30th May 2010 (Continuation)Beginning and Ending with a Roar
Soon after looking at the mysterious bone, we come across a group of impala stepping out into the road and stop to let them cross.
There are about twenty of them, watched closely by a large ram with muscular withers and strong-looking horns. We have come in on the end of the rutting season and we are seeing mostly groups of females with their attendant male. Not far away there is always a small group of bachelors who spend their days feeding, mock-fighting and keeping a close eye on the nearby group of attractive females and their young. The feeding is very important because when impala fight for territory, (and only when he has achieved territory can he support a herd) their victory is generally dictated by weight coupled with skill. As the reigning male loses weight through the season racing round the herd to defend his status and prevent depredations of his breeding pool, he hasn’t the time to feed as much as he should and often loses condition. Victory occurs when a ram can be wrestled to the ground by a stronger, heavier male and although he may continue to fight, once he has been grounded a few times, he has to return to the pool of bachelor males and the victor takes his place. It’s a neat system really because it dictates that the strongest males will be the ones available for breeding and thus the young will have a good genetic makeup which will contribute to their survival in a competitive world in which the environment is always throwing up changes. Our male positions himself on the side of the road between the females and us and watches his prick-eared charges stepping daintily and with frequent observational pauses across to the far bank of vegetation where they immediately start nibbling. He gives us one last look and saunters off to join them.
We have now passed Ship Mountain and are getting close to Pretoriuskop. On the right is a road leading to a historical site. It appears to go off for about ten kilometers into the distance in a dead straight line although the sign says that the site is only 2km. We discover that the continuation is actually a service road which carries on from the plaque mounting. This is where Jock of the Bushveld, that famous runt of the litter, is purported to have been born. Also at this site is the grave of a young Afrikaans man who was a transport rider. He apparently shot himself accidentally in the leg with his double-barreled shotgun. He was only 23. Grazing all over the thick grassy veld is a large herd of about 300 buffalo, many with knobby-horned young in tow. One big male stares at us for about ten minutes, chewing rhythmically, seemingly relaxed. The air is filled with moos and bellows and the noise of the odd scuffle. I see a medium sized male resting his head on the back of another grazer and close his eyes as though asleep and the two stay like that as though the one in front doesn’t want to disturb its mate. Some of the youngsters are feeding from their mothers, stumbling after them to snatch another mouthful as mom moves forward to another grassy patch. Red-billed Oxpeckers flutter from one broad back to another, from one flicking, tick-filled ear to another, from one irritable nose to another and their excited calls add to the bush symphony. It is very peaceful and we sit here for ages just watching. In fact I am so entranced that I don’t seem to have taken any photos but just sit glued to my binoculars. Eventually we leave them to their Eden and drive back through the tall grasses (taller than me) to the main road and the river of silvery leaves standing out against the dark seamed bark of the Terminalia sericea
(Silver cluster-leaf) trees. Banded mongooses run across the road and we see the odd group of kudu as we get closer to the camp.
Soon we are in Pretoriuskop where we have decided to have lunch. It’s very cold and we order toasted sandwiches and hot drinks and proffer a R200 note; this is where the day becomes temporarily a little unstuck. In spite of the fact that this is the new note, and comes straight from an ATM, there is, according to the Pretoriuskop staff, a ban on ALL R200 notes in the park.
There seems to be an inability to understand the difference between the old notes, which are indeed no longer legal tender as from 31st May, and the new notes which have built-in protection from forgery. (Doubtless one of our more skilful entrepreneurs will find a way around this, but for the moment they are legal tender, as stated most emphatically by the government in a press release before we left). I can understand that in the present confusion it may be easier to temporarily ban the notes, but in that case why are all the visitors to the park not warned about this before they arrive? We are further told that Kruger Park (maybe this applies only to the shops?) will never accept R200 notes again. So be warned if you are contemplating a visit and intend to purchase within the park. (The one exception is the shop at Afsaal, which had the facts right and does accept the new notes).
After lunch we leave Pretoriuskop and travel back along the H1-1so that we can stop at the dams. The temperature is only 14C and there is not much about; doubtless everything is sheltering from the rather icy wind. There is a small pod of hippo at Shitlhave dam with a baby, but they are on the far side. Behind them we can just see a Malachite Kingfisher staring at the wind-rippled water and Palm Swifts and Wire-tailed Swallows wheel overhead. On this grey, cold day the dam looks rather bleak and we move on down the road, turning off onto the Napi loop to have a look at the boulder. Back on the main road we meet a bull elephant feeding and we look around for others.
Far back there is a second, larger elephant with a nice pair of tusks, although not, I think up to Tusker standards. It has a very long, thick trunk which it rests, bent under, on the ground.
