A Morning of Lions

It is always a treat when we hear back from our guests about how much they enjoyed their wonderful stay at Kapama Game Reserve in South Africa. Often we receive emails or direct messages on Facebook with a recap of a magical and phenomenal game drive that truly moved them, or a word of praise for a waiter or server that went over and above the call of duty and made guests stay just that little bit more special.  We love and appreciate the time that guests take to thank us and share their memories through stories, photos and videos. One such story was shared by Kapama Karula guest Melanie Jones.  We trust you will enjoy it as much as we did.

A morning of lions and a reminder of how glorious (and finite) this beautiful life is…

We began the morning with a gentle cruise  where we were treated to a wonderful viewing of three male kudus and some giraffe.

Shortly afterwards, we drove down from the plain and came upon a lioness with her face to the sun on the raised platform below which we were travelling. She called intermittently, a low sweet sound, and was soon joined by three cubs. Quickly though, once the cubs negotiated their way down the vertical, they moved off, into the bush below the road, down the river bank below.

 

 

Being unable to see the lions anymore, we turned around and headed north across the bridge. We soon stopped in a lightly wooded area alongside the river to view a woodland kingfisher. After taking a few easy pictures, we eased the vehicle slowly forward.

 

 

Within a few moments, the world exploded.

All of a sudden there was a rushing noise of chase behind us, then alongside us and then in front. All this in a matter of two or three seconds.

What followed afforded us an incredible sighting of two adult lionesses and three cubs by the river, which culminated in a dramatic kill of a baby bushbuck.

The bushbuck scrambled up a bank into the thicket and the female lion leapt into the air and catapulted herself down onto the bushbuck, bringing it to a thudding halt, knocking it to the ground like a single blow of a hammer. The others came fast from behind to join her. They proceeded to respond to the urgency of their hunger and the innate drive of instinct and began feasting. The growling among them was a like a bush acoustic, that called to me to video what we could now only hear. The kill came to its denouement out of view deep in the thicket of the bushveld.

 

 

It was the sort of experience by which even the most sceptical and hardened of city slickers would have been thrilled, shaken and stunned. A dramatic and poignant revelation  of the glorious life, and the unstoppable death, given to us, by the bush.”

Story and photos by Kapama Karula guest Melanie Jones – 2nd Stay – September 2018


CURIOSITY KILLED THE… VULTURE?

On an afternoon game drive, myself and my tracker Joel Khoza were looking for leopard when we came to an area where there were several vultures in the air and treetops.

We looked for signs of a predator or a kill but didn’t find anything. Joel got off the vehicle to check a dry riverbed nearby. Within a few moments, he reappeared, rushing back to the vehicle with a huge smile, giving away that he had found something.

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He indicated to me to turn around and hurry to the other side. As we pulled around, I spotted a leopard in the very top of a tall Marula tree. He was sitting on a vulture’s nest! There was a baby vulture in the nest and the leopard was swatting his paw at it.

The mother vulture was flying overhead screeching and mobbing the leopard (“mobbing” describes the behavior of birds trying to chase away predators by diving at them).

The leopard was grunting and hissing at the baby. Even without recognizing him by his spot patterns, it was already obvious to me which leopard this was – our youngest resident male. We call him Hanyile.

Hanyile is well-known for being a busy-body and curious leopard. True to his reputation, he was up to his antics again.

Hanyile was hesitant to jump in the nest and remained on edge. After about 10 minutes, he grabbed the chick with one of his claws and raised it up and down, to either to get a better look or to bite it.

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After picking it up, he lost his grip and the vulture baby plummeted to the ground. It didn’t survive the fall.

Though the baby had fallen, the mother vulture was still pestering the leopard. With the object of his curiosity gone, he made his way down the tree.

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Hanyile showed off his delicate balance as he descended from the flimsy branches. At the bottom, he sniffed around the chick but then left it and moved on without biting or trying to eat it.

