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 Post subject: ice Kruger delivers - yet again Oct '12
Unread postPosted: Thu Oct 25, 2012 9:23 pm 
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My nine year daughter and I have just returned from a 13 night trip to Kruger National Park - and (as always, I must say) Kruger "delivered". Among our personal highlights:

- 70+ lions, including a mating couple, a lioness with what looked like three extremely recently born cubs, lions on buffalo kills and the S100 mega pride (20 + lionesses and youngsters on yet another kill, only to be chased off by two male lions)

- 7 different leopard sightings, including two leopards in two different trees right next to each other, also including a leopard making a porcupine kill right next our car

- 5 different sightings (some rather close up) of the Crocodile Bridge and the Skukuza wild dog packs, including a semi-stand off with a group of hyenas

- a long hour in beautiful afternoon light with a family (coalition?!) of 3 cheetahs, finally (unsuccessfully) attempting to hunt wildebeest

however, it will take me a few weeks to finish this trip report (which I honestly did not really want to write in the first place). Why? because at the same time I have to write up a much longer and more detailed manuscript for the movie diary I will edit out of my 8 hours of raw video footage


Kira and I left Cologne on Saturday Oct 6th, taking the train to Frankfurt - 200 km in less than an hour, some bush planes are slower than that. We had ample time to check in with Turkish Airlines, boarding our flight to Istanbul on time at 7 pm. Our layover in Istanbul was roughly 3 hours, enough time to do a little shopping and grab some non-airline food.

Nine hours later we landed on time at OR Tambo. A quick walk through customs and immigration was followed by a long wait at the luggage belt...in vain. We've experienced one bag not arriving on time but two? Talk about some real bad luck here. However, soon we learned that all passengers who boarded in Frankfurt had the same problem - in Germany we have a saying which I believe can be translated to "Shared grief is half the sorrow". However, at this stage nobody could tell us if our bags were still in Frankfurt, in Istanbul or maybe on their way to Ougadougou... still, we were (not yet) worried, surely they'd arrive with the next plane. Might become a bit of a problem to meet the delivery driver in the park but a problem that should be solvable.

We picked up our Daihatsu Terios rental car and headed straight east, entering the park through its south eastern gate at Malelane. On our way we had bought some basic toilet articles but nothing else - because surely our bags would arrive the following day, right?

First stop for nights 1 and 2 was Berg en Dal. With all the time spent at the lost luggage counters our first game drive was short and produced nothing but general game (which in Kruger of course includes white rhinos, cape buffalos, huge elephants and antelopes like Kudus, Nyalas, etc).

After returning to camp I made the first of a lot of phone calls to Jo'burg - no, they had still no idea where our luggage was or when it would arrive.
Believe it or not, but that night I had a dream: in it our luggage arrived even before our first morning drive. Too bad our alarm clock woke me up at 5:10 am...

What annoyed me much more than the lack of clean clothes (which could, if needed, be bought in nearby towns) was that all my tripods were also missing (in ancient times I'd carry them as hand luggage until a smart security guy informed me that I could use them to attack airline staff and that I'd therefore had to check them in). So there I was, less than 10 km away from camp (on the corner of H3 and S110), looking at the first leopard of our trip and trying to balance my rig with a 24x zoom on nothing but a bean bag. The result was / is obviously quite shaky but the stabilizer tool of my NLE is able to improve it quite a bit.

From there we drove north, spotting first rhinos, then elephants and finally our first lions two females in a riverbed, again a bit far off the road (still on H3).

Later that morning somebody told us that a pride of lions had taken down a buffalo and was now feasting on it at Duke's Waterhole, quite a distance to where we were. Still we decided to take our chances. Two hours later it was much more car action than lion action at the waterhole - we managed to see four lionesses but no buffalo.

After an extended morning drive of 8 hours we were back in camp at 1:30 pm. Just before the gate we had spotted buffalos, making this the first "Big 5 Drive" of the trip. However, my personal highlight of the day was an encounter between a tawny eagle and a bateleur eagle. The tawny eagle was tearing apart a guinea fowl (not sure if it was a "bird kill" or a "road kill") when the bateleur joined the scene. Though the latter certainly looked bigger and stronger, the former showed enough determination to keep his meal for himself.



Another little highlight: two almost grown up hyenas being weaned by their mother - afaik no other predator weans their youngsters longer than spotted hyenas, some sources say up to 16 months.



After a quick lunch it was time to once again call the airport - but still no news. Even today I find it hard to believe that their computer could not at least tell them where our bags were. However, I was smart enough to ask my wife back home to call up Turkish Airlines in Germany and / or Turkey - maybe they'd know more than their African colleagues?!

