The day started with the usual morning coffee and meeting my guests before our safari game drive at Southern Camp. I set out on drive hoping to see maybe some Lions or even the gentle giants of the bush veld.
Not even 5 minutes from Kapama Southern Camp, we encounter one of my favorite animals, a Pangolin!
These little nocturnal anteaters are super cute but are also highly endangered. They are covered in keratinous scales which help protect them from predators as they curl up into a ball, similar to an armadillo (but not related in any way). They are currently the most trafficked mammal in the World… So immediately I start cheering, having a mini attack of excitement, as these animals are very rare to see.
There was also a lot of joy in having found this one myself and with it being so early in the morning. It was probably finishing its nightly activities and getting ready to find a safe burrow and rest for the day before going out again that night… So I grabbed my camera and I started explaining to my guests about this awesome find, they were a bit tentative at first but we disembarked the vehicle, giving our little friend enough space of course.
She was initially curled up, I think the noise of the vehicle spooked her slightly, but she peeked her face out from her body, sniffed around and then started wandering off into the thickets. Luckily, we got to see her and take nice photos of her uncurling and walking away. It was truly a breath-taking experience seeing one again but also just watching her being in her natural habitat and going about her business as usual.
So we left her to her own devices and set off again to see what else we could find.
After a couple of minutes of driving, we saw a blur of something running off the side of the road not far in front of us. It was a Leopard! She was hunched down and looking very uncomfortable. I looked past her and we saw that Nyala were staring right at her and also barking their alarm calls. These barks are quite loud and almost explosive sounding, so no wonder the Leopard looked weary as she was probably feeling very exposed. As we watched her run across the road and disappear in the thick bush we were still being bombarded with barks from the Nyalas. The Leopard sighting was so quick none of us could even think of taking any photos so I tried following up on where she had disappeared hoping for another look. We had one fleeting glimpse of her heading straight into a large drainage line. As we moved past we discovered an Impala kill stashed in a tree not far from where we had the last sighting of the Leopard. Putting 2 and 2 together we assumed it might be this Leopard’s kill. I didn’t want to disturb her too much so we waited for a couple of minutes to see if she would return but she was still a bit too shy to show herself and we left her in peace somewhere probably watching us.
We continued with our drive. As we made our way closer to a large open area, there was suddenly a low roar in the distance… We stopped to listen and sure enough, it came again. It was a male Lion calling not too far off. Then…silence. No other calls after that and soon I was doubting whether he was even one of ours at all. We were close to the river, which forms part of our boundary with one of the neighbouring reserves. As we did not hear the roar again, we decided to enjoy the beautiful morning with a signature Southern Camp coffee stop, taking in the wide-open view that this area has to offer while Giraffe and Zebra walking in the distance kept us entertained. Once we had warmed ourselves with refreshments, we continued our morning safari!
I made my way north along the river to see if maybe we could spot a crocodile or even some Hippos, when we had the best possible surprise and sighting of the morning! We came across our one-eyed male Lion King of Kapama!
Watching him is always a pleasure as he is just such a handsome, awe-inspiring Lion. What a magnificent sight! We sat in silence and watched him as he made his way past us, stopping to look around every so often. It was with amusement that we saw him try and chase a big male Giraffe. But there wasn’t much heart in the chase and he immediately gave up and lay down in some thick bush after the seemingly unsuccessful yet exhausting attempt. We left him alone to take a snooze in the morning sun.
Wanting to make my way to that Leopards kill, from earlier, I started heading back that side, and just as we left the river, there was another Leopard! What are the chances? This female was much more relaxed and was strolling from a termite mound back into the bush. She even looked back at us as she nonchalantly walked off… We determined that there were a lot of Impalas in the bush not far from her and so we were willing to wait and hear or see what happens. I made my way to the other side of the block that she was walking through and waited in a spot where I thought she might pop out. Not long after that, you could hear the impala’s alarm calls startup. If nothing else the impalas were giving us a good indication of the direction that this leopard was heading.
After about 10 minutes of patiently waiting we saw the female leopard’s head pop up on top of a large termite mound in front of us.
Slowly approaching as not to scare her off, we made our way closer to see her better. She watched us from a distance then made her way past us, in a very stealth manner and was gone in a drainage line that runs to the river.
I always say to my guests it is all about Luck and Timing… and in this case, our morning drive was about BOTH. What a day!
Story and photos by Southern Camp Ranger Rayna Schultz
There has been a rustle of excitement amongst experienced guides and African Safari goers as a rare melanistic serval has been recorded in the eastern plains of Tanzania’s Serengeti near Lemala Nanyukie as the words “paka mweusi” (“black cat”) get murmured between passing vehicles.
For some it is a sighting worth sitting and waiting for, while other, less experienced guides look confused not knowing what a “paka mweusi” is. Having never seen a black cat on safari before they tend to hurry on to find the next thing on the safari checklist.
Caused by a recessive gene that produces excessive melanin and turns the serval’s coat completely black, rather than its usual golden spotted pelt, makes the serval stand out during the daytime.
And for those that spot it they are awarded with a sighting of a lifetime, a sighting that the experienced guides will brag about for years to come.
Contrary to the common superstition around black cats, in the Serengeti it is incredibly good luck to spot a black cat crossing the dirt road! With only four records of black servals in East Africa, it truly is the holy grail of safari sightings.
Written by Rebecca Phillips
The one animal that has fascinated me the most, is the Spotted Hyena.
One early morning safari drive I was interpreting a termite mound with my Southern Camp guests, when my assistant guide, Oris, and I heard Hyenas calling in the distance. Our guests didn’t know it was Hyenas as most people associate Hyena calls with a high-pitched laughing sound like in the movies. I then told my intrigued guests that it is spotted Hyenas calling and smiles spread across their faces!
Hyenas are a well-known animal as they have featured in a few TV shows and movies, with probably one of the most famous being The Lion King, housing a reputation and a bad one at that. There was excitement buzzing around the group. Oris and I looked at each other, trying to decide if it was close enough to try and find. He smiled at me and we all hopped back onto the game vehicle to follow what we heard. The sound was more like a long ‘whooo-op’ like noise which Spotted Hyenas use as communication calls.
Upon following the noise, we came across four Hyenas that appeared out of the bush and continued to start crossing the road! We heard more ‘whooping’ and these four were heading straight in that direction. One large female stopped in the middle of the road, lifted her head and pointed her ears in the direction of the calls, taking in all the senses available. She then dropped her head and continued towards the calls.
I was practically bouncing out of my chair as it was my first time seeing these amazing animals up close for the first time! I took advantage of this incredible experience to take in everything I could. I noticed their sloped back and short back legs, their longer front legs leading to big strong shoulders, their massive head, and their rounded ears. There were beautiful!
There are a lot of misconceptions around Hyenas as they are seen as dirty, mean animals that steal and kill. Ecologically, they are a very important part of the food chain.
A few interesting facts about Spotted Hyenas:
– They don’t just scavenge for food but hunt and kill most of their food
– They will eat bones and rotten meat which in turn stops the spread of various diseases
– Spotted Hyenas are social mammals and live in structured groups, called clans
– The females are the dominant ones, larger and more aggressive than the males
– Female Hyenas give birth to one or two cubs a year, which she nurses in a den
– They are nocturnal (night hunters)
– The biggest of the Hyena species is the Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta)
In my opinion, they have a unique beauty to them and they make for excellent and interactive sightings and this one will be one I will never forget.
Story and photos by: Southern Camp Ranger Josh Venter