This is not something that myself or Joel had ever seen before. The best explanation I can give is that Hanyile was curious about the vulture in the nest and he went to investigate.

Hanyile is a young cat so he still has a lot to discover, and exploring is how he learns about his surroundings.

He didn’t eat the meat of the chick, most likely because he wasn’t desperate for food and would prefer the meat of something else.

It’s documented that other birds of prey will snatch a vulture from a nest, but to witness a young leopard doing this is a rare sight.

It is certainly not something I will ever forget.

Words by: Ruvan Grobler
Photos by: Ivory Lodge Guest Michelle Matthies DiSciullo


WAHU – PAYING TRIBUTE TO A LEGEND!

Some called him WAHU, others WAHOO. A ‘wahoo’ is actually known to be a fish – but this cat was given this unique name, to ‘imitate’ the motherly sound a female leopard makes when she calls her cubs . . . .

To be able to understand his name completely – YOU will just have to use your imagination and try (quietly and perhaps privately . . .) to make the sound that Wayne Hanssen, made from the day little Wahu arrived on Okonjima! He called him this way ‘to get his attention and to comfort him’. If you get it right – you will know WHY THIS SPECIAL LEOPARD WAS CALLED – WAHU!

As many supporters of Namibia’s AfriCat know, WAHU was part of the Hanssen-Okonjima-AfriCat family since he was a week old.

A farmer contacted AfriCat to pick up a cheetah cub that he had just caught on his farm. AfriCat rushed to its rescue, only to find that it was actually a leopard cub. AfriCat begged the farmer to take the little cub back to the area he was found, for there was a good chance that its mother was moving her cubs to a new den and had only temporarily deserted her one cub – and would have later returned to collect it.

On that farm a local herdsman was walking through the bush looking for cattle, and unfortunately stumbled across this little creature and picked it up to take back home, obviously not realizing how dangerous that move could have been, if the mother was close by. Also, like many others before him – naively did not realize that his action on that day – 20 years ago, would be the end of a ‘natural life’ for this little, wild creature . . .

So began Wahu’s journey as one of AfriCat’s first rescued carnivores!

Wahu’s eyes were still closed as he was just a few days old. Due to his young age he had to be hand-reared (by Lisa and Wayne Hanssen) which then obviously habituated him and he became unsuitable for release.

At first he spent all his cub-time in their home. As he grew stronger he was taken for long walks in the bush every day by at least one member of the Hanssen family – to try and force him, through trial and error, to hone in those leopard instincts that are strong and accurate. Later on he was given a 500ha enclosure that had natural prey living beside him, but he seemed lonely as he constantly longed for the attention of humans – instead of going wild and living off the available prey. After a few years he was moved to a 12-acre enclosure closer to AfriCat HQ and was then regularly seen by school groups and guests. Wahu was one of AfriCat’s greatest leopard ambassadors – his legacy will live on forever!

leopard face on found in Nambia

For some people, the tragedy of losing a ‘pet’ or a wild animal that has been part of your life for a certain period – occurs in the blink of an eye. One moment everything is fine, and the next your breath is knocked from your chest.

For others, losing an animal you have raised and cared for and loved for many years – occurs over an extended period of time, usually because there is the gradual worsening of an illness before having to make the dreaded decision to end his or her suffering.

But for everyone, there is grief. You are left to deal with a suddenly hollow place left in your heart. It’s a space that was once filled with barked greetings, or deep purrs, a head-rub or an intense look of recognition… now strangely parted from your life – forever.

We are not saying that losing your much-loved animal is the worst thing that can happen to a person. But that doesn’t make the loss insignificant.

Wahu had been battling with numerous health issues, especially those relating to his kidneys and the arthritis in his legs, which was making life really difficult for him at the age of 20.

After a thorough health check on him, the team together with the Hanssen family, collectively agreed to say good-bye.

All creatures, even those we love most, must die one day. Even we ourselves. That kind of consciousness is what sweeps over one – when you are in the presence of greatness and you know the time has come to say goodbye to a living species that was part of your journey for 20 years.

