May 21, 2015

Navigational Walk with EcoTraining Students in the Croc Dam area of Karongwe Game Reserve

The sun was well up and making its presence felt as we departed Ladder Kopje with Shelly Tomkins now leading the Group, her destination being Croc Dam away to our North East. The vegetation was thick at first with progress being slow but once Shelly had picked up the clear game paths following the drainage line to our left, the going became much easier.

With the game paths now starting to converge on a regular basis, Shelly crossed the drainage line and led us into the lower reaches of Croc Dam, the raucous grunts of the resident Hippos and the often hysterical cries of the Egyptian Geese giving her the comfort that she had indeed successfully found her way to the correct spot! A convenient exposed granite outcrop reaching out into the water provided an ideal rest-up spot for the Group while also providing a great view of the dam to our left and right.

With the Hippos just below the dam wall to our right, a clutch of Egyptian Geese goslings being shepherded by their parents into the water to our front, some very large crocodiles drifting effortlessly in our direction, an African Darter spreading its drenched wings to dry and an African Fish Eagle regally surveying its territory from its lofty perch to our north, all providing for an amazing early morning setting for the Group, well worth the many kilometres already under the belt on this morning’s navigational walk.

Croc Dam, Karongwe, Navigational Walk. The African Darter and large Crocodile can be seen while the Egyptian Geese family is just visible in the top right. Photo: Tim Flavell

The African Fish Eagle surveys its territory. Photo: Tim Flavell
All too soon it was time for the map to be handed to Jake Cook for the next leg. He briefed the Group on our destination and began re-tracing our steps for a short distance along the bank before heading off to the South East to his distant destination. As Jake led us into a shady thicket just off the bank with the water to our right, an unmistakable warning growl stopped us in our tracks! “Lions..!!” mouthed Jake pointing beyond the thicket into the open area ahead of us. Lions indeed, the immature male, his fledgling mane just visible, was lying in the open staring intently in our direction!

The immature Male eyes our thicket! Photo: Tim Flavell
I quickly motioned Jake behind me and brought the Group together, thankful for the cover the thicket was able to provide. Crouching down we could clearly see the big male on the edge of the tree-line just behind the juvenile, his face encircled by his massive mane !

Our view of the big male! A great sighting for the students! Photo: Tim Flavell
I heard a digital whirr behind me, Tim hadn’t forgotten his camera and was clicking away merrily. The Lions in view were seemingly comfortable so we crouched down and watched these magnificent animals. Aware that this was only a small portion of the Pride, I shifted the Group slowly to the right bringing two lionesses into view to the left of the youngster, both of them moving to our left. With the water to our right, escape routes were limited while there were another three lions still unaccounted for. It was definitely time to leave and not overstay our welcome! Particularly with the lionesses on the move!

I motioned to Jake to lead the Group out of the thicket, back the way we had come with me bringing up the rear keeping myself between the Group and the Lions. As soon as we were clear I took the lead and moved at least five hundred metres away from the Lions’ last position, past the granite outcrop on which we had enjoyed our break. Once stopped, the Group broke into animated whispers and shared experiences of a wonderful encounter. However, as I looked up from our new position back from whence we come, the big male’s large head appeared from the scrub line not 60 metres away!!

The Pride was obviously making their way North and we were in their way!

I quickly but quietly asked everybody to stand behind me, Tim’s camera again working overtime! The big male then lay down in the shade but with the two lionesses flanking him, once more on the move!
The big male as we saw him for the second time! Photo: Tim Flavell
Again it was no time to hang around, warning the Group I would be walking hard, I headed north towards and beyond the dam wall following the incoming game paths well clear of the area. I then looped back to the east in a wide arc in the general direction of where the vehicle was parked.

With more than enough distance now between us and the Pride, I asked Jake to re-orientate himself and lead us back to the vehicle! An amazing morning in a really beautiful area highlighted by a great encounter with the Lions.

Rhodes Bezuidenhout
EcoTraining, Navigation & Orientation Course

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