Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Best day yet...

Two things I forgot from last night.  During dinner the rain picked up again and was pretty heavy for a while.  There is the dining area and then a lounge area, two tents connected by a small roof between them and the whole area is lit by multiple lanterns.  Someone around the table looked toward the lounge area and saw thousands (quite literally) of flying bugs hovering over the lanterns.  Turns out that they were termites, which, when the termite mounds get wet enough like they did in the incessant rain last night, are released with wings and are attracted to light.  It was fascinating and sort of gross all at once.

Also during dinner, someone shouted that there was a cat in the area between the two public tents.  One person yelled lion and a staff member corrected it with "genet cat".  I neither saw nor got a photo of it because enough people jumped up with cameras and scared it off.  But this just goes to show that yes, the wildlife does tend to mingle with the guests here.

Back to today...since it rained so much last night I had next to no hope of a great morning drive.  I figured we'd be contending with fog and mud and the cats would be wet and discontented.  In reality it turned out to be an excellent morning for us.

Very early on, we came across two of the female Offbeat nomads led by Leia, the older Offbeat female who seems to be taking them under her paw and showing them the ropes.  They all looked pretty thin though, so they likely didn't hunt at all last night (and who could blame them in that rain) but they also didn't look like they'd hunt today, as they were headed to their favorite spot up on a bushy hill to bed down for the daylight hours.

We had in our heads again that we should try to find Amani and see if she'd eaten.  We had no luck yesterday and guides told David she still hadn't eaten.  So we were cruising cheetah country again with no luck.  Then out of nowhere, Kappen spotted a lion quite a ways off, on the plain of all places.  David checked with his binoculars and it was an Offbeat nomad male trying to dig a warthog out of a hole!  So we zipped over to that and saw a very muddy young male digging for his dinner, literally!  Males generally do not hunt; the females provide for the pride, so for him to have to do this himself since he has no pride to take care of him at the moment, was sort of a moment of desperation.  He gave it a good shot but eventually gave up and walked off.  We pulled up next to the hole however, and could see the warthog just inside the opening, it wasn't that far off!  Neither of our guides could explain why he gave up like that if the warthog was so close.  The warthog was breathing heavily though, clearly understanding he'd just escaped becoming lunch.

We moved on from that and Kappen stood on the seat as David drove along.  I've come to learn that when Kappen does that, he's only sharpening his already eagle eyes.  This man has eyes like I've never seen, he can spot things with his naked eye that most people need a telescope for.  David stopped the car and they were scanning the horizon.  Far far across the river, Kappen saw a lioness "about 10 yards from zebras but they have spotted her."  This was the Acacia pride lioness we saw yesterday that had taken down the topi on her own.  David said she is an accomplished hunter and likely the dominant female in the Acacia pride.  Kappen also spotted about 100 yards away, a lone lion cub, made to wait quietly and patiently under cover of a bush.  I looked with binoculars and he was sitting there patiently watching his mom.

We made our way over to them and found that the second cub was with the lioness.  He'd likely gone against his mother's orders and followed her as she stalked the zebra.  He was now napping up against her. We pulled up behind them, so I could get the documentary shot of how close the lion got to the zebra.  It really was extraordinary.  David said that this same lioness once stalked a warthog on a totally open plain, keeping low and crawling, stopping every time the warthog stopped.  That's some skill for a lion.  It's pretty typical of cheetah, but not a lion.

We left the lioness to sleep off the failed attempt at the zebra.  Once she and the cub started to snooze the zebra relaxed but still kept one eye on her.

Bush breakfast this morning was on an overlook under an umbrella acacia.  The spread was pretty much the same as every other morning including my favorite eggy bread.  We got settled down and were about halfway through the meal when David heard a jackal barking behind us and said "Leopard". We quickly hopped in the Land Rover, leaving Kappen to watch over our food, and drove higher up so he could look down in the direction of the jackal bark.  A few minutes passed and no leopard materialized.  I think the plan was to go back and finish breakfast and then go drive slowly through the low brush to find the leopard.  But that wasn't meant to be either.

David got a call on the radio that Amani and her cubs had been spotted and were looking to hunt.  We quickly packed our breakfast stuff, chairs, tables, coolers, and took off.  She wasn't that far, less than a 5 minute drive.  By the time we got there though, the deed was done.  She'd caught, killed and had already tucked into a Thomsons gazelle.  The guide who saw the kill happen said the gazelle had been old and slow and practically turned itself over to her rather than put up a chase.  All three cats were really tearing into the carcass and I was so relieved she finally got a meal.  She'd not eaten since we'd been here, which was evident from the three cats' painfully thin physique.  This meal would go far towards remedying that situation.  Within a very short timespan, maybe 20 minutes, there was next to nothing left of that Thomsons gazelle and the three cats sauntered their way to a large acacia tree to lie down in the shade.  Satisfaction, for cat and aficionado.

