A predator around the house on laundry day!
Day 12 of our COVID-19 nation-wide lock-down: 4.45 am. I wake up with a jolt. Not only do I hear that Alex and Jack are awake in their room, but I hear something else. The Vervet Monkeys that sleep in the trees in and around our garden are going crazy. Their typical alarm calls echo in the cool morning air. Occasionally one of the youngsters lets out a high pitch chirp. There must be a predator around!!
The area around Malalane Gate is full of predators. We have seen lions from the house on more than one occasion. Read: A Lioness at the House!! and This is why I love living in Kruger) I got a leopard strolling on the road right in front of our gate on our trail camera once and the last time the monkeys were making such a scene, we saw a leopard not even 10 meters from our back fence!! Then there are the hyenas that patrol the staff village every night. The Vervet Monkeys alarm call for them as well. But not this way. They were literally screaming big cat!
“ Hoekom skree die apies so, mama?” (Why are the monkeys screaming like that, mom?), Alex asks me when I walk into their room. “I think there is a lion or a leopard outside my angel,” I reply as I kiss both the boys good morning. Alex jumps out of bed and opens the curtain. The sun is about to rise above the hill behind the bridge over the Crocodile River. “I see nothing…” He says and in the same sentence asks me for oaties for breakfast. Jack has a good look outside as well. He also prefers oaties over seeing a predator at our fence.
Oaties for breakfast it is. And while the boys enjoy their brekkie, I venture outside to see what all the commotion is about. By now the monkeys are in quite a state. They are jumping from branch to branch, looking at something in the tall grass. I can’t see anything, but keep following the monkey’s gaze. I am sure something must be close by.
Then a movement to my left catches my eye. A young hyena! Hyenas are known to follow leopards around, so I intensify my search for the big cat I am now convinced is not far. Unfortunately, a flick of white from its tail is all I get to see before the elusive cat vanishes in typical leopard style. My heart is almost beating out of my chest. Partly from excitement and also because seeing a leopard on foot, even from the ‘safety’ of our garden, is a bit scary. The hyena disappears as well and I now need to get dressed. It is laundry day!
Since the lock-down rules and regulations apply to Kruger Staff and Residents as well and we are pretty much confined to our home and garden, the trips to the Laundromat are bi-weekly outings I very much look forward to. I saw a mating pair of lions on my way to camp on Friday and I want to leave early this morning to see if I can find a leopard on the road, or something else exciting.
But, you can’t always be as lucky as I was last week. Today’s drive to camp was very, very quiet. So much so in fact that I wonder if all animals have maybe left the park too! With my washing on in the two machines in the Laundromat, I drive to the deserted camping grounds and sit down on one of the benches at the fence.
I am not even there for a minute when the sound of movement behind me gives me huge fright. I still have leopard on my mind;-) A Natal Francolin is literally running towards me! “Ehm, hello?” I say to the bird who is clearly expecting something from me. The bird looks at me and inches a bit closer still. On the other side of the fence is another Francolin that is desperately trying to get in. It keeps popping its head through the chicken mesh only to discover that its body cannot follow.
Then 4 Yellow-billed Hornbills fly in. Two of them land on the drie-poot braai and start sharpening their bills. Two Greater Blue –Eared starlings also come running and two campsites down I see a couple of Dwarf Mongooses on their way to me too. What a bizarre scene to have these animals flock to where I am sitting. They are clearly very much used to human presence in the camping ground and associate us with crumbs and dirty braai grids.
“You guys are going to have to find your own breakfasts,” I tell them, almost apologising to their expectation. I don’t think it is a bad thing that they cannot rely on people for food at the moment. Let them get back to foraging in the veld, as non-camp animals do!
Leopard picture for illustration purposes only.