04 Nov 2015 The Three (Unconventional) Muskateers, by Field Guide Angie Seeber
Everyone enjoys a bit of comic relief, and for me it came in the form of an outstanding sighting involving 3 of the Big Five a couple of weeks ago.
Some guests and I were out on a drive, bird watching and enjoying the Kapama Game Reserve wildlife game. I was explaining about all the little creatures that have come out since the weather has warmed up. We heard on the radio that there was a sighting of the Bosplaas male lion, the dominant male of the north, and we responded immediately. As we were making our way into the area, the ranger at the sighting communicated that the big male lion had been chased into one of the trees by an old male buffalo. In all my time on the reserve, I had never seen him in a tree. Let me mention here that lions climbing trees in general is highly uncharacteristic!
As we approached the sighting, we came across a male elephant moving in the same direction as us. I quickly noticed that he was in the early stages of musth. Musth is a condition that occurs in bull elephants periodically when they become hormonally charged, and they can become very aggressive. This condition is usually characterised by unruly behaviour, as their testosterone levels are much higher than normal. Even the most relaxed and placid elephant can become dangerous towards people and other animals, and in most cases, you will find these elephants separated from the rest of the herd until they have normalised again.
I decided to keep my distance as he was very aware of us and had already given us a good headshake. We slowly moved behind him as he made his way towards the dam – the same dam where the male lion was still up the tree with the unsympathetic buffalo beneath keeping a watchful eye.
As we came over the dam wall behind the male elephant, the lion’s focus moved from the buffalo to the elephant and his eyes noticeably widened. The elephant didn’t even notice the commotion that had unfolded and made his way towards the water to drink. Just as he was about to get to the edge of the water, the buffalo made a beeline for the huge pachyderm. He was in a bad mood and wanted to make sure that every animal in the vicinity knew about it, and charged out of the bushes, full of bravado. The elephant wasn’t remotely phased. With a toss of his head and a flap of his big, Africa-shaped ears, he faced the buffalo head on and initiated his own charge. The buffalo did an about-turn and ran towards the water’s edge. We all enjoyed a really good laugh at this, cameras flashing at the buffalo’s evident embarrassment.
Through all of this activity, we mustn’t forget about the male lion still up in the tree, watching on with a candid interest. This look didn’t last long, because the elephant suddenly caught a scent of the predator in the tree. With his path open, he headed straight towards the lion. Ears out, he looked ginormous! We held a collective breath, waiting to see what the outcome would be. The elephant trumpeted and stood still, just trying to instill fear in the lion. He stopped for a minute, making sure he had made his point, and then proceeded to walk away. He left the lion looking a bit perplexed in the tree.
As the testosterone-filled elephant moved away into the bushes, clearly feeling content at the impact he had made, we had seen just about all the comedy we could take from wild animals. But the show was not over yet…
The lion had decided it was safe enough to come down from the protective covering of the branches in the tree, which seemed like a simple enough task. Or not! The cat realised that he could not descend in the same manner as he had gotten into the tree in the first place, and elected to go down through the bushes around the rear of the trunk. But he lost his footing and fell through the bushes right onto his face. He quickly got up and shook out his dark mane before resting in the in-flow of the dam. He looked like one very sheepish lion indeed!
As we drove away towards sundowners, we could not contain our mirth and laughed loudly together. What an outstanding way to end off another incredible day in Africa!
This is a Camp Jabulani sighting I won’t easily forget.