July 2021

Lucky Guests

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Lucky Guests

Wow, how lucky can one group get!? Recently we had a family come and visit Sweni Lodge for three nights.

On the first afternoon out, we managed to find the Maputo male lion with two Shish
lionesses lying in front of the magnificent granophyre ridge, with the late afternoon light glowing on the rocks. We watched the lions for a while before heading to the N’wanetsi Gorge for a drinks break. This is a very pretty area, where the river has cut through the hills on its way to the Indian Ocean on the eastern side of Southern Africa. The sun was now setting to the west, lighting up the river in a golden hue.

To the east of us the cliffs rose up, covered in candelabra trees and large-leafed rock figs. As we were having our drinks we watched as the full moon rose spectacularly from behind the hills, silhouetting the strangely shaped trees in front of it. Magnificent!

The next morning, the guests only left for the drive after they had done their Covid tests. This was very fortunate as the early morning had been extremely chilly and by the time that we headed out on drive the sun had already warmed the area up. After a great sighting of elephants right next to the road we were then informed that one of the guides had found the Nhlanguleni leopardess. We headed to the area and followed her around for a while. She was obviously hunting. She kept on walking around through the long grass and, every once in a while, she heard and started stalking francolins. She was not successful with any of them.

It was amusing to watch her creep into a thicket and then watch the explosion of birds, screaming as they burst out of the grass and flew away, cursing the presence of the cat. We then left her and had a coffee-break. After the refreshments we started heading south, back towards the camp. We stopped at a large tree where a python had been killed a few months ago. The carcass was still hanging from a creeper that was growing in the tree. The carcass was all dried out now and much of it had disappeared (possibly into the mouth of a scavenger at some point). While we were looking at the dried-up piece of snake skin. One of the guides, who was still viewing the leopardess called on the radio saying that she had just caught a small duiker. We were very close to where the leopard was and so we went to take a look. The leopard was at the base of a large marula tree and she was still in the process of killing the poor, unfortunate antelope. We watched as the life disappeared from the duiker and it stopped kicking. The leopardess then proceeded to pluck the fur off the antelope before she started feeding. It was very interesting to watch her removing mouthful after mouthful of hair and spitting it out onto the ground.

After she had plucked out a lot of the fur she rested a bit before starting to feed. We left her there with her prey and assumed that she would, at some point, hoist the carcass into the marula tree. The guests expressed an interest in going back to the area in the afternoon to see if she had indeed put the meat into the tree. When we got to the area that afternoon, we found that she had moved the carcass to another tree on the banks of the Xinkelengane drainage. She had placed the carcass in a Jackalberry tree and was feeding on it. Unfortunately, the Jackalberry had lots of leaves and visibility was very poor. As we were about to leave we saw that there was another leopard in the dry riverbed. It was Nhlanguleni’s son. He is at the age where his mom is no longer tolerating his presence. She is expecting him to move out of her home now and “find a job”. At one point a leg of the duiker fell down and the leopardess climbed out of the tree to retrieve it.

The young male took a chance and quickly climbed up the tree that the leopardess had just left. There was obviously no meat left in the tree and the young male descended and approached his mom, hoping that she would give him some scraps. The leopardess snarled at the youngster as he approached and then they briefly attacked each other before separating again. The leopardess kept chewing the leg bone as the youngster lay a few metres away, sulking. It was now already dark and we headed back to the lodge for supper. What an amazing day!

The next day we headed out just after sunrise. Fortunately, it was not as cold as the previous morning. We saw a lot of general game (giraffes, wildebeest, antelopes etc.), including sightings of some of the smaller antelope such as Sharpe’s grysbok, klipspringers, steenbok and even a live common duiker. We managed to see a large buffalo bull walking in the plains, with a spotted hyena watching him ambling past. We saw some more elephants on our way back to the lodge.

That afternoon we decided to go to the western side of the concession where some of the other guides had found the Mananga Pride in the morning. On our way there we were lucky to see another leopard. We did not stay with him long. The visibility was not very good and we had already spent a whole day with leopards. We were determined to see if we could find the lions, hoping that we could get a glimpse of the cubs. On the way there we spotted an animal walking in the road ahead of us. It was an African civet. Civets are nocturnal animals and we very seldom get to see them during the day. As we approached the small carnivore it headed off the road into the thick grass. We were lucky enough to see it well before the grass blocked our view.

We then continued towards Gudzani Dam. When we got to the area where they had seen the pride in the morning we struggled to locate them. They had obviously moved. We started looking for their tracks to see where they could have headed. The sun was starting to set in the west and we realized that our chances of finding them were decreasing with every passing minute.

Fortunately, one of our trackers had taken some of the students from the Singita Community Culinary School out on drive and he was in the same area, near the dam. (Singita have a programme where we offer bursaries to ten or so community members each year to study cooking with some of our amazing chefs. Upon completion of the year-long course, if they pass all their exams and practical, the students then receive an internationally recognized certificate in cooking. Singita then assist them in getting jobs in the industry. It is a very worthwhile project that has changed numerous people’s lives over the few years that the programme has been running.) Luckily for us the tracker had just found the lions and so we headed towards him to take a look. When we got there we could see at least ten lions, including two small cubs. They were on the move, with the youngsters trying to keep up with the adult females.

We watched as they passed the vehicle in single-file, the cubs tripping over each hummock of grass. The lionesses at the front of the line then stopped and we could see that they had seen something ahead of them. We peered through the trees and could see a herd of zebras that were on their way to the dam to drink.

The lionesses then started creeping towards them, slinking low through the grass and over the nearby ridge. We decided to make a big loop so that we would not disturb the hunt. By the time we got around the ridge we had lost sight of the lions and the zebras. I then got a call on the radio from Lawrence, the tracker who was driving the other vehicle. He was shouting into the radio that he thinks that they may have got something, and that I need to hurry to where he was. I followed his vehicle as he headed to where he had heard the commotion. As we arrived there we could see five or six lions gathered together, growling.

We approached to where the lions were and found that they were in the process of killing a young zebra foal. One of the lionesses still had the foal, biting onto the back of its neck. The others were just starting to feed. A small zebra foal is not a lot of meat for a few hungry lionesses and there was a lot of growling, biting and scratching each other as they struggled to get to the carcass to get some of the meat.

The noise of the lions fighting was quite incredible. I looked at the other vehicle and could see the cooking students all with eyes very wide. As we watched the lions feeding we then noticed the two young cubs approaching. I was quite worried that they would inadvertently get hurt in the melee around the carcass. One of the cubs stayed to the side while the other forced its way in and got a few mouthfuls of the meat. Fortunately, the adults allowed the cub in and were quite careful not to hurt it. It was getting dark then and we decided to leave the lions to their meal.

On the way back to camp we were lucky enough to see some hyenas, both species of genet and two more civets. As we were approaching Sweni camp we even had good views of a thick-tailed bush baby. The guests were leaving the camp early the next morning for their next stop in Botswana, so this was the last drive they were going on with us and what a drive it was! During their 3-night stay they saw 30 large mammal species and 80 different species of birds.

Brian Rode
By Brian Rode
Senior Field Guide