Who would have thought!? Lions on a kill, a cheetah and a black rhino in the middle of the dry, dry Karoo?!
The winter aridity and wind has sucked all moisture out of the earth. The land is begging for rain. I’ve been a few times before to Mountain Zebra National Park near the town of Cradock, but I haven’t seen it this dry before.
Conditions for landscape photography were abysmal, with plenty of wind, dust and high cloud cover. I slept most of my first day in the park, catching up on some much-needed zzzz’s, because the light was so poor. The next two days were better, but not because the light was much better. Instead, I had some great sightings of the park’s recently re-introduced lions, and then managed to get within a few meters of a cheetah – and a black rhino!
Two lions had killed an eland antelope near the rest camp, and although I only got there after they had already eaten a fair bit, I got a few half-decent photos. According to park manager Megan Taplin, the lions are eating a diverse array of animals – eland, hartebeest, black wildebeest, kudu…and one or two mountain zebra. It’s great to see lions back in this part of the world, after they were exterminated more than a hundred years ago.
The next day I went cheetah tracking with ranger Richard Okkers (who also happens to be an awesome guy to chat to about anything and everything!). Mountain Zebra offers this activity to guests, and it’s definitely worth it. Some of the cheetahs in the park have radio collars, so the guides are able to pinpoint accurately their whereabouts, although there is still a fair bit of walking involved. We found Juba, a female cheetah, who had clearly just fed on a springbok, because her belly was full, and she seemed very lazy! We were able to get within ten metres of her while she struggled to keep her eyes open!
As impressive as it was to get up close to the cheetah, we were very fortunate to see a black rhino soon afterwards…the dominant male in the area. And because the wind was in our favour, and we were quiet, he came right up to us (once we had got back into the vehicle). He stood silhouetted against the “koppies” of the Karoo, and the early morning light was just right! The last black rhino I saw was in Damaraland in Namibia in April, and the Karoo is very much like that part of the world.
I love black rhinos. They are such charismatic, impressive animals – and such survivors. They are definitely one of my favourite species, and to photograph them in the good ol’ Karoo, where they once roamed far and wide, gave me immense satisfaction. It made my week!
As always when I am close to a rhino – or any other large African wild animal – time seems to stand still, but it also seems to fly. While looking through my camera’s viewfinder at the animal, there is nothing else that matters, and I feel like I’m meditating. It’s amazing, and it’s very addictive. I find animals like rhinos endlessly fascinating.
That’s why I know I can never work in an office ever again. I think moments with animals always change me a little, and I’ve been fortunate to have several in the past few years. Each time, I feel something changing in me, shifting me a bit further. I just want to live in an area where wild animals roam and have that experience on a daily basis!
Mountain Zebra National Park is definitely underrated as protected areas go. It’s a pretty, diverse park with good potential for seeing some of Africa’s iconic animals. Not only lions, black rhino and cheetah, but also large herds of mountain zebra, black wildebeest, eland, and predators like brown hyena, aardvark, caracal and bat-eared foxes. The accommodation is also a good mix of simplicity and comfort…there’s a nice “feel” to the rest camp, because it’s set in a little valley with good views onto the mountains.
Thanks a stack to Richard Okkers and Megan Taplin for all their help. And to the rest of the staff…among the friendliest and most helfpul of all parks I have visited!
[By the way, if you worried about me posting photos of rhinos, I got permission from the powers-that-be!]
For more, go to www.yearinthewild.com and www.facebook.com/yearinthewild. Check out my Flickr photos at www.flickr.com/scottnramsay and my Instagram photos at www.instagram.com/wildscotty. Twitter on www.twitter.com/yearinthewild.
Conservation partners BirdLife South Africa, Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks, CapeNature, Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, Gorongosa National Park, iSimangaliso Wetland Park, Namibia Wildlife Resorts, Parque Nacional do Limpopo, South African National Parks and Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority.