So, no blog last week, I wasn’t well and since I wasn’t able to go out into the park recently, I’m going to post about my last game drive a couple of weeks ago with a photographer friend of ours, Gren, and his partner Susan, who are visiting. Gren provided me with the amazing title photo and the other action shots of the cheetah.
Leaving early as usual the first thing we encounter is of course cows, returning home after a night eating grass. Then Alison spotted something in the grass, a little way off the track, right out in the open plains. We drove up to it and stopped right next to it, the wheels not 2 feet from its head, it was not an animal but a young boy, no more than around 14 years old, fast asleep, dead to the world as they say, and Susan at first thought he was dead, as he hadn’t moved a muscle when the landcruiser approached and stopped right next to him. The driver had to shout at him to wake him, I was relieved when he moved and got up, shouting to wake his friend who was also asleep in a nearby bush, they should have been with the herd of cows that we had just passed. The cows had obviously decided it was time to go home, to be milked, whether they had anyone with them or not. Once we were sure the boys were okay we went on our way.
The cold morning air was turning to low lying mist as the land warmed with the sunrise. The clouds turning pink as the sun rose and filtered through the trees, throwing long shadows from every bush and rock in its path. A couple of Hippos appeared, since they were nowhere near water, they were probably on their way home to sleep, after a night of grazing.
Then looking out across the plains there appeared at first just one lion walking towards us, then another and then another, it was the Sopa pride.
There are still a few young males in the Sopa pride that are, in my opinion too old to be still hanging out with the pride but haven’t yet been kicked out. you can see they are growing fine manes; this happens at the onset of sexual maturity and so is a signal for the females to say, come on, it’s time to go. Although they are now young adults, they still have that playfulness of cubs and are chasing and biting each other as they come, calling out to the ones behind. One chased an antelope, but not very far, they didn’t need food their bellies were already full.
. Another two decided to chase a vehicle, clearly, they had bags of energy. Bringing up the rear another young male carrying a wildebeest horn from their latest kill. As we were watching these playful young lions there came a call on the radio and we left in a hurry.
There was a report of four cheetahs on a nearby hill. What a surprise when we arrived and saw them, Alison said ‘that is the mother and her 4 cubs,’ well sub-adults really. She had left them to fend for themselves the previous week, but they must have found her, and judging by the look of them they had not been very successful by themselves. They were all extremely skinny, even the mother, and were definitely in need of a good meal. They were heading up the hill into thick bush and we couldn’t follow.
Since there was nothing around for them to eat, we drove around to the other side of the hill, figuring they would come back down and sure enough they did. Even though they were very thin, the cubs still had the energy to play. The mother constantly on the lookout for their next meal. We didn’t have long to wait before she spotted something, called to the cubs and they made an attempt on a small antelope, we couldn’t see what it was as it disappeared into the bush with the cheetahs close on its heels. Unfortunately, they came back with nothing.
They were now walking towards the sand river, so we crossed over, had breakfast, and waited for them on the other side. When finally they came, they looked around and started looking intently in one direction. They had seen an antelope on the other side of the riverbank, it was oblivious of the four cheetahs watching it. It ambled down to the river for a drink, then it did the craziest thing, it came up the riverbank on our side, right into the path of the waiting cheetahs. Once it realized its mistake it took off, one of the cheetahs had moved out to the left to ambush him as he ran from the others. I felt sure this was it, the cheetah was hungry and so fast, it is exhilarating to watch a cheetah chase down his prey. It almost worked but the antelope somehow managed to escape and so yet again they had failed and remained hungry. They went back to the river to take a drink and get their breath back. It is clear that maybe they don’t have the experience yet to survive without their mother. Since there was no other prey close, we left them relaxing on the riverbank. I do hope they were more successful later and managed to get something to eat before the end of the day.
As we headed towards the blackrock females with their cubs the driver got a call, he immediately changed direction and started to speed up, this is a good sign we were going to see something special, the anticipation was exciting. We weren’t disappointed, as we crested the top of an incline I could see a lone tree in the middle of the plains with three vehicles around it, this could only mean one thing, a Leopard.
As we got closer, I saw one Leopard on the ground laying in the shade, this was the mother, Nunuka, and her cub Jilime in the tree with the carcass of a tommi (that’s short for thompsons gazelle). It looked like their day had been successful, they were both so calm and peaceful, even though the cars were right next to them. Jilime was particularly relaxed in the tree, so relaxed he never even opened his eyes to acknowledge our existence.
After a while Jilime woke up, moved around a little climbing higher into the tree and Nunuka got up and joined her cub in the tree but neither of them ate any of the kill, they were already satisfied and would save it for later knowing that it is safe from other predators or scavengers like the Hyena and Jackal.
So, we had seen the three cats again today, the Lions of the Sopa pride, with full bellies, the Leopard and her cub with their dinner and the cheetahs who we watched fail three times to make a kill. I really hoped they got something later. It’s always relaxing on the drive home, as we are not looking for anything in particular and so it’s just a bonus when we get to see things like a red hornbill catching a fly and the beautiful grey crowned crane.