Saturday, September 26, 2009

Lioness Teaches her Cubs to Hunt

Guest post by Jason Whitehead.

Shortly after daybreak I got a call from a fellow guide on the radio to say that he had spotted a lioness on the move with her three sub adult cubs not far from where I was enjoying the view of a White Rhino. White Rhinos are incredible animals and I could sit an watch them for days, but they are a fairly common sight on the title="Welgevonden Private Game Reserve">Welgevonden Private Game Reserve situated in the northern province of South Africa. With a quick chat to my guests, we agreed to go and see of we could find her.

Welgevonden has a policy that no vehicles are permitted off road, this is to protect the environment and the many small creatures that you could easily crush by taking your 4x4 through the middle of the bush. I think this is excellent, but sometimes it can be a little frustrating when you know where an animal is but cant get to it. Today however was to be our lucky day, we did manage to find her and her cubs, but they were moving very quickly away from us through the bush which meant that the sighting would not last long. I decided to head out and wait at a road that she was heading towards about 5 minutes drive away. When we got there, there was a small herd of Zebra and Wildebeest grazing on the plain behind us, but right in the path of where I expected the lioness to to come out.

Sure enough a few minutes later, through my binoculars I spotted her in the tree line at the edge of the open plain. She too had spotted the herbivores and by her posture was obviously hungry. So in front of us we had the lioness hidden in the trees and an open area of around 100 meters to the road which we were on and then behind us about another 50 meters to the Zebra and Wildebeest. It was winter and so she did not have that much cover, so with my guests we watched her still within the trees move round to get our Land Rover right in between her and her potential prey. Then crouched very low she very slowly headed straight towards our vehicle, with her cubs hidden directly behind her in single file. If it wasn't for the fact that I knew that she was interested in what was behind us, this could have been rather frightening as it would have looked like she was hunting us! Even so we still had to be careful as a lion in hunting mode should not be taken lightly, and made sure my guest did not offer an easier alternative to a much more powerful and fast running Zebra.

Sure enough after about half an hour they got to our vehicle and then slowly moved around it, it was a fantastic sight to see such wonderful animals so close up. Now that they were behind us she and her cubs only had the tall grass as cover, but were now only 50 meters from their quarry. Then something very interesting happened, she stopped moving and her 3 cubs came around in-front of her and continued to stalk towards their prey whilst she just lay there watching. When the three cubs got to within 40 meters of the completely oblivious herd of Zebra and Wildebeest, one of them broke cover and just got up and ran towards them. With no chance of catching the herd, the cub had totally spoilt a mornings work for the rest of the family. When it had finished half heatedly running after the somewhat alarmed but now safe herbivores, they returned to their mother, who when gave the cub who had transgressed a snarl and then a tremendous slap right across it's face.

Right beside us, we witnessed some incredible animal behavior and a lesson that I think that cub would never forget. It had been an excellent morning in the bush.

About the Author
Jason Whitehead was born and grew up in Zimbabwe. Passionate about wildlife, travel and a keen wildlife and bird photographer, he is a qualified Field Guide (safari guide) and has worked on safari lodges in South Africa. He owns and runs the Safari Holiday Guide and the Best Binoculars & Binocular Reviews websites that now keep him behind a desk most of the time, but is always looking for an excuse to get back into the bush.

Would you like to post a story on this blog. Please feel free to contact me at frantic.naturalist [you know what comes here, skipped for spam]

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Rain to you, Rain to me

This post is simply a little chat about the weather. I got up at 3h00 this morning, partly due to chronic insomnia and but mainly due to the wonderful sound of thunder in the distance.

What do people say about rain? There are lots of feelings. An easy way to see is to have a look at Twitter:

@Plunker219 says "rain rain go away, now?"
@allyrok05 says "@charwalt im sick and tired of the outside all day at work so i need nice weather. "
@the_coffeegirl says "Really tired of the rain. But I haven't floated away yet."

But there are some voices from the opposition:
@chrisevans17 says "Awesome, it's gonna rain. That's different."

and me...
@Namibnat: We had thunder over Windhoek this morning...I really hope it's going to rain. There is a great smell of rain in the air.

Namibia is a dry country.  I grew up in northern Kenya, which is also really dry.  Even in the areas in southern and eastern Africa where there is a little more rain, usually there are long, long dry spells without any rain.

When you go for a long time without any rain, the most enjoyable, exiting rain is the rain that breaks the dry season.  Those first few short but dramatic thunder storms we get...about now.

It's still early days, and October is still considered a dry month, so I shouldn't get my hopes up to much.

When you have so little of something it conjours up memories, and rain is a good one for that.

An early memory of rain for me is from Camaroon.  My parents were there to do Africa orientation for an organization they worked for.  One thing they had to do was a survival night.  Most people had to do it alone, but if they had kids they would take one child along.  I went with my dad.  We went into the jungle as a group and had to hack our way in.  The leaders told each group where to stop and make their camp for the night.  You had a few provisions and had to make a bed.  I can't really remember much of it (I was 8) but I do remember that it rained non stop.  We tried to make a fire...the wood is drenched, the whole place is just constantly wet.

We moved to Kenya and moved to a place called Korr.  It's in the heart of the Kaisuit Desert, a rather small arid region between Marsabet and the bottom of Lake Turkana in Kenya's north.  It didn't rain much at all.  We went through the 1984 drought, which changed our lives forever, people were starving and the Kenyan government was saying that the problem was contained in Ethiopia to stop it from having any negative impact on tourism, Kenya's cash cow.

The people we lived with are the Rendile, and Rendile people love the rain in a way that I couldn't hope to explain.  The memories of the rains that break the long dry season in Kenya are amazing.  Rendile dance in a very similar way to the Masai. With braking rain, the dancing goes on all night. Wonderful. I can remember the rain on the tin roof of our house as I would go to sleep with the distant singing of the Rendiles.

When it would rain there would be lots of dry river beds that can turn into torrents of flowing water. They would come down in flash floods. It was amazing, and could at times be dangerous.

We would also get Velvet Mites coming out after the rain.  I don't know why, but the Rendille kids would run around and draw circles around them.

This Picture shows a Velvet Mite,
similar to the ones we would find as kids
Photo by Paul Garland on Flickr (licence)

Even now, after rain, we find them in the Namib.

Once we had driven to a nearby town.  The roads were basically just two tracks.  While we were there, there had been a downpour and we ended up getting stuck in the mud and sleeping there the night.  When we woke up the next morning there was a pack of wild dogs around the car.  It was such a special family experience.

Last year, on the first of April (ironic) I had a guests at Sossusvlei Desert Lodge and took them to Sossusvlei in the morning.  It rained the whole time.  A massive downpour.  If you go to Sossusvlei today, much of the green on the dunes is from that single day's rain.

In the afternoon, we were watching the weather, and when it looked like it would clear, we jumped in the game drive vehicle and headed out.  As we started, the rain started belting down.  We did about three kilometers before calling it quits.  On our way back it just kept pouring.  The rain meter showed that 19mm had fallen in those few minutes.  The roads had turned to rivers, and I could hardly drive, it was hitting my face so hard.  It was amazing.

Rain in the drier parts of Africa usually comes in thunderstorms and usually comes down hard.  The rain usually breaks the heat of summer, so the short period of being cold is a welcome relief.

At Sossusvlei Desert Lodge, where I worked for many years, when these early rains would come often the staff would simply stop work, get together and sing, just out of happyness.  It always helped prevent any guests from complain that they just left Europe to come to Africa and get away from the rain.  African Desert thunderstorms are amazing wonderful things to experience.