The Show Begins at 5…

the boys

Set at Hongonyi Game Lodge

We came across the cheetah boys (Pakisha & Gijima) on an afternoon drive (27/2) – they were lying in a small clearing among some thorn trees, relaxing with VERY full stomachs after having stuffed themselves eating the Impala ram they had brought down. Lying like typical cats, they hardly even raised their heads to look at us as we pulled up near to them.

(Am thinking of changing their names to Fifa & World Cup – with full stomachs like that, they look as if they have swallowed footballs!)

We enjoyed observing them doing nothing for a while, and were about to move off when a black-backed jackal appeared on the edge of the scene. Gijima saw him, and flattened his ears, looking at the jackal with a fierce scowl. The jackal wisely ignored the cat, and lay down under a nearby thorn tree.

After a short interval, the jackal got a bit braver, and edged closer to the carcass. Gijima was lying between the jackal and the leftovers, so he again raised his head, and gave a low growl, with his ears plastered flat on his head.

Once again, the jackal lay down.

On the jackal’s third attempt to sneak closer, Gijima suddenly leapt to his feet and ran towards the jackal, snarling and spitting, and throwing sand with a batting motion of his front paws. Once the dust had settled, we could see the jackal back in position under the thorn tree, and Gijima had again taken up his prone position by the Impala carcass. While all this was happening, Pakisha only lifted his head once to see what the commotion was, otherwise all he did was contemplate the inside of his eyelids!

A few minutes later, Gijima had to repeat the chasing business all over again – this time making sure to send a bit more sand in the jackal’s direction.

Now, with the jackal hovering in the wings, the two boys decided to have a bit more to eat. Pakisha got up and started gnawing on some ribs, while Gijima stationed himself on guard, keeping a very watchful eye on the jackal. The jackal moved a little closer, so Gijima went into a threatening crouch, and started making a pawing motion with the front leg closest to the carcass. If the jackal retreated, the pawing stopped, if it came forward the pawing increased in tempo, accompanied by a very low growling. So it went on for a while, until the jackal “got bored” and moved off.

Gijima then settled to have a nibble on the meat. All was peaceful for a few minutes, silent apart from the satisfied crunching and chewing.

Then we saw that the jackal had approached from a different angle – this time closer to Pakisha, who immediately sent him packing with a short sprint in his direction. As soon as the cheetah lay down ,the jackal came back, having seen a small chunk of meat lying separate from the carcass, but quite close to Gijima. Once again Pakisha sent him on his way with a swift run in his direction, and a swat of the paw for good measure ( the closest you see to animal sign language – a good couple of swear words thrown in the jackal’s general direction!)

Pakisha lay down, the jackal moved closer. Gijima swore at the jackal this time, then resumed eating. Like lightning, the jackal bolted in and grabbed the chunk of meat, flying off to the thorn-bush as soon as the prize was in his jaws. Both cats hurled some insults in his direction, but the jackal was unfazed.

As the cats remained focused on the carcass, the jackal tried coming in from around a different bush. No luck! Next he moved a bit to the other side, still no joy. By now he was making a grunting sound that any self-respecting Warthog would have been proud of! The cheetahs were not impressed. They both told him in no uncertain terms to “get lost!*” (* Words have been changed to protect sensitive readers!)

The jackal now nipped around to the other side, under an overhanging branch that afforded him a little more protection. He now tried a completely different strategy. He tried asking the cheetahs to share with him. He begged. He pleaded. He bowed. He yipped. He moaned. He grunted. He twirled in circles.

He danced a jig. He hopped from foot to foot. He moaned and grunted and twirled and danced. And what did the cheetahs do? Absolutely nothing! They had their own private dinner & cabaret show and they didn’t even watch!

Poor jackal. Tonight’s audience was very hard to please. Not even a scrap of applause., or even a morsel thrown in his direction. (We were enjoying ourselves immensely of course, watching the show that had been provided for us!)

When we eventually left, in search of the rhino this time, the jackal was lying patiently under the original thorn-bush, pretending that he didn’t have a care in the world, and all the time of the ages to wait his turn. Clever Jackal. He did eventually get his share, and was last seen carting a leg-of-ram off home for dinner.

Giraffe Games

giraffe

Set at Hongonyi Game Lodge…

On Saturday morning we were expecting guests from Joburg who were flying up for the weekend. The pilot had given me their ETA, and sure enough, right on schedule, I could hear the plane approaching. As is the normal thing to do, the pilot circled overhead, to adjust his approach. I was standing outside reception at the time, so I just watched out of interest to see exactly what plane was going to land. (Piper Cherokee). Then the pilot circled again… and again… and yet again. By now I was starting to think that there must be a problem with the airstrip or something. (We had prepared it well ahead of time, and had checked it again that morning).

Unbeknown to me, when student ranger Quinten had gone up to wait at the strip for the guests to arrive, he had found some of our giraffe standing exactly in the middle of the runway – and had herded them off with the vehicle, only to have them return as soon as he had parked out of the way. So he chased them off again, and waited to see where they went. They seemed to get the idea this time, moseying off into the bush, so he proceeded down the strip to the designated ‘plane parking area’.