Our askari keeps a close eye on us, but not with any aggression and we spend a relaxed fifteen minutes watching and listening to it feeding. Occasionally it shows that it is aware of our presence but mostly it crunches around amongst the leaves, meandering from one tasty treat to another. We can hear occasional deep rumbles as it keeps in touch with the big bull further into the bush, or maybe with another askari not visible to us.
Further on we find four white rhino and just beyond them we see signs of buffalo crossing the road. It looks to be a big herd and we look out on either side to see if we can find them. Suddenly the hillside on our right is black with buffs! As we drive slowly along we try a count. By counting 100 at a time and dividing them into blocks we eventually estimate that there may be as many as 2000 + in this herd! The swathe of droppings, footprints and dropped vegetation continues for 2km . . . . Amazing sight. We pass groups of zebra much closer to us than the buffalo, and wildebeest huddled into a hollow below the wind. Then another group of elephants, one of which comes up to where we are parked on the side of the road. He comes very close indeed.
He is a great deal larger than we are, so we keep quiet. After eyeing us suspiciously, he crosses the road behind us.
We find ourselves alone at Transport dam and we settle in and pour tea. There is a Malachite Kingfisher perched on a branch that is lying just under the surface of the water so that it looks as though the Malachite is walking on the water. A Blacksmith Lapwing flies down near the car and, unusually, seems unfazed by our lenses as it paces up and down and pokes at invisible objects on the sand.
Beyond it, along the edge of the grassy strip that lines the dam are some pretty Wild Foxgloves (Ceratotheca triloba)
in amongst the pink flowering grasses.
There’s a hippo in the water and in the trees around the edge and on the dead tree in front of us perch Magpie Shrikes and Fork-tailed Drongos whistling and calling. One or two Natal Spurfowl scuttle about the car cheeping very gently as we eat Kruger biscuits, probably hoping for crumbs; we steadfastly refuse to give in and try to avert our eyes from their pleading stances beneath the windows. When tea is finished, we move on passing a tree full of Cape and White-backed Vultures, all puffed up against the cold. Just before the T junction of the H1-1 with the H3 there is a tumble of rock and here we see something I am always on the lookout for:
At Kwagga pan we see Egyptian Geese, Blacksmith Lapwings and a Pied Kingfisher and further on at the Muhlambamadvube River Bridge there is a large, fluffy, tusky, male warthog snouting around in the dry sand. At the Biyamiti River Bridge there are two cars. One looks like this:
In the other, the occupants seem to be looking out at both sides of the river bed, but in rather agitated fashion, so although we cant see anything we wait and start looking for ourselves. There are lots of waterbuck around and immediately below us is a Giant Eagle Owl sitting quietly on the sand. Whether it came down for a drink and is now holed up because of the attention from above I dont know, but we check it out intermittently as we scan around.
Then, suddenly lion appear from behind the lala palms on the edge of the reed bed! One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight . . . With the exception of the eighth, which we saw as a male going behind the palm from the reed bed, the others all emerge and cross the sandy spit and climb up the far bank. One youngster, number six, emerges slowly and looks round in puzzled fashion – where have all the others gone? He bumbles off down the river and clambers up the bank and stands staring around before walking off and disappearing over a small rise. The seventh is a large female and she looks around for some time before going to join the rest of the pride. The male behind the lala palms still hasn’t come out. All at once there is a snorting and a crashing and a large buffalo bull comes charging out of the vegetation into which the lions had disappeared, kicking out his hind legs, with five of them in hot pursuit. The youngster who had disappeared in that direction stands up from where he had obviously lain down and watches in some bemusement, then he trots after them. The other lions give up and come back and two of them sit on the edge of the river bank staring across the river whilst the remainder once more vanish. We wonder if those two can see the male who has remained hidden in the reeds. Ahead of us on the road a large herd of buffalo come down to the far edge of the river and spread out on both sides of the road grazing. Some time tonight there may be a kill . . . .
Hearts still beating fast, we have a quick word with the people in the car in front of us. They had been there for a while and had actually seen the lions come down to the river from the same direction as the buffalo earlier and vanish into the reeds so they had been sitting watching to see where they would go. Strangely enough there are several cars and a GDV watching the buffalo having no knowledge of what has been taking place a couple of hundred metres ahead of them! Wow! Lion twice in one day; how lucky is that?
Further along the road we pass another herd of buffalo but it is getting late so we don’t stop; we are driving at 50kph in order to get back to camp in time as it is. In the office we enquire about the R200 notes and are told that yes, it is SANParks policy as well as policy in the park shops. We have a very quick look at the dam but it is getting dark and is still pretty cold so we go back to the chalet and abandon our projected braai for hot homemade butternut soup and toast which we heat up whilst we have lemon-stuffed olives (the best!) and drinks and discuss the highlights of the day. Once again, there is rustling and munching in the river bed – buffalo this time and I snuggle contentedly down into my bed with Lady Detective Precious Ramotswe and her latest adventures, only two pages of which gets read before I fall asleep.