Lion or Leopard?

The lions had left the gorge with all the cubs, they were on the move again, and I was under pressure for the new group of guests arriving that afternoon. They were all on a photographic training tour around Southern Africa, stopping over at Kavinga for one night with high expectations. It was time to get serious, a quote I had learned and heard many times as an apprentice.

Luckily Clyde had told me roughly where he saw the last set of lion tracks, heading towards the Tsetse Fly Research Station.
Our group of Photographers arrived fully kitted with all their equipment and gear. “I hope that we find something good!” I said to Luke anxiously.

With no time to waste we had a quick cup of coffee and we were off! The first question I asked everyone was “Would you like to see leopard or lion?” just as a joke to get them excited. They all requested ‘’Leopard please!” and giggled as they knew that it was not that easy!

Within 10 minutes of our drive, we had watched a herd of chocolate coated elephant wallowing in the mud, then a little further down the road we saw the leopard! She was lying in the open on the bank of the Rukomeche river bed.
It was our resident female leopard- the super model, Ushingi. Caitlin named her in our first year we started at Kavinga. She would never run away and actually started coming closer to see us in the vehicle, she knew we were not a threat and was happy to let us take pictures.
Ushingi means the brave one or the courageous warrior. We named her this because of her personality and also the characteristic double line of spots on her forehead, like the war paint of a warrior.

After leaving Ushingi, we made our way towards the tsetse Fly Research Station and ended up photographing baobab tree silhouettes.
I was listening carefully to the Photographic tutor and picking up valuable photography tips while everyone was learning how to take the best pic and what settings to use. We had just jumped out of the vehicle to get a better angle of the baobab, when I told everyone to stop what they were doing and stand still. From the corner of my eye I picked up movement. It was one of the male lions lying under a bush about 20 meters away. We quietly got back into the vehicle and drove up to take a closer look. The whole pride was there and the cameras started to work over time! Now I know what it sounds like when 10,000 pictures are taken in 5 minutes. The bush paparazzi had arrived!

The lions have since killed and been feeding on an elephant in the spring in front of camp. The last three days have been awesome for our guests who got to see the restless cubs play while the pride gorges themselves and sleeps off the food baby-belly up.
Our guests have also been very lucky to see leopard drinking at the pan every night this week!
Its constant action during this time of the season, seeing either lion or leopard OR both!fullsizeoutput_161

A Once in a Lifetime Experience

Hello readers, sorry it’s been so long since I last wrote to you, its been pretty hectic down here. Camp has been very busy lately with a lot of bookings from excited wildlife enthusiasts and photographers.

This week all started with a bit of sad news after I had found an elephant carcass. I was lead to it by following a circling flock of vultures. The elephant had died from natural causes, it was not a pretty sight after the hyena had been there, so we left the scene to try find something more exciting. “Lion” the guests asked!

By sunrise the next day we were out on foot, ready for the lions! The wind started to pick up which made tracking near impossible. So we made our way to the spring in the Rukomeche where we saw a very exciting bird. It was a lifer for me- A Wattled Starling! The first Wattled Starling that has been seen at Kavinga actually. After taking enough photos and awwing over the bird, we made our way back to camp for some bacon and eggs. We couldn’t sit back and relax after breakfast though, we had lions to find!

Later that day we went to the Chewuya Gorge where we had last seen the lion tracks heading. I suspected they would be drinking in the rock pools we used to swim in. When the water was still quite high in the beginning of the season, we used to take guests there and have a quick dip in the cool water of the pools. Our guests always asked if there were crocodiles in the water and would not be happy with my assurances of their safety until they saw that Luke, our eager Learner Guide, was in the water and not getting eaten! But this time it was not crocodiles that made our guests nervous: it was the lions! Unfortunately the lions got our wind and scrambled up the side of the Gorge. We waited for them to settle and then followed them up. What a view! From the mountains of the escarpment you can see the whole of Mana, the lions were just in the foreground, and a stunning baobab on a ridge was the center of stage. It was magical!
Around the dinner table that evening, we all shared our stories of our sightings and highlights of the day. When all of a sudden, Clyde got up very excited and with his flash light waving from left to right, he  chirped “Leopard! Leopard! Leopard!” We all left the dinner table and peered over the edge, and there he was. A magnificent big male leopard drinking at our pan, “wow” I thought, “what a way to put a cherry on the top and end such a wonderful day.”

After all the stories and excitement at dinner, I had more guests wanting to see the lions on foot, so off we went at sunrise back to the Gorge! There were tracks everywhere leading in all directions but we kept our original route that lead up further into the Gorge. We noticed there were some fresh tracks leading up the mountain, but there were no cub tracks following them. When movement amongst the rocks got our attention. There were the four tiny cubs! Trotting straight towards us! I told everyone to keep still and quiet while I looked for the adults with my binoculars.
Amazingly, one little curious cub stopped about 5 meters from us up on a rock. He lay gazing into each of our eyes and was probably thinking “what are these odd creatures?”
I felt my skin tingle and hairs stood up on the back of my neck .
The little cub began to call, I looked back to check for mum but instead I saw my guests smiling in aww.
I then realized why the hairs on my neck stood, it was not fear it was a feeling. I cannot explain exactly, but I knew that this was one of those moments that was a once in a lifetime experience that myself and my guests would always remember forever.