A rather short afternoon drive with nothing but general game was followed by even more phone calls. After discussing with different people both in Germany and in Turkey my wife had finally found out that our bags were already in Jo'burg, having landed with an SA flight earlier that day. I rang up Jo'burg again; there they knew nothing about it. In the end I persuaded the guy to personally walk from his office to the arrival area and surely enough, he found our luggage. However, had I not had the information I had I don't know when they would have noticed the delivery.

I was then informed that our bags could not be officially picked up before 8 am the following morning. Taking the distance between the park and the airport into consideration I was expecting a drop off early Tuesday afternoon. I told them that the driver should meet us at Numbi Gate, close to Pretoriuskop, our next camp.

To end our long first day in the park we participated in a guided night drive. A few hyenas, a large spotted genet and 2 1/2 hours later we finally called it a day.


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 Post subject: Re: Kruger delivers - yet again
Unread postPosted: Fri Oct 26, 2012 9:21 pm 
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Our morning drive on Tuesday had to be kept short since we needed to have checked out by 10 am. A drive along the H3, S113, S23, H2-2 and back to the H3 provided nothing but general game and a few more hyenas. Back in camp, however, I was surprised by a phone call from the guys at Numbi Gate: "Are you expecting two bags?" Hell yeah, we certainly were. I still don't know how the driver managed to get there so early, he must left Jo'burg long before sunrise, although the night before I had been told that he would not be able to start his journey before 8 am. Africa at its best...

After checking out in Berg en Dal we did some more (grocery) shopping in Malelane. My daughter wanted to finish it all off with a quick lunch at KFC, a favour I didn't mind granting her. We then took the shortest way to Numbi Gate where we finally did indeed pick up our bags.

http://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/16/img0003zv.jpg/

From Numbi Gate it was only a short distance to Pretoriuskop, our camp for the following three nights. It was still hot in the park, so we spent some time in the pool before heading back to our hut. There my daughter unfortunately started to vomit, not seriously but enough to make me cancel our guided sunset drive and keep our own afternoon drive to less than an hour - not the least because I later joined her in riding the porcelain bus (my dictionary gave me that - do people really use this expression? I actually think it's quite funny). Anyway, we suspect it was the fries at KFC - the only food we had shared in the hours before.

The following morning at least Kira was back to normal while I was still feeling a bit dizzy. Nevertheless we undertook a long drive, along the H3 and the S83 to a breakfast stop at Skukuza and from there via H1-1, S83, S1, S4 and S7 back to Pretoriuskop, without any recountable sightings. We decided to skip our afternoon drive and went instead on the guided sunset drive, the one we had cancelled the day before. Good thing we did, because we were rewarded with our second leopard sighting of the trip, an adult female, busily walking along the H1-1, marking her territory.


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 Post subject: Re: Kruger delivers - yet again
Unread postPosted: Mon Oct 29, 2012 9:44 pm 
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On Thursday I was finally feeling 100% ok again, too but now the weather had turned "miserable" - extremely cloudy with drops of rain every other hour. As usual I followed the tar road, in this case the H1-1. No drive along the H1-1 is complete without a stop at Transport Dam. Back on the main we had already turned east when a friendly couple pointed us to the third leopard sighting of our vacation, the second one within 12 hours - in this case a rather young female. Unfortunately the cat disappeared as quickly as she had showed herself. We stayed a little bit longer, hoping that she might present herself again but no such luck.



A little while later, when we were back in an area with cell phone coverage, I started to report our sighting at KrugerSightings.com. However, somebody else had been faster than I, the sighting was already listed, in this case by somebody who called herself "Sharon". Since only two vehicles had been there at the time, "Sharon" must have been part of the nice couple who had showed us the leopard in the first place. For the days to come, we would "bump" into "Sharon" many more times, so stay tuned.

We continued northeast, driving along the H1-2, the H12 and the H4-1 before stopping at Skukuza again. Kruger Sightings then reported lions on the S112, which lay in our general direction anyway so we drove there, using the H1-1, the S114 and the S22, but in the end we didn't find any cats. We headed south to Afsaal before returning to Pretoriuskop via the Vortrekker Road, finishing another long morning drive. But our determination and efforts were rewarded with the sighting of another small group of lions, deep in the bush. I counted at least four different animals but it could well have been much more. By the way, this was also the second "Big 5 Drive" of the trip.

After afternoon drive had to be kept short, because we had once again booked a guided drive, today a night drive, which meant that we needed to be back in back at 5:30 so we stayed on the side roads near Pretoriuskop. Nevertheless, close to the end we spotted a mating couple of lions



Less than an hour a later, during our night drive, we would of course return to the cats once more and once again, they showed us the art of the lion reproduction, actually twice within less than ten minutes. Unfortunately I did not really catch the act with my cameras but later I shot some nice close ups of the cats.



But that wasn't all, to finish it all off, two hours later we found two more male lions, our best lion sighting so far (together with the mating couple). Considering how close they were to the mating couple I find it likely that they were all part of the same pride / coalition.



just a side note: at this stage I have not yet done any grading, color correction or sound improvement with my video footage; I might very well at a later stage add clips with enhanced quality.