But the show wasn't over yet.  We went back to the carcass, where about 10 vultures had landed.  They had been circling while the cats ate and waited their turn to move on to the gazelle.  They made quick work of some of the meat, but then the third act started.  The hyenas watch for the vultures overhead and make their way to where they land.  About 6 hyenas quickly displaced the vultures, and the alpha female hyena took the head with horns and most of the spine and ribs and ran with it.  This was her prize.  Seeing the dead gazelle's head with those lifeless eyes running around the plain was sort of surreal. The other hyenas gave chase, one hyena was running with a leg as his reward.  There was much hooting and hollering and scrambling but most of them ended up with bits of it.  And there ended the life of that gazelle, a drama in three parts.

After an exciting and unexpectedly rewarding game drive, we headed back to camp.  Lunch today was wonderful, as usual.  Couscous, a carrot and cashew salad, green beans with olives and feta and an awesome caramel banana pudding with whipped cream. Very, very good.

We spent most of the siesta packing since the plan is to try and do a night drive tonight after an early dinner.  I'm 80% through a book, so it's been a productive week of siestas for me.

After a quick drink in the lounge, we headed out at 4:30 with the soul purpose of finding Lucky.  David is on the same page as us, so it became a very focused drive.  Unfortunately it did not turn up any cub by the name of Lucky.  We saw the four sub-adult nomads of the Offbeat pride that we hadn't seen (so now we've seen all 13) and then we found Polypoly and White and two older males cubs and two younger cubs (apparently female but it may be too young to tell).  Not that I'll ever say no to lions, but after some of the activity we've seen, these sleeping/lying lions were a bit unexciting.

We zipped back to the camp for an early shower and dinner.  Dinner tonight was quite good.  I had either stuffed pumpkin or butternut squash, it was hard to tell which, but it was delicious, stuffed with a spicy bean and rice mixture, au gratin potatoes, the red cabbage salad I liked the other night and peapods.  Dessert was a really refreshing lemon cake.

It rained a bit around dinner time and there were some thunderstorms lingering about, but we still went out in the light rain.  I had low expectations for this night drive, thinking maybe we'd see aardvark or aardwolf.  Never in my wildest dreams did I think we'd see what we did.

The drives are done in the same safari vehicles as we use during the day, but the spotter uses a spotlight with a red filter on it, so that the light doesn't blind the animals and make them vulnerable to attack when they can't see.  The drivers are also supposed to turn the headlights down when they're driving toward an animal.

Almost as soon as we left camp, Kappen spotted a single lioness who was walking with a mission, very focused and intent.  Her walk turned into a run and we couldn't keep up on the muddy earth.  By the time we got close enough to see what was going on, she'd already caught a Thomsons gazelle, which is really just a snack for a lion but better than nothing.  The problem was her sister came barreling in, followed by the four cubs.  This was the same set of lions we'd seen right before dinner, and now the sisters were fighting over the gazelle!  There was a bit of a chase and a lot of growling and howling.  The lioness who made the kill sat on it.  Literally.  She let the other lioness eat what was sticking out from under her, all the while she was making this very loud purring/growling sound I still can't explain (Was she mad? Happy to have food? Adoring the attention of her sister?).  The greedy lioness ate with abandon, with the cubs sitting nearby watching.  After about 10 minutes, one of the lionesses made a move and the gazelle was split in two, with the one who made the kill finally getting to sit away from the fray and eat what she caught.  The cubs made an approach and the littlest ones ran to the greedy lioness who gladly shared her part of the gazelle since the cubs were her own.  The two older cubs, the males, belonged to a mother who was out on a date with Frank and Jesse and just being looked after by these two lionesses, so they had to fight for what they got.  One of those males got scraps and didn't seem interested in fighting for himself.  It was all incredibly fascinating to see, as I've never seen lions in such a situation.  And if the game ride ended there, I'd have been thrilled.  But there was more.

We saw some cute little springhares who look like mini kangaroos jumping around.  We saw a white tailed mongoose, which is like a large skunk.  But the coolest thing was seeing two African wild cats, which look like a domestic cat, sort of like my Morley.  It was very cool.  The last sighting was a pair of eyes high in an acacia tree.  At first David called it an eagle, but on closer inspection he thought it might be a leopard, but getting even closer he determined it was a genet cat, which is what came through the dining hall last night.  I got a look through my camera and hopefully at least a documentary photograph of it.

All in all, the night game ride kicks ass.  I'd come back to do that in heartbeat.

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