Saturday, February 18, 2017

One of those days I just won't forget

What an incredible nights sleep I had.  I think a combination of the activity of the last week, the fresh air and the super-early day yesterday but I was out cold, but not so much that I didn't hear the lions twice last night quite nearby.  This is what I live for!

Off we went at 6:30 to see the sunrise.  I had high expectations for the day but I had to temper it so as not to be disappointed.  But man, I had no idea what would happen.

First we came upon the Offbeat Pride females and cubs coming in from a night out.  They'd quite obviously made a kill as they all had nice round, distended bellies.  Our little guy Lucky was bringing up the rear as he seems to usually.  David said that Lucky was having a problem with diarrhea which is common after a big kill where he's drunk a lot of blood with high levels of iron.  Poor little guy!  The three lionesses brought the kids up on to the hill to sleep for the day, but not before we got a bunch of photos.

Next we moved on and came across a few giraffes that we stopped to take some photos of as it was the first we'd seen since we'd been here.  As we sat there, we heard a bunch of lions roaring and growling at each other as if there was a big fight going on.  We zipped in that direction and saw the two Offbeat males, Jesse and Frank, fighting with something, which turned out to be three nomadic males (young adults who'd been booted out of the Offbeat Pride). The Offbeat males and three females had just fought Rana, a local male leopard, and ended up chasing him up a large acacia tree, where he remained.  The nomads turned up when they heard the noise thinking that maybe there was a kill they could take part in (being desperate having to work on their own for food).  So it was a drama within a drama, with poor Rani stuck up a tree until all the lions would leave.  The Offbeat males chased the nomads off but one returned eventually (not very bright) and sat just out of sight of the Offbeat males and females.  With binoculars, at the very top of the tree, lying precariously in a crook was Rana.  He was going to be stuck up there as long as there was a bunch of lions hanging about or risk losing his life to lions who don't like him in their territory.

The interesting thing about Frank and Jesse is that they are brothers and swap off being the dominant male in the pride.  Jesse has a fairer mane while Frank has a quite dark one.  They took over the pride three years ago at the very young age of 5 and have held it down since.  They are very handsome, healthy looking boys.

After we left Rana stuck up in the tree with a bunch of lions napping nearby (thus preventing him from coming back down), we went off to look for cheetah, specifically Amani, who the guides said returned to the area a few days ago.  I saw Amani in 2014 with one cub.  David says that cub must not have survived, as it would have stayed with her for another year or so and she had another set of cubs in 2015.  Cheetah will go straight into estrus when their cubs are killed, and that's what it seems happened to her.  Her last cubs prior to these were five in number and none made it.  The two cubs she has now are almost adults and both female.  She's finally become a skilled mother able to raise cubs to adulthood.  I really thought it was wishful thinking to want to see her again, so imagine my surprise when we pulled off from the treed leopard and not 10 minutes later, there is Amani walking the savannah with her two girls.  Wow.  (Note: my memory is that when I saw her in 2014, she had three sub-adult cubs, two males and a female, who had just become independent.  I believe I also saw that one daughter in the Mara last year with her own cubs, Imani)

We stayed with her for almost 2 hours, following her as she stalked a couple different groups of Thomson gazelles or impalas.  Her cubs, while almost adult looking, still played like rambunctious children, chasing each other and wrestling, which the guides say is a form of practice for chasing and taking down prey.  At one point Amani was stalking them straight on, when all of a sudden we noticed one of the cubs coming the long way around behind us to get to the Thommies from the rear.  Sometimes it works, David says, and the element of surprise is enough to scatter and confuse the gazelles so that one is caught.  Not today.  While she gave it a good effort, Amani wasn't able to eat, which is a shame since I'd love to see her hunt but also she and her girls looked very skinny and must be hungry.

In the midst of waiting and watching Amani and not wanting to leave her as she was looking like she wanted to hunt, we had a wonderful bush breakfast in the vehicle.  I had "eggy bread" (French toast) with baked beans, lychee juice and a hard boiled egg and coffee.  It was very good and more than held me over to lunch.

On our way back to camp, we drove back to check on Rana, a full 3 hours later, and found him still perched high in the tree in the blinding sun, with the Offbeat males and three females that we could see scattered on the ground around him nearby.  There was no coming down for him until they left, and they looked as if they were all down for the count, albeit in the shade!

Lunch today was baked fish sticks, vegetable salad with potatoes, zucchini, carrots, a bean salad and a chocolate fudge cake for dessert.  It was very good.

A quick nap during siesta and catching up on the blog before we headed out for an afternoon drive.  We went straight away to check on Rana, and he was still up in the tree at almost 5 p.m. and the lions were still lying about, in the comfort of shady bushes, all around him.  He wasn't panting as much as he was at midday but I can't imagine that was comfortable for him up there that long.

We went off to look for the rest of the Offbeat pride with the cubs and came up empty.  We found some elephants and a harem of impala.  There was a storm over the Tanzanian border and the clouds and the sky were just tremendous as sunset approached so we took photos of that.  We stopped for a sundowner and watched the crazy sky.  Once it was dark we headed back toward camp.  It was dark enough that Kappen used the red light that illuminates night drives and we found Rana, still up in the tree a full 12 hours after he was chased up.  We watched Frank and Jesse yawn a lot and finally get up and move on, but the three Offbeat females stayed put, with an eye on Rani in the tree.  They're the most dangerous to him and I hope they move on so he can come down overnight.

Just outside of camp we saw a hippo grazing.  The staff said that there were three Cape buffalo nearby too.

We took quick showers and headed over to the tent for a gin and tonic and dinner.  My meal tonight was a puff pastry stuffed with a combination of veg and cheese (sweet potato, carrot, onion), mashed potato, zucchini and a fruit crumble for dessert that was quite good.  The white wine was tasty too.

Early to bed for a morning game drive.  Im not as tired today but that may be the nap I took during siesta.

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