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Africa Geographic
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When the wild calls, those with the wildest hearts answer. It lives in them and they live in it. This sums up Greg McCall-Peat’s connection with South Africa’s wilderness. As the operations manager and a passionate guide, he lives and breathes the Timbavati bush life at Umlani Bush Camp. And he’s got a few good stories to share too!

Here are some of his favourite tales, along with his insights into what makes bush life so priceless:

His Timbavati home

“The Timbavati Game Reserve has always been a special place to me. Growing up I spent a lot of time on the reserve and, as a little boy, I found myself thinking:’When I work I want to work in the Timbavati.’ It was only once I started working here that I truly realised how amazing this place really is. There is a wildness that I haven’t felt anywhere else. The chance to see the only wild white lions at any given moment, or the odd moments when you bump into an animal that has moved from the vast Kruger National Park and has probably never seen a human before, all adds to the magic of the reserve. It’s a place where anything can and does happen.”

The magic of the Timbavati - three different species all in one scene.
The magic of the Timbavati – three different species all in one scene.
The many mopane trees that are scattered throughout the Timbavati make for amazing colours in golden sunlight and just add to the beauty of the reserve.
The many mopane trees that are scattered throughout the Timbavati make for amazing colours in golden sunlight and just add to the beauty of the reserve.

A favourite fireside story

“There is nothing more thrilling than watching a hunt – it’s what you see in wildlife documentaries! One of the encounters that really stands out for me was when I saw five male lions hunting giraffe a few years back.

It happened on a night game drive and I was a mere 400 metres from the lodge on my way back when I found the male lions walking along the road. They didn’t seem to be hunting but rather patrolling their territory, until one of them pricked up its ears and stared intently into the bush. I had no idea what I was about to witness.

One by one the lions changed their course and headed into thick vegetation in the direction of where the first lion had been looking. I still didn’t think they were hunting. There was no stalking, no crouching, they just seemed to be on a mission.

I couldn’t follow them due to the density of the bush so I drove around hoping to pick them up on the other side of the thicket. As I was approaching the area where I suspected them to emerge, one of the males crossed the road behind me so I decided to turn around to follow him. As I reversed to do a three-point turn, chaos erupted from the bushes directly in front of me. A giraffe burst out, one lion on its back and the rest hot on its heels. The giraffe came running straight towards my vehicle and my life flashed before my eyes. Time then seemed to slow down as I pictured the giraffe running into the vehicle and having both it and the lion land on top of me. Fortunately my vehicle was running and I somehow managed to pull forward and to my right just enough for the giraffe to miss me. I turned around and followed the lions and giraffe. By the time I caught up to them, they were in the process of pulling the giraffe down. Lions were now leaping up onto the flank of the giraffe, bringing it down to the ground with their weight. I tried to take pictures but the adrenaline of what had all happened made it impossible to get a focused shot.

All I could think was how lucky I was. Lucky in being able to witness such an event and lucky that things didn’t go horribly wrong. It is something that will stick in my mind for the rest of my life and will always be at the top of my list of fireside stories.”

Moments after the take down, the giraffe still struggles as the lions began to feed, nature at its rawest.
Moments after the take-down, the giraffe still struggles as the lions began to feed. This was nature at its most raw.
If looks could kill! And in this case it did. To see these males bring down an adult giraffe dispelled the myth that male lions don’t hunt.
If looks could kill! To see these males bring down an adult giraffe dispelled the myth that male lions don’t hunt.
Making a kill can be tiring work and this lion decided to use his food as a pillow. An almost tender moment amidst the brutality of the hunt.
Making a kill can be tiring work and this lion decided to use his food as a pillow. An almost tender moment amidst the brutality of the hunt.
The blood soaked face of one of the males after he opened up the carcass, adding to the dramatic scene.
The blood soaked face of one of the males after he opened the carcass and added to the dramatic scene.

The best time of day

“I would have to say the nights are my favourite part of a typical day in the Timbavati. Although living in the bush is always special at any time of the day, the nights hold that mystery and are when things really go down. Umlani is off the grid and a solar powered camp so you do not have the sounds of fridges or the constant hum of air conditioners spoiling the silence. I love hearing the night sounds of whooping hyenas, leopards and lions, the Scops owls chirping, and the chorus of nightjars that fill the night air. It’s a magical time of day and it is when I feel closest to nature.”

Lions sleep for 20hrs a day, however watching them sleep at night, you get the perception that at any moment  they will stir and maybe roar, but the night does belong to them.
Lions sleep for 20 hours a day. However, you get the impression that at any moment they will stir and maybe roar when you watch them sleep at night.
A pearl-spotted owl peers out of its nesting hole before it sets out on a nightly foray for a meal.
A pearl-spotted owl peers out of its nesting hole before it sets out on a nightly foray for a meal.
As night falls a male leopard sets off to patrol his territory after resting up for the day. Night time is the time  the cats are most active, another reason why it’s my favourite time of day.
As night falls, a male leopard sets off to patrol his territory after having spent the day resting. Night time is the time that cats are most active, which is another reason why it’s my favourite time of day.
Shenton Safaris
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.