Fourth Game Drive, Morning of Day 3 at Londolozi
Okay, 5 AM is early, but when you have hot coffee and a magical view, it’s okay.
These vervet monkeys were always around camp, and always ready to rush in and grab food — or your camera or phone; they weren’t picky. Cute, but not trustworthy, and luckily, easily chased off.
Of the “Big Five” (elephant, rhino, leopard, lion, water buffalo), we only had two to “cross off”: lions and water buffalo – not that any of us felt we wouldn’t go home happy with what we’d already seen. Jennifer had discovered the Londolozi checklist in the room and now felt like an 8-year-old who has to collect all the right pokemon cards. Here, she also demonstrates the safari-worthiness of friend Ann Mitchell’s t-shirts.
The early bird gets . . . well, whatever this guy is looking for. Bagels?
Black dot in the distance above is an elephant — or “ellie” as Sean called them.
Black dot in full-size mode.
Brown snake eagle.
A “musthy” elephant — note the drip from the gland behind the eye. If there were smell-o-vision on this blog, you would have known this was coming. Sean describes how to tell the age of an elephant in the following video. This elephant here he reckons to be 50 years old.
The only wild dog we saw:
The lions were elusive, apparently not interested in being found, so we spent a good deal of time driving around looking at things that weren’t lions, like these rocks here. Appropriately sized and colored, but at second glance, not lions.
During this time we were near the camp at the entrance to Londolozi, where the anti-poaching unit is based. This group is funded by Londolozi and some of the other game camps in the Sabi Sands Reserve (Sabi and Sand are the two rivers running through this area, with the Sand being the river that the five Londolozi camps overlook). The anti-poaching unit uses rangers and range rovers, but also drones and other sophisticated technology, such as sensors that alert them to breeches in the fence, to fight back against the poachers, and Sean said they’ve been quite successful this year).
We headed toward a herd of water buffalo — another one of the big five we hadn’t seen, and also the area where the lions were most recently sighted (at 4AM Friday morning). The water buffalo herd looked like a solid gray mass against the grassy veld. Up close, the mass pixilated into individuals – young, old, sleepy, watchful – all lazing in the sun, enjoying the spa services of diligent ox-peckers, chewing their cuds, and generally exhibiting no intention of moving a muscle. If there were any lions around, no one seemed to care.
The older ones looked like they’d been around the block a few times. Plus the older they were, the more their horns sort of “bouffanted” in the middle, in a rather Supremes or Ronettes style. Some of them were missing one of their horns (since we were running out of new animals for Sean and Joy to produce, Sean claimed that these were the unicorns we requested. We also requested seeing a zebra give birth and leopards having sex, neither of which Sean delivered. We are thinking of asking for a refund.)
Anytime we sat and watched the animals for a while, we peppered Sean with questions. He was, throughout the three days, the perfect guide. At 24, he has a wealth of knowledge, is completely self-possessed, inspires the utmost confidence, and there seemed to be no wildlife, animal, bird, or plant on which he could not deliver a 30-minute, enthralling discourse. For example, this bird above here? He told us all about it. I remember nothing.
We drove around some more, with Joy and Sean both getting out of the jeep often to check tracks and spoor, but were coming up empty. Finally, another guide called in: the lions were napping within sight distance of the water buffalo.
As we drove near, we saw a number of lionesses and younger lions, all lying down either on the sandy road, which was their same color, or nearly invisible in the grasses – perfectly camouflaged.
We circled around back of the them so as not to remain between their prey and them. Note the unsuspecting water buffalo in near distance.
Just past the lionesses, out in a more open area, were three large males, all lying down. It was already starting to get hot, and the lions were thin and conserving their energy – resting up for the possible chance of making a kill in the evening. As we watched, many of the female lions moved over to the meagre shade offered by a bush, but the males just hung out in the open, completely nonchalant — as if they were the kings of the veld or something like that. They licked a massive paw here and there, did some mane grooming, yawned, pondered their cuticles, and ignored us as if we were not only invisible but not warm-blooded potential sources of lunch.
Sean explained that the reason these three older males could hang out together was that they were all brothers and also all interrelated and inter-mated with the pride of female lions. They defended their territory together.
We toggled back and forth between the males and females, and then Sean slowly circled around the lions for a different view. There’s some truth in what one guide had said the day before (when we were rhino-hunting), and they had come upon the group of napping lions: “It’s like watching paint dry.” But these guys and gals were mostly awake, and while somewhat listless, were still mesmerizing — you could see the latent power they had, and knew that they could change from listless to extremely dangerous in seconds. You would not want to check the paint.
We watched them for a long time, but nothing was really happening – though we learned a lot about them from Sean. And Jen did have the urge to pet those big fluffy manes. Google “lions killing stupid tourists” if you want to see the consequences of acting on those urges. Despite the fact that the lions looked rather tired, and a bit thin, those paws were huge and the teeth revealed by their yawns were no joke: we kept hands and feet inside the vehicle at all times. They were beautiful, regal, magnificent animals.
We finally left the lions to nap through the mid-day heat. But it wasn’t long before we encountered more zebra, who, especially the foals, are just too cute to pass up.
Another elephant approaches, casually grazing.
We saw these beautiful birds almost every day — looking somewhat like bald eagle, but it is an African Fish Eagle.