Lions and cheetahs rest most of the day.
In fact lions sleep up to 22 hours out of 24! And cheetahs, due to their very specific muscular development, allowing them to sprint up to 110km/h, also means that their muscles need sometimes hours to fully recover after such a sprint. Endurance is not their forte at all.
So for both lions and cheetahs, preying on game is the most important portion of their hunting. Once hungry, cheetahs and lions will move around slowly, observe the wildlife around them, trying to evaluate any opportunities. A classic technique is to approach an unsuspecting target, wind blowing away from the target (masking the smell of the predator, and also reducing any noise alert), in high grass, trying to get as close to the target as possible without being seen.
Cats, due to their claws, and also muscular make-up achieve breakneck acceleration, so the surprise element is key. Impalas, for instance, achieve unbelievable speeds as well, and can sustain these speeds for much longer than any lion and especially cheetah, but it takes them several seconds longer to accelerate to this speed due to the lower grip of their hoof-like feet. It is this window of opportunity that lions and cheetahs use to take down a victim before it even gets really going. Tactics and technique is everything, and cats learn throughout life. As they age, their kill success rates increase, especially if an experienced pride works together as a team.
Our cheetahs love hunting in the near vicinity of rivers. River beds give them the needed straight surface to accelerate, while the thick bush next to the river bed is perfect for camouflage. We even had a cheetah kill right next to one of our honeymoon suites a few weeks back, as the lodge is near the river bed. Our lion pride loves the open spaces, of which there are many on our reserves. They observe wildlife from the thick bush on the edges of these open spaces, and tend to take down their preys on these plains. Their preferred targets are impala, wildebeest, and kudu, but they also took down a giraffe at least once, so they have courage!
Here a couple of photos of a cheetah and a lioness out on a hunt, seen 2 days ago, and photographed by Mike.
A couple of days ago, during an evening safari, Jay-Dee and Uyai found a leopard roaming his territory, busy marking it. It was a male leopard, of course, and he was very relaxed. It is unusual to observe such an elusive animal, but this time our guests got 40 minutes up-close time with him, which is incredible. Well done!
We start having leopard sightings more regularly, but of course lion and cheetah sightings have become extremely frequent, sometimes on a daily basis. So it was a real treat to see a leopard on our reserve, for a change. Not that they are rare here, there are several dozens of them, according to recent research, and their numbers are increasing, as there is plenty of plains game to feed on!
The next morning, on a morning game drive, we "missed" a blue wildebeest kill (of course it was the lions who made the kill, not the blue wildebeest), by a whisker, maybe by as little as 20 minutes. Still, it was amazing to observe these big cats feasting on a fresh kill. Gory it is, yes, but nonetheless, this is as real as you can observe wildlife, and that's what safaris here at the Vuyani Safari Lodge are all about. Our wildlife here on the reserve is completely wild and self-reliant, and that's what real conservation is all about.
Many thanks to Daisy and Alex for the beautiful shots, they are truly stunning! What sightings .... incredible ...
I woke up to very sad news: the passing of Nelson Mandela.
We knew he was unwell for almost a year, and so it didn't come as a surprise, but it doesn't change anything. South Africa is a poorer nation now.
Nelson Mandela was a great man, for one reason mainly: he overcame bitterness and anger, all too human traits, and totally understandable ones in light of what had been done to him, and yet he chose to forgive, even those who had been at the very heart of the apartheid regime. He wasn't perfect, he wasn't a saint, and many mistakes were done while in government. But he acknowledged them often, and often publicly wished things were done better than they were. It is this humility that made him tangibly human, and it is this humility that has totally left the current top of the ANC, which will make Mandela be missed all the more in the future. I still hope that the future of South Africa will be what the Madiba would have liked to see: a true Rainbow Nation, where race is irrelevant, and where all South Africans have equal chances and opportunities in life.
Rest in peace, Madiba!
