20 October 2006
Our previous night was wild! We arrived at camp with a minute to spare after leaving the lions at Rabelais dam reluctantly. As soon as we landed on our tent’s deck, we noticed dagga boys grazing on the opposite bank between the reeds – suffice to say that everything came to a dead halt as we watched them The last (and always the nicest) remainder of tea in the flask was poured and we silently stood drinking whilst watching the buffalo’s. A few minutes later, three magnificent kudu bulls started to negotiate the steep bank downwards. The setting sun turned them in coppery enigmas. As soon as they disappeared into the thickets, impala and zebra trundled past on the top of the river bank and below, in the sandy river, our baboon family started to return to their three-house. Around us, the birds started to settle in for night, and sang their last ode to day.
I woke during the early hours of morning and it was not silent – the baboons were making a racket across the river, screaming and barking. After ten minutes or so, the noise finally died with an annoyed sneeze. It was still dark but I was excited for the day to start, so I got up and woke sis-stir. She was not happy with me. I motivated this early rise with an idea that the lions just might still be at the dam if we move early.
6:15 – the air is thick with the fragrance of rain but the sun was out before the clouds had a chance to gather. We head for Rabelais and find the lions as we had left them the evening before. They lazily lie around in the dewy grass. We sit watching them for about an hour and decide to head off to the Timbavati picnic spot.
At Girivana dam, we find zebras and impala drinking – it is already 29 degrees. Timbavati is a flurry of activity – humans and birds alike. We notice that the tame bushbuck are not there. A quick breakfast of youghurt, fruit and the previous evening’s braai before we head off on the S39.
The hide at Ratelpan has three young people who are extremely noisy – we sit in uncomfortable silence and obviously see nothing. As they leave, they slam the door loudly and giggle all the way to their vehicle. I wonder why they didn’t just buy t-shirts at Skukuza and left immediately. We leave, feeling very peeved about this experience, only to be more annoyed by a barrage of on-rushing jeep jockeys, leaving us eating their 60 kilometre per hour dust. Thus we stop at Piet Grobler dam and sit a while to regain our tempers. Around the corner from there, we stop at a breeding herd of ellies with one of the smallest baby elephants I had ever seen. And of course, sharing it with the Jeep Jockey’s, which was fine, until they left in Formula 1 style. We stayed a while until the dust literally settled and headed onwards, taking all the loops the road had to offer. At the Roodewal drinking hole, we found a mating pair of giraffe, and watched for about an hour. It was 32 degrees by now, and I really pitied the male giraffe, he must have been overheating….
Our stop on the Olifant’s bridge yielded a Wattled Plover (my second sighting of this bird). We turned off on S46 and found this lazy ellie underneath a small tree, trying to hide from the scorching sun.
Returning from Olifant’s camp, we sighted quite a number of birds, duiker and kudu. Ngotso dam afforded me my first ever sighting of a secretary bird in Kruger. On the H7, just before Bobbejaan Krans, we had a sighting of a white Rhino, which was special, as we had never seen one in this area.
On sis-stirs request, we drove to Rabelais dam again, in the slim hope that the lions might still be there. And yes, they were! We sat watching and had a spectacular late afternoon. First there were two ellies who had bathed, to which the lazing lions paid no attention, but in the background, on the perimeter of the dam, two giraffe edge toward the drinking hole. They must have been so thirsty that the danger of a pride of lions was secondary to their need.
At the far edge of the pride, a young male lay watching the giraffe with alert eyes. It was very nerve wrecking to watch this process, the giraffe walking slowly, stopping for while, and watching cautiously all the time. Whilst this was taking place, a troop of baboons also entered the arena, and the warning barks were clearly audible. The suspense became very tangible. There was a silence thick enough to slice. The baboon lieutenant progressed to the cement dam and started to look left and right, and circled the wall whilst trying to look cool and undisturbed by the presence of the nine lions about 300 feet away. The rest of the baboons entered at the back of the cement dam, and started to drink. This somehow, gave the giraffe a bit of courage and it started to move toward the drinking hole more swiftly.
The young male lion got up in a crouching manner and started to move towards the giraffe, which swung around in a full trot. This was awesome stuff! The baboons gave one bark and disappeared in a second. The lion went over in full charge across the dry dam with the giraffe a few steps ahead. At the edge of the dam, both stopped – the young lion realizing that his fellow pride members was not giving much needed back-up and the clever giraffe knowing it. So they stared at each other and the giraffe moved off – hiding behind a bush. (Sorry about the photo-quality – it was far and taken through the car’s windscreen)
We sat in stunned silence with big eyes, our adrenalin levels pumping. This was a WOW moment, which you don’t get to witness often, but we were in for a surprise! The whole process started soon after again, but this time a lioness joined the young male. The giraffe had enough, and ran into the bushes, sense had overtaken thirst. I felt guilty as I took a sip of cool water to ease my dry mouth. It was 17:50!