​A lovers’ embrace

Scaly, leathery and prehistoric is one of many words that one might like to use to describe a reptile. The lowly Water Monitor is no exception to this description.
After spending an exhilarating 6 months in the Lowveld bush preparing to be a ranger, I have finally started working at Karongwe Private Game Reserve. Amongst the innumerable fun filled activities that come with being a ranger, I too enjoy some time off. This is often spent sitting, appreciating the sounds and silence, at a little waterhole close to my camp.

By now I have realised and firmly believe that patience is a virtue.

One afternoon I headed down to my oasis. After not waiting too long, I heard a soft rustle in the bushes that cover the northern waters edge. Out of the coverage a water monitor emerged. 


Not only did she reveal herself, but she also carried with her a passenger. I have not had a lot of experience with these reptiles yet and thought this behavior to be strange. The smaller lizard made a concerted effort not to dismount the larger female as she moved around.



After moving sluggishly for approximately a meter, the female ceased movement. By watching the insistent behaviour of the male, I surmised that they were about to mate. 

The male shifted his position atop his companion. In one swift motion he instinctively whipped her tail sideways with his. What ensued seemed like the makings of a lovers’ embrace. However, judging the relationship carefully it seemed as if all the effort and gusto he had put into the activity was in vein. She simply lay there, counting down the minutes until she could peacefully bask in the sun.


Soon afterwards they dismounted. He proceeded to enjoy a lengthy swim while she continued, not surprisingly, to laze around in the afternoon sun.


An easy meal

Winter is quickly approaching and life in the bush responds to the change in season.

I had some quiet time one afternoon last week. A few friends and I casually sat outside soaking up the last bit of sunshine that the season had to offer. Then one of them heard some rustling in the fallen leaves next to our sleeping quarters.

Having spent a fair amount of time in the bush by now, I’ve become more attuned to my surroundings. Leaves don’t simply rustle on a windless day so we had to go investigate the unbefitting sound.

As we approached the scene we saw the culprit. It was a Spotted Bush Snake and it quickly scaled up a little Buffalo Thorn tree. On closer inspection, it had caught a frog.

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We are still getting some late season rains in the Lowveld and as a result the frogs are all over the show. I seem to have a fair amount Foam Nest Frogs around my room. The snakes are trying to stock up before winter comes in full swing.

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What I love most about Spotted Bush Snakes is their placid nature. Even with its kill, this little serpentine did not seem to mind having us around. It’s biggest concern seemed to be navigating through the Buffalo Thorn. The soft skin of the frog kept getting stuck in the thorns as the snake moved higher up the tree.

Open Wide

It was truly fascinating watching a snake swallow live prey. Not using limbs to handle your meal must be challenging. Even more so when your meal is kicking back at you. This snake did what snakes do best and devoured its meal without any effort.

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Nandzana Leopard

Whilst thoroughly enjoying the bush life and all the spectacular events that have taken place, there was still one animal that has evaded me each time I head off into the bush. I’ve seen a couple of tracks, heard calls outside my room and even missed sightings by mere seconds.

I recently visited Kruger National Park and entered in at the Phalaborwa gate. It had been raining the morning so I wasn’t all too sure what effect the rain would have on the morning’s sightings. My goal for the morning was to bumble along from Phalaborwa up to Mopane Rest Camp. I spent about 30 minutes driving in the park and I had not seen one animal. Even the birding was off to a slow start.

Soon after that I crossed paths with the first vehicle coming down from the opposite direction. We both stopped and had a quick chat. I asked if they had seen anything close by and their faces lit up. This immediately got me excited.

The driver whipped out her phone and showed me pic of an elegant leopard sitting on top of a road sign not too far away. She said that this leopard was so relaxed and basically just posing for photos. I thanked her for the heads up and proceeded to the waterhole where the cat was seen. I approached with caution as this was going to be my long awaited, first leopard sighting. I was not going to spook it off and miss this sighting.

I neared the area and scanned it thoroughly. Just my luck. No sign of a cat at the road sign. Nothing in the trees. Nothing underneath or behind the fallen trees. No movement at the two waterholes. No paw prints in the morning sand. Obviously this leopard was going to elude me.

Very despondent, I left the area and proceeded with my journey. I looked at the map and noticed a few more waterholes dotted along a river. I eventually arrived at the Nandzana waterhole turnoff and wondered if I should make a turn there. About 100 meters further I saw a car positioned on the bridge overlooking the riverbed. A camera was sticking out from the window. This assured me that something interesting was lurking in the riverbed. I skipped the waterhole turnoff and approached the vehicle. I kindly asked what they were viewing. “Leopard” they responded.

I couldn’t believe it. “Why does everyone get to see leopards but me” I thought. They told me it was in the dry river bed, but moved up the bank to behind a termite mound. I reversed to get a better look. I couldn’t see anything. Then I thought, “The leopard went to the waterhole”.

I reversed yet again and made my way to the waterhole along a gravel road. As I turned the last corner leading to the water, the most beautiful creature lay waiting to greet me.

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In the open, at the edge of the waterhole, a leopard was relaxing in all her glory. There was only one more vehicle already enjoying the sighting. I could hardly contain my excitement. I managed to get one picture and then she got up and walked straight towards me as if to come greet me. The feline moved past our cars and paused in the road as if she was showing off for me.

