Sunday, May 29

A road full of lions

Last November, three of us had one of those safari’s that don’t happen very often. Where we saw more lion, and leopard than we saw elephant! Multiple sightings of hyaena and male giraffe fighting were just some of the other highlights. However, I think we all agreed that the “road full of lions” was the very large cherry on the top!

It was two hours in to the early morning game drive south of Skukuza, and we had already had awesome, close-up sightings of leopard on a kill, hyaena, elephant and zebra, an excellent drive in other words……..

And then, there they were. Three lionesses lying right in the middle of the road and as we carefully approached, another three lions, juvenile males, on the right, the pride male plus another four lionesses lying behind the bushes on the left. We were the only vehicle there, we stayed quiet trying to keep our excitement subdued, and the lions just carried on doing what they do best, sleeping…..……

The three young males were a little more alert and kept a sleepy eye open on us.

A flicker of movement on the right, and we saw a warthog casually walking across the open ground behind the males. A whiff of that unmistakable cat smell, and the warthog was suddenly trotting, mistake, as this really caught the attention of these 3 youngsters.
And the next moment they were off! Needless to say warthog got away, he was really too far off for the boys to catch him.

This little bit of action did succeed in waking up the rest of the pride, and after a few lazy stretches they all rose and started walking down the road past and behind us.



We quickly turned around but as the lions were “hogging” the road we couldn’t really get past them for a while, but follow we did.

This all changed when one of the leading lionesses suddenly went into “watch” mode just behind a small bush. We couldn’t see what she had seen but all the younger lions were obviously alert to her body language and peeled off, right and left into the thicker bush at the sides of the road.

This gave us a chance to overtake the older lions still in the road and get a little closer to the lead huntress before we stopped, switched off and waited to see what would happen………

We waited for quite a while, and the lions at the back of the “pack” decided to stop and relax as well – they were obviously leaving any possible hunt up to the more energetic (or maybe just hungrier?) members of the pride.

Another 15 minutes of focused attention, and the lioness relaxed, the intended prey had perhaps moved off too far for them to successfully hunt.


The pride, dispersed now on both sides of the road carried on into the thicker bush, leaving the large, pride male to walk majestically down the road towards us. 

He took a quick drink at the small pool next to us and then, he too, disappeared after the rest of the lions.

In total we had spent almost a full hour with this pride of eleven lions, and what a glimpse into their lives they had given us!

My thanks go to Philip and Chelcy who not only shared this experience with me but also provided most of the great photos for this posting.

Tuesday, May 10

“Doodling” in Mozambique

Stretching north along the coastline from KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa) into southern Mozambique are some of the most beautiful coral reefs in the Indian Ocean. They are generally  deeper than 12 metres which means that although snorkeling is very limited, the reefs have mostly escaped the catastrophic effects of the major El Nino-related ocean warming events of the last 15 years.

In South Africa the reefs have been protected to varying levels for many years now, and in Mozambique MPA’s are in the process of being implemented.
This means that some awesome diving can be had if one is prepared to make the long journey to Sodwana Bay, Ponta do Ouro and beyond.

Over the last 4 years I have made several trips to Ponta do Ouro, and recently I have been fortunate enough to work there as a Dive Master during the peak holiday seasons.

One of the best known reefs of Ponta is “Doodles”. It is about 17m deep and is the closest reef to the Ponta launch beach. So it is very easy to get to!

But of course there is far more to Doodles than it’s proximity to Ponta. It is in a zone that attracts a lot of shoaling fish. During April one could hardly see any clear water for all the shoaling “bait fish” and during the summer months there are usually small shoals of squid at the northern and southern ends of the reef and always the blue lined and yellow snappers.

Doodles is not the best reef in the area for hard corals, but it does have some pretty outcrops on the northern side and various impressive sponges and soft corals.

What draws most divers to Doodles are the Potato Bass, sting rays and my favourites, the lion fish.

