June 2014 - Ranger's Letter
With the heat of the summer and the thunderous evenings passing by March, April and May have provided us and all our guests with spectacular sightings. Game drives have been a joy mixed with great humour and moments never to be forgotten. Once in a lifetime wildlife moments from regular leopard sightings, hyenas and black backed jackals feasting on left over lion kills to beautiful weaved spider webs glowing in the sun light.
At the beginning of March I'd been driving around in the hope of finding that all elusive Leopard. Last sighting of one was early February and we were all desperate to see them again. Second week of March, that day had finally arrived. Driving on a quiet road seldom driven due to heavy erosion and thick bush we scoured the tall Marula trees along the way... And there he is, stretched out on a branch staring straight at us. An explosion of camera fire commences as my guest and I release a fury of shots. This elusive animal loves being up trees both for protection from lions but also to be able to view the surrounding area in search of his next meal. Because of their majestic coat of rosettes, yellow and black markings, leopards are extremely hard to spot on the ground. But the tell-tale sign of one up a tree is that leopards generally forget to raise their tail up and so leave it hanging down for all to witness. Leopards are definately the hardest animal of the big 5 to find out in the bush. But on this trip, the guests went home with all the boxes ticked.
We all want to see that animal that breaks the silence in the middle of the night. That giggling laughing, eerie call of the spotted Hyena. Often very difficult to capture on camera as the spotted hyena is nocturnal and so we normally only view them under the spotlight in the early morning or on our way back on the afternoon drive. Towards the end of March we leave on the morning drive to find lions. Together with other rangers we plan our routes and follow fresh lion tracks. One of my guests whispers JR there they are. Looking in to the sun I see this animal feasting, but it's not the lions, it's a spotted Hyena finishing of what the lions had killed. The sun had just come up so I position the vehicle just right to have the morning glow on the hyena. One of the guests on the back row calls me and says "there is something moving behind us" A black backed Jackal pops up and walks nonchalantly to join the spotted hyena. Spotted Hyena and Jackal are both scavengers , whilst they are more than capable of hunting they often prefer sniffing the air in search of anything dead. Spotted Hyenas like the Jackal live in dens and often live in groups, having the protection of the clan and increasing their chances of finding more food.
To capture on camera two of the big five at the same time is always a big bonus. On one of the afternoon drives we find two sub-adult, male and female lions, relaxing near a waterhole. Enjoying watching them out in the open I spot a large elephant approaching the water. I quickly line the vehicle up so that the guests and I can take pictures of the lions and the approaching elephant bulls. It was a special moment to capture the largest predator and largest land mammal in the same shot. The size of the elephants was too much for the lions and they quickly moved off into the bush.
Not everyone's favorite animal to see is one crawling or hanging around in its web..... But after the rains, the bugs are numerous and one has no choice but to be glad for the spiders help in removing some of them. I took this picture of a golden orb spider in the late morning when the sun had reached its peak. The golden orb spider is one of the largest web-weavers and thankfully harmless to man. On drives we come across them so often, either across the road or in the bushes beside us. Every guest that has seen them up close admires their striking colours and the colossal webs that they build. And as the name suggests, the web in the right light has a beautiful golden sheen.
One of my all time memorable moments was finding Jackal pups. We drove to an area where they are often seen. When we did find them one was messing around with a piece of skin. When the Jackal left it I stepped out the vehicle to inspect the piece, hoping to identify which animal it belonged to. I had my camera in my hand when one of the guests said JR the Jackal is returning. I slowly laid down on the ground and unbelievably the Jackal approached me up to 1 meter and provided this stunning close up shot. In the past, Black Back Jackals have been so hard to find because of the large lion population. After some careful conservation planning and with time the Jackals are returning in force and giving all of us another fantastic animal to find out on drive.
To all our guests and future guests I wish you magical sightings on drive with Thomas or myself! Hopefully we can share truly memorable bush sightings. Happy viewing from all of The Bush House family.
Game ranger JR