Monday, April 7, 2008

Lions, Tigers & Gorillas

The last few days have again been incredible! Damn you gotta love this job! :)

I am currently freelancing at Royal Madikwe and the owner is out for a week's visit. On the first evening we go out for a short drive and find the Dipelo pride very close to the lodge. Initially they were 'flat cat' but after sitting with them for about 15 minutes they started waking up. The late afternoon light was perfect as the four lions started getting active! It was some of the best interaction I have had the pleasure of viewing and the fact that they were a mere five meters away, bathing in perfect late afternoon light! Brilliant!

After they got mobile, and walking so close past our vehicle that you could hear their breathing, we continued to follow them for about another hour. The light was fading fast so the photography part of things got a little bit difficult, but they kept our complete attention as they were obviously hungry and on the hunt. They made one attempt to go after some impala, but they did not even come close.

After sharing almost two hours with these lions, we decided to head back to the lodge. Amazing sighting.

Chai (Royal Madikwe owner) and his family spent the previous week in Uganda tracking Mountain Gorillas (more on this and tigers later), and they were looking forward to sleeping in for a change. Now we know the Dipelo's were on the hunt and we know where we left them, so that next morning Dinamosi (my tracker and great friend) and I decided to go tracking the lions to see whether they had a successful evening.

It was amazing to hit the road with Dinamosi at 06h30 that morning and it did not take us long to pick up the tracks from the previous evening and after a while we were following very fresh tracks weaving in and out the road. We had to do some foot-work from time to time to keep up and it is an amazing feeling walking into the fresh morning following the tracks of Africa's largest predator. Somewhere between excitement and scared but always addictive! As we were driving slowly along one of the larger game drive roads the tracks stopped. Nothing.

We stopped to have a closer look and found that they doubled back on themselves. As we were walking back on the tracks we found two of them sitting on a small side road about 40 meters away. Right, back to the vehicle and move in for a closer look. They were moving into the thickets and after a little bit of serious off-roading we caught a glimpse of them running away from us... or towards something?

We turned around and as we got back to the road we saw the kudu go down about 30 meters ahead of us right next to the road. It was a clean takedown as the kudu must have been feeding in the thickets and definitely did not see them coming.

So here we were, just the two of us and no guests, watching lions do what they do best. The mother had the kudu by the throat and the youngsters were trying to get a hold of it anywhere they could. It was a very big kudu that they had taken down and the struggle lasted for almost 15 minutes. We watched the story unfold for about two hours before we headed back to the lodge to have another look at the videos and images we got of the Dipelo pride and their latest prey. Unbelievable scene and this is the second time in 3 weeks that I shared in their story.

One of the most amazing feelings is when a lion has it's prey in it's jaws and looks straight you. There is a sort of defiance in their look. Victory. Even relief. You feel like you are sharing a secret with them that all of nature knows about but nobody speaks of. It IS difficult to watch a scene like this but at the same time a privilege. If you have had the chance to witness something like this you will know what I mean.

Anyway, moving along. Yesterday I added, or shall I say confirmed, two more items on my 'Things To Do Before I Die' list. Now unfortunately this list could also be called 'Things To Do Before THEY Die'.

Mountain Gorillas and Tigers.

We watched Chai's videos of his recent visits to Uganda and India to go and view these to critically endangered species. The footage and images are unreal and it is such terrible thought that they will not be around for much longer. The beauty and power in both these animals is almost a direct contrast to the fragility of their future.

If I think of how someone feels when seeing a lion, leopard or rhino for the first time, I can only imagine what it must be like to see these iconic animals, gorillas and tigers, in their natural environment... for the last time.

Do we what it takes to save these species? How long will they still be around? Can we stop, or at the very least delay the inevitable?

Whatever the answers to these questions may be, I will see these animals, and capture their beauty before it is too late.

Anyway, back to the here and now. I will be flying to Johannesburg on Friday for a few days and hopefully get time to work through and edit the hundreds of images I have collected during the last few weeks! If all goes to plan I will be uploading these images to the Photo-Africa Image Galleries by the end of the week!

As always I look forward to hearing from you!


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love the idea of a blog. I enjoy your writings and living vicariously through someone who gets to witness the raw nature of the African bush...and there's awesome photography to go along with it. :) Thanks for sharing and I look forward to many more stories.

Peggy Scanlan
N.S. Canada