By now the plane was approaching, so Quinten settled back to watch the landing, only to be puzzled when the Piper came in low for approach, then aborted landing and went up to circle again. The plane circled overhead, before swinging round again for the second attempt – and repeated the previous maneuver.

With this, Quinten drove down from the parking area onto the strip and found, much to his consternation, that the giraffe were back in the middle of the strip, but this time there were more of them! They had obviously copped on to the fact that there was something good about to happen, so they had rounded up the troops to come and watch. Front row seats, what more could one ask for?

So off sped Quinten, to herd the giraffe away, yet again. They actually weren’t very impressed with his efforts – they were much more interested in watching the aircraft – and only after “a heated discussion” did they dain to move to the side of the strip.

It must be added here that, due to the relatively close location of the Hoedspruit Airforce Base, the giraffe are old hands at aircraft noises – the guys don’t fly all that often, but I have had occasion to watch 3 fighter jets flying in formation almost directly over the Giraffes’ heads.(Who didn’t even bat an elegant eyelash!)

Anyway, the pilot saw the gap, quickly circling tightly and putting the plane down under the impressed giraffes’ noses. After preparing the plane for the night, with thorn branches around the tyres, and the relevant procedures followed, the guests set off for the lodge with a slightly frazzled Quinten. Poor chap hasn’t experienced enough of the bush yet to know that this is VERY normal behaviour from giraffe. Arriving aircraft seem to have a magnetic attraction for them! They always seem to know exactly when we are expecting a plane, moving down to the strip in good time to watch the arrival. Perhaps they were pilots in a previous life, and come to watch and assess the abilities of the pilots coming in. Funnily enough, they are not at all interested in departing aircraft, and barely even bother to put in an appearance for the take-off.

I did notice, when approaching the area on our evening game drive, that a big old bull was appraising the aircraft most carefully. So impressed was he that he went and fetched a few youngsters to come and see the Cherokee. They all stood at a respectful distance, barely even glancing at us as we passed, seeming to admire the aircraft, before ambling back to their mothers.

It crossed my mind that I had perhaps just witnessed the imparting of some ancient giraffe wisdom – “Remember this sight children, for this is a mighty bird, which must be watched carefully at all costs – it roars like a lion, but passes overhead with the rush of a strong wind. It does not follow the laws of nature, humans are not afraid of it, even though it spits them out only to swallow them again later on – so mark it well, and if you see or hear one approaching, at least one of you must quickly come down to the long open area, and stand openly facing the bird, to show that All Giraffe are not afraid, for it only seems to threaten fiercely from above, but does not attack after it has come to rest. Remember this lesson, and all will be well…”

Well, at least, that what I think he told them!

(With tongue firmly in cheek, and thanks to Dave & Charmaine for inspiring this story!)

Survival of the (frog) fittest….

Location: Hongonyi Game Lodge, February 2010, 10am
frog

Sometimes it’s hard to know who to root for in the survival game… I know every creature needs to eat, but when it’s one of your ‘friends’ that’s going down, what do you do? This particular incident happened right outside the reception about 10 days ago.

This competition involved a Spotted Bush Snake and a Foam Nest Frog:

The frog (who lives in the ladies room), was going to refresh himself in the bird-bath as is his daily routine. The snake was hovering in the tree above the bath and silently slipped down and grabbed the frog on the thigh. They fell to the ground, where the snake quickly adjusted its hold to the frog’s head and throat.
The frog immediately inflated himself to epic proportions – imagine a tennis ball with legs – and there they lay, grappling on the path while I held my breath, interested to see what would happen, but at the same time sorry for the frog whom I have grown very accustomed to.

The snake tried various readjustments on his hold, and the frog endured several manoeuvres that would have earned the snake big points in a WWF competition… and so it continued for quite a while.

Suddenly the snake let go, and rushed up the tree, where it sat for the next few minutes, obviously trying to re-locate its jaw. The frog lay upside down on the path, apparently dying, while the snake watched from its lofty perch.
Next, the snake descended again, and took one last experimental nibble at the now deflating and blackened frog, and just as I thought it was all over, the snake deserted the scene of the crime, retiring now to the palm tree, where it again sat adjusting its jaw.

To my surprise (and delight), the bloodied and discoloured frog promptly rolled over onto his belly, then turned and hopped a bit groggily over to the wall where he proceeded to climb up the wall and onto the luggage trolley where he sat for the next hour… while I kept an eye on him, really expecting him to conk out at any moment. Slowly the frog changed from mottled black and dark grey to his normal pale whitish grey, until there was almost no sign of any trauma, apart from some tiny blood spots on his thigh and neck.


During the course of the day, the snake vanished, and the frog slowly made his way back to his favourite perch under the sink in the ladies’ bathroom.
As I finish writing this, so many days later, he is chirping happily from a new position – this time inside the loo roll – proclaiming his victory to all who would listen!

Hello world!

This is the beginning of the stories that most people will find unbelievable, or far-fetched…unless they themselves have ever lived or worked in the African bush! Sometimes sad, sometimes crazy, often funny, but all true! These will be stories for anyone to enjoy, even if the closest you’ve ever come to a safari is watching Animal Planet or National Geographic on television.

Fasten your seatbelt, enjoy the ride with me down memory lane, ask questions, but remember…watch out for the claws and teeth, the dust and fur: this could get very real!