Thursday, December 11, 2014

The big cats of Kruger National Park at Thornybush Game Lodge

Ode to the Safari.  An event that pretty much every person on the planet would love to undertake.  After two days to acclimate and get over jet lag in Cape Town it was time for our Safari!  Up early an off to the Cape Town airport for our flight to Hoedspruit.

Destination? The Thornybush Game Lodge in the northeast of South Africa.  A two hour flight and we landed at a military base with an escort waiting to drive us to the Kruger National Park.  Oh the anticipation!

You name it and Kruger has it.  Giraffe. Rhino. Hippo. Impala. Kudu. Elephants. Mongoose. Hyena.  And I could go on and on.  But the cats are the main attraction.  Lions, cheetahs and leopards.  Big cats!  Top of the food chain predators.  The kings of the jungle.

After a hour drive to the lodge we checked in and were served a wonderful lunch.  A little break and then it was time to meet or guides at 4pm and head or on a afternoon safari.  The anticipation is great. What kinds of animals would we see?

The goal for the evening were to find some of the big cats.  We drove right past herds of impala.  A monstrous giraffe.  Wildebeest.  Finally after about an hour on the search we found what we were looking for.  Underneath a tree lounging leisurely was a female leopard.

As you can see, she was just chillin in the cool shade.  The female leopard didn't pay us much mind at all.  We offered no threat and she knew it.  We stayed for five minutes as she lounged and allowed us some wonderful photographs.

Little did we know that only thirty yards away was her eight month old son lounging in a tree watching us.  That's where our attention went next.  What a true beauty this young leopard was.  I will admit he was probably the most beautiful living creature I have seen my entire life.

And he was huge.  At only eight months old he was already much bigger than his mother.  Just look at his paws. Massive.  He was totally content with the world  in his perch fifteen feet off the ground.  He would watch us for a minute or two and then turn his attention elsewhere.  It was clearly about to be his naptime.

We snapped a few more pictures and left him to relax.  Off to continue the search.  We drove around for a solid hour with little luck.  Plenty of impala, kudu and wildebeest, but no more cats.  We did find the most famous of all mongoose tribes though.  Just check these cuties out.

Finally our persistence paid off.  Lying back under a tree was a cheetah.  Lounging in exactly the same way as the female leopard we encountered earlier.  Very similar looking except the cheetah has the black line under her eyes resembling a trail of tears.

The cheetah is the lowest end predator of the big cats.  She is very vulnerable to the larger cats who are more than happy to eliminate the hunting competition.  In fact, we had to make sure we left her before dark so as not to expose her in the darkness.

At that point we thought we were done.  Not so fast.  The lights went on and off we went.  After a few minutes, standing before us was the king of the jungle.  A magnificent male lion in all his glory.  Now where the cheetah and leopards paid us little attention, this fella was much more attentive.

To me, he seemed clearly perturbed by our presence.  He walked over, gave a bit of a snarl and sat down glaring at us.  A couple minutes passed and he stood up and began walking our way.  He walked right behind the viewing bus where I was in the back seat.  I turned around and there he was walking past. Honestly, could have reached down and touched him.

He sat down about ten yards away and once again glared at us.  After a couple of more minutes the lion rose and began to walk away, but before he did he left us a real treat.  He began a grunting snarl that gradually rose in volume over several seconds. Then bammo a full fledged roar.  And I mean true king of the jungle style.  I am talking loud!  It echoed through the land. What a treat!  I don't have any pictures as the sun was down and it was quite dark.  We would meet him another day though later in the safari.

Some wonderful pictures of the big cats of Kruger National Park, South Arica.

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