My favourite “drop” on to Doodles is at the northern end. There we descend slowly through clear blue water on to white rippled sand. Quite often the Potato Bass, 4 or 5 of them will curiously approach whilst we are still orienting ourselves on the sand, and in this wide open space they look truly impressive. I suppose that because they are similar in size to us they are not shy about approaching, and sometimes the smaller ones get very close. A few months ago, a diver in my group had a small panic when a younger potato bass thought his hair wafting around his head looked rather interesting, perhaps tasty? And wouldn’t keep away…….. 

As we drift with the current towards the reef we start looking out for the blue spotted rays, sting rays and other large fauna. Only two weeks ago we had a large Leopard Shark resting under a small ledge. Not a common sighting in these waters!

Of course, as with any coral reef there is any number of smaller creatures to find as one works southwards with the gentle current.
A couple of remoras have been hanging out recently, though after a quick inspection they realise that divers are not a good “host”. Then there are the nudibranchs, urchins, anemones, shrimps, plus the lion fish and devil firefish around every corner.

Even in relatively poor “viz” the reef always delights! There is something for everyone.

Sunday, May 8

A safari guides library

 As you can expect, a safari guide needs a range of books, whilst on safari, for study purposes and just for sheer interest and enjoyment. (I might add that the shelf pictured above is just 1 out of 14 shelves of books that I have at home, but I will not go into the rest!)

Obviously in this day and age, the internet provides a vast source of reference material, but I love my books, and it's so much easier to grab a book to read in a spare ½ hour than it is to boot up the laptop, connect and “google”.

On safari

Much as I would like to take most of that shelf on safari I obviously have to be selective. There are three books I always take, and then if I have room, and depending on the season I will add two or three more.

These excellent field guides are useful for both identifying creatures that I am not sure of, and for being able to share pictures and basic facts with my clients – so these three books I will always have in the game viewing vehicle.

In the summer months I will also have the Reptiles, Insects, Wild Flower and Raptor Field Guides back at camp, and whenever I can I will always have my Sappi Tree Spotting – Lowveld (the BEST tree book I have ever owned!) In the winter months the Star Gazing from Game Reserves is a must.

Reference, study and general interest

All the books on my “safari” shelf are good “reference” books, but they vary in “readability”. A few of them have been so well written (for non-experts that is) that they have stimulated in me an interest in fields that I had previously found quite dry and may I say it, boring! Others have added a whole new dimension to my knowledge of a particular subject, and as a result made it even more fascinating.

Those books which I pick up frequently and browse when at home, or take to read in my spare time on safari are:-

Identifying trees made easy, plus full of fascinating facts on eco-zones, animal and human use of trees and much more.

A fascinating introduction to the history of our planet, geology, palaeontology, and geological maps / descriptions of South Africa. This book definitely got me hooked, finally, on geology!

Want to know the collective name of a bird, why it’s called what it is, how it flies, what it eats, where it nests, what its new name is?........ These Beat About the Bush books are both accessible and fascinating. 

Definitely the best bird book I've got so far.


A little heavy going in places, but a really good source for everything on elephants, plus the history of elephants in South Africa.


Also a little dry in places, but still a fascinating book to dip into when wanting to know a bit more about any of the African mammals.


Not as comprehensive as Estes but enjoyable reading and all sorts of less dry and interesting facts are included.

An area I am working on, and this book is so well laid out that I will hopefully know a lot more of our raptors soon…..

Another area of study, a fascinating book with great photos.

And finally…..

If you took a close look at my bookshelf you can see some ocean / reef / fish books (essential for when I am working as a DM (Dive Master)), general guide books on South Africa (for all those questions on what is our population, country size etc. etc.) and some interesting "story" books, ie. Jock of the Bushveld, The Elephant Whisperer, memoirs of Kruger by a Game Rangers wife and so on.

What isn’t in this shelf however, is my small (very) collection of South African history books, which apart from being one of my "interests" are also useful for when I am doing my "tourist" guide stuff (generally when we are not game viewing).

All in all, it gives you a feel for how much I'm supposed to know as a safari / tourist / South African guide…….