Written by: Jaci Van Heteren
After an early morning start I arrived at the Terrapin Hide at Jaci’s Lodge in Madikwe to find a buffalo that had been dragged from the water and killed by a spotted hyena, as well as another buffalo kill a short distance away with two lions and a lioness feeding on the carcass. This all happened within 50 metres of the waterhole!
Then another lion appeared on the horizon, and with cameras at the ready we took a shot. He looked, thought about approaching the waterhole but changed his mind, turning around and departing without coming down to drink.
The day before there had been endless processions of new arrivals and a variety of species. Today, however, the few animals that did brave the blazing heat were spooked by the dead buffalo, and either alarm called endlessly or were far too skittish to even approach.
A few eventually came down to enjoy a hurried nervous drink and the constant dives of the woodland kingfishers kept me entertained.
Besides a few quick trips to the star bed, as well as the swimming pool to cool down and Jaci’s Tree Lodge for a bit of comfort, we waited patiently by the waterhole, enjoying the daily activity and reactions of the animals to the dead buffalo on the bank.
The elephants would spread their ears as they passed the carcass, but the lure of the thirst quenching water was greater than their fear. Impala and wildebeest would alarm call, scatter, cautiously approach, flee, and stand alert. And so it went on. Giraffe would stroll in and the elevated view allowed them to choose a route that let them drink undisturbed.
At sunset a very cautious herd of buffalo came to drink, with two sentries standing guard in a cloud of dust, before scattering for no apparent reason and then returning again out of necessity.
Then over the horizon came one male lion, followed by the other. The moment had arrived and we started taking photos. They walked down to the water’s edge and started to lap the water – it was actually happening. With a wildly beating heart and excitement in the air, we kept our fingers on the shutter and the sounds of clicking cameras filled the Terrapin Hide. What a moment!
My favourite shot was of a grey heron flying past as the speed adds drama and shows how fast everything happened.
I still cannot believe I was lucky enough to be there when the lions came down to drink. We were the first to see this spectacular sight and what a fabulous feeling to share with our guests!
The following day we had an extremely early morning start, which is a relatively easy feat when excitement levels are high. With the sun rising behind us, we enjoyed a cup of coffee whilst checking each window of the Terrapin Hide for any movement.
We were checking our camera settings when a brown hyena came down the bank on the left. He is the star of the show for me. He drank, lay down in the cool watery mud, looked at us a few times, turned around in the muddy water, drank again, lay back, half rolled, drank again and ambled off!
To be able to watch him in his natural surroundings with no indication of concern was a fantastic experience. For me that is what the Terrapin Hide offers – a window into the natural way of the waterhole. Each visit is different and rewarding, and the element of surprise is exhilarating.
The Terrapin Hide was built to allow every guest – with or without a camera – the opportunity to get a “terrapin’s view” of life at the waterhole at any time of day.
Just as the last rays of light were disappearing, one male lion came down to drink, and the excitement started all over again for an incredible end to an eventful day.