This was the feeling that swept over everyone that was present the day Dr Rodenwoldt and Dr Tordiffe put Wahu to sleep! The entire AfriCat clinic fell silent and there was a tear in everyone’s heart who witnessed Wahu fall into a deep sleep as his heart grew weaker and weaker and then stopped.

legendary Leopard known as Wahu part of the AfriCat family

On behalf of Team AfriCat & Wahu, we would like to thank ALL OF YOU for your continuous support. We appreciate your help in aiding us to accomplish our mission which is – the long-term conservation of Namibia’s large carnivores.

The conservation work at AfriCat is only made possible because of supporters like you!

AfriCat will continue to focus on Environmental Education & Carnivore Research and Community Support, helping as many of Namibia’s large carnivores as possible, by researching solutions for these precious carnivores to survive the harsh reality of their ever increasing challenges, mainly due to human encroachment on their natural habitat.

AfriCat will continue to work towards encouraging co-existence, and more tolerance. We are convinced now, more than ever, that the ‘conservation of wildlife’ will only be taken seriously when the youth of today understands the value of predator, prey and all living creatures and fights for their protection.

Roam the ‘happy hunting grounds’ dear friend. You have done us proud and you have been with us from the beginning of this story – called Okonjima.

Wayne and Wahu relaxing together

Wayne, Donna, Tammy + Rosalea Hanssen, Luigi Bassi, Yolandi Roos & Tristan Boehme

 

TRIBUTES TO A LEGEND CONTINUED …

“Wahu… What a Cat! NO ONE will ever forget that”
“Thank you Wahu for all the amazing teaching you did. We at AfriCat’s Environmental Education Programmer will ensure that your legacy remains active and your message continues!
“See how utterly amazing we leopards are, how incredibly adaptive…. Ensure you do all you can to conserve us and our habitat”
You are seriously missed.
Okonjima guide and AfriCat Environmental Educator +Teacher: Helen Newmarch and all at AfriCat E.E and all those privileged to have spent time in your presence.

school children learn about leopards from the safety of a hide


THE ALPHAS OF MADIKWE

One of the main reasons people come to Africa is to see the ‘Big 5’ while on safari, but there are other so-called “alphas” to consider.

The term ‘Big 5’, which consists of elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard, originates from the old hunting days, when these beasts were considered to be the 5 most dangerous animals to hunt on foot.

Although the Big 5 are truly a wonder of nature, they are not the be-all and end-all of a safari experience.

There are many reserves that are lucky enough to contain the Big 5, including Madikwe, however another list should come to mind: the top 5 apex predators or alphas of the African savanna.

These carnivores all sit within the upper echelon of the predator hierarchy. Madikwe Game Reserve is one of a few places where you not only get to see the Big 5, but also these animals, namely the spotted hyena, cheetah and even the African wild dog.

Since all these hunters all compete for the same resources, they are locked in a war that none of them can afford to lose.

The secret to their success can be credited to their size, social structures and hunting abilities. Therefore the various winning methods that they use are specific to the niche where they operate.

Let’s take a closer look at our Madikwe animal hierarchy…

 

Tied for First: Lions and Spotted Hyenas

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In the case of Madikwe Game Reserve, lions and spotted hyenas are right at the top of this of list, battling for the number one spot with their formidable weight and group coordination.

Second Place: African Wild Dog

alphas wild dog

 

In second place comes the highly social but smaller African wild dog, which is currently the most endangered carnivore in southern Africa, even though it is the most successful hunter.

 

Third Place: Leopard

alphas leopard

 

The leopard takes fourth as a medium-sized solitary hunters. The leopard has the upper hand for its larger size, and also its ability to hoist prey into trees and out of the claws of other predators.

 

Fourth Place: Cheetah

alphas-test

 

The cheetah occupies the last position. They are either solitary hunters or hunt in small groups. Because of their small frame they often lose their prey to the predators listed above.