44728447_1882358531812980_7245368047463038976_n

I am going to stop there for now and fill you in with my next blog! What happened the next day and yesterday, is a whole new story!
Keep an eye out on my Instagram page to see my pictures @hookedonsafari.

Thanks to Clyde Elgar for this fantastic photograph of the curious cub!

October is Here!

The August winds have blown us right through September and all of a sudden we’re half way through October. Now the famous Valley heat is starting to set in! The change in the season has resulted in an increase in thirsty animals. Eland drink at the spring everyday and there are countless numbers of impala, kudu and warthog at the pan during lunch time. Elephant cover the pan during the evening and keep our guests up with the splashes and trumpets.

The bird life at Kavinga has been fantastic. We have had regular sightings of the Yellow Billed Stork and Broad-billed Rollers. Carmine Bee-eaters decorate the bare trees like bright colored Christmas decorations. The Greater Painted Snipe is an exciting bird to tick off the Kavinga Bird List, and we have three of them at the pan as well as a flock of Southern Pochards in the pan! It won’t be long before we can start ticking off the African Pitta too. Eastern Nicators and Red-throated Twinspots sing in camp, while the White-Headed Vultures build their nest by the spring.

The lions have had us tracking them in circles and are now in the Chewuye Gorge with the cubs where they had killed a young elephant. The Wild Dog have not been seen for some time- since we noticed four of the pups were no longer with them.
The Baobabs have started flowering already along with a couple  of other trees that only normally flower much later in the season.

Some pretty strange and early changes this season, including some Leopard Tortoises walking about and Egyptian Geese passing through. We’re excited to see what the rest of the month has to offer!

Take Care of Yourselves,
Siraaj

The Cub Returns!

Picking up from where we left off with some good and happy news! The lion cub that got separated from the pride has been found and is back with his mother and siblings.

The evening the cub was found was quite an exciting night in fact. At about midnight our guests were awakened by the bellows of an impala coming from the pan. They shone their lights to find two impala had been chased towards the pan by the pack of Wild Dog. One impala was caught and killed and the other had run into the pan. The noise attracted the attention of our famous Kavinga Hyena clan who wasted no time in gathering their fellow scavengers and making the most of this easy meal. They chased the Wild Dog off their kill, but soon after were chased off themselves by the lion pride! The lions obviously heard the commotion too, and came to investigate. The pride spent the evening finishing off the two impala. They had a drink while we watched with our morning coffee, then moved off to sleep the day away in the shady riverbed.
The lion hunted again the next day, as two impala would have been just an appetizer to 16 hungry lions!

On our morning drive today we spotted vulture circling. This could only mean one thing- there was a carcass somewhere!   Myself and two brave guests (one of them coming to Africa for her very first time and excited for an adventure on foot), decided they would like to see if it was lions and what they might have killed.  We picked up on some tracks and followed them in towards a thicket while keeping an eye on the circling vultures above hoping we weren’t going to end up being their next meal!   Suddenly I saw movement!
It was one of the lioness trying to pull a buffalo carcass into the shade, it took her at least three minutes to notice we were there only about 20 meters down wind.  But when she did, she let out an almighty growl and snarled at us flicking her tail while we backed off slowly, but when we thought we were in the clear after getting some awsome pictures Steed pointed over my shoulder towards the thicket and said “There lion!”
Another three lions were watching us the whole time, as I looked back to check on my guests who were both full of adrenaline- shaking with excitement but still smiling (which was a good thing!), one of the lions got up.  The big male gave off an even louder piercing growl as he advanced forward!
That was enough warning for my first timer so we backed out slowly and left the pride alone to finish off their meal in peace.

It was a very exciting morning and I cannot wait to see what tomorrow has in store for us!

Cheers for now,

Siraaj

Tales of the Unexpected

We have had an eventful 16 hours at Kavinga! On the afternoon game drive, our first sighting was our pair of resident Side Striped Jackal lying in grass opposite camp in the shade.
The drive was rather quiet, a few impala and a couple herds of elephant, and some entertainment watching my guests swat the tsetse flies off each other. I got out my trusty tin of burning elephant dung, to deter the tsetse flies before anyone got hurt! Just around the corner in the riverbed was our pride of lion, where we spent the rest of our afternoon with a Gin and Tonic and a beautiful sunset on one side, and16 lions on the other side. All eight cubs were present, playing and swatting at the adults flicking tails.

After leaving the lions and on our way back to camp we saw more elephant, the small family of zebra and a hyena drinking at the camp pan. Caitlin came to welcome us back from our drive and whispered to me that we had just missed a leopard drinking. It was chased off by a hyena as she was about to radio us to come take a look, probably the hyena we saw, so we missed that by a matter of seconds!

At dinner, with the glowing light from the full moon and watching the silhouettes of elephant drinking and mudding themselves between courses, we planned our activity for the next mornings adventure. After seeing how excited my guests were, I suggested we do a walk the next morning and check out the hyena den.

