Thursday, May 12, 2011

Mother's Day Weekend

A truly magical weekend was experienced here at Djuma Game Reserve, it was Mother’s Day weekend and WE had no shortage of moms and kids on our game drives. Our guest presenter, Ruan, was very lucky on Friday evening when he was on drive as we finally had the Nkuhuma pride cross over into Western Gowrie. They had made an appearance during the week but circumstances were such that we could not get to film them.

It was late in the afternoon and they were found near Zoe’s Road, lying in the long grasses, six little heads poking up out of the sward as they began to wake and, getting restless in the late afternoon light, began clamouring for attention from the lionesses. In attendance was a young male of about 6 months who towered over his little siblings.

I was in Final Control directing the drive and turning greener by the minute. It had been a long time since we had the opportunity to watch such small lion cubs and sitting inside and watching through a monitor seemed like I was so far removed from their presence. I guess I had a taste of what all our viewers have to settle for.

I tried to sleep that night. I tried to listen too, to the sounds around us hoping to hear the cats, or perhaps sounds of other animals as they shouted in alarm as the pride moved around. There was a lot of lion talk. Not exactly roaring but contact calls and I found myself willing the morning closer.

It was still dark when we took the vehicle out for drive and learned that there was a kill on the open area near camp. With the sun barely making an appearance above the horizon and dawn light wrapped in chilly air, we arrived on the scene to find the Nkuhuma females with all their cubs on a wildebeest kill. The cats had brought the animal down right next to the house of the owner of Djuma, Jurie Moolman and almost under the sleeping trees of the resident troop of baboons, the Gowrie Gang.

The baboons were not very happy with the predators below them. They must have had a sleepless night with the sounds and smells of the kill so close. They taunted the lion pride and the cubs seemed very uneasy about this, constantly moving away from the kill only to be called back as soon as they were a bit far away.

Two of the lionesses seemed to have had their fill for the time being and were watching the little ones with interest, sometimes following them some distance away onto the open area. We could hear hyenas in the distance and at one point I was sure I had heard the sounds of a young wildebeest in distress but found that it was more than likely the calf of the one that was killed crying out for its mother.

Since there were a few hyena sniffing around, the lionesses were a bit uneasy about the young cubs venturing out on their own, calling them back and trying to get them back to the kill where the older lioness was guarding it after dragging it under cover and out of sight of the keen eyes of aerial scavengers.

At one point, a nosey hyena came a bit too close for comfort and it was then that I noticed the determination of one of the lionesses. She ran it off with no mistaking her intentions were she to catch up with it. I have seen lion chase hyena before and usually it is a half-hearted chase to get them away from the kill. This time, however, little cubs were in danger and she wanted the hyena far away.

After some time, the pride moved to the western side of the open area, leaving the older lioness guarding the kill. They made some contact calls and often turned in that direction hoping to have her join them. The sun had started to break through a very high layer of cloud and we watched in awe as the little ones played on the road in front of us, the young male from an older litter being a little rough with his smaller siblings.

It was at about this time that we learned that another cat and cubs had been found, also on the edge of the open area. Karula and her two six month old cubs were on their way up from the dam and, I am sure, well aware of the commotion that had taken place as well as the presence of the pride. She was taking a chance but I have no doubt she knew what she was doing.

By the time we made our way to see her, she had stashed the cubs on the ridge and had settled down in some very long grass just off the open area with a herd of impala grazing and browsing close by.

We hardly had a view of her, she was so flat. All the other vehicles had moved off and I decided that we were to be patient and would have to be content with a view of a few spots on the top of her head. Since she never lifted her head, I was under the impression she was waiting for the impala to come a little closer, which they were.

A warthog abled by behind her (and us), forcing her to look up and watch it walk by. It was a huge male and I think perhaps a bit too much for her to take on as she turned away from it and looked towards the herd to see where they had gotten to.

The ram was in full rut and every now and then herding a female that wanted to stray. At one point he ran after a ewe away from the herd and at this the herd turned to follow them, giving Karula a chance to take advantage of them all looking away. She stalked closer, belly to the ground, tail low and ears flat. There was a small open patch of grassland no more than fifteen feet wide that she had to cross unnoticed. She did this with incredible skill, disappearing behind some Bushwillows. There was incredible tension in the air, I knew what was about to happen but we couldn’t see her and had to wait for her next move to be heard.

The herd alarmed and scattered. No more than a few seconds later, Karula reappeared, jaws clamped over the throat of the unfortunate antelope. I don’t think it was even dead yet as she dragged it past us and down towards the drainage line. I kept looking at the trees around us expecting her to take the kill up one of them, forgetting that she has enough experience in these matters despite the presence of lion and hyena within a hundred metres or so.

We watched her awhile, dragging the kill further down into the lush vegetation of the drainage line that runs along the western edge of the open area, the same drainage line that the lionesses had now sought refuge with all the cubs.

Shortly after signing off for the morning, as we were heading back to camp, I noticed an impala ram shouting at something in the area where she had supposedly left the cubs and noticed a blur of spots and a white tip to a tail disappear into a thicket when I investigated a bit more. I was sure she would be there soon to collect them.

In keeping with the Mother’s day theme of the weekend, we spent some time with some elephants, in particular a cow and calves and although we didn’t spend time at the den, the hyena and cubs were in our thoughts. So too were all the mothers out there, our viewers, our mothers and, on a personal note, to my mom, the best mom in the world, thank you for all you have done for me, I love you!


To watch karula's amazing hunt, follow this link:

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Sad to say I missed this drive, but wonderful pics and narration here! I have sent it to most of the world... well, my world anyway! Thanks Marc!