Safari September 2019 ~ Day Six

Day 6

I was awake, just, when I heard the quiet voice of one of the camp staff saying, “Good morning”, as he filled our canvas wash basins with warm water. Despite having camped here before, there was an air of anticipation and excitement about having a new area to explore.

With breakfast over we boarded our trusty Landcruiser and headed out to see what we could find. Our first encounter was with around 75-100 helmeted guineafowl. They start their day by visiting a water source to drink and then they split up into flocks of around 25 to go foraging in the bush for termites, beetles, and seed. Using their strong feet, they often can be seen ripping open clumps of elephant dung to see what tasty morsels might be lurking within.

As they moved off in erratic sprints, we left them to their foraging and went in search of larger fauna. We drove along a twisting, narrow, sandy track where dense scrub and trees grew right up to edge on either side. As we rounded a sharp bend, we encountered an obstacle in the form of an elephant. This rather large specimen was blocking the way as he partook in his breakfast. A tree had taken his fancy and he was contentedly ripping branches off and chewing on them to remove the bark.

Elephant road block

The branch entered the right-hand side of his mouth intact, and then emerged, out of the left-hand side in a rather crushed and distressed state, stripped of all leaves and bark.

There was no way for us to get past him, so we just had to sit quietly for about 15 minutes watching him demolish his breakfast tree.

The demolition of a breakfast tree

Eventually, he stopped munching and pushed his way into the thick scrub and vanished.

With the track clear, we carried on our way emerging into a large open area with random marshes and waterways. A male ostrich added another tick to the different species we had seen and a chacma baboon waded along the edge of a swamp keeping a wary eye on a crocodile further along the bank.

Chacma Baboon

Crocodile sunning itself

A solitary wildebeest, who seemed to be in a bit of a trance, stood perfectly still as we pulled up alongside her. She completely ignored us, and the sound of camera shutters. The only movement was her black mane and tail gentle blowing in the morning breeze.

Wading in the reeds around the edge of the water, a slaty egret and a green shank were busy searching for breakfast titbits.

Slaty Egret

The track wound its way through some tall brown grass which was hiding a surprise for us. He was so well blended in against the colour of the grass that we almost drove past him without seeing him. As Ace slammed on the brakes, we stopped right next to a large, sleeping male lion. He didn’t seem startled by our sudden appearance and slowly lifted his head. He looked so sleepy and could hardly keep his eyes open. We all added to our collection of sleepy male lion photographs and left him to enjoy his snoozing.

Sleepy Lion

The eyes delivered the message, “Leave me alone”.

On the far side of some running water a pair of hamerkops watched us drive past. With their strange hammer shaped heads these birds often stand motionless at the water’s edge waiting for a tasty frog to come by. On this occasion it was a vehicle full of tourists. Maybe the frogs would be along shortly.


Herds of impala, red lechwe, zebra and waterbuck grazed on the green grasses growing around the water’s edge. On the far side of the water a giraffe emerged from the trees to come down for a drink. Two male kudu provided transportation and food for a host of red-billed oxpeckers. Each animal had as many as a dozen of these birds searching for parasites and ticks in the kudu’s coat. Some of the birds were pecking deep inside the ears of the kudu whilst others, at the rear end, were pecking in places that seemed less appealing.

Red Billed Ox Peckers onboard a Kudu bull

With the heat of the day rising, some of the zebra teamed up in couples for a rest. Facing in opposite directions they would rest their head on the rump of their partner. This allowed them to relax whilst still keeping a wary eye open in both directions for predators.

We stopped under a large tree to see a giant eagle owl. There was much mirth when one of our newcomers to the world of nature asked Ace, “What make is it?”

The disdainful stare of the eagle owl

As we did every day, we stopped for coffee / tea and cake / biscuits. Such a civilised thing to do in the wilderness. Parked under the bows of a large tree, with a view over some water, we munched and drank watching hippos wallow in mud, whilst sacred ibis and little egrets searched for food amongst the reeds. About 200metres away through the heat haze a herd of around 30 shimmering zebras gathered for a drink, jostling for the best position at the water’s edge.

