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.”
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.”
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.”