John O Takes us on our second drive
Ranger John ‘O’ Takes us on our Second Game Drive
Kyle was away with Clair and their little baby at Richards Bay Hospital trying to discover why Annabelle had started shaking earlier in the day, so Johnno was our Ranger from Rhino Sands Lodge, under the same ownership and just across the Reserve from us.
We were discovering the form now and like Kyle, he asked us what we wanted to see in particular. We both mentioned giraffes, Rob’s favourite animal but I knew the risk of seeking a specific species rather than just enjoying what we would stumble upon in that there was a risk of disappointment; we whispered, almost, a desire to see the two male lions that were known to be in the area and had wandered fearless through the lodge grounds just a few days before, check out their Facebook page for those pictures! I’m kind of glad we missed that.
But we were used to risks and were delighted when not far along the track we came across a pair of giraffe and then spotted some more, quietly grazing the tops of the trees. Johnno explained the countless ways in which their internal design compensated for their extremes in height to prevent their blood system flooding out of control into their head when they stoop to drink for example, or back down again towards their hearts when they stand up; these anatomical checks in place ensured they could reach their food supply and it was exclusive to them at their great height, until Jumbo comes along and fells the tree that is.
Our Rangers were constantly talking on the radio to the others driving in the reserve and relaying what they had found. Sometimes we could follow what was going on elsewhere but not necessarily what was going on in our ranger’s mind as to our next step. However Johnno picked up on my desire to photograph the distant views of the scenery and mountain range so he said he wanted to show us the area from a high viewpoint and while driving around a hill to get to the top we came across a giraffe lying down, not a common sight in the daytime. Even less common was catching in my photo his curving head and neck as he groomed himself.
The Zebras had a long think before they moved off the road for us, giving us a good opportunity to study them. As soon as something of interest pops up on these drives the Rangers stop the vehicle and turn off the engine so immediately we were with the wild animals, sharing their moments in the quiet country, surrounded by life in the bush or on the open savanna, and those moments were precious because the atmosphere rolled in accompanied by birdsong and the distant sounds of a jackal calling or hyena barking their whereabouts. The reserve has recently instated a group of wild dogs but they found a way through the perimeter fence and as the female is very pregnant they will not bring them back until her pups are of a reasonable size and age.
On a rise in the distance a large herd of buffalo grazed with a big male amongst them. Animals often rest on rises where they can see the comings and goings around them, both predators and prey alike.
But those nearer the bottom of the food chain like the plentiful Impala and Nyala stay more hidden as they are the most vulnerable especially when they have their young lambs with them.
We sped back down the hill wondering what would come next on this exciting ‘treasure hunt’. The ride through the countryside in these remarkably comfortable all terrain Toyotas was great fun in itself. Sometimes the track separated into deep troughs where the tyres had shot the soft muddy road surface aside after some rain and I’d be thinking, ‘I wonder how Kyle or Johnno will deal with this one?’ Or the track would rise so steeply they and Leticia would suddenly be above us instead of the other way around, or it would disappear steeply downwards but because of their skilful driving we were never in any danger, from the track at least.
After a while we turned around a red soil knoll to see a waterhole and two sleeping lions almost at the same moment. They were flat out as you can see but I wondered how deep was their sleep? They do well to not mince with rhino and elephants for example and must share their status with animals bigger and much heavier than themselves.
Johnno pulled up the vehicle just above them where they lay on their own rise, commanding a clear view of the waterhole and before the evening drinking session that might bring with it an opportunity for their next meal.
After a few minutes three white rhino arrived at the bank on the far side and wandered slowly, cautiously around towards us. I’m not sure who spotted who first but the male lions became alert and watchful. The further male is 11 years old and is the uncle of the 4 year old nearest to us. They appear to accompany each-other most of the time. Another vehicle arrived on Johnno’s prompting so we moved down the hill to give them a vantage point, down the hill closer to the lions; Barb was less happy about this arrangement. We were now no more than 10 metres from them. A few strides down their slope and a leap and they’d be on our laps, I thought. We spoke rarely and in whispers and I worried that Leticia’s rapid fire shutter would distract them. Wouldn’t you think the camera designers would have developed soundless shutters by now? But ‘no’ they weren’t in the least bit interested in us, instead lions watched the rhinos who were now moving up the slope towards them in a brief stand off – just re-affirming their position in the animal hierarchy for future reference!
After a few moments they turned around and left the area up a different slope and were gone. We sat soaking up this extraordinary experience for a little longer and then followed them out and around the hill above the waterhole to where a lioness was lying in the long, soft grass. For the few minutes we were there she never averted her gaze in our direction. She was watching the two males and had moved away from their company earlier in the day. She was close to giving birth herself and was fearful of the threat these big males posed to her unborn cubs once they saw the light of day. Adult males will often kill male cubs to eliminate competition for the females and I wondered why she didn’t move right away from them, maybe a case of keep your friends close and your enemies closer.
One of the rangers, I cannot remember which, mentioned the harm that ‘Keyboard Warriors’ can do to the balance of nature in parts of Africa. “They are cash rich and knowledge poor.” Folk in first world countries happily donate their money to organisations that then use their political clout to, for example, ban controlled culling of elephants. Here in this reserve specific male elephants are given prophylactics to prevent them from siring young for a period of time to help keep their numbers in balance, but where such action had been banned elephants are so numerous they are destroying their environment for themselves and many other species. This suggests that small scale projects like rhino de-horning that is a protocol in this reserve to effectively prevent poaching are a much better prospect for the armchair environmentalist such as I will be when we get home.
We left the magnificent lions to their evening beside this waterhole and drove to a different one, complete with warthog and another vehicle with three visitors on board like us, for our sundowners. Coffee with chocolate and Amarula liqueur, very nice.
Driving back the light was fading fast and Johnno was swinging his spotlight from side to side to see what he could find. A Spotted Eagle Owl on a post which I miraculously caught in the speeding light more by luck than judgement I can tell you, then a black backed jackal being chased by a wildebeest; you’ll have to believe me on that one but I did wonder what the jackal had done to cause the affront. And a tiny deer, a steenbok ran across the track and many Fiery Necked Nightjars were lying camouflaged on the red track surface ready to fly up and catch the insects passing overhead, or escape the vehicle about to descend onto them.
Other species we could well expect to see on a night time game drive that starts after supper would be Aardvark, Porcupine and of course the most elusive of the Big 5, the Leopard, but then as I’ve said before on our travels there has to be something to come back to.