As we packed away our cups and ate the last of the biscuits, about half a mile away we could see 40-50 vultures spiralling on a thermal. This surely meant that there was kill somewhere underneath them. So, we set off the see what was getting the attention of the vultures.

Once again, our path was blocked. This time by two female elephants escorting a tiny youngster across the track. As we stopped, the baby elephant flared its trunk at us doing its best to look threatening, but failing. It was then that we realised that there were a lot more elephants than we first realised. It was a breeding herd and we were right in the middle of them.

Yet another elephant road block

Apart from the little one, they all seemed quite unconcerned about us being there. The herd moved through eventually and we set off again to find the vultures. By the time we got to the area, apart from one perched on a tree, they had all dispersed,  and there was no sign of a kill to be seen.

The solitary vulture

As we continued our travels, we came to a long wooden bridge that crossed over an area of swamp. These wooden bridges are not uncommon in the Delta. This one was about 80 metres in length and was constructed entirely from logs. The surface of the bridge over which we would drive was made up of hundreds of logs laid in the direction of travel, rather than across the width of the bridge. A giveaway indication that all was not well, was a log which should have been lying flat with all the other logs but wasn’t. One end had fallen down into the water and the other end was now pointing at the sky.

The upright log was just where the wheel of the vehicle would be if we attempted a crossing. Malcolm and Ace jumped out to assess the risks involved. Ace thought that if he stuck to the extreme righthand side of the bridge he would be able to avoid the dislodged log, albeit by not very much.

So, at a snail’s pace we moved onto the bridge with Malcolm positioned beside the problem log. It was a little bit nervy as we inched past, but we made it without the bridge collapsing. It was definitely a moment when Health & Safety inspectors would have been advised to look away.

Crossing the dislodged log bridge.

We were now edging back towards the area of our camp when we saw some safari vehicles gathered around a small, wooded area. Safari vehicles only gather like that when there is something interesting going on, so we made our way over to see what they were looking at.

What we found was something that we would return to daily for the remainder of our stay. It was a female leopard with her cub and a newly killed male impala. The mother was a stunning creature, and the cub was equally stunning but with an extra layer of cuteness for good measure.

Leopard cub

The mother was flat out, on her side, in the grass, panting heavily, and at first we didn’t see the cub. It came trotting over to her from about twenty metres away and snuzzled up to the adult. Mum responded by sitting up and licking the head of the cub. Both of them had been feeding on the kill and blood could be seen on their faces.

After giving her youngster a good face clean, she got up and wandered over to the dead impala which was lying at the foot of a large tree. The beast was mostly intact apart from its rump which had been partly eaten. As she approached it, a great cloud of black flies took off from the exposed flesh. Some landed on her and her muscles continually twitched in an effort to shake them off. She looked at the rear end of the impala, and then stepped over the carcass and made a half-hearted grasp of the impala’s neck. Then she looked up into the tree above. She was clearly assessing the effort required to lift her kill up into the safety of the high branches.

Female leopard with male impala kill

The impala was a full grown healthy male and his weight was probably two and a half times that of the leopard. It was just too heavy for her, so she did the next best thing. She went back to eating the rump of the animal, thereby reducing its weight. After a prolonged munching session, she grabbed the impala by the neck and made an attempt at lifting it but quickly gave up and went and lay down again.

Whilst we were absorbed in watching this all play out in front of us, the sun was slowly sinking towards the horizon behind us. Other safari vehicles had started to drift away to get back to their bases before sunset. We were the last to leave as our camp was only a short distance from the kill site. The leopard eventually decided that it was time for a rest, climbed up into a nearby tree and sprawled out on a branch for a nap. The cub meantime was still in a playful mood and amused itself on the ground underneath its mother.

Leopardess settles down for an after dinner sleep

With the red sun setting, we drove back to camp not expecting to see them again. Not being able to move the kill to the safety of a tree, it would be almost certain that lions or hyenas would detect the smell of the carcass overnight and steal it from the leopard.

Having watched the leopard dine, it was now our turn, and hopefully we would be tucking into something less smelly, preferably cooked, and without the garnish of black flies.

The sun sets on day six.

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