 

Honorary Mention: Brown Hyena

alphas hyena

 

One other carnivore that should be mentioned is the rare brown hyena, an animal that Madikwe Game Reserve is well known for. Due to its size, it is capable of chasing other predators away and stealing their kills, however it is primarily a scavenger and doesn’t fit in with the rest of these hunters.

Words and Photos by: Field Guide Hugh Morris


Gentle Ghostly Giants

Tracking the mighty beasts, or otherwise known as, “the gentle giants” of the African bush can be a difficult task. Especially when they seem to be on a serious mission. Often it seems, as we move from one road to the next spotting fresh tracks, that we have just missed them. The question always goes through my mind: Will we find them?

With expectant guests that have traveled far and wide to be surrounded by the magnificent wilderness of South Africa, almost always want to see elephants. My tracker, Mike and I, know we can never give up. Seeing the African Elephant and its seemingly magical movement is a must when visiting Africa and it is up to us show our guests.

It was another beautiful day in South Africa. We had left River lodge for the morning safari. There was still a slight chill in the air as the sun began to show its first rays of the day. We stopped for a morning coffee to warm us up and to think about our next move. We had been following elephants tracks we picked up as we left camp, but nothing had revealed itself as yet. The gentle giants have the amazing ability, as large as they are, to blend into and move silently through the bush, causing much frustration when you can’t find them. After our coffee break, we felt refreshed and ready to search again.

We decided to go to a dam close by. As we haven’t had much rain, the bushveld is extremely dry. The elephants seemed to have moved in the direction of one of the few dams which still holds some water. We stopped at the dam…..but nothing. Have we missed them again? We drove around the water and saw no tracks. Perhaps we beat them to the water? Perhaps we got in front of them? All these questions streaming through my mind.

Feeling defeated, we started discussing some of the tree and bird species that call this waterhole home. A South African safari is not only about the Big Five, but all different types of flora and fauna that make us the ecosystem. We were lucky enough to see an array of birds coming down for a drink. While taking in and enjoying the sounds around us, my tracker, Mike heard something. It was a crack of sorts. These ‘cracks’ became louder and louder. Could this be the ‘ghosts’ we had been searching for all morning? We watched and waited …. very patiently…. when finally, a single elephant popped out of the dense thickets. Where there is one, others are sure to follow, and they did. What a spectacular scene unfolded before our eyes. One after the other, big, small, male, female the herd of elephants came down to the water.

If anyone has spent time with these wonderful beasts, they will know that to see them swim is a magical and surreal experience. That is just what they did. The herd enjoyed the cool water, splashing and playing with not a care in the world.  It is amazing how graceful the African Elephant can be. Even more than that, you can feel the fun and joy they are experiencing and you cannot help but smile and feel the rest of the world fade away.

Interesting facts about Elephants and water:

  • Elephants have enough buoyancy to stay afloat and they use their powerful legs to paddle
  • They swim completely submerged, with their head above the water and their mouths below,
  • Their trunks or proboscis is used as a snorkel. They can cross deep water and are able to breathe normally even when submerged

From a slow start to a morning drive, the unexpected sighting of the ghostly gentle giants made the morning so special for our guests. They could tick Elephants off their bucket list.

It was truly a memorable experience. One where you could feel a part of something and forget about everything else happening around you.

Story and photos by Ranger Michael Lester – River Lodge


Signs of a South African Summer!

South Africa’s summer is approaching fast! Over the last few months, we have started noticing some characteristic signs of the arriving summer. I’m not talking about rising temperatures or small bits of rain, but rather things that we might come across on a game drive. This includes things like the smallest wildflower, the distant call of an arriving migrant bird or a dung beetle collecting some dung.

This is an exciting time of the year for us as the bush comes alive. Kapama Private Game Reserve is certainly a year-round destination, with winter offering terrific sightings of both animals and birds. However,  summer brings in new and exciting aspects to a Safari.

