The Big Cat Whisperer

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A pregnant female cheetah I saw on a sunset drive. ©WMB/notesfromafrica.wordpress.com

If you have read Lisa’s quirky post “Take your camera to the bathroom (and other Kalahari safari tips)” you would know that self-drive game viewing can be rewarding and fun.  Especially if you are prepared to put in the time and effort.  A vehicle with high lookout position certainly helps.  Kruger presented some different challenges to the Kgalagadi with a lot more low vegetation as well as some tar roads, making spotting animals and tracks more difficult.  In Kruger we did pretty well spotting animals; however there are a number of reasons why I would consider doing a guided game drive:

  • The opportunity to drive onto the roads marked with a Do Not Enter road sign to see what is out there, to get that “exclusive” look see (actually to find what they are hiding up there!)
  • To get out of the camp after hours
  • To see what goes bump at night, to get a look at the night “crawlers” and see what they get up to.  If you are in camp after dark you can only hear the cacophony of various animals calls – it certainly sounds worthwhile to get out there and join the party.
  • To tap into the local knowledge of the guide about the behaviour patterns of different animals and where they tend to hang out

Kruger offers a variety of guided drive options; there are also some guided walks in the field options and most recently mountain bike excursions.

Kruger Game Drives

Sunset drives

This activity leaves before the sun sets and gets back once the sky is dark. Experienced guides drive the groups. Inquire at the reservations offices or at the camp you are staying in, about going on this drive.

Night Drives

Take part in the nocturnal activities of Kruger’s secretive creatures. Experienced guides drive the groups. Inquire at the reservations offices or at the camp you are staying in, about going on this drive. The sunset drive departs at 17:00 and lasts at least 3 hours.

Morning drives

Leave at around 04.30 in summer and 05.30 in winter. Clients are to confirm with Reception the previous night when they book in to their accommodation. As per day walks, accommodation must be booked for the previous night at the camp, as walks/drives leave before the gates open officially. The drive’s duration is 3-4 hours.

Guided full day excursions or also available – see here.

 

On our recent trip to Kruger I used the opportunity to go on two very different sunset drives.  The full suite of drive options is available in the larger camps, where bigger group of guides are available to lead the drives.  In the bushveld or wilderness camps where we mostly stayed, the only option was the sunset drive.  This suited me as you get a bit of daylight for photography, as well as the after dark session.

On both drives totally unrelated people included the three P’s on their wish list to the guides.  Which I discovered are pangolin, porcupine and python!  From Talamati we went on a sunset drive and the format was the same I have been on in drives in other places – the storytelling format.  The guide would stop at animal sightings and would provide some background information about the specific animal.  We were lucky enough to find a pregnant cheetah in hunting mode in daylight and followed her for a fair distance until she disappeared after some impala buck.  After dark the normal “Kalahari Kangaroos” (Springhare) and other small animals like bush babies came out to play.  I was happy to see the cheetah as that was one of the cats on my wish list.

Below: photos of the pregnant Cheetah seen on one of the sunset drives

©WMB/notesfromafrica.wordpress.com

©WMB/notesfromafrica.wordpress.com

©WMB/notesfromafrica.wordpress.com

©WMB/notesfromafrica.wordpress.com

©WMB/notesfromafrica.wordpress.com

©WMB/notesfromafrica.wordpress.com

The Sirheni bushcamp is one of my favourites, especially for the river with amazing trees that runs close by.  Getting on the sunset drive open vehicle I was welcomed by a group, including a couple from somewhere in Europe, that had befriended the guide over many visits and promised that the drive would be a great experience.   After dark we left the road (no entry road, yay!) and drove up to a shallow pool in the river.  Silence descended after the engine was turned down and we listened to the night sounds.  Various sets of crocodile eyes (hiding in the water) lit up in the spotlights.  Suddenly the guide let out a long high pitched yell, running out of breath after a while.  He softly explained that he was imitating the call of an impala in distress, typically made after an attempted attack by a crocodile.  Such an impala could be hurt and would be easy prey for a predator in the area.  I was most impressed when a leopard arrived between 5 to 10 minutes later, scouting the area.  After it noticed us, the leopard disappeared as silently and quickly as it came.

We then drove out to the main road to park on a deserted crossing.  This time the guide imitated a male lion call.  Not a very impressive imitation, I thought.  The guide explained that he was imitating the call of a younger male that is passing through an area, trying to elicit a response from the dominant resident male lion.  The guide imitated the juvenile male call a number of times.  After a while we heard an irritated response to the north of us and set off to find the local “King” doing his rounds and defending his territory and pride.  This was a brilliant sighting and we had time to take some photographs and follow the lion for a while.  It was a good experience in the dark of the night, following a huge predator on an open vehicle.

The King ©WMB/notesfromafrica.wordpress.com

The King ©WMB/notesfromafrica.wordpress.com

Besides the two main events we saw various other animals including a number of African Civets as well as one of my favourites, the African Wild Cat.  The guide explained that his philosophy for drives is to avoid the storytelling approach, and to try and provide a unique experience to the guests on the drive.  So, if you see the name Paul Mgiba on the board as the guide in your camp, make sure you book a seat on that drive right away!

©WMB/notesfromafrica.wordpress.com

©WMB/notesfromafrica.wordpress.com

 

This post is part of a series of Kruger National Park posts I will be publishing. It is also part of my daily posts for October 2016 – otherwise known as The October Dash

 

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Categories: Lifestyle/Travel, Nature/Environment

Author:Willie

I am a forestry scientist living and working in the Southern Cape, South Africa.

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6 Comments on “The Big Cat Whisperer”

  1. Eha
    October 10, 2016 at 1:46 am #

    Oh Willie – these are cheetah photos sans pareil! What posture and elegance this mother-to-be shows!! Always dangerous, I would imagine her to be so even more at this stage. I realize this means a few extra dollars, but to me the guided drives surely are the way to go: the local guides know what is likely ‘on show’ where and, God forbid, should there be some kind of an emergency they would know how to be safe . . . love to both of you: am SO enjoying October 🙂 !!

    • October 11, 2016 at 3:45 pm #

      Hi Eha! Am answering your comment on Willie’s behalf . . .Yes, cheetahs are amazing animals, aren’t they? That this cheetah is out hunting in her state even more so. Imagine if human females had to do that?! 🙂

      We do enjoy the self-drive option, but the guided drives and walks are very special.

  2. October 10, 2016 at 1:52 am #

    Aha! you did see a cheetah – how wonderful! Such amazing photos!

    • October 11, 2016 at 3:47 pm #

      Thank you! We had a couple of really good cheetah sightings, unlike the lions who didn’t want to pose for our cameras!

  3. October 15, 2016 at 12:29 pm #

    I am thoroughly enjoying reading about your adventures in the Kruger Park, Willie. Beautiful photos of the Big Cats. I think you probably see much more of the wildlife if you go on a guided walk or drive with a local ranger who knows the terrain and where the animals are most likely to be found at a particular time of day. Lovely blog post, Willie!

    • Willie
      October 18, 2016 at 6:04 pm #

      Hi Reggie – Thanks for your comments. This was definitly an adventure. On the sunset/night drives you do see more of the night animals. We have had mixed success on night drives in the Kgalagadi, seeing anything from large groups of lions with multiple cubs to only a selection of smaller “common” animals on other drives. The most satisfying to me is to actually stumble on interesting animals sightings by yourself without any guidance. The night drives are definitely recommended though.

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