Story and lion cub photos by: Head Ranger Francois van Rhyn – Southern Camp
Not too long ago, while out on a game drive, as we drove past the bird hide one of my guests pointed to something in the distance and asked: “ Francois, what is that?” A memorable smile crossed my face and I began to remember that wonderful story…
The morning started off like any other early morning game drive. The sun rising over the horizon, the open game drive vehicle, allowing the wind to blow through our hair, birds singing their morning song and the fresh smell of that clear air filling our lungs.
Soon enough my guests had settled into the drive and were looking left, and looking right, trying to identify and piece together what animal activity transpired the night before.
It had not been very long since we had set out from Kapama Southern Camp, we came across a very sad scene!
We happened to stumble upon an animal in deep distress. The poor thing found himself in a position no one would ever want to find themselves; He was busy drowning…
Assessing the situation for a few moments, I could come to only one conclusion, The tallest, darkest most matured Giraffe I have ever laid eyes on, must have gone down to this dried-up river bed to drink from the muddy water the rain provided the night before not knowing that such a natural act would lead him into such peril.
Giraffes are known for going days without drink water, they get most of their fluids from the fresh leaves at the tops of trees. Tall, curious and elegant! As good as their eyesight might be, no Giraffe could possibly have seen this ending coming.
It had been a fairly dry season and desperate for water, this Giraffe could clearly wait no more. This Dark, muddy and stinky water was too good to refuse! Was it really worth it Mr Giraffe?
As he went down to drink the dark smelly water, he must have lost his footing and slipped…falling hard in the sludgy mess of a mud pool and was unable to get back up. His head would have been the first thing to hit the water. Due to the murkiness of the drinking pool, he found himself completely stuck – and exposed to elements of the wild. It was a natural occurrence. We could do nothing but watch as the light of this magnificent and elegant giraffe’s last days drew closer and closer, until, with a final stifled laboured breath, … finally … quiet … peaceful. Death drew over the Giraffe like a blanket
It was a difficult moment for all of us. We felt frozen in our seats just staring at the mud pool, unable to utter a word.
But the story did not end there!
As sad as this encounter was, nature always has its own system of balance. The inevitable circle of life.
The next day, we returned to the scene to see what activity this tragic death might have conjured up. We were by no means disappointed. Over the next couple of days, we were presented with numerous activity around this unfortunate incidence. First up, as we approached the mud hole we spotted a few young lion cubs. We spend an hour or so just observing the interaction between the lion cubs (8 – 10 Months) as they battled it out to see who would get first dibs on the soft tender meat around the face? Isn’t it amazing how instinct guides them to these small wonders?
However, would you believe it, of all creatures great and small, the fish actually beat them to it and got to feast on the soft tender parts of the poor giraffe first? Yes, the catfish that were in that river when the water level was higher were forced to retreat underground due to the drought – once again another miraculous survival trait of nature. They received a second chance at life when water from the rains flooded the surface again. The fish could happily swim out and gorge themselves on the Giraffe corpse, with the drought long forgotten.
Later that evening on another game drive, when we passed by again for another assessment, we discovered that Hippos, to our surprise, showed up after dark and nibbled away on the unexpected feast. As Hippos are mainly herbivores, in dry conditions they are known for consuming meat as a protein boost.
But of all the animals we encountered flocking to the muddy carcass, day after day, I must say, watching the lion cubs intrigued me the most.
As the cubs battled to get on the bloated Giraffe; they could not help but get covered in mud. These young inexperienced cubs weren’t going to break through the tough giraffe skin that easily. They would return day after day. Each day they tried their luck, wasted their time and energy, endlessly trying to break trough that tough hide, but with no luck.
It took about 9 Days before there were only skin and bone that remained.
Between the fishes, the cubs, the hippos, vultures and the Hyena, they made light work of the 1200 kg Giraffe carcase.
As a guide, we get exposed to animal kills and carcases but this surely was one to remember.
I can’t drive past Mongoose dam without thinking of this Giraffe and his amazing story. He served a purpose even in death. Nature never seems to disappoint.
…So on the game drive that fine morning, when my guest pointed in the distance and asked:
Francois, what is that?…
I sadly told them it was a Giraffe skull, lying there almost like a monument, reminding us of the beauty behind nature and how this one animal kept so much of the reserve fed because he stopped for a drink of murky water!
Rest in peace, Mr Giraffe!