Black Mamba's are awe inspiring creatures. They carry a legendary reputation. I have had many dealings with these gorgeous snakes throughout my career, most have been peaceful sightings but there are a few times that stick out in my memory.
As summer returns to full swing the chance of seeing a Black Mamba greatly increases. It is a relatively common sight to see one crossing the road as the day begins to warm up and contrary to popular belief they are not always trying to kill you. There have however, as I say, been a few situations where these dealings have not been so peaceful. You see they have this incredible ability to stand up with only 25% of their body mass remaining on the floor while the other 75% is held up by a haunting corkscrew action - this is done in order to both look dominating as well as to position their heads in a position that will allow them to strike at your chest or face. They have stood up in front of my vehicle twice in the past, which of course induces a blood chilling feeling, luckily though this is nothing that a swift reverse can't remedy. I am sure I have reversed away from Black Mamba's faster than elephants! Talking about elephants, sure they can be scary, they like us can have a bad day and they like us can take that out on something around them. However it is always pretty easy to know which way to go to safely get away from them BUT when a Black Mamba stands up next to your door, not more than half a meter from your face as you are casually driving along on game drive slowing down to park for your morning coffee your reaction might not be as simple as you think. This happened to me early on in my career and I will forever remember it and it will forever ensure that I have a deep respect for the serpent. I remember crunching gears, I remember my tracker shouting "fugga Boot!", I remember the goose bumps. In that moment I had no idea how to react, should I go forward? Should I reverse? When an animal that can kill you in 45 minutes looks you in the eye you just sort of freeze. I did manage to go a little backwards and luckily the snake did drop from it's height and slither away but my lesson was learnt. Everything in nature deserves respect but never take a peaceful elephant (or Black Mamba) sighting for granted.
Yesterday morning we left the lodge in high spirits. We were on route to track down and view a pair of mating leopards, we knew where they were the night before and so we had a good bearing to start with. However what we got was so much more.
We arrived at the last known place where the pair were seen the night before, we quickly found the exiting tracks and dropped our trackers in order to follow them and work their magic. As we were in the process of dropping them, with engines off, we heard the faint roaring of some lions in the distance. Needless to say we were on a mission to find mating leopards and so I radioed in and gave the update about lions calling in the north east and moved on. I decided to check on the eastern side of the Machaton River, which was nearby, while my college Antony checked the western side. I had just crossed the dry river bed towards the east when Antony radioed to say he had just bumped two male lions. I quickly turned around to go and join him - we may have been tracking leopard but a pair of lions in the hand is...well... exactly that. We had been in the lion sighting for around 5 minutes when we heard some hyenas whooping to the south and few seconds later my tracker Jack, radioed with the very important news that he and his college Ginger had just come across some wild dogs on a kill! Antony quickly began to exit the lion sighting and as he did that one of the males stood up and started walking in the direction of the hyena whooping. I handed over the sighting to the next vehicle in line up and put foot to go and help Antony locate the dogs - which we did on the eastern bank of the river. There they were, having what seemed like classic Wild Dog fun, they even had an impala kill. The radio crackled with an update about the lions moving closer to where we were with the dogs, things started to get exciting (if they didn't some exciting enough already)! Suddenly we saw 2 hyenas high tailing it on the other side of the river and what came as even more of a surprise was the sudden eruption of one very big male lion up the eastern bank of the river and right into the middle of the Wild Dogs! The dogs quickly made way for the lions and their kill was stolen. They moved to a somewhat safe distance and began to chitter and chat loudly in distaste of what the lions had just done before they quickly turned and took off into the bush. Now it may sound easy to keep up with 9 dogs but I can assure it is not! I called the next vehicle in line up and told them to come join me with the dogs as soon as possible and then got going after them, we managed to keep them as they ran through the thick bush and across an open plain where I then conceded my spot to the next vehicle waiting in the wings. I had forgotten all about Jack when he suddenly called me on the radio and told me to look west across the plains, as a big rhino bull was going about his daily business while Jack and Ginger walked past him. BUT what about the leopards?! Well during all the action in the last 15 minutes someone had found them just east of where we were (Jack would have had them, had he had more time!) and so there we went again, peddle to the metal. When we got to the sighting, however, it was not 2 leopards waiting for us but three! The big Tom (Male leopard) seemed to have attracted not one but two females. We got there just as the three were walking off further to the east and over a cutline, sadly we did not see them mating but no one was complaining, not my guests and certainly not me! So with in 45 minutes of starting our morning drive, we had seen 2 lions, 9 wild dogs, 2 hyenas, 1 rhino and 3 leopards. Basically I love my job.
