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The Cats Came Out


KiwiGran
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Just home from our third trip to South Africa having had another wonderful 10 days.

Our itinerary was

May 25th, 26th Fly from our home in New Plymouth New Zealand to Johannesburg

Stay City Lodge Johannesburg airport

27th Fly to Hoedspruit and visit Moholoholo rehabilitation Centre

28th Full day in Kruger with Sable Tours

29th Visit to Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre then to Shindzela Tented Camp in the Timbavati Reserve

2nd June Transfer to Tydon Bush Camp in Sabi Sand

5th Fly home.

 

I was lucky enough to get a special on a Premium Economy flight with Qantas which only cost us $NZD200 more than our flight 2 years ago in Economy. The extra legroom made a huge difference to our comfort and we arrived in good shape.

A highlight of the flight from Sydney to Johannesburg was to see the Antarctic ice as we flew to 64 degrees south.

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Rather than give a day by day account I have chosen just to share the highlights. I am not a photographer and only have a point and shoot camera but will include some photos of key moments.

 

We have seen some of southern Kruger and I wanted to see some of the different area around Satara – we entered the Orpen gate and explored many of the dirt roads off the Orpen Satara road and ventured down the S100 as we had reports of a lion kill there.

As others have mentioned it is incredibly dry, for us the main effect of this was not a single elephant sighting! We had good lion sightings on the S100 and an interesting interaction at the kill site where the lions had retreated to the shade and a black backed jackal was sneaking in for a bite to eat when one of the lionesses exploded out of the bushes and chased him away. The highlight for me was only 3 minutes from the gate on the way out I spotted a male leopard sitting on the rocks right beside the road. Heaps of cars had passed without spotting him.

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The visits to Moholoholo and HESC were interesting and they are doing good work rehabilitating and releasing animals, fun seeing Stoffel the honey badger, special to see the leopards coat so close, leopard cubs, a cheetah Mum and her 4 cubs and to hear her chirp to them but seeing animals in captivity is not so enjoyable for us.

 

 

 

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Unlike our day in Kruger Elephants were abundant at Shindzela,. On our way in to camp we spotted some drinking from holes they had dug in a dry river bed, a breeding herd including several young ones of various sizes. Fantastic to be back!

 

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Half an hour after reaching camp a big group came to drink at the pan across from the camp – lots of trumpeting and rumbling as they jostled to get to the water and then a huge male came right through the group checking out the females – what a great start to our stay.Last time we were at Shindzela we didnt see any animals at the pan.

 

One day we spotted a herd crossing the road ahead of us and our guide felt sure they were coming in from Kruger and heading to the dam so we turned around and took a short cut to the dam but the elephants beat us. The herd was a bit nervous probably being from that part of Kruger and not so habituated to vehicles. A young one challenged us and two older members immediately placed themselves between us and the little one who promptly ran for Mums protection! We shifted to the other side of the dam to give them more space and what a sighting we had, more elephants poured over the dam wall until there must have been 50 or 60 elephants drinking and playing in the water. We watched them for ages.

 

 

Another drive we spotted a huge tusker – he was collared to aid research into the big tuskers and our guide explained how there were few big tuskers left as in years past all the big tuskers were shot and the gene pool robbed of those genetics. What a priveledge to sit so close to this massive animal and watch him feeding, I felt that sense of peace that comes over me whenever I am in the presence of elephants.

 

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Watching a big male close up as he shifted a dead tree to gain access to a small area of slightly longer grass and how he used his trunk to carefully eat each little clump of grass, watching young ones play and mock charge us – I could watch elephants for hours.

 

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We had an interesting experience at Tydon – we came across a herd feeding in a hollow, they appeared quite upset at our arrival and our guide explained that it was because we were behind them and above them. She shifted the vehicle so that we were in front of them and lower and almost immediately they settled and began feeding again.

 

 

 

 

 

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@@KiwiGran Looks like a great trip. With these photos from a point and shoot I would dispute your claim that you are not a photographer.

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@@KiwiGran, welcome back, glad you had a great trip. Good to see Shindzela Eles again, yes Eles such fun to watch. Flying over the Antarctic ice out of Sydney?? That's a bit of a loop, but certainly the scenic route.

