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Rangers Diary

Aug24

It was a beautiful winter’s afternoon. Our guests were setting off on a sunset bush drive into a Big Five game reserve, situated just outside the world-famous Kruger National Park.

Leanne, our new GM, joined them on the drive and wanted to share her experience with you.

The journey got off to a great start, with a sighting that is becoming rarer by the day day. Two white rhino, trying to remain hidden in the thick bush but spotted by the keen eye of the ranger. As they travelled further, through the dense vegetation, into clearer savannahs, they passed a herd of impala grazing peacefully together with a dazzle of zebra.

A large kudu bull watched as they drove along the gravel road, his impressive horns curling high into the sky. They headed over to the far side of the reserve, to where the main dam, a source of water for the animals, was situated.

The birds flitted around, getting ready to settle in for the night as the sun slowly started its descent behind the mountains. From a distance, through the dusk, black dots appeared, which as they got closer, turned into dozens of hot, thirsty buffalo, moving purposefully towards the water.

The dam was quite empty due to sparse summer rains and all the river and dams were growing drier and drier. The buffalo rapidly picked up their pace, creating a cloud of dust behind them. It then became apparent what was causing the urgency in their steps.

Three adult lioness, lying quietly on the wall of the dam. They soaked up the last rays of warmth and seemed to be taking no notice of the buffalo.

The game viewing vehicle located the best viewing spot and parked, waiting to see what would transpire. On the far side of the dam, elephants sucked up what they could from the scattered puddles. It was a wonderful, tranquil scene, straight out of post cards and nature documentaries.

But then everything changed. The lionesses sprang into action and quietly moved towards the middle of the dry dam, flattening themselves, in full stalking mode.
They knew that the buffalo would start to move around to the opposite side of the dam, to where the elephants were drinking, where there was still water.

The 4×4 quickly moved off, so that all eyes could get a good view of the action to come.

They were just in time to see two lionesses leap onto a small young buffalo calf and take it down. The third lioness who had not taken part in the hunt moved towards the kill and settled down next to the others.

As an act of bush courtesy, the vehicle had to move away from the scene to enable other vehicles the opportunity to come in closer and see the kill.

Thrilled at what they had just witnessed they drove off, heading into a thick bushy area near the river. The action continued as their tracker located a male leopard, lazily lying high up in a tree. By the looks of his bulging stomach, he had recently eaten and was settling down as darkness fell to take a nap. This also meant that it was time to start returning to the gate.

They returned quickly for one last look at the lion kill.

On their arrival they were surprised to see that the carcass was still fully intact. In fact, it was still very much alive. Lions kill by biting their prey on the neck and closing off their air supply, slowly suffocating them. Then they saw the reason why. Ten young cubs.

Their skillful mothers were giving them hunting lessons. They would allow the cubs to try and jump on and force the weary buffalo to the ground. If the buffalo got a little too strong and showed signs of escaping, then one of the mothers would “weaken” it by applying more pressure to the neck for a few minutes. It was both sad and enthralling. One could not help but pity the calf, but it was a lesson that had to be learned. Harsh but essential for cubs’ survival.

Leanne and the rest of our guests were so fortunate to witness this amazing lesson.

The images (both mental and on their devices), kept them oblivious to the cold night air as they returned to the gate for their shuttle back to the lodge.

The end of another perfect day in Africa.

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Aug24

I heard the bush buck bark. Yes, you read that right, a buck barks just like a dog. It is an alarm signal and signaled something was wrong. I pulled my shoes back on and walked out into the dark surrounding our staff house to investigate.

Our rangers found fresh leopard prints crossing through the lodge area earlier that morning. I was worried, worried for the bush buck that I’d been hand feeding during its pregnancy, for her young foal and the five-day-old baby that she was keeping hidden in the thick bush. I had grown very attached to them. The way they had overcome their natural instincts to be afraid of humans and learned to trust me, the pangs of hunger over coming fear. The drought was taking its toll on all the animals. They had become so trusting that the mother would come running to me and follow me like a dog, giving me the odd head butt in the leg when I took too long to give her something to eat.

Through the darkness I could see another large female under the trees and could hear rustling in the bushes further away. I dared not venture further out. It was too late, too dark and I had no idea what was making the noise.

I retreated back into the safety of the staff house.

I heard the barking continue and then quiet descended.

I was up extra early the next morning and took a closer look around.