At 5:15 we were all up. Having our cup of coffee and sharing stories about what sounds we heard during the night, we suddenly heard some growling opposite camp which were no doubt our lion pride squabbling over the remains of something they killed during the night. I decided the lions had food and wouldn’t be moving anywhere in a hurry, so we would be able to investigate that kill later: we had some hyena to see!

We snuck in close to the hyena den just minutes before the sunrise. Normally I would see a couple of the hyena cubs running around at the entrance to their burrows before we would even get there, but this time-nothing. Pressure started building up when I looked back and the guests were looking around wondering why I had stopped. Then as I was about to apologize and say it doesn’t look like they are here I heard someone say, “There there whats that?”
It was a Honey Badger only a couple of meters away scampering towards us, he stopped for a moment to look at us. He obviously didn’t think much of us and continued on his way into the hyena’s burrow. I thought this was very strange so we moved to the top of the ridge to see if maybe the hyena would chase the Honey Badger out of their den. Instead one of the hyena cubs came running down past us and slid into the same hole the Honey Badger was in!

Absolutely amazing! That was the highlight of my day, and it was only 06:07 a.m. We had plenty of time and good photographic light to go find out what the lions killed last night!
We drove across to where we thought we herd the growling and there they were. 16 lions lying in the river bed. The pride had killed a baby elephant and were just finishing it off. After they had eaten what they could of the kill, the lioness with the four youngest cubs began to make her way up the bank followed by some of the other lioness and older cubs. Two lioness and one of the smaller cubs stayed behind chewing on the left overs, the little cub looked up and realized he was about to be left behind but when he tried to catch up, he was too afraid to cross the water. He began to call for his mother. Eventually he walked across and up the ridge only about 50 meters from the pride. He called and called while the other two lioness were still at the bottom by the carcass. His mum walked half way back to the cub, but the little cub didn’t see her and ran off calling desperately…in the opposite direction!
The two lioness at the carcass finally got up had a drink and walked up the ridge towards the rest of the pride. They called and I thought ,”yes this is it!” the little guy is going to find his way back to the pride but he didn’t hear them and they walked off without even stopping and looking back.

Luke  found the pride in the riverbed- all except one. Who was still running around in a panic at the spring, we began to get worried, waiting patiently for the mother to come back while we heard the cubs call for his pride grow fainter as he went further towards the thicker bush in the opposite direction for cover.
According to the law, we were not allowed to intervene with the wildlife, as hard as it is, we must leave nature to do its thing. There was nothing we could do except wait and hope the cub would be found by its mother later this afternoon when it cools down and the wind stops.

So far today has been a mix of emotions for me, from having a successful morning and an early high light with the Honey Badger and hyena cub and lion kill- to leaving us all worried and waiting in suspense .
Okay readers, long story for today! I’ve got to go off and take an afternoon drive. My day isn’t done yet but I will get back to you soon about the lion cub- Hopefully with some good news!
Fingers crossed.
Cheers for now,
Siraaj.

Who let the dogs out?

Last week, our game drive went from good to great, when we found our long lost pack of Wild Dog had returned… with 7 pups!  The dogs usually breed from April, so when we had not seen them for some months, we figured that they were probably denning in another riverbed.  We have been seeing more of them and the 6 adults are doing very well in keeping the pups fed and safe.  We are all very excited and can’t wait to see them again!

DSCN9704.JPG

A little bit about me

Hello Readers,

I thought I’d kick off my first blog post with a short intro on me and what I do.  My girlfriend says I’m an old man when it comes to technology,  but I will give it a go!  I have to be honest, I was a little apprehensive when a friend suggested I start writing a blog.  I’ve never done anything like this and I was nervous I wouldn’t find enough things to write about. But after giving it some thought, I realized that there is something different and exciting happening everyday!  No day is ever the same in the bush, one morning I could walk off my verandah and be charged by a lion (it has happened before) and the other I could find a very rare pangolin, or take a walk in a herd of buffalo.  There are endless topics to talk about when on Safari, sothat’s why I have decided to take the leap and just start writing, and the first story I will tell you is my story.

My name is Siraaj.  I’m a fourth generation Zimbabwean.  I am a Professional Safari Guide and a Canoe Guide too.  Its something I’ve wanted to do since I was a young boy. My parents both worked in the industry so I was exposed to the bush at an early age.  I grew up  in several different parts of Zimbabwe with my parents who moved quite a lot, though Harare has always been our home base. Right now, I live and work in Mana Pools with my girlfriend, Caitlin. We manage a lodge together and I am the head guide. Most of my day is spent in the company of giant elephants and snarly lions, showing the guests who visit us what real Africa is about. When Im not taking a drive or walk in the bush, you’ll find me fishing. I could fish from sun up to sun set without noticing I haven’t had breakfast yet!

Everyday is a new adventure for me, and I can’t waitto share my stories with you all. But that’s enough for now, I have a game drive to take!

Remember to look for the good in every day.

Till next time,

Siraaj 

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