Another chance to get out into the park today. One of our guests kindly allowed us to accompany him on a full day game drive. It had rained the previous day and, in the night, well more of a drizzle really but it gave the earth a fresh damp earth smell, and the earth really needed it. We left camp early this morning, taking with us our breakfast and lunch. As the sky brightened from the east, we could see the usual zebra and antelope in the early morning mist. It is very cloudy this morning and it looked as if it might even rain again.
As we passed the second bridge the usual hippo was there at the river, then just as we were approaching the airstrip the car stopped abruptly and Alison pointed to a serval cat, perfectly camouflaged in the long grass, how he ever saw him I don’t know. At first the only giveaway was the grass moving, then we caught a glimpse of his ears, as he moved closer to us we were able to get a good look at him. He looked like he was hunting, first perfectly still and focused then suddenly jumping up in the air and landing on whatever unfortunate insect had caught his attention. It was a pleasure to watch, we followed him for a while before he crossed the road and moved off.
This morning we are heading towards the Talek area where the guys had heard there was something we would like to see but wouldn’t say what it was, they are always so secretive, maybe thinking it’s better to surprise us.
As we drove along the main road we passed a digger, left there by the county council. The digger itself is not very interesting but this one had a baboon sitting on top checking it out.
We stopped to see what the baboon was going to do. He looked it over and saw that the doors were open, so he went inside and found a half empty bottle of coke lying on the floor which he picked up and tried to open. It was very funny to watch him trying to figure out the best way to get at what was inside the bottle. In the end I think he pierced it with his large fangs so that the liquid leaked out, pretty smart.
We crossed the open plains towards Talek, an area densely populated with herds of zebra and Topi. The Topi had many lively calves who ran around chasing each other among the adults. The newborns are a much lighter colour than the adults and have no markings yet, they look completely different.
The driver was now picking up the pace and we could sense the urgency. As we passed a group of cars crowded together, I asked, “what are they looking at?” The answer was “oh just lions.” We clearly weren’t stopping for them, lions you can see almost any time. Then just a little further, maybe even part of the same pride were two lionesses from the Topi pride with very young cubs. We had to stop briefly for these because lion cubs are so cute and not always so easy to find.
We are not the first to arrive at the spot where the leopard is, already there are around twenty cars, all keeping a respectable distance. Then she starts to walk. We find that it is Luluka a female leopard that had recently given birth to two cubs, they must be around 3 or 4 weeks old now. As she walks, all the cars, including ours, drive ahead and try to position themselves so that they get a good view of her walking towards them, it is really crazy, everyone jockeying for position, fortunately she is completely unfazed, this must be a regular occurrence for her.
When she takes a break and sits down for a rest we drive ahead and find a spot for breakfast. Alison finds a nice tree on the banks of a dry riverbed, next to a shallow pool of water currently inhabited by egyptian geese and a plover bird strutting around on its striking yellow legs. As we lay out the breakfast a curious young giraffe wanders down into the riverbed to get a closer look at us. There are quite a few giraffe around as well as a couple of eland, the eland are not as curious though and keep their distance. It was a beautiful experience to sit out in the open surrounded by all these animals.
After breakfast we return to Luluka and she is on the move again, walking towards us. All the giraffe that were watching us eat are now looking at Luluka. You can always be sure that there is a predator around if a herd of giraffe are all staring in the same direction. Although the giraffe are never in any danger, they are too much for a leopard. She continued on her path. Alison was not sure if she was looking for food or if she was going to where she had hidden her cubs, so we kept following along with the other twenty or so cars.
She walked along tracks, through long grass, through thick bush, where she gave us all the slip a couple times forcing everyone to go searching for her, then she would pop up again sometimes on the opposite side of the riverbank. While it was easy for Luluka to cross over it was more difficult for the vehicles, if you picked the wrong place to cross then you would be in trouble as a couple of vehicles found out and had to be pulled out.
On her walk she encountered a large male warthog, she would have no interest in him as prey because a warthog would fight back and with two young cubs to provide for she just couldn’t take a chance on getting injured. As we continued to follow her, we saw another group of vehicles a short distance away, we went over to take a look and it was another leopard, Jilime, Lulukas daughter from a previous litter.
Luluka didn’t seem to notice her, but she must have picked up her scent because she began acting strangely. First pacing up and down, she then stood on a small mound and started a loud aggressive grunting noise, I was surprised because I had never heard a leopard vocalize before. It was her way of warning off Jilime. She also stopped at a bush every few metres to smell and then spray her own scent. A female leopard doesn’t like another leopard in her territory when she has new cubs, even if the intruder is one of her own mature cubs.
We stayed with her up until it started to rain and she decided to take shelter in the bush. This is where we left her, maybe she would hunt later this afternoon or even tomorrow. Leopards can leave their young cubs for a whole day or even longer when they go hunting.
There was yet another surprise for me later in the afternoon, on our way back to the camp Alison spotted something out on the plains, close to a tree.
Immediately the car drove off the road through the grass towards it. Alison had said it was a Jackal and I thought rushing over just to see a Jackal was a little odd, as we nearly always see Jackal on our game drives and have never once rushed off road to see one. However, this was a striped Jackal, very rare, not only had I never seen one, I didn’t even know they existed. As you can see from the photo it has very beautiful markings and a white tip on its tail.
And finally, a collection of birds that Ken photographed during the day. In order, there is the elegant secretary bird looking for insects, A black shouldered kite, a common fiscal, a bateleur eagle, a very angry looking starling, a small bee eater with an insect in its long beak and a little fat bird in the rain. We had no idea what type of bird this is, after looking it up when we returned home Ken thought it might be a pipit, but he can’t be certain.