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Thanks @@elefromoz we had seen that the antarctic ice can sometimes be seen from the Sydney to Johannesburg flight and our flight went low enough on a fine day to be able to have a good view, it certainly helped pass an hour or so of a long flight.

Thanks @@pomkiwi your comment much appreciated and yes it was a great trip.

 

A couple more ele photos before I go on to the sightings that triggered the title of this trip report

 

Itchy ear

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Elephants at the dam

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Many of our friends had asked why we were going back to camps we had visited in 2014 and I said the camps might be the same but the animals wont be and that sure was the case at Shindzela – our last visit didn’t yield a single lion sighting, this time we had lion sightings on 7 out of 8 drives.

 

Our first sighting was 4 females from the Avoca pride. It was late afternoon and they were following a huge buffalo herd. We followed them for some time, occasionally losing them in the thick bush then the tracker would find them again. Watching them patiently following and keeping the buffalo in sight was intriguing.

 

Watching the buffalo

 

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Patiently waiting

 

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Beautiful luoness

 

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We left them for a while to see the buffalo herd and towards dusk the call came through from the other Shindzela vehicle that they had made a kill – a yearling buffalo. The buffalo herd and in particular a big buffalo bull tried to chase off the lioness but weren’t able to but then a big male lion came and stole the kill – the dominant Ross coalition male. We saw these 2 males on several occasions, the dark maned brother was clearly dominant and his blond brother very submissive.

 

Dominant Ross male, darker mane and mohawk

 

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Blond brother

 

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Battle scarred

 

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When we got to the sighting the male was crunching away at his stolen kill, the sounds and sights in the spotlight were very graphic. Then our guide turned the spotlight on some bushes further away as he had heard the contact calls of the second Ross male and we watched him come closer expecting him to share the kill but no, the dominant male wasn’t having any of that. The second male sat down a little way away clearly wishing he could share. At one stage the females came back to try their luck but the submissive male quickly chased them away – fascinating to see how he helped his brother even though his brother wouldn’t share the kill.

 

The kill

 

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Wish I could have some!

 

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Continued

The excitement continued when the guide in the second Shindzela vehicle went to start and the battery was flat, run down by the spotlight. No-one was keen to get off and help with the lions only metres away so our guide positioned our vehicle right in front of the other one, the tracker reached down without getting off his seat to attach the tow rope. The drama wasn’t over yet though – as we pulled away our vehicle dropped the front wheel into an aardvark hole! What happens now we thought, adrenalin pumping, but no problem, plenty of rocking backwards and forwards and at last we were free and choosing another route we were able to tow the second vehicle and get it started. The tracker reached down and released the tow rope which we dragged some distance away before anyone was willing to get off and detach the rope from our vehicle.

 

The Avoca pride numbers about 18 in total plus three 5 month old cubs, 5 sub adult males, several subadult females and the rest adult females. While we were at Shindzela they split and then rejoined several times and made at least 3 buffalo kills. At one stage we could hear them growling and fighting over a kill but it was in a neighbouring property so we were unable to see them, we also saw several hyena hanging around hoping for some of the action.

 

The first time we saw the cubs was a brief sighting but we were to see more of them later. Mum came out of the bush as we were driving along the road and then we realised the cubs were following. She walked beside the vehicle and then crossed the road and disappeared into a neighbouring property. The cubs walked past the vehicle a little warily but we could see that already they are becoming habituated.

 

Mum

 

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Male cubs

 

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Female cub

 

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On one occasion we were watching 7 lioness lying in the shade, one got up and we saw she was very lame in one hip and the guide explained that she had been injured about 3 years ago but because they were a strong pride that made lots of buffalo kills she was able to survive. Another time they were lying in a clearing – so full they could barely move. Again we were watching some of the pride lying by a waterhole, our vehicle positioned very close to the waters edge. Two more lions came to join them and chose to try and go through the very narrow gap between our vehicle (the trackers feet being closest!) and the water. The lioness was very close when she decided it wasn’t a good idea and curling her lip and giving a snarl she turned and walked behind the vehicle to join her mates.