4 days ago (God, I wish I had not skipped this game drive!!), Mike and Uyai found the cheetahs in an area that we call the "cotton fields", on a fresh kill they had made moments before. Their kill was a young born wildebeest. Survival chances of baby wildebeest are not the highest, and one can see why. In this season, as they are just days or weeks old, they are still quite slow, and with the lack of experience, they are easy prey for predators such as cheetah, lions and leopards.
As the cheetahs were enjoying their lunch, a group (in English the proper term is "journey") of giraffes approached the cheetahs, to take a look at the goings-on. Giraffes are known to display a lot of curiosity, and sometimes this works against them as they should rather keep out of business that isn't theirs.
The cheetahs were not very amused, and made sure that the giraffes chose very quickly to make a run for it, and leave the premises.
Cheetahs are not dangerous to giraffes, as cheetahs are far too small to take down a giraffe, but nonetheless, the giraffes chose not to test theory either.
Both cheethas proceeded to finish their meal and moved off to new hunting grounds, making sure not to attract competing carnivores (lions or hyenas for instance) eager on snatching their kill. It is such a delight to watch these incredibly rare animals being successfully hunting. One of the female cheetahs has now chased off her cubs as they have fully grown up now, and are successfully hunting on their own. She has been seen with a couple of make cheetahs, so we are optimistic about her having new babies some time soon in the future.
Female cheetahs seek out make cheetahs for mating, but as soon as they realise they are pregnant (and they do very quickly due to hormonal changes), they become very hostile to male cheetahs and chase them off in a very aggressive manner. Male cheetahs will always make sure to stay far away from a pregnant cheetah female.
I was out myself on the reserve three days ago, being very excited. It had been a long while, and I must admit that I do not go out on game drives nearly as often as I wish. Well, this one was going to make up for it, especially as we have great sightings these days on quasi every game drive.
Chance (or bad luck) would have it, that it started raning about 30 minutes into the game drive. But our guests were unfazed, and determined. The ponchos came out, and the safari continued. And it was well worth it!
We found all 4 lionesses, resting under a bush, trying to shelter from the rain, and dodging the lightnings and the thunder. The weather conditions made the sighting all the more dramatic!
We are trying to get the lions used to seeing Uyai, our ranger, on the tracker's seat in front of the game driver, they are still uneasy about it, but they are better already now.
We got within 8-10 yards of them, and I succeeded at capturing some beautiful footage of these 4 lionesses. See below and enjoy!
Jay-Dee had a great morning drive yesterday, that's for sure.
We have had some first rains recently, and as a result the whole of nature has nicely greened up. Compare the photos of this story to, say, a month ago or so. Totally different world! There is a lot of wildlife activity at the moment as well (not that it is ever quiet though!) and now the first migratory birds from Europe are arriving as well, just in time as the "buggy" season starts. Feast-time!
Jay-Dee spotted a beautiful White Rhino yesterday, a male bull by the way, roaming around on his own. It was spotted at a lake that we call "Big Dam", while it was drinking. The rhino was very relaxed, and our guests got great photo shots. As a matter of fact the shots below are Mary Tolle's, one of our guests on safari with us. Well done, one of the loveliest White Rhino shots I have seen in a long while. Outstanding.
One can see the Rhino bull marking his territory on one of the photos. Male bulls are very territorial, and will defend their area tooth and nail, to the point of killing other male intruders. These guys are not to messed with when on heat!
Luck would have it that Jay-Dee would also spot a super rare Southern Ground Hornbill, which is the second time this month alone. So, message to the millions of birders out there in the world: If this rarest of all birds has eluded you all these years, and you want it off your bucket list, please visit us: you stand a decent chance here!
Mike and Uyai found the male lion yesterday ... but he was on his own. He was looking for his pride, evidently they had all made off, leaving him behind. He didn't look too happy about this. First the two youngsters made off, and now he has to look for his two lionesses too. This looks like major family trouble. Maybe they left him alone so that he can think about how he can fend for himself
That said, he is a good and busy hunter, so maybe it wasn't that. In general the two lionesses roam over much larger areas in the quest for food, but whatever happened, he was calling for them, and looking uneasy about being on his own. Not cool at all.
