One’s first thought when thinking of the N’wanetsi concession in the Kruger National Park is the sheer size of the area; 33,00 acres to be precise. It’s a magical place and I made sure that a decent amount of our time spent there was on foot, exploring this unique area and all it had to offer.
One of the most exciting encounters was being on foot with eighteen lions and when there is nothing between you and a number of unpredictable cats, it is an intimidating but somewhat addictive sensation. Tracking them is a different story and can often be a frustrating experience, but can also be an incredibly rewarding exercise involving some skill and often a little bit of luck.
We hit the tracks early one morning with the assistance of one of the trackers, Daniel Sibuyi. We started following the tracks that were from the previous night and in a rather isolated area of the concession. Looking at the tracks, we knew that they belonged to the Mountain pride, due to the number of tracks that littered the area (this is an extremely large pride of lions). The tracks were relatively fresh and we knew we were hot on the trail of these animals. The exercise had begun and we were determined to find them. What an exhilarating feeling tracking a pride of lions through the heart of Kruger National Park, predicting the animals’ movements and trying to utilize and apply all the skills we had learned over the years.
In winter the bush turns an arid brown, with the grass at shoulder height making it very difficult to spot these animals as they seem to vanish into the colors of the environment. This makes tracking a little more interesting and enriches the already uneasy atmosphere.
After three hours we became slightly despondent as the tracks were all heading in different directions and it seemed that the pride had split up while hunting the night before. We were now walking through thick bush, the grass meeting us at eye level in certain areas, walking slowly with every step – careful not to miss any signs of these predators lurking nearby.
After totally losing their tracks, we needed another plan. We needed to start thinking like these lions, which may sound a little odd but none the less, an effective method. This area was desolate with very little surface water, so our best option was to head towards the area where water is found in the hope we might locate signs of the pride.
After investigating a warthog’s den, we crossed an open area when I noticed the flick of an ear. Picking up small movements like these becomes second nature when one has worked in the bush for some time and I was happy to know I still retained my “bush-sense.” We stopped immediately, raised the binoculars and there they were, the Mountain pride. They seemed reluctantly satisfied with our distance, so we kept it that way and made no attempt to approach any closer. All of them with heads up, staring at us in an unnerving fashion. I decided to not think about what the scenario could have been, if we had bumped into them in the thick grass, just meters behind us. It was our first encounter with these animals since we had arrived two days earlier and I was happy to see the pride again and even happier that it was due to some great teamwork and perseverance. With abundant excitement and a feeling of accomplishment we made the long walk back to the vehicle to call in the sighting.
James Suter, Field Guide, exploring Singita’s private concession in the Kruger National Park, South Africa.