Wildlife Wednesday: Spotting Big Cats in Sabie Sand Game Reserve
Kruger National Park is a special place for me. It’s the first place I had a chance to see true African wildlife. I’ll never forget my first pride of lions, first cheetah, first herd of wildebeest with zebra, and of course the unforgettable elephant. So when guiding our customers I get more than excited when we head into the Kruger area and the Sabie Sand Game Reserve.
On this particular Africa safari adventure we had been running a bit dry on lions. So as we moved from Kruger to the Sabie I was communicating with our lodge what the guides had been seeing to get an idea of what was in store. Unfortunately, word on the street was they haven’t seen lions for the last 4 days.
This can go either way. If the guides haven’t seen them in a few days then there is a good chance they are headed back into the area as prides patrol their territory (often to keep other prides out), or they may stay clear for another 3 days giving us a tour with minimal lions. Personally, I live and die by animal habits, and predicting those habits. I’m pretty confident we’ll get our lions based on the patrolling behavior.
We settle in, get our chalet’s lined out, watch some hippos at the water and at 5:00 pm off we go on the game drive! Like always we pick up some kudu, cape buffalo, impala and some cool birds as other guests compete for who can spot animals before the guide and each other. I start to hear some chatter on the radio and I can tell it’s something good. As we watch a cape buffalo rest in the mud we depart and I have high hopes of hyena, leopard or lion. As we pull up a guide from another vehicle informs us 2 male cheetahs just chased some impala and may have one down!
The whole vehicle sits quiet in anticipation. All eyes out looking…..looking and off we go. We drive around where there is a small lane of grass in between the bushes and there lies a cheetah!
As we sit and watch this guy slowly recovers and then goes into lazy cat mode. Everyone whispers and takes photos as the cheetah naps and wakes, naps and wakes. Another vehicle pulls in to watch. As we get ready to depart we hear something. Not sure what it was, but it’s an out of place call – and not a bird.
The cheetah heard it also and is on full alert still lying down. The cheetah goes into a stalk looking stance looking in the bushes in front of us and then bolts away as a lion jogs out of the bushes!
The noise we had heard was the lion “chuffing”. It’s a contact call made to locate each other in the bush without being too loud. This lioness was acting out of character, so the guides kept us back for a bit and assessed what pride and what female this may have been.
As we slowly followed her she disappeared into the bushes on the left and we thought possibly – that was it. As our guide drove on we looked to the left and the lion had fish hooked around and was on a little hill to get a closer to us! The guide drove by her and at one point was within 10 yards of us – watching. Once she had her look she decided she would grace us with her presence as the evening came on.
After a little discussion it was assumed she was a cat from Kruger that was a little out of bounds. Which would explain her behavior. She sat there for us for 20 minutes as we photographed and watched her. Some impala came by and gave some snorts and alarm calls as we departed to go have sundowners.
We later saw a leopard with two cubs after dark making that one game drive a 3 cat finale!
– Adam Lackner, BrushBuck Wildlife Tours
We ARE Wildlife!