Ranger Diaries

May 12, 2010

Becoming A True Lion Pride

It’s a beautiful, crisp morning and I am about 30 meters behind 3 lionesses stalking a Gemsbok (Oryx Gazelle). I always get excited when this happens, even though I know how low their success rate is. The male is watching from a safe distance, a good 300 meters, so he cannot get in the way. The females are barely visible in the knee high grass. Suddenly they are off, almost reaching full speed within 20 meters. They never got close though. The gemsbok made them look silly, and as they come back my way I notice why. They are so fat, overweight, call it what you like’ no wonder they were unsuccessful. But then, how did they get so fat?

They stop and lay down next to my vehicle. The male joins them. They are beautiful, in perfect condition. Actually their condition is too good!? It’s worrying, right? Is it the vegetation (Fynbos) on the reserve which makes them more successful by allowing them to stalk closer,or lay in ambush longer? Or is it good genes, hunting instinct? Could it be because they are just over 3 years and still growing, or are they just eating more than the average lion?

Normally lion will kill a big animal every 3-5 days. This young pride goes on for some weeks knocking down something big almost every second day. Now, months later they are still this fat. It is fascinating to have seen these lion grow since the beginning of 2009, losing their spots and becoming massive predators. Watching the male adapt from being a nomad to moving a bit closer to the girls every week’ wanting to join in on their kill and getting rejected every time. Now the girls respect him and he only leaves them when he is out marking his territory. The females hunt for him and he protects them. They are now a true lion pride. Watching this young pride begin and form on Gondwana has been so rewarding, almost growing together with them, particularly knowing they will be around for a long time.

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May 12, 2010

The Honey Badgers

It’s a cold winter’s morning. We just had a big breakfast and decided to go out on drive
afterwards. My guests are from Scotland, a real lovely bunch, all wrapped up in warm blankets. I have
never seen the clouds so beautiful. Their shapes, sizes and ripples make them look unreal. The wind is
coming on too strong and is going to make the drive a bit more difficult.

Luckily there are so many deep valleys where we can go and hide. The bigger game is scarce, also
seeking shelter.

As we hit this rocky patch, something catches my eye. Honey badgers, two of them. They came into
the road moving along the one track in front of us. Now and then they stop, looking back at us almost
posing for a picture. We are really close, watching them swagger along. This makes my guests smile
with delight. We follow them for another 400 meters until they finally decide to move back into the
long grass. We continue to enjoy them as they look for lunch.

What a lovely way to end a cold morning drive.

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May 12, 2010

The Birds Are Back

It’s September and its great seeing all the migratory birds coming back in patches over the last few weeks.

Early morning and afternoon, when you look up during a game drive, the Greater Striped, White Throated Swallows and the Black Sawings are all doing their aerial acrobats. I’m expecting the Steppe Buzzards back soon to once again make it difficult to identify them from the Forest Buzzard.

With Gondwana being so new, it is always fun going out knowing that you can pick up a few species not yet seen on the reserve. Something special on the reserve is that we have so many endemic species; it is worth coming just for them.

Cape Sugarbird, Orange-breasted Sunbird and Black Harrier you will see on every game drive. Mentioning the Black Harrier, its always fun watching them hunting by soaring very low over the Fynbos searching for anything moving.

A while back I saw one catching a male Cape Sugarbird by just plucking him off a Bearded Protea. After that I had a Jackal Buzzard catching a Common Slug-eater in front of my vehicle in the road. The other day I sat for half an hour watching this Black Headed Heron catching and then trying to swallow a huge Common (African) Molerat. It took him seven minutes.

The diversity of vegetation makes the bird watching so enjoyable on Gondwana, whether it be sitting on the grasslands identifying very difficult ‘LBJ’s or watching Secretary Birds and Black Headed Heron hunting anything that is small enough to swallow, or just stopping by a dam in a Fynbos valley and watching so many different species coming for a drink or bath. Cape Sisken, Common Waxbill, Bar Throated Apalis, Cape Grassbird and many more species of Sunbirds are always out and about.

Overall you can get a very good birding experience on the Southern Cape birds and bird watching scene plus all the endemics you can find nowhere else in the world. By the way, I still need some help on the Victorins Warbler, Olive Bush Shrike and the Lesser Honeyguide. Any takers?

Please note Albert has just initiated and completed Gondwana’s first bird hide at a beautiful and lively waterhole on the reserve. Come and enjoy for yourself!

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May 8, 2010

The Lion & Gemsbok

Nobody had seen our young male lion for several days, which is very unusual for this cat. With this in mind I set out early determined to find the king of the jungle. After an hour or so I had seen neither hind nor hair of this lion, and to be honest I was beginning to give up hope (I know, I´m not the most patient of rangers).

Suddenly I noticed something rather peculiar. A lone male gemsbok was staring intently at a rock, so focused was the gemsbok that he didn´t even seem to notice the approach of my vehicle, something that would normally send these antelope skittering off into the bush. “Very strange indeed”, I thought to myself as I readied my binoculars. Looking closely at this animal I could clearly see it was in terrible condition, skinny as a rake and with a face covered in ticks, I think a stiff wind could have blown him over, but none of this explained his odd behavior.

As I scanned to the left I got my answer, the so called rock was hairy, it was in fact no rock, but our male lion that I had been looking for, and he was a mere five meters or so away from his target.

I was very excited, this had to be a guaranteed kill. What I hadn´t taken into account was a combination of two things, the sheer bravery of this decrepit gemsbok, and the fact that this lion was completely ineffective in catching this easy target, if he were human he would definitely have been a vegetarian.

The gemsbok had clearly seen the lion´s clumsy approach and they were now in the middle of a stand off and for how long this had been going on for I don´t know. The gemsbok seemed to know that if he ran he was dead, and the lion was clearly aware that even in his prey´s weakened state a frontal assault would result in death or serious injury via those huge horns. Stalemate.

The lion would make a halfhearted move, only for it to be met by two razor sharp horns. For hours this went on. At one point the gemsbok seemed to click on that this lion was not the real deal and just started grazing (much needed nutrients). “Now, get him!” I found myself saying, but the lion did nothing. Then the lion appeared to get bored and just started rolling in the grass like a domestic house cat enjoying a sunny spot in the garden. “Run away” I was saying to the Gemsbok, determined to see an end to this epic stand off, but nothing. For three and a half hours I sat there and watched this display of biblical style bravery versus amateurish hunting, but alas, I had to leave.

I was stiff and sore from sitting at a funny angle in the Land Rover, plus I did actually have some work to do that day (I know, it´s a hard life eh?).

I never did get to find out exactly how the scenario played out, but there are two things I do know, eight hours later they were seen, still locked in conflict, and, that to this day that skinny old gemsbok is still alive and kicking, roaming alone in the veld around Fynbos Camp. I take my hat off to him; I don´t think I could have faced off a lion for eight hours or more. Well bloody done!

And Mr. Lion, I have this to say to you, stick around those females, you’re going to need them.

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