We are very fortunate to have an Hyena den within our traversing area and whats even better is that it is incredibly close!
I have seen peoples perception of hyenas change almost instantly the second we arrive at the den. Most tourists from all over the world have a very negative idea of hyenas due to bad publicity from TV and of course movies such as The Lion King - You'd be surprised by how much influence that movie has on the way people view Africa. Needless to say, these highly misunderstood creatures are some of my favourites to observe. The adults themselves are true characters of the African bush from their amazing wealth of sounds to the way their tails and hair stands on end when excited but the cubs, oh man but the cubs! It is always so much fun to drive into their den area, which luckily for us is right next to the road, we are so often greeted by a number of little hyena faces and number of little hyena behinds as they quickly run away from us only to stop quickly and regain their confidence. Their curiosity spikes once the vehicle has been stopped for a few minutes and so often the cubs walk right up to the side of the vehicle and give everyone a good stare down. Once they have had a look they tend to look for something to chew, with a few wheel caps having been lost so far. Myself and many of my guests have often found ourselves lost in time at the sight of the youngsters playing around, moaning at mom to suckle them and of course running at top speed as they get spooked by their own shadows. Hyenas are an amazing species with intricate social behaviors and think it is about time that the world gave them another chance.
Yes I agree the sound of death doesn't seem like it should be something exciting...but. When you work in the African wilderness, or any wilderness really, this particular sound is very exciting. After all who doesn't want to see a natural kill?
On this occasion, we were slowly returning to bush breakfast in the hot morning sun. Myself and Jack, my tracker, picked up on movement in the bush and pretty quickly discovered is was Shaddie - A ranger from another lodge. He told us that he was in the process of trying to track a leopard, who's footprints he had just found further up the road. Before he could even finish telling us everything, there was that sound. it was hard to tell exactly what had made it but at first we thought it was the leopard taking something down. I quickly started the vehicle and drove into the bush. We circled around bushes and rocks, turning off every once in a while to further listen for that sound. Myself and Jack thought we were on the money! And we were but in this case it was not a leopard but rather a pair of African Hawk Eagles and their prey was a Crested Francolin. Needless to say we were late for bush breakfast that day as we sat and watched as one of the gorgeous eagles quickly plucked the francolins feathers and began eating. It was a great thing to see, if not a bit gruesome. It may not have been the epic leopard kill that we were hoping for but man this was none the less amazing.
There is something truly special about the rain in Africa. At the moment the lowveld (Kruger) area of South Africa is experiencing the worst drought for the last 20-25 years! So at the moment rain is not just special but extraordinary. We hold our breath every single time a system blows over, at the very same time it is easy to hear general chit chat such as "The Mpfula, she's coming". I have even heard bets being placed. However there has mercifully been some instances where the heavens have opened up (and some people have lost or won). The before and after picture above is one of Machaton Dam, one of the largest dams in our area. On this occasion the rain produced a decent 32mm, which you can see from above was more than enough to fill this dam beyond its normal banks. Good news...Great news...But... I had some big plans in place for this dam. I had just the day before stood looking at it going through the processes of creating a plan of action to increase the volume, life and general productivity - we knew time was against us but I never thought it would rain that heavily that night. You see these forms of conservation take loads of planning and lots of machinery as well as man power and so while yes the rain was amazing, its back to the drawing board for next years dry season.
I have made a deal with my general manager and that is that I can naturally attract a somewhat permanent crocodile to this dam within 2 years. A process not as simple as one may think.