Going on with the TR: January 5th 2011
We woke up early in January 5th for our second full day in KNP. After breakfast in the camp restaurant we went to a stroll around Pretoriuskop, with its beautiful huts and interesting trees, like the sausage trees.
We didn’t take long, however, to follow the road to Skukuza, since we would change camp that day. We went up Napi Road (H1-1), a tar road, with a short detour through one of the loops around Pretoriuskop (S14). We saw just a weaver’s nest in the loop and followed Napi Road in the direction of Skukuza, the second camp in our trip.
In Napi Road, we saw up to the entrance to Shitlhave Dam: 1 Kudu (Tragelaphus strepsiceros
), 1 Greater Blue-eared Starling (Lamprotornis chalybaeus
), 1 Laughing Dove (Streptopelia senegalensis
), 1 Cape Turtle-Dove (Streptopelia capicola
) and 1 Harlequin Quail (Coturnix delegorguei
). We were up to a great surprise when entering the short gravel road to Shitlhave Dam... a bit of suspense, please.
One thing that impressed us in Napi Road were the first trees with the bark eaten by elephants.
We saw many of them in KNP, as a testimony to the elephants’ capacity to change the landscape. Indeed, elephants are well known as ecosystem engineers in the African savannah, that is, they rebuild the landscape altering the conditions of living of many other species. Sometimes this can be even critical to the environment and to other creatures. This is one of the reasons why a large elephant population, as we have in KNP now (more than 13,000 elephants), leads to worries. Culling is a very controversial solution (see Van Aarde, R. et al. Culling and the dynamics of the Kruger National Park African Elephant population. Animal Conservation (1999) 2:287-294). Personally, I am against it, even though I certainly understand how difficult this management riddle is. If the idea of making another transfrontier park combining KNP and parks in Mozambique becomes reality, a great deal of the problem might be solved. Anyway, this is a case that shows how tricky is conservation if national parks become the only or even the main option, as it is becoming throughout the world.
The picture below shows a Greater Blue-eared Starling.
I think it was the only time we saw this bird in the trip, which is not threatened by extinction and forages in trees and on the ground. That’s what he was probably doing in the tar road, looking for food, which can be insects, fruits and small invertebrates (such as those yummy dung beetles so abundant in KNP roads).
So, we entered Shitlhave Dam road… and, suddenly, I hear Pedro shout. There he is, a lion (Panthera leo) walking towards us, visibly annoyed by several cars following him. He looked like an old male, who was woken up by all those people. We saw many lions afterwards without so many people annoying them, up north in the park. But at that highly visited point, he simply looked pissed off. Then, he suddenly stopped and turned towards a car. Oops, what would he do, we considered amazed by the scene. But he simply went round himself, like a small cat, and laid down to try to sleep. Yes, this guy was sleepy. Not surprising, male lions sleep up to 20 hours per day! But it was difficult to sleep with so many people around. So, he came by our car, passed just besides me (as one of the pictures show) and disappeared among the trees, trying to find a spot to take his nap in peace. Wow, that was something… We made jokes that he was a trained lion that escaped from a circus… but it was just jokes… this is the kind of amazing situation that KNP offers us. Here is the sequence of pictures.
This lion was really surrounded by cars.
Here he is turning back… Will he do something with the people in the car? No, just going round to sleep as if he was a small cat… obviously, nothing of the sort!
He was still annoyed. A new solution had to be found: go away of all these people!
Then he just came in our direction and passed just besides me, when I took the third picture below, with the window down, surely.
And then he went away.
We were blown away, but continued to be attentive to other animals. We saw in the road and the dam: 1 Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea
), 2 Egyptian Geese (Alopochen aegyptiaca
), 1 Reed Cormorant (Phalacrocorax africanus
), 1 Blacksmith Lapwing (Plover) (Vanellus armatus
), 6 White-Faced Ducks (Dendrocygna viduata
Finally, here is a view of Shitlhave Dam.