Lions, Leopards, and Elephants
Trip Start Apr 01, 2013
8Trip End May 21, 2013
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The game drives for Simbambili are done using two open air vehicles that hold up to 11 people each. Our two rangers (and their trackers) coordinate with all of the other lodges in the area to try and locate the animals within the 7000 hectares of the reserve (the actual reserve is more than a million hectares but we are only allowed to drive on a small portion of it). When a vehicle tracks an animal, the other rangers are alerted and they get into a queue to view the animals so that no more than 3 vehicles are near the same animal at one time.
The interesting part is that none of the animals care about the vehicles at all since there are no animals alive in the reserve that know of a time before the vehicles were around. The animals simply see the vehicles as another animal and since the vehicles have never hurt them, they are completely unconcerned by them. This means that the vehicles can get really, really close without disturbing them at all.
Our first bit of good luck came early last night when the dominant male leopard was spotted. Our ranger, Richard, got us over to the sighting as fast as he could (flying over the beat up dirt roads) but unfortunately we barely got a view before he left our traversal area into the deeper bush. However, when we started heading out two more leopards were spotted in the area!
These two were brothers and traveling together, and lucky for them the dominate male either missed them or had other plans. We spotted the smaller of the two first as he was resting in the grass. We then saw the second brother near a tree behind him. It ended up that he was protecting a recent kill (an impala) in the tree. We were literally 10 feet away as he climbed up the tree and laid down on a branch almost directly overhead. You really get a sense of how powerful these animals are when you watch them scale these trees so effortlessly.
On our way back from the leopards another vehicle spotted lions on one of the roads and so we quickly headed over in that direction and found two large male lions slowly making their way out of our area. These two are the dominant males for the area and were hunting a male lion (that we had seen the previous day) that had entered their territory. We got to follow them for quite a while up the road and then got into a clearing where we turned around and got the lions to walk right by our vehicle, not more than five feet away!
This morning was our best viewing day yet. We first came across our first female leopard as she was marking her territory (females have territories like the males, but the territories are much smaller). We followed her for quite a while as she weaved in and out of the bush at one point passing just behind our vehicle making for some great photos.
After seeing some more giraffes and our first zebra (just a glimpse in the distance unfortunately) we kept jokingly asking our ranger to find some elephants since that was the last of the big 5 that we had yet to see. Little did we know but our tracker was about t deliver in a big way. He spotted some recent elephant activity and we came across a large bull elephant soon after. Elephants are pretty inquisitive and this came over to investigate us which was quite a thrill. We all thought he was going to take a swipe at the vehicle but our ranger assured us that the elephant was calm and he was right.
As we continued to watch the elephant, we spotted a second and then a third deeper in the bush feeding. Pulling around the corner to take a look, we realized that we were actually in the middle of a large herd of elephants, probably about 30 in all! I always imagined that elephants would be pretty easy to spot since they are so large, but in the dense bush this herd basically came out of nowhere. It was quite the experience to sit there as elephants passed all around us. Definitely something that we won't forget.
Tomorrow we leave for Cape Town and a whole different set of adventues.