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Africa Geographic Travel

Written by: Greg McCall-Peat

Spending every day out in the African bush allows you to witness, or even be part of, some amazing things. Some days just stand out and will never be forgotten. We had one of these days at Umlani Bushcamp in the Timbavati Game Reserve a couple of afternoons ago.

Everyone knows that when out on safari, a lot of what you see boils down to luck and being at the right place at the right time. However, the skills and knowledge of the guide and tracker is also often the reason behind good sightings. Their ability to read the environment like a book and interpret different signs in the bush can really reap the rewards. This was the case when we set out on an afternoon drive a few days ago.

One of our guides, Adam Mohr, headed out to the western section of the reserve to one of the bigger dams as he thought that more water would mean more animals. His instinct was right because, upon arriving at the water, the calls of monkeys barking out their alarm call could be heard not too far away. Both him and his tracker leapt into action as this could only mean one thing… a predator was close by.

Ntsogwaan looking up at Marula female, note the saliva strands dangling from his mouth
Ntsogwaan looking up at Marula female, note the saliva strands dangling from his mouth

They drove towards the calls, found the monkeys, and immediately checked to see which way the monkeys where looking in order to pinpoint the position of the predator. Adam instructed his tracker to hop off the vehicle and move on foot to see if he could locate the cause of the disturbance. Not even five minutes later he got a call on the radio from his tracker, who had found one of our big male leopards known as Ntsogwaan. Adam drove in with the vehicle using his tracker’s directions and, when they caught sight of the leopard, they saw he was at the base of a tree looking up into the branches above. Their first thought was that he might have stashed a kill up there, but then they noticed another leopard right at the very top of the tree; a female leopard known as Marula.

It was at this point that I arrived at the sighting. We found the male lying not too far away from the tree still salivating with agitation, while the female leopard clambered around at the top of the tree coughing her disapproval at the male.

Marula female amongst the prickly branches of the Knobthorn tree, where she chose to escape from Ntsogwaan.
Marula female amongst the prickly branches of the Knobthorn tree, where she chose to escape from Ntsogwaan.
The uncomfortable situation Marula found herself in. Leopards are masters of the tree tops and the fact that she was able to scale this tree and balance on the flimsiest of branches is actually amazing.
The uncomfortable situation Marula found herself in. Leopards are masters of the tree tops and the fact that she was able to scale this tree and balance on the flimsiest of branches is actually amazing.

Seeing two adult leopards in one sighting is rare, which really made this so special. It was interesting to see how Ntsogwaan had reacted to the female. Being a dominant male I thought he would jump at the opportunity to mate and spread his genes. However, it seemed that he was happy to be a bachelor and wasn’t interested in being a family man yet. We left the leopards, wishing we could stay longer to see what would happen when the female came down, but were satisfied with the incredible sighting as we headed back to camp to host dinner.

Just when we thought the day couldn’t get any better, we heard the distress calls of a buffalo echoing through the night air not too far from camp while we waited for the guests to arrive back from their game drive. The guides had reported that they had seen male lion tracks at our waterhole that morning, but following them hadn’t yielded any results. But we were sure that the calls were because of him and that he was busy taking down the unfortunate buffalo. The calls lasted about 20mins and then there was silence. Throughout dinner we could only wonder about what could have happened. Were we right in our assumption?

It was towards the end of the evening when we started to hear the frenzied laughs and chuckles of spotted hyena. This prompted us to hop in a vehicle to go and investigate. We headed out in the direction of the sounds, not really knowing what to expect. We decided that the action was coming from one of our dams so that would be our first stop. On arriving at the dam we were greeted with the sight of a large male lion and next to him lay the motionless body of a buffalo cow.

The male lion watching the hyenas and ready to protect his buffalo prize.
The male lion watching the hyenas and ready to protect his buffalo prize.

There was already a large group of hyena that had moved in, but the male wasn’t giving up his prize, and every time they approached him, he would get up and chase them off, scattering them in every direction. This seemed to prompt the hyenas to call for back-up and the whole lot of them would break out into a fit of whooping and laughing that caused more hyenas to arrive. It was amazing to see their response time.

One of the hyenas slowly approaching the carcass before being chased off by the lion.
One of the hyenas slowly approaching the carcass before being chased off by the lion.
Even though the numbers scale tipped heavily in favour of the hyenas, they definitely think twice about taking on this big guy, male lions are known hyena killers.
Even though the numbers tipped heavily in favour of the hyenas, they definitely thought twice about taking on this big guy as male lions are known hyena killers.

We stayed with the lion for a good few hours, watching the interaction between him and the hyenas, before the lion started to feed on the carcass. After a short bout of feeding he lay off to one side of the carcass to groom, rest and guard the kill against the sea of hyenas that had formed.

The male lion starting to feed on the soft rump of the buffalo.
The male lion starting to feed on the soft rump of the buffalo.

It was getting late and, after such an incredible afternoon and evening, we saw it fit to end on this high note and go back to the camp to get a good night’s sleep. Our minds were filled with the wonders of what we had witnessed. We realised that there is just no better place to be than the bush as every day has the potential to be amazing. With that we ended our day with memories that would last us a lifetime, and it went down as a day we would all remember.

 

Africa Geographic Travel
Umlani Bushcamp

Umlani Bushcamp is located in the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, which shares an unfenced border with the Kruger National Park. This is true Big 5 territory and guests have an opportunity to see lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino on safe, expertly guided game drives and bush walks.