AROUND THE CORNER

While driving through the Pilanesberg National Park we rounded a corner to find …

… three lions approaching us with about four more in the background.

They came this close to our vehicle:

More walked purposefully on their way past …

… clearly intent on a particular destination:

Only a short distance further was this one – the King of the Road:

WATCH YOUR FOCUS

Automatic focusing is one of the most marvellous innovations that has assisted amateur photographers whether using cell phones, tiny cameras or more sophisticated ones. Before the advent of digital photography, we would wait with gleeful anticipation for either our slides or photographs to be processed, only to be disappointed by the blurry results or the “what was I meant to be photographing?” These days there are very few spoiled pictures and even then they can easily be deleted immediately afterwards and the scene re-shot. The trouble is that most of us become too reliant on the auto focus – particularly when something exciting and unexpected happens, such as the sight of a lion in the bush:

How disappointing is this! The problem comes from allowing excitement to overrule what the eye can really see through the viewfinder. I can see the lion and click away,but have not taken note that it is not in focus – instead I click, click, click at this chance encounter. How often have you tried to photograph an object only to find that your auto focus decides to home in on a leaf or twig closer than the object you want to photograph.

Look, pause, decide and remember to change to manual focus if you are not getting the results you were hoping for:

This is not a perfect picture by any means, given the distance, the light, and the vegetation in the way, but one can at least ‘see’ this lioness that was close to the lion photographed earlier. The lion below has been featured before – all three images were taken in the Addo Elephant National Park – and was photographed under more favourable conditions.

Even then I do not always succeed as I tend to get carried away by the excitement of the moment, so have to remind myself to first enjoy what I am seeing in order to fully appreciate what it is, then to take a photograph and look at it before deciding what to do to take others that are worthwhile keeping: look, pause, and look again before clicking. It’s a bit like learning to cross a road when we are young – it becomes second nature after a while.

LIONS

It was while I was listening to the sound track of Born Free this morning that it struck me how fortunate I have been to have seen lions so often in the wild. It is the one animal that tourists – and not only the ones from abroad – have at the top of their wish lists when they enter game areas such as the Kruger National Park and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. We have enjoyed some of the best sightings at the latter place and yet have also spent ten days there without seeing a single one!

We had been waiting patiently at a water hole shortly after sunrise. Our attention was focused on birds and the activity of a couple of jackals nearby when this pair of lions came padding across the dry river bed. Notice the dust being thrown up by their large padded paws.

They drank deeply and for a long time.

Early on another morning our attention was drawn to definite sounds of distress not far from the camp we were staying at. The gates had opened not long before and we were met by this scene of two lionesses doing battle with a wildebeest, kicking up a lot of dust in the process!

Within minutes Black-backed jackals had come to investigate within a safe distance as the two lionesses settled down to rip open the carcass – only to be usurped by an enormous male that appeared from nowhere! While on the subject of males, tourists would give their eye teeth for a sight such as this one strolling across the road in front of us in the Kruger National Park. This photograph gives you a good idea of how large their paws are.

Much closer to home, here is a lion seen in the Addo Elephant National Park in the Eastern Cape.

NOTE: Click on a photograph if you wish to see a larger view.

KGALAGADI TRANSFRONTIER PARK

The yearning is swelling within to make another long trek to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park: to experience the space, the silence, the starlit skies you can almost touch, and the complete lack of connectivity with cell phones and the internet.

It can be hot and dry; the wind can whip up clouds of desert sand; it can also be icy cold. It is a remote place that has crept into my heart and tugs at me every so often. Here are some examples of why this is one of the places I love to visit:

Gemsbok are endemic to this arid region – they are such regal animals.

Springbuck appear in large herds, reminiscent of what it must have been like before senseless European hunters bagged as many as they could in the name of fun.

Spotted hyenas help clean the veld of bones and so help prevent the spread of diseases.

Blue wildebeest gather around the small, concrete-lined waterholes and seek the shade of scrawny trees during the hottest part of the day.

What a privilege it is to see a ratel / honey badger out in the open like this.

Then, of course, everyone keeps a sharp eye out for lions!

THE LUCK OF THE DRAW IN ADDO

We were the only ones parked at Ghwarrie Dam. While watching the antics of the South African Shellducks, Egyptian Geese, and the Stilts, we looked up to see two male lions padding purposefully along the edge of the dam. Not a sound did they make. There was not even a flurry of concern from the birds.

Lions at Ghwarrie Dam

We watched in awe as one chose to walk along the edge of the water and the other a route a little further from the bank.

lion at Ghwarrie Dam

The two lions padded past an old elephant carcass without halting their stride – and disappeared. They had covered the distance in under two minutes.

Game viewing depends so much on the good fortune of being in the right place at the right time. We were joined by another vehicle not a minute later. The occupants scanned the dam and asked hopefully, “Seen anything interesting here?” There was no chance of them seeing the lions. “You’re so lucky!” They pulled off to seek their own good fortune elsewhere.

We later watched an elephant calf suckling its mother at the Spekboom waterhole.

suckling elephant

At what has become known as Windmill Dam, four zebra waited patiently for the elephants to drink their fill.

zebra and elephant

Further on, some red hartebeest nibbled at the dry grass.

red hartebeest

We decided to exit the Addo Elephant National Park via the Ngulube Loop. A low russet shape moving quickly through the long grass at the edge of the road caught our attention. The movement was far too quick for me to focus my camera and so I simply enjoyed our good fortune at seeing the unmistakeable shape of a caracal emerging from the tangle of spiky shrubs and long grass and bound across the road in the mellow afternoon sunshine – my first sighting of one in the Park.

Good game viewing really can be the result of the luck of the draw sometimes!