The Roar of the Lion
Kruger National Park, South Africa, 2009-10-03 12:00 by Laerke
I am sitting in our camp in The Kruger National Park writing this and an elephant just passed by outside the fence! The fence can’t keep out the many naughty birds nor the even naughtier monkeys. The monkeys are of the small Vervet Monkey kind and look quite cute - right now they have taken over our neighbors’ place, jumping around on the canvas of the tent having a great time. They also stole an onion from somewhere, but of course they didn’t like it.
This morning at breakfast our neighbor campers (to the other side) were having breakfast right up against the fence, and when the parents weren’t looking the little girl passed a few crumbs to a hungry antelope standing on the other side of the fence. You are actually not allowed to feed the animals, and they are not all cute like the breakfast antelope, at night when it is all dark big scary looking hyenas walk up and down along the fence, as they can smell the meat being cooked on the braais (South African for barbeque). One of our neighbors told me a story about a man who once wanted to feed a biltong (South African for sausage) to a hyena, the hyena took the biltong – and the man’s hand! So don’t mess around with the hyenas!

We drove back to the camp in the sunset. The sun; big and yellow, was draping the savannah in a golden light – the scenery here can be extremely beautiful but sometimes also extremely drab. The open savannah looks like something out of Lion King, but there are many ecosystems here, all of them different and many very, very dry. It is the beginning of the rainy season, but so far only a few drizzles have come to this region, so rivers and many waterholes are all dried up.
But the wildlife is still plentiful! Many, many impalas graze on the grassy plains, other antelopes graze among them or occupy the forests or rocky mountains. Zebras and Wildebeests are also very common especially in the savannah regions and elephants we have spotted every day, always close to a water source.

Our first new encounter was with a hippo; he was lying almost totally submerged in a river and didn’t budge at all, meaning no good pictures! This trend continued the next couple of days; submerged hippos that weren’t up for photographing at all! One day we spotted a couple of hippos on land, yay! Though soon we realized that even though they were on land, the trend continued – they were simply lying there, totally still, just looking like big black rocks. After driving further up the river, we finally spotted two adult hippos and a calf actually standing!!! They were grazing on the river banks slowly walking around, eating some of the 40 kilos of grass a hippo can consume every day. They were far away, but still made for much better watching and photographing than their lazy submerged cousins.
There are many birds as well. Naughty hornbills roam the campsites, and colorful kingfishers and bee-eaters plus big owls and eagles made for interesting sights. The biggest bird of all, the Ostrich can also be spotted on the savannah. We saw a family of mom, dad and a big bunch of chicks strolling down the road at dusk. They are pretty strange animals, so big bodies and the smallest head – one can wonder how such a small brain can control such a large animal.

Kruger has a lot of big cats, and we were lucky enough to see lions on more than one occasion. Our first encounter was with a pack of females, which we spotted on the other side of a ravine – they were a bit far away, but we could still clearly hear the roaring and see them well in our small binoculars.
The next day we spotted a male lion lying by the side of the road; he was lying very, very still for quite some time and we could see he had a wound on the forehead, so we left him for dead. Another car, with a family stayed put, and we headed on. It was sad to see such a big, beautiful animal lying there completely lifeless.
A little later on we drove the same way back and saw that the same family was still parked at the lion and we got a bit curious – when we stopped, we could to our amazement see that the lion had changed position! Inquiring the family about it, they could tell us that the lion indeed wasn’t dead, but merely very, very lazy! Staying there for another while, and we could witness that he did move around and didn’t seem very dead anymore – he was simply lying there enjoying the sun… it became a happy day in safariland anyway ?
On the way out of the park, we were again lucky, and spotted first one then two more lions just by the side of the road only 25 meters apart. One was old and we were later told by a ranger that this one actually was dying, so he was quite sedate. But the two others were a mating couple, seeking solitude from their pride. They were happily lying there relaxing and didn’t seem to take notice of us at all. Looking at them almost cuddle, hearing them roar and being that close to one of the biggest predators in the world was quite an experience – and we could get some nice photos. We didn’t spot any leopards, but you can’t have it all.