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If there was ever a leopard that I wanted to see it was without a doubt this one. She was relatively small, very feminine and just an absolute stunner. Apparently she had been wandering around Nandzana waterhole that whole week. It was as if she was waiting just for me to arrive.

After moving off the road she made her way to a grassy patch. A few more cars had arrived at the sighting by this time. The leopard decided that her pageant was over. She got up and started moving off. Before disappearing into the thicket she stopped and looked back as if to say goodbye one last time.

Nandzana Leopard

The Separation

Breaking the news that there’s a male lion in the area often creates pandemonium in a game reserve. To me it is almost more interesting watching the people’s various reactions and responses to the sighting than the sighting itself.

I had spent a morning game drive searching for lions and eventually found a pride sleeping under a tree. I knew they would most likely still be there by the time evening game drive arrived. Sure enough, they were still sleeping, under the same tree.

Not too long after arriving at the sleepy felines, a roar of a male lion was heard about 1km further down the road close to a waterhole. We made our way in that direction and were the first vehicle to respond. We searched around the waterhole and eventually saw the cat bolt from the bushes. We followed him and found him resting under a relatively thick bush.

The sighting was called in and another vehicle responded. Knowing that the lion came from the waterhole allowed us to be patient as we knew he would most likely head back there for a drink.

In came the other vehicle. Without regard for us and our sighting (which we gladly shared), it came crashing through the bushes. As if the lion was going to bolt again. It was puzzling to see that they were satisfied with the worst sighting of this apex predator. Soon after arriving, they pulled out and disappeared. I wondered why they had come there in the first place. Not even 5 minutes later, the lion started moving. It got up, made its way past our vehicle and headed back in the direction of the waterhole.

We turned around and made our way to the opposite side of the waterhole where we were sure he would arrive shortly.

Our patience had paid off. In stumbled a very thirsty lion as the sun had started to set. Once again we were the only vehicle at the sighting. The light had started to turn a soft, golden hue and the heat of the day started to subside.

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This male lion must have been without water for some time as he spent close to 10 minutes just lapping up water and staring our way. The wait was well worth it and I wouldn’t have traded off any other potential sighting for this one.

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Staring into the eyes of a lion, even if it is separated by a body of water, is an incredible experience. It just boggles my mind that some would pass up such a great opportunity.

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​Eye to eye

Walking around in the bush and being able to get close up to wild animals provides such a rush.

At a recent drinks break while on safari I came across two Black Backed Jackals lazing about near our spot. One of the jackals took a great interest in our presence and decided to come investigate. These little creatures are truly fascinating to watch. It seems as if every move of theirs is a calculated one.

I managed to find a bush where I could hide behind to try and make my presence less known. The jackal approached, cautiously, but with great interest. For a while it paused, probably calculating, and went to rest under a nearby bush. I was not as stealthy as what I had thought and soon the jackal and I locked eyes. 

It is really fascinating to watch the behavior of animals change once they’ve seen you watching them, especially when on foot. As soon as the jackal saw me it got up and started to move away. 

The inquisitive nature of the jackal persisted. It still kept a watchful eye and moved away for a few paces. Then it seemed uncertain about retreating and came closer for a few paces. Then it would back off again.

After enjoying this little interaction I decided to give the animal some space and headed back to the vehicle.

Hopefully another hooked lip

One thing that has always boggled my mind is how far some people wish to drive while on safari. Sometimes there’s enough to be seen in the immediate vicinity around the lodge/camp.

After one very entertaining morning game drive it was time to head back to the lodge for breakfast. The guide headed towards the lodge, but deliberately missed the turnoff. I found this odd, but felt assured that he had done so for good reason. We headed down the road and turned into a track leading into the bush.

I would never have guessed what roamed so close to the lodge. A short distance into the bush, out in the open, was a magnificent female Black Rhino.

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This beautiful, critically endangered creature was casually moving from shrub to shrub feeding, uncharacteristically, in the open. The black rhino prefer to be hidden away in thicker vegetation. We repositioned the vehicle to get a better view and not to disturb her browsing break.

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What was sad about this specific rhino is that she has given birth to two calves before, but she was unable to raise them successfully. The guide said that they were not sure why the calves had not survived, but they hope that she will produce another youngster and hopefully raise it to adulthood this time around.

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I truly hope that I’ll have the privilege to see this rhino again and hopefully she’ll have a strong, healthy calf by her side yet again.

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Marching in

Arriving at a waterhole with an elephant bull wading in the water is such a pleasure to watch.

Marching In

A few minutes later I thought I heard something moving in the bushes around the waterhole. Seemingly out of nowhere a herd of elephants marched in. Then after that another small herd. Then another soon after that. They just seemed to stream in one after the other.

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I had no idea how many elephants were going to arrive. I was so excited I couldn’t decide which groups or individuals to photograph. There was so much going on, in and around the water.

Overall around 60 elephants came down to the water. Some came to drink. Some came to swim. Some came to coat themselves in mud. Some just came to socialise.

It was very entertaining watching the various social dynamics at play between different adults, sub-adults and calves.

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The only problem now is topping off a sighting like that at the waterhole again.