In Kruger National Park, an area roughly the size of England, Scotland and Wales, situated in the Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces of northeast South Africa, I have seen monkeys as squirrels (ubiquitous and opportunistic) and leopards becoming acacia branches (a photo of a bush tree with four vertical dependent limbs). The air is rife with sounds–endless chirping, sharp whistles, plaintive peeps, hoots, all of cuckoos, rollers, frogs.
I’ve seen the mist of hippos in the Crocodile River, “set about with fever trees” to misquote Kipling, although the Limpopo river flows somewhere in nearby Mozambique. I’ve seen zebra, wildebeest, , gazelle, giraffe. Herds of elephants, groupings of white rhinos (Dutch for “wild beast” or “wide beast”, and these guys were NOT white) nervous warthogs. Crocs sunning along the river, bright duck-like birds, a fish eagle, and many, many vultures. Water buffalo, gorgeous kudu, a martial eagle, and woodland kingfisher.
Our guide is Ibizu, slim and young, sharp-eyed and smart. He saw the jackals, and the hyena before we did. He saw the lion prints in the red Kruger sand. He drove that Land Rover over and through terrain that would have made me think twice.
Our lodge is pleasant, pretty, and clean, the staff polite and smiling, driving out here every day over miles of rutted roads to see to our comfort. It sits on pilings over the bush, surrounded by an electric fence that does not at all discourage the impala. It is very hot, humid, and noisy storms pass overhead during the night, race away into the east. Every day as we set out for our morning and evening game drives, we stay dry.
The guides and our garrulous driver told us that the animals think of the cars as simply other animals. They watch and move aside, a few will trot or slink away. The mongoose did not at all care to have their photo snapped.
And he was right!
Four lions scrutinized our open-sided, well-tiered Land Rover viewing machine from their patch of earth. Bachelor boys, well-maned and well-grown. One, who seemed to be on watch, lazily peered at us without interest. They were, I can only guess using my poor measuring skills, roughly 50 yards away. I don’t know how long we sat taking photos—I have dozens—until Lion-on-Guard-Duty rose to his feet. Turning away from us, he ambled a few feet to peer into a ravine beyond where the lions were resting. Lions Number One and Two raised their heads. Lion Number Three appeared from behind his scrubby bush.
Seconds later, Guard Lion began to roar, and when the others joined in, we sat astonished and chilled, listening totheir noise fill the valley.
Ibizu told us they must smell another lion in the distance. They were telling the interloper that 1. We are HERE. 2. This is a WARNING. 3. We are in agreement that you MUST LEAVE.
After a few riveting seconds of this, Guard Lion proceeded down into the ravine, and in a neat row, Lions Number Two, Three and Four followed.
After we drove on, we looked back to see them distantly, through binoculars, flowing tan beasts through the bush, carefully walking, unrushed, and showing little or no concern about anything in the world, much less a big vehicle with six thankful and excited human beings.
Next Sunday – the elephants
excerpt from The Elephant’s Child
Then Kolokolo Bird said, with a mournful cry, ‘Go to the banks of the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees, and find out’.
Photo of me, taken in Durban, South Africa, 2015.