Dawn. The sun rays gently breaking through the horizon, lifting up the blanket of stars as a new day begins in the African bush. With the soundtrack of Africa already in full swing, it’s hard not to smile as the larks and magpie-shrikes brighten up the morning, full of life and song. Every day, a different symphony plays and today’s ensemble showcases the brightly coloured woodland kingfisher. These beautiful birds will soon be departing on their next adventure, as they migrate up through Africa as the dry season begins its chapter. Flashes of cyan can be seen as they take to the sky, a vast and prominent contrast to the greens and browns of the trees.
With the hum of life buzzing, we set out from Castleton to follow up on some recent signs of lions within the area. With Castleton Dam emerging on our right, we headed down the undulating slopes towards one of the properties most prominent drainage lines – an area filled with broad-leafed trees, tall grasses and shrubs. An ideal location for some tiny paws and wide young eyes to hide…
After scanning the area, we located some fresh tracks which led us deep into the thicket. Manoeuvring over some rocky terrain, we journeyed down into the drainage line. There was a canopy of trees above us like an umbrella, and the morning sun warmed our faces as it filtered through the leaves. Electric energy filled the air and a sense of anticipation held us in suspense as we scanned every fallen branch and tree for a flick of an ear or tail.
And then we saw them. At first just the Mhangene lionesses, calmly lying in the filtered sunlight. After a minute, two cubs emerged from behind her, with the third following suit. They had an energetic spring in their step, carefree and safe. I think we were all holding our breaths as we watched the scene in front of us unfold. Silently, we observed, privileged to see this playful family interact with each other.
The cubs’ paws were no bigger than mom’s nose; so perfect in shape, like a miniature version of mom’s. Their eyes were wide and curious and their overly big ears still need to be grown into. What drew my attention the most was how innocent the cubs seemed. Each one on his/her own independent mission, stalking, playing, listening and each one in awe of their surroundings. One cub climbed towards us, staring at each of our faces – a look of curiosity in his face. He lay down, not taking his eyes off the car, completely taken by our presence. I think we all shared that moment of wonder as we looked back at him. I was intrigued and in awe at mom’s patience, as one cub began to attack her swishing tail. Pawing and biting, he clumsily tackled her, pouncing and grabbing the dark hair on the tip of her tail.
Playful behaviour from the youngster, but interesting to already see his innate need to stalk and tackle. Such play is vital for building these life skills, for one day these cubs will need to fend for themselves.
The minutes melted away as we sat, captivated by the young family in front of us. Engrossed and enchanted, we immersed ourselves in their world.
It’s rare, in this day and age, to have the opportunity to disconnect from our crazy lives and be in an environment where we are completely present to everything around us. The bush provides us with such opportunities. It is a place where the unexpected happens. A place where magical moments unfold.