Migrant Birds usually start arriving in September with the first that I saw, on Kapama, being the Wahlberg’s Eagle. They have spent our winter in East Africa where temperatures are more suitable but have returned south for the breeding season. These eagles usually return in their breeding pairs to the exact same nest year after year. They also come in various color variations, due to the shortage or surplus of certain pigmentation in their feathers, which makes them one of my favorites! November should bring the Woodland Kingfisher whose characteristic call dominates the Lowveld mornings.

 

 

I’ve spotted two wildflowers in the last couple weeks. One being the Dwarf Bush-cherry on a recent walk. And the other being a Mexican Prickly Poppy on a morning game drive. Wildflowers are vital to support and anchor loose, fertile top soils to help prevent erosion and promote the growth of other plants. The majority of them are also really beautiful adding a different element to a photograph.

 

 

Dung Beetles are a firm favorite amongst most guides and guests. Most guests have seen these insects on documentaries pushing around their ball of dung and just cannot wait to see it for real! Although it’s only one of the four families of dung beetles that actually push their ball around, it is the family we see most often. Dung of animals is interesting on its own. Giving us insight into what an animal eats, what digestive system it has or how they can use to communicate. Now add a bunch of different size and colored beetles rolling and fighting over balls of dung and you can imagine our excitement. Typically, the male beetle rolls the ball, having to fight off competitors in the process. The female chooses a mate based on his ball, mates with him and then attaches herself to the ball. While the male rolls the ball to a suitable location the female will lay an egg inside. They will then bury the ball. Months later when the egg hatches, the larvae will begin to feed on the dung ball. Seeing these beetles rolling their balls down the road usually causes lots of excitement and gives us a worthy reason to lie down on the ground to snap a great picture.

 

Although some reptiles such as Terrapins and Skinks are seen all year round, the rising activity of others usually indicates the arrival of summer. Snakes, Monitor Lizards and Tortoises are very inactive for the majority of winter. These animals use the cold temperatures to slow down their metabolism. This causes them to require a lot less energy and help them get through winter. The rains usually bring the tortoises out of hiding, however, snake and monitor sightings are increasing rapidly. There have already been a couple sightings of African Rock Pythons which I consider to be very special. Especially the really big ones which are quite rare! We don’t always see many snakes but rather their tracks crossing the roads as we head out on our afternoon safaris. They take advantage of the warmer mid-day temperatures to move about. You have to be quite lucky to come across a snake while on safari so don’t worry about walking to and from your room! Remember, they are more scared of you than you are of them.

 

 

Try to take the time to enjoy the little things as well as the big game while out on safari rather than only the bigger animals. You’ll be surprised at how much you will enjoy them!
Story and photos by Ranger Mike Brown – Southern Camp


A Moving Branch!

We were on our way back to camp for breakfast on a wonderfully warm morning. It had been particularly cold when we set out from Buffalo Camp. All of us wrapped up in scarfs with our very own hot-water bottle and blanket to keep the chill at bay. But as it reached about 9 o’clock, it had warmed up by about 15 degrees. Out came the hats, sunglasses, sunblock, and… a puff adder!

That’s right, in the early mornings, in our part of South Africa, being The Greater Kruger, it gets hot enough during the earlier part of the day for many reptile and insect species, all being ectothermic, (regulating their body temperature through external sources) to move around to find food.

 

African Safaris

 

I had been driving on a straight road when in the distance I spotted what looked like a thick branch lying in the middle of the road. I looked around, scanning the bush and terrain for other animals that would now be moving to find water. I looked back onto the road and this “branch” had somehow moved to the other side of the road. I drove up to it and there in its place, was a beautiful puff adder.

It looked to be just over a metre in length and the typically large and relatively flat head that is distinct from the body makes it instantly recognizable. The eyes are small with vertical pupils, the nostrils large and directed upwards. They have regular and usually darker, chevron-like markings on the back and this works as a concealing camouflage, allowing them to disappear behind fallen leaves or around any vegetation. Their belly is white or yellow, with some scattered dark spots.

