To preface, I am not generally a fan of chasing Big Five sightings. But I do understand the desire to see Africa’s biggest and most dangerous species – just not at the expense of discovering its smaller treasures.
That being said, the chance to view the Big Five is something we are proud to offer, and it’s an experience we try to ensure for all guests that come through Lion Sands. So when we heard that we had guests coming in for one night and only one game drive, the pressure was on!
Luckily, these guests had been on safari before and didn’t have too many expectations of what they hoped to see. With Field Guide Ruvan Grobler and Tracker Juice Khoza, we set off first in search of one of our more elusive species – leopard.
One had been seen that morning, so Ruvan and Juice followed up in the area, getting off on foot to track him. They found tracks, but they weren’t too fresh and after about 30 minutes in pursuit, we decided instead to head towards a lion sighting that was called in on the radio.
On the way there, we passed by a small group of male buffalos – dagga boys (‘dagga’ meaning mud) – who, true to their reputation, were in the area to roll in the wallows. Carrying on, we also passed a male rhino who was foraging in the area.
The afternoon was moving into the golden hour and, as we drove east, we had a beautiful sunset behind us and a nearly full moon shining in front of us. A stunning backdrop for the herds of antelope and giraffe we saw along the way. And just when a guest asked us if we commonly see elephant in the area, trumpeting gave away their nearby presence. A very curious breeding herd with “a lot of personality’, as one of the guests described it, came and inspected the vehicle. We spent time with them until they moved off into distance.
Continuing on to the lions, we passed another two breeding herds of elephants. I’m sure we could have spent all afternoon with them, but our guests were eager to see the lions. We arrived to find four lions – two males and two females – in an open field. Within a minute of our arrival, before the vehicle even stopped, the activities began…
A lioness stood up and began circling the male, flicking her tail in his face and showing him that she was interested in mating. She growled and snarled; he stood up, semi-interested. But in the end, he decided he wasn’t in the mood and flopped back over onto the ground. Displeased with this outcome, the lioness moved over to the other male, made the same moves, and this time it worked. The lioness carried on moving between the males for quite some time.
As we headed back in the direction of Ivory Lodge, Juice had his spotlight out, scanning for nocturnal animals. Suddenly, he called to Ruvan, “Stop – leopard!” In an instant, a male leopard appeared on the side of the road and, as is typical of our leopards here, casually strolled by our vehicle. He gave us a quick once-over, before deciding we were no threat to him and he could continue on his patrol. We kept up with him until he moved off into an area too thick for us to follow into.
As we drove away, Juice said with a smile, “We got the Big Five!” – a pretty exciting game drive for guests who only have an afternoon to spend with us. But out here, anything is possible…
Words and photos: by Charlotte Arthun