A beautiful dawn awaited us as we eagerly stumbled out of our beds before sunrise and leaped onto the waiting vehicles.
As we entered the Park, a blazing sunrise with beautiful flat-topped tree silhouettes in the foreground kept us busily photographing for some time. The huge orange ball behind the trunk of the closest large tree gave us each an opportunity for a shot of a lifetime as we repositioned the vehicle again and again to give everyone the best perspective.
A few meters away, in the first rays of the sun, we saw a couple of Black-backed Jackals. They had caught a small rodent and spent the next ten minutes or so tossing the little body into the air, catching it again, then tossing it again. We had a great time watching this early activity, and managed some great shots!
We headed toward an area where we heard that wildebeest had started to gather along a river bank for a crossing.
On the way we saw a Thomson”s Gazelle and Impala staring fixedly, and concentrating on a partially obscured area. We followed their line of sight – straight to an enormous, healthy, handsome male leopard. He was moving through a small thicket and within a few seconds he was joined by a much smaller female. A couple on honeymoon!
As they went deeper into the thicket we drive around to the opposite side – hoping to intercept them as they emerged. We positioned ourselves and just as the male leopard emerged he was face to face with six hyenas. The hyenas had a wildebeest kill which they had all but devoured and their distended tummies meant that they were lethargic and unwilling to engage in confrontation. As they watched, lazily perplexed, considering whether any action was required, the leopard discreetly withdrew and again disappeared into the safety of the vegetation.
We arrived at the river bank and settled ourselves to watch for a wildebeest crossing. Just then we heard of a cheetah about 500 meters away. So we packed up and went in that direction.
A beautiful female and a subadult cub were sitting alertly on a termite mound, scanning the area carefully. They watched some Thomson”s Gazelles intently, and then jumped down from the termite mound casino and set off in the opposite direction.
As they neared a ridge we could see what they had spotted … a large herd of wildebeest just over the ridge.
The female immediately froze, then crept quietly along behind a convenient termite mound. From our vantage point we could see an oblivious Oribi out of her line of sight on the opposite side of the mound.
She concentrated on the wildebeest, scanning the herd for a young foal. Then as she lifted her head over the mound she saw the Oribi … so close, and still unaware of her presence.
Again she froze, readied herself for the chase – and sprang! She went over the mound straight at the Oribi, whose reflexes gave him wings. Into long grass, then out again .. the chase seemed to go on and on, but was in fact only seconds. The Oribi glanced over his shoulder and saw the cheetah gaining steadily, and with that slap! bang! crash! The Oribi ran straight into a termite mound! The impetus threw him high into the air and before he reached the ground again, the cheetah had him!
Within seconds it was all over! Then the cheetah lifted the carcass by the neck and dragged it –
– directly toward us! We had had a prime position to witness this entire event from start to finish. And now the cub arrived to share in the meal and we moved away to give them some privacy.
After all that adrenalin we returned to the wildebeest crossing area. Although we could see small groups beginning to gather, there was no major crossing. Now and again a few animals would cross the river … and then return to the opposite bank again. But the numbers are increasing by the minute.
On the way back to the Lodge we stopped for White Storks and another large herd of elephants, and right outside the gate a herd of zebra allowed us to use fill in flash against the setting sun for some more fabulous images.
Tomorrow we plan to explore a different area toward the south …