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Shenton Safaris

So, have you checked out the beauty that is Marataba since my last post? How many times have I told friends that I am finally living my dream?

Marakele Private Reserve
Paradise on earth. It’s called Marataba © Pete Oxford

Woven into this dream are a host of characters in the Marataba web of life. In the last post, I mentioned a bush pig that had had a run in with Lightning, our “friendly” leopard. It was a male bush pig, silver in colour, who, since the incident, had been a frequent visitor to our ‘garden’ – a loose term as we are in the middle of the bush with only a two-strand elephant wire around us. Much more frequent, to the point of never missing a night, was his female companion, a striking, rich chestnut, black and white bush pig. The male we called Spok and the female, unoriginally, Babe.

Now Babe was a cool pig. I knew little of bush pigs, or that they would turn out to be full of surprises. The body of water in front of our house for example, is a good 100 meters wide yet we were very surprised to see Spok effortlessly swim across it for no other reason than to get to the other side. One day we found a freshly dead, uneaten, silver bush pig on the far bank, killed by lions. We have never seen Spok again. A while later the same lions killed another bush pig, from a different group, several kilometers away and again did not eat it. Meanwhile Babe was now a regular. We had been putting out vegetable scraps as compost as we loathe waste. It never even occurred to us that they might be enough to attract a wild bush pig.

bushpig, small wildlife
Babe investigating the camera. © Pete Oxford

Eventually however, this notoriously dangerous animal would wander around, often only a meter or so away from me, as I sat on our low wall. She would root around in our rapidly impoverished lawn and always visit while we were intent on a braai. Controllable by voice, I only had to tell, her ‘No!’ and she backed off. Her hooves sounded like a small pony as she walked up and down on the paving. She showed no fear and her grubby nose smears still stain our glass doors as she learnt to deal with something solid but invisible. We often stared intently into each other’s eyes and I could see that she was intelligent. I only hope that the feeling was mutual.

Lions, african predator
Bushpig murder culprit? © Pete Oxford

One morning after a couple of months of Babe’s nightly visits, I found the two ‘boys’, a pair of young lion brothers who were gradually being ousted by the dominant male. They were the pig killers and were about 150 meters from our house. Sitting in beautiful light, with reeds as a backdrop, and that tinge of pink on their forepaws and chest hinting at their predatory prowess, they looked magnificent. I stayed with them a long time and managed some nice portrait shots. That night Babe never came. Nor has she been back since. If that was her blood on the lion’s paws I hope at least that they actually ate her. I never found a corpse and can only guess her fate. She has left a hole. Some optimistic friends have told us “Naah! She’s probably off somewhere making a big nest and raising lots of piglets” – a nice thought. And one I hope to be true!

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Pete Oxford

British-born Pete Oxford has been a resident of Ecuador, South America, for the past 27 years. He and his South African wife and photographic partner, Reneé Bish, have been regular and frequent visitors to southern Africa for the past two decades. They are presently based in the Marataba private concession in Marakele National Park, Limpopo province, where they work as 'photographers-in-residence', documenting both the treasures and the rebuilding of the contractual national park. The Oxfords' work has appeared in magazines around the world, including Africa Geographic, Time, Smithsonian, Life, BBC Wildlife and National Geographic. The couple has published 12 books. Pete is a founding fellow of the prestigious International League of Conservation Photographers, has been represented 10 times in the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards and was recognised by Outdoor Photographer Magazine as one of the top 40 most influential nature photographers in the world.