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 Post subject: Re: Kruger delivers - yet again
Unread postPosted: Mon Nov 05, 2012 10:55 pm 
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On Friday we were ready to leave to Satara, probably the best place in the park to find big cats. With the 10 o'clock check out deadline we kept our morning drive short: first we tried to find the lions we had spotted the night before (without success), then we headed east again on the tar road. Following the reports at Kruger Sightings we noticed that Sharon and her husband (who has since identified himself as Chris) were seemingly on their way to Satara, too, although they were taking the direct route. And while they found 14 lions, a leopard and cheetah we had to be (and were) happy with a lone hyena on the H3, munching away on her breakfast bone and later a small group of 4 lions, deep on the bushes next to the Vortrekker Road.

After checking out at Pretoriuskop we briefly left the Park at Numbi Gate to do some grocery shopping in Hazyview, re-entering an hour later at Phabeni Gate. From there we drove to Skukuza, stopped for lunch and then went north towards Satara. On our way we spotted another single male lion, walking through the dry bed of the N'waswitsontso River. Speaking about dry: the entire night and for the first half of the day it had been drizzling - when we finally arrived in Satara at 3:15 pm, it was pouring. Nevertheless we were determined to have our afternoon drive - after all, we were in Satara.

We left camp at 3:45 pm but were quickly stopped by a huge herd of buffalo. While the other cars on both sides of the blockage waited, I decided to drive right through - and neither animals nor machines were hurt or damaged. Had I waited as the others, I would most likely have missed the S100 Mega Pride.

For those who don't know the story behind it: for at least three years now a huge pride of lions rules the area between the H6, the S41 and the S100 / S90. National Geographic has filmed documentaries about them, these are now on sale as DVDs. A few months ago some other Kruger visitors identified 30 different cats in one spot. For us, it was difficult to count, since it was still pouring but I am sure there were at least 20 of them. However, it wasn't until back home with the aid of a big monitor that I was able to determine what they were "feasting" on: an impala ram (you can briefly see its head and cervical vertebra ca. 2:32 into the Clip) - not a lot of food for a pride of this size.



Strangely for us, all of a sudden the females and youngsters one after the other got up and left the scene, the first cats in a leisurely pace, the last ones in a rush - it was then that we realized that two males had arrived. I don't know if these guys rule this pride or not but they sure were a sight, obviously in the prime of their lifes.

We stayed with them for almost 45 minutes, the last half hour with no other car - what an encounter! I had of course read about this pride before but to actually see it "live"... a rare treat, I believe, even at here SanParks.org new reports about the pride drop in only every other month.


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 Post subject: Re: Kruger delivers - yet again
Unread postPosted: Thu Nov 08, 2012 9:12 pm 
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Saturday Oct. 13 - at least the rain had stopped over night. We started our morning drive with the H6 - S41 - S100 and then proceeded west, towards Orpen where the day before both cheetah and wild dogs had been spotted. But it wasn't until another Kruger Sightings report (guess by whom) lead us back to Satara and then south on the H1-3 - three male lions had killed a fully grown buffalo and were still feeding on it when we got there. A big chunk of the carcass had already disappeared so the cats must have killed it the night before. Quite a rare sighting in Kruger, according to a report I recently read here less than 10% of lion kills are buffalos, even warthogs and porcupines are killed more often, at least in years with average rainfall.

It's also interesting to note how many kills are made close to the roads - I guess predators like lions and leopards know that closing in on prey on (tar) roads makes much less noise than doing so in the bush.

And that was it for the morning drive. But our afternoon was even less fruitful - trips along the H7, S12, the S40 and then along the H6 / S41 / S100 passed without any decent sighting. Kruger Sightings later reported a lioness with youngsters and a leopard south of Satara but when we got there two hours after the initial message was posted, there was nothing to be seen.

On Saturday night we made our first guided night drive at Satara. We discovered a few hyenas, a rare side striped jackal, plenty of genets and a civet. But no night drive in Satara seems to be complete without a sighting of one of the big cats so our driver made sure we went back to the three lions with the buffalo kill. However, he needed much more time than he initially had calculated, twice he passed the spot without finding the animals - in the end the night drive lasted 2:45 h instead of the usual 2:00 h.

The following morning we tried (once again) the H6 / S41 / S100 loop but this time with a bit more luck - we discovered this lioness with her perhaps 3-4 weeks old cubs (I have posted this video in another thread, before)



As I've mentioned in this other thread, I'm pretty sure these cubs will later join the S100 Mega Pride, too - her mum was certainly deep in their territory.

From the S100 we went north on the H1-3 and then east on the S90 - 24 hours earlier someone with Kruger Sightings had reported a lioness with a baby giraffe kill on the corner of the S90 and the S41. However, Kira and I didn't find anything, not even bones or vultures.