 

Luxury African Safaris

 

Puff adders have a potently cytotoxic venom causing pain, swelling, blistering and necrosis, and can be life-threatening. So, for this reason, I did not pick up the snake, nor want to cause any reaction from it. It moves in a unique rectilinear fashion when relaxed and a quicker serpentine motion (commonly associated with snakes) when stressed. It is therefore usually slow-moving, using its camouflage instead to hide. They have an incredibly fast strike rate, however, more than 5 metres per second, so it’s a good idea to keep your distance and just admire the hypnotizing pattern arrangement from afar instead. When disturbed the snake will coil itself into a defensive S-shaped posture and hiss loudly, that is why its common name is “Puff adder”. This hissing is used as a warning signal, it’s best not to ignore it. The puff adder is commonly thought to be a bit of a ‘lazy’ snake but is actually just an expert at conserving its energy. It can patiently lie for weeks waiting for a meal, using its excellent camouflage to avoid being detected.

 

South Africa Safaris

 

As soon as it had crossed the road and into the thick grass on the side, it appeared to the untrained eye to have almost vanished. It is always a treat finding snakes on a game drive as most species pick up the vibrations of the vehicle or us walking on the ground and will move off. Just like us, they prefer to be away from danger and keep out of any contact situation. It’s all about respect.


Cannibal Cobras

Last spring, researchers in South Africa’s Kalahari Desert found a large male cape cobra devouring another smaller male of the same species. Surprised by the thought-to-be-rare event, they decided to investigate how common and widespread cannibalism was in cobras.

Apart from a few species, scientific understanding of snake diets is lacking. Snakes are elusive creatures that feed relatively infrequently, making feeding observations difficult to come by. Bryan Maritz, a researcher at the University of the Western Cape and lead author of the new study in the Ecological Society of America’s journal Ecology, explains, “This work highlights a renewed effort to meaningfully quantify several aspects of snake natural history, especially in poorly studied regions such as Africa.”

While Cape cobras (Naja nivea) are known to eat other snake species – up to a third of their diet – recorded instances of Cape cobras eating individuals of the same species, known as conspecifics, has been extremely rare. Scientists have treated such reported observations as aberrant behavior.

 

Researcher inspecting sociable weaver nest and a Cape cobra

 

So, what caused this Cape cobra to attack and eat the smaller male of its kind? How often does this happen? Do all cobras take part in cannibalism?

Maritz and fellow researchers in the southern African region were studying resource competition between two African snake species when they saw the rare cobra cannibalistic display that inspired them to conduct the new study. Snakes provide a unique opportunity to examine both cannibalism and when animals hunt and eat snakes (ophiophagy) because of their shape – prey fits easily into the predator’s mouth and body for consumption and digestion.

“Cobras” consist of about 30 species, six of which were included in the study. Results suggest that not only do wild cobras frequently eat other snakes – snakes accounted for 13-43% of all species they consumed – but also that cannibalism may be somewhat common as well, given that five of the six species displayed the behaviour.

Interestingly, Cape cobras ate conspecifics in surprising abundance – the only species they consumed more frequently was puff adders. Additionally, the researchers only found males engaged in cannibalism events, as prey or predator, hinting that this might impact intrasexual competition. This raises the question of whether cannibalism evolved from a male-male combative behaviour, considering that male-male combat in cobras typically includes biting.

Understanding how snakes interact with not only other species, but also with individuals of their own, can provide a basis for learning about more complex behaviour in different scenarios. If their ecosystem warms drastically and food becomes scarcer, will snakes engage more often in cannibalism? If cannibalism drives snakes to select for larger sizes, what effect will that have on the other kinds of prey they eat? Maritz hopes that “improved understanding of snake ecology and feeding in general will help to highlight the ecological functional roles that snakes are performing in African ecosystems.”

