The more time you spend in the bush, the more you start to pick up on its nuances. You can smell when the air changes – perhaps a leopard has scent-marked on a nearby bush, or a rhino has recently defecated at its midden. You can hear the faintest calling rasp of a leopard in the distance, or distinguish the sound of impala rutting from the herd’s alarm calls. The subtle breaking of branch may give away an elephant, while a huffing snort can alert you to a black rhino. Even the birds’ calls become distinguishable from each other over time.
On the afternoon of 23 April, a group of guests and I set off with Field Guide Kelly Oldaker for their first game drive at Lion Sands. Everyone on board had been on numerous safaris, so when Kelly asked what they wanted to see, they all replied that they were happy with whatever Mother Nature had in store – my favourite answer! In my experience, a safari feels much more rewarding when you come without expectations.
We set off and immediately had an update on the radio – a young female leopard had been found on the reserve. We made our way over and spent a wonderful 30 minutes alongside this leopard, who was resting in the grass. Because we had no agenda, we waited with her until she got up.
We know this leopard to be the Ndzilo female’s first cub. She is just over a year old now and is spending more and more time away from her mother, but still relies on her for the occasional meal. We suspected the mother was close by. When the youngster stood up, she started calling out for her. It was the cutest sound – a small shriek, repeated over and over. We drove alongside her as she kept on calling – what special behaviour to witness. In the end, we left her so as not to impose too much on her search.
We drove away from the cub and came across a lioness lying in the grass, not 50m away. She is known to be with another lioness and two male lions, so we searched the area. A way away, the two male lions were found. Again, we waited with them for quite some time as they were sleeping upon our arrival. With the sun going down, we heard in the distance the rasping of two adult leopards calling to each other. The sounds moved closer and caught the attention of one of the lions, who finally stood up and made a move.
These lions are new to the area and have been heard roaring only a few times. Lions vocalize to indicate their claim to a territory. But younger lions, who risk injury from other older lions, will keep quiet to avoid giving their position away. As evening fell, we left the sighting – only a few moments later to learn that the lions were on the move. So, of course, we turned around.
When we got back to the road, one of the lions walked directly behind our vehicle and let out a monumental roar, followed, in response, by his brother – who we didn’t know was in the bush a meter from us! The feeling of hearing a lion’s roar at such close proximity is nothing short of amazing. The two continued roaring as they walked around the vehicle, and then we heard a response in the distance – the female. All three were roaring around us. It was literally surround sound.
After leaving the lions, Kelly stopped to give us a tour of the night sky. While we were waiting in the darkness, the nocturnal sounds amplified around us – from insects and birds, including the melodious sound of the fiery-necked nightjar and the hooting of an African barred owlet, perched on a dead tree next to us.
This game drive was truly one for the senses.
Words and photos by: Charlotte Arthun