Back on the tar road we went south again - three cheetahs had been sighted near the S126 junction only minutes before. And again we were fortunate - another short clip I have posted elsewhere before



From here the lions with their buffalo kill were less than 10 km away -naturally we gave them another visit. Our morning drive ended at 11:15 am - and our afternoon drive started only 2,5 hours later: once again, wild dogs had been spotted in the Orpen area.

Me, I've seen wild dogs before, both in Kruger and in Botswana but always without my daughter, so wild dogs were on the very top of her "African Safari Wish List". In theory wild dogs are usually stationary during the day so I gave it a try, although it takes at least an hour to get to Orpen from Satara. Unfortunately we went in vain again.

Our next stop on the way back east was Nsemani Dam. There a friendly fellow visitor told us that the cheetah family was still in the same area as earlier this morning - and indeed they were! (the video clip I posted was filmed during this second sighting). The cats were extremely relaxed, more than once seemingly posing for the numerous cameras pointed at them - certainly my best cheetah sighting in Kruger ever (for those who don't the numbers: in 2009 less than 200 cheetahs were counted in the entire park). At appr. 5 pm the cats all of sudden got active - they had spotted a small herd of wildebeest on the other side of the road. Too bad for them that a few idiot drivers (they are everywhere, aren't they?) would not give them enough space to safely cross the road but in the end the cats overcame this obstacle, too. They started to spread out and close in on the herd but it took them too long - I assume they were still trying to find a weak, an injured or a young animal when the first wildebeest started to make their alarm calls. One cheetah still gave it a try, running towards the herd in full speed but he didn't catch anything. Nevertheless, this sighting added immensely to the great joy this trip left us with.

Our second night drive from Satara was less productive than the first one: another side striped jackal, genets and a rare Selous mongoose but none of the big predators, not even hyenas. Of course we had no reason to complain: this day we had seen the lioness with the super young cubs, the male lions with the buffalo kill and two sightings of three Kruger cheetahs, one of them including a short hunting scene. And yet the following day would include what my daughter later described as "The best Drive of all times" in her diary - so stay tuned!


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 Post subject: Re: Kruger delivers - yet again
Unread postPosted: Mon Nov 12, 2012 10:36 pm 
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Monday Oct 15th - Satara departure day. I decided to neither try the Orpen road (for wild dogs) nor the S100 / S41 / H6 loop and instead drove straight south on the H1-3. A good decision - two of the three male lions we had seen twice before were now fully out in the open, bathed in beautiful morning sun light. The set was completed by a few hyenas and jackals - though no interaction whatever, cats and dogs ignored each other the entire time we were there. A few seconds later we also discovered the missing male - again on a buffalo. However, this was a much more intact carcass than the one we had seen two days before which meant that these guys had killed their second buffalo within 48 hours, at pretty much the same spot as the first one.



We spent half an hour with the lions before heading back north where we spotted another lion next to the road. The inevitable H6 / S41 / S100 was to follow before we packed and then checked out at Satara. A final look at their sighting board told us that other visitors had spotted a leopard not far away from the lions south on the H1-3 - a good reason for us to use this road, too for our trip south towards Skukuza and Lower Sabie. We did not stop for the lions again (who had, at this time, retreated back into the bushes, anyway) - another lucky decision because a few more kilometers down the road the leopard was still there.

It took us quite a while to reach a good spot among all the other cars - in the end it turned out to be the ultimate spot. When we got there, the leopard was busy cleaning himself. A closer look revealed a single porcupine quilt on his right cheek - seemed like he had recently tried to catch one of these huge rodents. A few minutes later the cat got up and disappeared - or so it must have seemed for the big majority of car drivers, that's why a lot of them started their engines and left the scene. My daughter was pretty much the only one who could see that in fact the leopard had gone into one of these drainpipes underneath the road so we course stayed, hoping that it might emerge again. All of a sudden I heard bones crushing under car wheels - I honestly thought this idiot driver had caught both leopard and porcupine (btw: you can hear me swear at him - so for those sensitive motherly ears that are out there, I have learned - please do not watch this clip or at least turn down the volume :wink: ). In the end it was "only" the rodent he killed - however, I am extremely sure the leopard would have gotten the porcupine even without the unwanted aid, after all, he had chased the prey out onto the road.

"Video removed"

An interesting side note: a few days later a guide at Lower Sabie told me that porcupines are a delicacy both for lions and for leopards - an allegation I was later able to confirm with a look at Smithers' "Mammals of Southern Africa": in the Kalahari remains of porcupines occur in 30% of leopard scats, in Kruger 13% of all lion kills are porcupines.


Last edited by Jazil on Thu Jul 25, 2013 8:16 am, edited 1 time in total.
Removing video clip


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