Monday, February 28, 2011

Karula and cubs 28 Feb 2011

With the sunrise not yet colouring the sky, the morning safari headed West to look for the lion that had killed a buffalo near the gate. A cloudless sky began turning blue with pink tinges in the East when I arrived at the scene where the cats had pulled down the old dagga boy, right next to the road; the smell of the kill hung in the still air. There was a large patch of flattened grass where it must have all happened, with entrails and stomach contents giving hint to the drama. The carcass had been pulled deeper into the bush and all I could see was the top of one of the curved horns and no cats in sight.

I was somewhat disappointed that we couldn’t see them but was buoyed by the fact that there were elephant tracks everywhere and there was a good chance that we would be able to find some of our favourite friends. I drove along the main road known as Triple M to eventually link up with Zoe’s rd and used the power lines as a shortcut via Impala Plains. A herd of impala grazed in the tall grasses on the northern side of the open area and I remember mentioning that they all looked rather relaxed with no immediate danger from predators evident by their behaviour.

How wrong I was! As I left the open area, we rounded a bend where the road bent around a Marula tree and couldn't believe my eyes, Karula and her cubs were walking towards us and I hastily pulled the vehicle off the road to let her by. In true Karula style, she glanced up at me and then Seb and with barely a hesitation, strolled on within a couple of feet of the Land Rover. I have to say that there was a moment there that I felt rather vulnerable, being within striking distance of her without the door on the vehicle.

Photo by Sebastien Rombi

As she walked past the rear bumper, she looked back to check if the little ones were following, as well as to reassure them to continue along. The first cub hesitated a few times, crouched low and trotted past and I tried hard to burn that image into my mind, to hold on to that moment of sheer wonder at such an incredible encounter. The second cub wasn’t as brave, choosing instead to run through the grasses at a respectable distance.

The trio made their way onto the open area of Impala Plains and Karula soon saw the movement of the small herd of antelope. She went into crouch mode and one of the cubs followed her, mimicking her stalking and when she stopped in mid-stride, head outstretched, her tail tip twitching at the end of her rigid tail, the cub mirrored her posture for a moment, hinting at things to come.

The Impala spotted her and immediately began snorting in alarm. This in turn seemed to trouble the cubs a bit, as they slinked off into the grasses in the opposite direction. They hadn’t gone far when they turned to see their mother walking away nonchalantly and soon joined her making their way onto the main road of Triple M. Soon one of the cubs seemed to have forgotten the excitement and began climbing every little tree along the road but very quickly became bored as its sibling didn’t seem too interested in the game.

WE followed them along the main road, revelling in the joy of watching a mother leopard tripping over her cubs when they got under her feet as only cats can do. She scent marked and they smelled it, vital lessons being learned for their future. They played a bit, especially when they walked by an eroded area that has been brush packed but soon gave up the game as Mom moved on and there was a little distance between them.

I was expecting her to move off the road at any moment as the sun was rising higher and so was the temperature of the day. I started getting a little concerned as she continued in a westerly direction with a pride of lion not too far ahead. There was still a way to go but I couldn’t help thinking how vulnerable she was, walking along the road as though she owned it and at that moment, for all intents and purposes, she did. I needn’t have worried though; Karula has successfully raised two litters of cubs within the boundaries of the territories of lion, other leopard, hyena, occasional wild dog and, at times, herds of elephant. All of these potentially harmful to her and her cubs. The road dipped and crossed a drainage line that was lined with big trees and, more importantly, dense tall grasses as well as low rounded crowns of guarrie and spikethorn. Without missing a step, she slid into the thick vegetation and I blinked, wondering if the whole thing had been a figment of my imagination as not a blade of grass moved nor was there a sound of a rustle of leaves or an alarm call of a bird. They simply dissolved into the treeline, leaving Seb and I stunned in awe and brimming with excitement.

The morning was not quite over yet and I wondered what we could find that would be able to lift our spirits even more. We returned to the lion kill, passing a herd of elephant across our boundary to the West and approached the kill site at the same time a a pair of hyena did too. They seemed very hesitant, clearly aware that their larger foes might still be nearby and knowing that lion will unflinchingly defend their kill. One hyena ran in and snatched something, escaping to the other side of the road with its trophy. The other hyena trotted off after it and we watched as they seemed to come to a realisation that they weren’t being followed, turning around and coming back for more. As the hyena emerged, WE noticed that it had the tail of the buffalo in its mouth and the two of them hesitantly approached the flattened grasses where the kill had taken place where one of the hyenas grabbed the entrails and dragged it across the road. They soon noticed that the lion had moved off and found the carcass, hastily tearing pieces off before they were chased from the prize.

While all this was happening, I had heard of a sighting on the opposite end of the property and we started making our way through Djuma to the East, hoping that the excitement would linger longer. It did! Crossing the Mulwati dry river bed, a huge elephant bull browsed peacefully only feet from the road and in my haste to reach the eastern boundary, I greeted him and moved on, heading up Bateleur road toward Drakensberg Drive. That is where excitement peaked again as a couple of African Hunting dogs lay in the road at the junction. They soon stood up and entred the long grasses where we found a few more members of the pack. The day was well under way and the dogs seemed to be restless, soon moving off to the South, first along Drakensberg and then later, along Cheetah Cutline where we eventually had to bid them farewell as they crossed the boundary to the South.

In the words of Van Morrison: “There’ll be days like this!”

*~ Marc ~*


  1. Marc, this was the most fantastic drive and so very happy that you are the one that found them this morning. Hopefully my snaps are as clear as your photo. Hugs to you dear Marc!

  2. Yes an absolutely awesome drive! Seeing Karula and her cubs = wow! And the wild dogs! Happy happy happy! Thanks so much Marc and Seb!

  3. Marc, you take us there into the midst of the excitement with your imaginative, evocative, and emotional writing. Thanks for this thrilling adventure!