 

At the waterhole

 

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One of the best sightings was when we dropped off the tracker to follow the lion tracks, we drove for quite some distance and came to a clearing where we could see a lion lying and we spotted the tracker at the same place on the edge of the clearing! We got closer and found 11 adults and the 3 cubs lying in a rocky area and for the next 15 to 20 minutes we enjoyed watching them, the cubs moving around, some of the adult lying on each other and so on. We heard from the guests in the other vehicle that after we left the 2 male cubs suckled but would not let the female cub in.

 

The Pride

 

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Male cub

 

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Cub and pride

 

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Cub and big brother

 

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What is over there?

 

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All this time the tracker wasn’t to be seen and as we moved off to go and have our morning stop I wondered where on earth he was – we came to the dam to have our break and there he was, he had tracked the lions to where they had been drinking earlier in the morning. That was an aspect of the trip I really enjoyed, watching the trackers at work, listening to them describe what had taken place, I love the way they tell the action as a story.

 

 

 

 

 

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Love your focus on elephants so far. There really is something about them!

Enjoyable lion interactions, too.

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@@KiwiGran, such fun with the Lions, you were lucky, they had pretty well left with the Buffalo when we were there, so great to see them back in force. As you say, nothing is ever the same when you go back, every day a surprise.

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We had three leopard sightings, the one in Kruger, one at Shindzela –a fairly skittish young male initially up a tree, we watched him come down (in the spotlight) and then he just sat warily in the grass.

Our best sighting was with Tydon, we have always had good leopard sightings there. We were spotlighting when the call came in that a leopard had been spotted near the camp so we set off at brisk pace, still using the spotlight. We were some way from camp when the guide spotted another leopard. It was the female White Dam and we watched her walking in the clearing, then she crossed the road in front of us and on to the edge of the bush where she suddenly went into hunt mode, crouching low and we realised she had seen a lone male impala some way ahead. Turning the spotlight off so as not to influence the hunt we waited, an occasional quick flick of the light to check where she was, but then we lost her and saw that the impala had moved away but it was still a lovely sighting. What beautiful animals they are. Poor quality photo Im afraid.

 

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We saw lots of the usual game – rhinos including a mother and very young baby – is there anything so appealing as a baby rhino? We had seen 2 orphans at HESC and heard them making their cries so could imagine this little one doing that. On another occasion we had a very relaxed rhino so close that we could watch him eating eating.

 

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Lots of giraffe, one in Kruger sadly in poor condition and covered in large warty growths but all the others we saw were in good condition. We even saw a giraffe exhibiting osteophagia, sucking on a bone to get the calcium.

Zebra, wildebeest, lots of kudu. Really close sightings of steenbok, duiker, bush buck at Tydon - again much easier to see because of the low (or no) grass due to the drought.

Great to see several ground hornbills, we saw them in Kruger too, good to see them doing well. Lots of snake eagles and one day a sighting that was on my bucket list – a pair of Verreaux eagle owls. Really special. They were calling and were being harassed by several birds including the grey lourie. After some time one flew away and we could see what a huge bird it is.

 

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Bataleur and Gabar Goshawk were other great sightings.

 

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Other birds seen for the first time were dark chanting goshawk, Gymnogene, a saddle billed stork in a tree on a night drive, a Tawny eagle with chick in the nest. a crowned lapwing with 2 very newly hatched chicks – little balls of fluff on wobbly legs and 1 egg still to hatch.

 

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Our guide was very excited one day to see a bronze winged courser.

The day before we arrived at Tydon they had witnessed a Martial Eagle catch a baby steenbok, the guides checked under the tree where the kill had been taken and found the steenbok skull, incredibly tiny. Another day they showed us some porcupine quills they found on the track – porcupine is still on my bucket list but great to see the quills and know they are there.

 

We were lucky enough to have 2 sightings of honey badger, one in camp while we were having dinner. A really clear sighting in the torch light. The other sighting was in the late afternoon and we were able to follow him for some time – such busy and determined animals.

 

 

A first for me was an African Rock python curled up in a hole in a Red Ivory tree. The first time we saw her only two coils were visible, the next day after a very warm day the hole was empty, she must have gone hunting, but the third day she was back and this time her head was visible.