Cape cobras occurs are found throughout the Western Cape‚ Northern Cape‚ Eastern Cape‚ Free State‚ and North West Province in South Africa. They are also found in the southern half of Namibia‚ southwestern Botswana‚ and western Lesotho.


Lower Zambezi’s Secret Season

Safely tucked into a window seat on a light aircraft from Lusaka, we were on our way to experience the ‘secret season’ in one of Zambia’s most diverse and untouched wilderness frontiers, the Lower Zambezi National Park. It is hard to imagine what our experience would be like in what is also known as ‘green season’ – the start of the rains in this part of the world.

Upon arrival at Royal Zambezi Lodge, we are greeted with the warmest smile from Benji, one of the waiting staff, and almost instantly feel part of the “Royal” family. The tented suites are sitting on the edge of the Zambezi River giving the sense the lodge has been carefully woven into the surrounding environment – the wildlife have right of way here, which is how it should be. Looking out at the mighty Zambezi River is breathtaking – the reflections of the sun off the water look as if a thousand diamonds are shining through and dazzling you.

Royal Zambezi Lodge is the only lodge open during this time of the year, December to March, so the intrepid traveller would be content knowing they have the sanctuary of the whole Lower Zambezi to themselves.

Most of us, having been on safari before during the drier months, were in awe exploring the Lower Zambezi as each area unveiled its own secrets, packaged in splendid shades of green. The first thing we noticed were all the baby impala, whose birth is precisely timed to the start of the rains as explained by Leo our guide, playing and jumping in their herds. You don’t get to see babies at other times of the year so this was a special treat for us.

In a raw African experience, the thrill of your safari is seeking out wildlife on adventurous treks through their natural ecosystem and appreciating all the small things along the way that work together to create the perfect home for all creatures, big and small.

Male lion resting in Lower Zambezi National Park

 

After spotting some male lions relaxing in the sun were lucky enough to come across a female leopard with two adolescent cubs – absolutely INCREDIBLE!

One of the cubs had an impala kill and sat there playing with it whilst the other cub climbed the nearby tree and watched us with curiosity. The leopards were a lot more active than the lions and were also not perturbed by our presence. This was just one activity – exciting, thrill seeking, rewarding and beautiful.

On occasions when we couldn’t do a game drive due to heavy rainfall and to give the roads a chance to dry out, we would opt for a walking safari. You are taken for a short boat ride on the Zambezi to the area where the walking safaris start – an ancient village sight that was there before the forming of the national park. Walking into the park the first thing that grabs our attention is the explosion of white butterflies all around us, drinking from the puddles created by the rains. Baboons were playing in the flowering baobab tree above with babies attached to their mother’s bellies. This could quite literally set the scene for a baboon’s wedding complemented with the “confetti” of flying African migrant butterflies.

 

African migrant butterflies drinking moisture from the ground in Lower Zambezi National Park

 

What we loved about the walking safari was getting to engage our senses in the smaller things you wouldn’t usually get to experience on a game drive.

One afternoon we did the canoeing trail, which is done on a channel off the Zambezi River and flows towards the escarpment. The serenity of this activity is hard to describe and makes you feel like you are the only few people on Earth at that moment. This adventure is fantastic for birding and seeing game such as elephants (also known as ‘Zambezi traffic’ as they cross from one side of the channel to the other invariably making you wait until they pass), buffalo, baboons, waterbuck, impala and hippos.

At the end of each day, either on a boat cruise or game drive, we all sat there relaxing with a G&T in hand and watched as an explosion of red, orange, purples and pinks filled the sky behind patches of cloud, almost as a final goodbye and please come back, whilst the sun set behind the Zambezi Escarpment.

As we were leaving, one of our group turned to Natalie, the GM who has made Royal her home for the past eight years, and asked, “Why do you call it the ‘secret season’?”

Natalie looked at the other staff, who were all there waving us goodbye and had welcomed us into the Royal family, and answered back with a big smile, “Well, isn’t this place just the BEST kept secret?”

We all smiled. It most certainly is.