Wake-up call was at 5 am. Even though we are on vacation, that does not mean we can sleep in. There is no late sleeping if you want to see wildlife, active in the cooler mornings and late afternoons just before dusk. Despite having declined the offer of the two after-dinner cocktails last night, Springboks and Sledgehammers*, 5 am came all too soon. Fifteen minutes after the call, we gathered for coffee. The vehicles were already waiting for us. We pulled out of the compound around 5:45, just as the first light was starting to show in the morning sky.
It was cool with a thin overcast cloud layer, making fleece jackets a requirement. We found a herd of buffalo right away. We stopped now and then to listen and watch for birds, and to just enjoy the quiet of the morning. Keeping with our crew from the night before, Patrick was our Ranger/Guide, and Julius our tracker. Guests and Rangers stay together for the duration. We were headed in the general direction of where we had seen the lion family the night before. On the way to that area, we saw the large herd of buffalo, 5 hyenas, a few zebra, many impala and one lone wildebeest.
We heard over the radio that the lions and cubs were on the move, so we picked up the pace. Luckily another one of the Savanna Rangers was already with the lions and on the radio, so we found the family before they disappeared into the brush. Four lionesses and the four cubs were slowly making their way to another part of the reserve. One of the lionesses had stashed another three cubs somewhere, and it was believed they may be headed in their direction. We watched the lion family as they slowly strolled along, cubs playing, sometimes resting. It was a beautiful sight. One of the little cubs was quite a noisy kitten, crying and demanding attention. We watched them play, nurse, and get a bath.
Reluctantly we pulled away to give other vehicles a chance to watch the family. Patrick informed us that the rule was no more than two vehicles around an animal, and they would change places after about 15 or 20 minutes. That was fair, but I hated to leave them. I could have watched them all morning.
On the way back to the lodge we stopped for a break of coffee and snacks. Patrick and Julius had also packed a bottle of Amarula, and without much arm twisting talked us into a splash of Amarula in the morning coffee. It was great. Driving back to the lodge we saw a few water buck, a tree squirrel, wart hogs and a leopard. The leopard sighting was a 1 out of 5, as Patrick described it over the radioed to the other guides. I asked what a 1 out of 5 meant, and he said, the male leopard was “flat”. The leopard was in a tangle of bushes, lying flat. You could see it was a leopard, but photos were impossible. Our lion encounter had been a 5 out of 5, where the animal is active and highly visible, with good photo opportunities. So yes, the leopard sighting was a 1 out of 5, but it was an official sighting. If we included the elephant sighting during the night drive back to the camp after sundowners last night (large dark shapes really), we had officially seen The Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, water buffalo and rhino) in just 24 hours. Patrick wasn’t satisfied though, and said we must see a leopard with a cub, and elephants in the daylight. We did not argue.
Breakfast was waiting for us back at Savanna Lodge. You wouldn’t go hungry here. Our routine for the next few days will follow this schedule: up at 5 am and out on the morning drive, breakfast upon return, on our own to do as we please (shower and a nap) until lunch at 3:30 followed immediately with the afternoon game drive, return to the lodge after sundowners, one hour rest, then dinner at about 9 pm.
Lunch was great, and we headed out again in clear, blue skies for our afternoon game drive. We again found the Cape Buffalo and a few zebra. Patrick got a radio call with the location of a herd of elephants, so we sped off in their direction. We found them on the Brass Monkey Donga Clearing. We stopped the Land Rover and the group filed past us, incredibly close. There was one very small Elie, and a few more young ones. We were delighted with the sighting, but this incredible day wasn’t over.
Another radio call announced the sighting of a female leopard on the move, following one of the dirt roads. We caught up with her. It was the small female leopard they call Metsi. She was definitely on a purpose, walking straight line, ignoring the vehicles.
When she stepped off the road into the brush, I thought we would stop following her. Silly me. We continued, truly bush whacking at this point. Still she carried on. You could tell she was on a mission.
We soon found out what it was. She had stashed her cub in a hide out. As she got close, she started to call for the cub. Finally he answered and they were reunited. She licked him over, but he was very shy of the vehicles and stayed mostly hidden. We left them at peace, very satisfied with the sighting.
On our way to sundowners we ran into four White Rhinos. What a day. In one day we had spotted the Big Five, and not just glimpses, but photo op sightings. Sundowners followed where we learned more about our Guide Patrick and our Tracker Julius. Julius had earned a nick name “Julius The Bull-shitter”, given to him with best intentions, which he accepted graciously. Augie said Julius had earned his BS degree this day.
Dinner back at the Lodge, the dinner was excellent, then four very tired but very happy “campers” went to bed. Up again tomorrow at 5 for a repeat performance.
*A Springbok is peppermint liqueur plus Amarula, with the peppermint green liquid on the bottom and the white Amarula on top. It is quite pretty. A Sledgehammer is Kahlua, plus Amarula next, with a float of rum on the top. Patrick had advised us last night to skip the drinks if we wanted to get up at 5 am. Good advice.