 

 

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An exciting sighting of wild dog, 5 of a larger pack and the best thing was that the alpha female was heavily pregnant and the hope was that they would den on Shindzela. We found them initially on the road, within moments they accelerated and tore off into the bush and I thought wow they are on the hunt but it transpired they were just chasing a hyena. Followed them for some time, such exciting animals to observe.

 

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I really enjoyed sightings of some of the smaller nocturnal animals on our night drives at Tydon – because of the low grass cover we were able to get really good sightings and follow a lot of the animals that in the past we have only had glimpses of. One was the African civet that we followed for over 10 minutes.

 

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We saw lots of genet but usually just glimpses of them in the dead trees but one night a small spotted genet posed beautifully for us atop a rock.Interesting to see the white patches under the eyes

(Quote :The white strips under their eyes reflect faint light into the eyes, maximising the amount of light entering the eye. This characteristic is a good indication that this is a nocturnal animal)

 

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White tailed mongoose, a glimpse of a bush baby were other night sightings.

 

And of course the glorious sunrises and sunsets, stunning.

 

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Altogether it was a fantastic trip. Shindzela had added 1500 ha of traversing since we were last there and it certainly improved the experience. The drought was very evident especially at Tydon and one wonders how the animals are going to get through the winter.

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@@KiwiGran, great luck with night sightings. Yes it is hard seeing the drought without wondering what will make it through and what won't. It was already getting tough on the Hippos back in March.

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@@KiwiGran thanks for a wonderful Trip Report, very interesting with lots of Detail.

Great photos äs well. I am really Looking fortwarf to the Rest of the Trip.

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@@KiwiGran

I loved your photos - great sightings of the elephants and of course the cats. But also a great view of the python.

Thank you for posting

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@@KiwiGran

 

Really great sightings. What a wonderful trip. I hope the alpha female wild dog delivers many healthy pups! Fascinating encounter with the African rock python. In a hole in a tree? I've only had a glimpse of one, and it was on the ground. And if I were searching for one, I would have scanned the ground again -- for rocks. So one learns something new every day. Question: How high up was the hole?

 

Thanks so much for sharing your experience.

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@@elefromoz Yes the poor hippos are starting to find it very hard to find enough water.

@@Hads Thanks for reading along,

@@TonyQ @@Alexander33 I really enjoyed the python sighting and each day looked forward to seeing if she was there. The hole was about 1.5m from the ground and the tree was very close to the road.

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  • 3 weeks later...

@@KiwiGran I came late to your report but was so pleased to read about the avoca pride has new cubs! I saw them about a year ago when they tried to take on the buffaloes, but we saw only the adult lionesses and subadults (it's in my TR on Timbavati).

 

My heart started beating faster reading about two vehicles were almost stuck next to the lions and then i cheered when your vehicle managed to rock its way out of the hole!

 

thanks for sharing a thrilling ride. and what an amazing view of the Antartic.

Edited by Kitsafari
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@@Kitsafari Thanks for reading along, yes our hearts were beating fast but we felt safe, the guides and trackers had it under control. The group in our vehicle really enjoyed the fun, even the guy at the back who had a close encounter with the thorn bush when we backed up!!

Have enjoyed rereading your trip report - the Avoca pride were on Makanyi land a lot of the time, they are looking well.

Just booked today for the next trip - 9 days KTP/Augrabies/Witsand/Mokala then back to Shindzela for 4 nights - not till May 2017 but great to look forward to

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@@KiwiGran wow sounds an awesome trip and what a contrast it would be with KTP and then Shindzela!

Its always so exciting to research, plan and bookthe trip, and then the agonising wait for the trip to begin, and the thrill when it is finally beginning.

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Your pics though doesn't reflect perfection but still the way of capturing them combined with your luck makes them attractive and eyecatching...specially the night ones.

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  • 3 months later...

~ @@KiwiGran

 

Thank you for tipping me off to this trip report.

From the beginning I was pulled in, as I like the concept of returning to an area where one has been before.

The scenery and landscape may be nearly the same, but as you pointed out, the animals may well be different.

Your photos showed that the cats did indeed come out for you.

Lovely!

Not to mention the fine sightings during night drives.

The eagle owls, rhino and sunrise/sunset photos are great!

Such a nice safari and trip report.

Many thanks!

Tom K.

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