Visitors to Kruger dream of seeing a predator take down its kill. But few would dream of being as lucky as Mario Fazekas, who witnessed just such a scene from his rondavel. His story is one of the extraordinary accounts collected in 101 Kruger Tales.
It’s with good reason that the book 101 Kruger Tales, compiled and edited by Jeff Gordon, has become a bestseller. Featuring first-hand accounts from visitors to the Kruger National Park, it’s sure to remind you why time in nature is so special.
In the next few weeks Wild will share some of the book’s fascinating contributions with our online readers. Do you have your own Kruger tale to share? Submit your story for the next edition.
“A kill from our veranda” by Mario Fazekas
Many people in the Kruger will spend the entire day driving around hot, dusty roads looking for animals. Indeed, when the camp gates open each morning, there is always a queue of cars, their engines idling, waiting to get out – even in summer when the camp gates open at 4.30am. From then on there is a steady flow of cars, and by 8am, ninety nine per cent of visitors have left and the camps feel like ghost towns. The few that stay behind, however, could witness a once-in-a-lifetime-sighting – just as we did one morning in April at Olifants rest camp.
Olifants is famous for its aspect. Nestled on top of a steep hill overlooking a bend in the 300-metre-wide Olifants River below, the views from the camp down to the river and across the plains to the south towards Satara are spectacular to the point of breath-taking. From this eagle’s-eye-view you can spend hours with a pair of binoculars watching game make its way to the water to drink.
That morning, we decided to stay in camp as we had been allocated a rondavel right on the precipice of the hill, with an uninterrupted view of the upstream bend in the Olifants. With a vista like that, driving around in the heat seemed a foolish choice.
From our vantage point high up above the river, we could see a herd of waterbuck plodding around peacefully in the shallows below. Suddenly, something startled them and they began to run. We scanned the river banks for what had scared them and quickly found the culprit: a lioness ambling lazily along the bank. Moments later a second lioness joined her, and together they crouched down on the bank and drank some water.
It is unclear how lions communicate their hunting strategies, but these two clearly had a plan. The first lioness wandered nonchalantly over to a bush and sat down in the shade, attracting the attention of the waterbuck, which were keeping a nervy eye on proceedings from a sandbar a short distance from the bank. Meanwhile, the second lioness, out of view of the buck, crouched down beside a rock and waited in anticipation for one of them to move close enough for her to pounce.
We too were waiting in anticipation. But just as a watched pot never boils, a watched lioness never hunts. In fact, in this case, watched lionesses apparently just go to sleep.
And so, with the action halted and the temperature beginning to rise, my wife got up and went into the rondavel to fetch us some Cokes. Her parting words were: ‘Just make sure you keep watching the lions!’ I had said yes but I could see that nothing was happening, so I rested my eyes for a few minutes – until my wife shoved a Coke into my hand and yelled: ‘Wake up, the lioness is chasing an impala!’
The lionesses’ faux-sleeping had been a ruse. One of them had burst from the bush in pursuit of an impala ewe which must have been on its way to the river to drink. Fortunately our cameras were set up on tripods, so I jumped up and began shooting. The impala was too fast for the lioness and escaped by fleeing straight into the shallows of the river. I snapped away with the camera until I lost sight of it behind the branches of a tree just below me.
It appeared to be a lucky escape for the impala – or so we thought. Another three lions appeared from nowhere and joined the first two lionesses as they began to cross the river, jumping from island to island and using the rocks as stepping stones, clearly looking for something. Eventually we saw what they were after: the escaped impala had ended up as a crocodile kill.
The crocodile had emerged from the water onto a sandbank and had the impala’s head firmly in its mouth. The lions attempted to intimidate the crocodile into releasing its catch, but this croc was large and not one for being bullied. It simply flicked its tail at the lions a few times before disappearing back into the river with its meal.
This type of sighting would be very difficult to see or photograph from a car. But from our comfortable vantage point high above the river below, the conditions were ideal. All of this happened between the hours of seven and eleven in the morning; so the light was very good for photography, the sun was behind us and we had had plenty of time to set up our cameras on tripods in anticipation of something happening. This proves that patience in Kruger always pays off – even from within the confines of the rest camps.
In the years that followed, every time we returned to Olifants we would request the very same rondavel. One day the duty manager at the time asked us why we always wanted the same unit. So we told him the story. Delighted by the anecdote, he would often retell the tale with relish to arriving guests – but they were always sceptical, he said. So we framed the photograph of the lioness chasing the impala into the river, and it now hangs proudly in Olifants reception as evidence to support the duty manager’s story.
Needless to say, when visitors who have seen the photograph in reception make their bookings for Olifants, they request the same rondavel in the hope that some of our luck may rub off on them. But rondavel number 16 has no magical properties and is not much different from any of the other rondavels on the perimeter; we just enjoy having a view of both the river and far-reaching bushveld from that particular corner of Olifants hill. No, any of our neighbours would have seen this action from their verandas too – had they also just stayed in camp that day.
Mario Fazekas is a wildlife photographer and author of the Photographer’s Guide series of eBooks. He and his wife Jenny have spent over 750 days travelling on self-drive and guided photo safaris through African national parks, but Kruger remains their favourite due to its size and diversity – plus the ease of spotting leopards! You can read more about their eBooks here
Where to get 101 Kruger Tales
Exclusive Books, Bargain Books, Reader’s Warehouse, Airport Shops (OR Tambo & Cape Town International), shops in the Kruger, megabooks.co.za, amazon.com (for the Kindle edition)
The photographer scans the riverbanks and soon spots two lionesses drinking lazily from the far bank. Soon after, the lionesses lie down and appear to doze in the sun.
An impala ewe flees through the shallows of the river with a lioness in hot pursuit. This iconic shot, snapped from the comfort of the veranda of rondawel number 16 at Olifants Rest Camp, hung for many years at the camp’s reception.
The impala escaped the lioness, but didn’t escape the jaws of an enormous crocodile on one of the banks in the middle of the river. This didn’t stop the pursuing lions, now numbering five, from trying to intimidate the crocodile into letting go of kill. But the croc was having none of it; it flicked its tail a few times and disappeared into the river with its meal.
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