraffes quite near Passarge and when we stopped to photograph them they all turned and stared at us curiously. They looked perfect in this setting and we loved watching them amble gracefully from tree to tree.

Giraffes at Passarge Valley

Our campsite at Passarge Valley was an absolute treat. Situated on a slight elevation, it overlooked the pan and an island of trees. Once again we saw lots of giraffe and springbok. We were heartened by this, because lion and other predators only come to an area if there is an abundance of food. It certainly looked promising. There were no other campsites around so we knew we’d have the place all to ourselves. Passarge turned out to be our favourite spot on the whole trip. Not only was it in a beautiful situation, but we were blessed with our game viewing.

Campsite at Passarge

We left our camp early the next morning and headed back on the road towards Piper Pan. I was overjoyed when I spotted a male lion in the valley ahead and I urged Rob to speed up to where he was. On arrival we saw not one, but a pride of five lions at a kill that must have just happened. Luckily for us they were feasting on a gemsbok not two metres from the road, so we were able to take up a position right next to them and watch them for hours. What a magnificent spectacle and we had it all to ourselves!

The pride consisted of an adult male and three female lionesses, as well as a young cub of indeterminate sex, who had the cutest little face imaginable. We sat enthralled as they tucked into their meal, all the while encircled by at least six agitated black-backed jackals who were hoping to catch a piece of the action. The pride gorged themselves on all the delicacies that a carcass contains – we watched as they ate the liver, the tripe and the innards.

Eventually, completely stuffed and with faces painted with blood, they made their way across the road in front of us to sit replete under a thorn tree. They left one young lioness with the task of carrying what was left of the carcass to a safe spot under another nearby tree. Rob and I took dozens of photos as this spectacle unfolded before us, amazed at what we were seeing. Once the carcass was removed, one very nervous jackal rushed up and picked up the remains of the stomach, only to be chased by the rest of the pack who also wanted his prize. The young lioness had her work cut out guarding the carcass from the jackals and the vultures that circled overhead. Eventually she pulled it right into the bush and lay next to it, defying anyone to come near her.

Having this incredible sighting of a lion feed, anything else we saw would have to be an anti-climax. We headed back to camp for the rest of the day, planning to return to the site later on to see if the pride was still there. By now my camera batteries were flat and Jon’s fridge battery was also dying, so Rob started the generator and we hitched up everything that needed recharging. The noise disturbed the ambiance somewhat, but at this stage recharging batteries was more of a priority than enjoying the silence of the bushveld!

Our camping fridges did a marvelous job and at no time did we ever have to suffer warm beers!. By deep freezing our meat beforehand, we were able to turn the fridges right down and keep them as freezers for at least three or four days into the trip. This enabled us to have gourmet meals the whole holiday. John loves cooking so he made us a scrumptious roast chicken and roast potatoes in his flat bottomed cast iron pot. When we weren’t having braais we were able to have paella, oxtail, lamb knuckle stew and even delicious campfire bread. “You have to eat the bread hot tonight,” Hillary said as she pulled the loaf out of the pot. “If we leave it until tomorrow morning you can use it as a stone for a catapult.” I had frozen three loaves of sliced bread which lasted us until we got to Maun, so we were able to have toast for breakfast every day. On one cool evening at Passarge we feasted on jaffles, washed down with gluwein. What a combination!

At about four p.m. we headed back to where we’d left the lions and were surprised and somewhat disappointed to see two vehicles parked watching them sitting under their thorn tree. Fortunately, the tourists didn’t stay long as they obviously had some distance to cover to get to their campsite, so once again we were left alone with ‘our lions’. The one female was lying asleep on her back with her legs in the air – her bloated belly pulled tight as a drum from what she had eaten earlier. The male lion stared at us as if to say “Haven’t you seen enough of me today?” and our cheeky little lion looked sleepily at us from behind his dad. There was no sign of the carcass or the jackals.

We eventually tore ourselves away from this special scene and headed back in the direction of our camp. As it was still quite light we drove further down the valley. By now I was driving and Jon and Rob were sitting on the roof of the car, beers in hand, directing operations from their lofty positions.

Rob and Jon game viewing                             Bat-eared fox

“Stop!” they shouted when they spotted two bat-eared foxes and a jackal. We also came across a Kori Bustard in the long grass that Rob wanted to photograph in flight. For this I had to walk towards the big bird so that Rob could capture it the moment it took to the air. With my muscles still in spasm I hobbled over to it and there were cries of delight as it flew off. This was to be the first of a number of attempts over the next few days to get a decent flying shot of a Kori Bustard.

Jane making a Kori Bustard fly

Later on we headed back in the direction of the lions to see if they were still there. It was getting dark so Rob and I both shone spotlights into the veld on either side of the car as we drove along and Jon was also scanning the veld. Suddenly I saw two cheetahs walking along the road in front of us. This was amazing as it was the first time I’ve seen cheetahs in the wild. We managed to get quite close to them before they headed off into the grass and disappeared.  Oh, and I had earned some more money for my good spotting! What was it – R20,00 for a cheetah?

The lion family was still sitting under their thorn tree, but as it was getting quite late we decided to head back to the camp. It had been the most exciting day of game viewing ever and I was sure I would be too pumped up to sleep that night. The Kalahari had certainly shared some if it’s glory with us and we were ever so grateful to have been so blessed that day.

TripsPiper Pan in the Central Kalahari Park | Mankwe and Savute