Our second full day of game drives at Camp Savuti started with a search of the immediate area for the lions that had been making noise the entire night. They sounded as if they were right in the camp. After our usual breakfast at 0630 we crossed the dry gulch and headed into the scrub near camp called Sand Ridge. But we found nothing of the noisy lions. Bonnie would stop and speak with the other guide of each vehicle we passed. Had anyone seen the lions? Always no.
After cruising the area, we headed out toward the Savuti Marsh to see if we could see any cheetah. The wide open marsh area is cheetah territory. We didn’t see cheetahs, but we did see a long list of other animals: wildebeest, eland, tsessebe, zebra, impala, and ostrich, and I’m probably forgetting a few others.
Headed towards the big baobab tree for our coffee break, sharp-eyed guide Bonnie stopped and asked to borrow my binoculars. Sure enough, he had spotted a pride of lions. I don’t know what it is he saw. When the mid morning sun starts to heat up, the lions like to lie flat in the shade and with their color being the same as the surrounding sand, it is very difficult to see them.
Bonnie drove the vehicle over to the pride and we watched as they relaxed in the shade and groomed each other and looked very much like large house cats. We were the only one in the area, so we could watch them in silence.
Leaving the lions in peace, and passing four elephants on our way, we took our coffee break under a baobab tree.
Legend has it that they were thrown down from heaven by God and stuck in the ground like a spear, upside down with the roots pointing up. Red and yellow billed hornbills were everywhere, and when they saw our cookies, they came hopping around looking for crumbs.
The size of the baobob is demonstrated here with our game drive companions.
After coffee break we piled back in the Land Cruiser and slowly made our way back in the direction of camp, always scanning. Thoroughly satisfied by our morning drive, we were back in camp for our 11 am brunch.
For the afternoon drive, my sister and I had the vehicle all to ourselves. Our first stop was a water hole where elephants and buffalo go to wallow in the mud. At first we saw a lone elephant and several buffalo. The elephant was spraying mud all over himself and the buffalo looked totally caked in mud. Bonnie suggested we head towards the main section of the water hole and wait to see if the breeding herd of elephants would come down.
And yes they did. A large herd came to the water hole, right on schedule, and we watched as they delighted in an afternoon bath. The herd had several babies with them and one seemed overjoyed with his afternoon water play time, using his tiny trunk to splash in the water and rolling in the shallow water, then the dust. It was quite a show and we watched until the elephants had finished and they slowly walking away. All the elephants we watched seemed to never be in a hurry, and it is relaxing to watch their deliberate and dignified movements.
We knew the lions we searched for in the morning near camp were probably still in the area. They must have found a shady spot to spend the hot part of the day, and would still be there. Other camp vehicles also were searching, and finally someone spotted the three big male lions, as expected, sleeping in the shade, waiting for cooler temperatures and their night time activities to start.
A half circle of about 6 vehicles, each filled with wide eyed and wonder struck tourists, watched the lions from a respectable distance.
The light was beautiful, casting a golden hue on the big cats. As we watched, one of the lions slowly got up, stretched, and made his way directly towards our vehicle.
I’m was clicking photos as he approached, until he got too close. The following pictures show just how close he got. That is the seat of the Land Cruiser in the picture. He got so close I couldn’t focus fast enough. He passed directly behind our Land Cruiser and casually walked off. It was my closest encounter with a lion.
Thoroughly satisfied with our lion encounter we stopped to watch a large flock of pelicans settle into the trees for the night. They circled the area in one large mass, then one by one made their landing approaches into the tops of trees. It was the golden hour, that last hour of light before sunset, and a beautiful time of the evening.
Our last great encounter for the day was at the hyena den. When we first arrived, there was one other vehicle parked and two hyena pups near the opening of the den. The other vehicle left and we were left alone. Bonnie asked if we’d prefer to go have sundowners or stay and watch the hyenas. Since it was just the two of us, we opted to stay at the den. It was peaceful, and we sat quietly and patiently. Soon a third pup cautiously came out of the den. As we continued our silent watch, eight of the ten pups came out of the den. We watched as they played with each other.
Three of them got curious and made their way over to us. They got so close as to be nearly under us, so Bonnie turned the engine over once to scare them back. It was nice to sit quietly and watch them.
The spell was broken when another vehicle came to watch and the occupants were chatting. The puppies quickly disappeared back into the den.
A few basic rules of game drives; be quiet when you see animals, don’t make any sudden moves, don’t wear white, and bring binoculars.
In the growing darkness we turned back towards camp, passing a lone elephant feeding in the pink glow of sunset. We would enjoy our sundowners back in camp, but it was worth it to experience the joy of seeing the puppies playing and getting a truly up close hyena encounter.