So to keep himself busy, he decided to chase around some cheetahs, in front of Mike and his guests. Lions are very territorial, and so they will not tolerate any other cats nearby, and will always chase them right away. Cheetahs are of course very fast, so they always get away, but they tire also very quickly. See below a photo of them resting after getting away from the lion.
It is extremely rare, however, to witness this in wild nature, so the sighting that Mike offered our guests yesterday was simply out of this world. A true once in a lifetime thing to see. Well done Mike, and many thanks for the photos! And in the end our lion found his beloved lionesses, so everyone was happy.
Jay-Dee saw two reptiles on the same morning drive yesterday, and just gave me the photos.
One is a flap-necked chameleon, and one is a crocodile.
Crocs and chameleons are both reptiles, and yet they are obviously very different from each other. But they do share some surprising characteristics! They both eat meat, they both don't like moving much, they both rely on disguise and both attack their prey in a very explosive manner.
The chameleon was spotted in an interesting (and rare to observe moment): it was shedding its skin! See on the photo below. How cool is that? We find chameleons quite regularly on our reserve, so when you stay at the lodge you will most likely enjoy the opportunity to hold a chameleon on your hand. It's a very special experience, and very interesting.
Chameleons are a very special kind of lizard, and over the millions of years have evolved into 160 separate sub-species. You can find chameleons in the thick bush, like on our reserve, to the African deserts, as well as in jungles. They exist in all kinds of colors: green, red, yellow, blue, orange, pink, ... what they all share are their peculiar feet, as well as their trademark eyes, which they can move independently from each other. Their eyesight is extremely good, and they all catch small insects with their long tongue. They can also change their colors. They usually turn darker when angered. The chameleons on our reserve do that too!
Below the photo Jay-dee took of the crocodile he spotted. As always he was busy lazing around in the sun, doing nothing at all. But be careful, they are very dangerous, and they can move fast. In general however they prefer to sleep in the sun, and catch an unsuspecting prey now and then. Their slow metabolism means they can go up to a year without any food at all.
Mike and Uyai were out with all our guests yesterday morning, and, luck would have it, the cheetahs were right next to the lodge. Again!
So my suspicion is being confirmed, this reserve is turning more and more into a cheetah paradise, and that's amazing news. As to why they keep on hanging out near the lodge, I am not sure, but something tells me that they have worked out that there is a lot of game around the lodge, feeling safe there, and now they have realised this "business opportunity". Well, the sighting was fantastic, and our guests loved it! How often do you get that close to a relaxed cheetah in the wild? Practically never. What a treat! Well done Mike and Uyai, that's great tracking (and this time around some luck too).
But the morning had the next surprise in store: a few hundred yards further away, in the Mbezi River, the lions were found shortly thereafter, chilling out in the dry river bed, after a successful hunting night. Our guests took some incredibly close-up photos of these massive cats. I would think that these might be the closest close-up photos I have ever seen of them, and in great quality too. I thoroughly enjoyed these shots.
The male lion is still hanging out with the two lionesses, with the young ones still being elusive. I suppose they are growing up
Mike and Uyai were out yesterday with our guests, and had some very nice encounters with both a bull elephant, and a couple of very curious lionesses. This elephant bull is quite the character, especially when he's on heat.
That said, yesterday he only took a close look at the game driver (and our guests), and was well behaved. It is hard to judge from the photos how huge he really is, but think over 6m tall! This thing is a huge towering animal, and I can guarantee that it will get your adrenaline pumping when one of these is close-up. There is nothing like it. Our guests loved it, and the pictures taken were magnificent, and very impressive.
Luck had it, and Mike also found the two young lionesses that are roaming the reserve on their own at the moment. They are used now to the presence of the game driver, but they still took an unusual interest in this big thing on 4 wheels, and this made for some very nice photo opportunities. The two girls are very strong and independent now, so that's maybe why they now spend time away from the family. Let's see if this behavior persists! They will probably rejoin the pride at some point in the future ...