A quick drive through the Manyeleti on limited roads for self-drive, but a nice afternoon. Spent time with a family of Southern Ground Hornbills. Couple youngsters and a sub-adult and the parents. The male tried all he could to offer his delicacy to his mate who couldn’t be bothered. He kept tailing behind her, catch up only to have her run off again. Poor guy. He kept at it though.
A nice breeding herd of Cape Buffalo wallowed briefly near a waterhole. It think they lost one of their members as the lions were unusually loud from the same direction that night with intermittent sounds of death. The circle continues.
The drive from Manyeleti to Sabi Sands and Cheetah Plains Lodge was brief. I ambled along as slowly as I could especially once in the Sabi Sands. Hardly an arduous journey. The sun was searing and no rain relief in sight. Lush and green with tall multitudes of grasses in full bloom. Dusty smell wiped up with every light gust of wind, giving just enough relief from the heat to make it tolerable. Long stretched roads and cutlines. Just as advertised.
Cheetah Plains was a little oasis. And my last and final treat for the entirety of the trip. Rondavels surrounding the main portion of the lodge. Dam side pool and wonderful staff at the ready. A dam that luckily had filled not even a month prior after a sudden torrential deluge. Now it housed at least 5-6 hippos. Sitting poolside listening to the laughing call of the hippo with the ever-busy Buffalo Weavers chattering away and fluttering at blazing speeds. Perfect place to contemplate nothing at all but the wonder beset before you or at least until the afternoon game drive.
The sunset drive, with guide extraordinaire – Andrew, was on point. Blazing heat of the sun, with the promise of relinquishing its hold, beats down upon you. Cool breeze on the back of the vehicle and a sunlit beastie before you. The pale golden pelage juxtaposed with the black-white patching of a Marula tree. Perfection.
Better yet this young leopardess is Xongile. One of two cubs to the very famous Karula. I’ve known Xongile and her twin brother Hosana since they were hours old when Brent happened upon them. And now there she is. She really is an exquisite leopard.
And tomorrow is her first birthday. I may have sung happy birthday to her, quietly, but it may have happened. We spent quite some time with the sleeping beauty until she roused, stretched and repositioned. We follow suite round the tree.
Eventually we say our good byes, round the tree and come face-to-face with none other than the Terrapin Terror himself, Hosana. Tormenting yet another Terrapin. I don’t know if he ever eats them or just carries them around, swatting at them and just traumatizing them. This one did eventually get away, once HRH (his royal highness) became bored. A couple last swats for good measure and done.
Not to long after he released the Terrapin and did a quick bout of grooming, Xongile climbed down from her perch and was now in stalk mode. The two stalked each other for a few, each popping their head up over the tall grass to see where the other was. Xongile’s poorly planned sneak attacked landed her in the pond. Forlorn but not willing to give in she continued the stalk. The reunion was quick, sweet and soon teeth and claws were barred until Xongile gave Hosana the look and allo-grooming soon began. Hosana had a limited tolerance for the tick biting technique of Xongile and soon turned his back and marched off.
The majority of the drive was spent with these two trouble makers. Hosana is much darker and has Karulas’ characteristically squat muzzle. Xongile is lighter but has a less squashed muzzle. Just gorgeous. What an afternoon.
On the way back to the lodge, we swung to the other side of the lodge dam for a special treat. One of the two Cheetah brothers made an appearance.
They had recently been split and had not yet reconnected. A quick contact call from the tallest termite mound around and he was off. And then flop onto the road for a quick dusting off, roll over, and good to go.
This drive will be hard to top. The following drives came close but birthday leopards are hard to outdo. One of the Birmingham Boy Coalition male lions made an appearance (I think Tinyo, but not sure) and a Styx Pride female. Slept as lions do.
And everything else too.
The quick stop in Sabi Sands was exceptional not only to see the Xongile and Hosana on the eve of their 1st birthday but to meet the WE crew too. These past two days have been incomparable. Alas, all good things come to an end and I’m headed back to The Kruger and continue journey south from Skukuza, Lower Sabie to Crocodile Bridge before heading to Swaziland.