Just around the corner from our house, on the dirt road, were some strange markings in the dust. It looked like a large snake. Maybe a python had slithered its way up the road, leaving a deep track behind it in the sand.

But then I saw it, spore, and lots of them. Unmistakably – leopard! Running alongside the tracks, it looked like there were two, a large adult and a much smaller set, possibly a cub.

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My heart sank. This didn’t look good. My fears were confirmed by John, one of our guides. This was not a snake passing through, these were drag marks, from a kill. The leopard had taken an animal by the throat, cutting off its air supply and then dragged it away, the victim’s back legs creating the weaving path that I had discovered. Was it one of my buck? My heart dropped.

On the other hand it was a wonderful and rare sighting, something there would not usually be evidence of. We showed our guests on the bush walk the “kill zone” and even got those guests who were just relaxing to come out and have a look. Perfect leopard prints and drag marks which started about 10 meters behind our house, heading up and then off into the dense bush about 60 meters down.

I pleaded with our guide, John, to help me and go track the path and see if we could find the carcass and, or, the leopard. I needed to know. He didn’t hesitate, even though he knew it was extremely dangerous for us to go walking unarmed looking for a leopard that potentially had a baby with her and its meal. The adrenalin levels were high as we set off, stopping every few steps to carefully survey the landscape.

Checking under the bushes and up in the tree branches, we had to see the leopard before it saw us.  We headed down to a nearby gully but could find no sign of anything. We turned, quietly heading back towards the lodge. We passed an old ostrich nest, still containing five intact eggs. Intact but with nothing inside. We paused to take some photos and that’s when I saw it.

I turned to look behind us and there between two trees in a small clearing lay something. I quickly got John’s attention. It was so close and it looked like a cat, was it the baby leopard!

We approached with caution. It was a feline, a large African Wild cat. Its skull had been crushed by a single bite to the head, its life blood slowly seeping into the sand, feeding a trail of bustling ants. Rigor mortis had set in, it was stiff but had no other wounds and as yet no smell to it. After a thorough check of the area we took a closer look. By examining its paws we realized that the small prints we had seen were not that of a cub but of the wild cat, probably struggling to get free from the grasp of the leopard’s jaws whilst it was being dragged away, slowly suffocating.

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I mourned for the loss of life, I had seen this wild cat around the lodge a few times. He was fat and healthy and had been terrorizing our lodge cat Garfield. But on the other hand, I was so relieved that it was not one of my bush buck family, Apple, Pie and Baby 50 cent (‘cause he is half a buck).

I was puzzled as to why the cat had not been eaten, but John explained that the leopard may not have been hungry and it had just been an opportunistic kill and that he would come back for it later. Or he may have been disturbed (probably by me) and left it to collect at a later stage.

We left the carcass and returned to the lodge and were thrilled that a creature of such magnitude and beauty had been so close to us. So close that it had probably been there in the shadows when I’d walked alone back to my room after closing up the bar. Grateful to have been able to see something normally hidden deep in the bush, a struggle scene, and finally the evidence. Sad for the cat but knowing that this is nature at work, something has to die so that something else can live. So blessed to be able to live and work, in this place, while the circle of life continues around us.

 

amazing-lion-sighting-thornhill-safari-lodge
Jul25

It was a beautiful afternoon with the winter sun beating from the clear blue sky. Everyone was in eager anticipation of what we might encounter on our afternoon game drive and as usual mother nature held her best until last. Little did we know we would experience an amazing lion sighting…

Having spent a couple of wonderful hours searching the bush and coming across a plethora of plains game from graceful and majestic giraffe to the ever photogenic zebra we saw them all. After an hour or so and having enjoyed a tranquil sundowner watching in awe as yet another day past with a glorious and multi spectrum coloured sunset we headed off into the dark of the night.
The tension was high and guided by the spotlights we searched the bush for the nocturnal mammals and birds as they started their night time meander.
We saw a solitary and agile Serval heading out on its nightly hunting excursion, then came across a porcupine purposefully scurrying along the track and so we searched on. It wasn’t much longer until low and behold, we hit the jackpot.

As we drove into a small gulley with a small waterhole half full on our left, we saw the striking eyes of a male lion. Everything went quiet, he was huge with a gorgeous thick black mane and as he meandered past our vehicle some five metres away, out of the surrounding bush appeared his mate and then two young cubs of about eight months old. The male crossed our front and went to the waterside followed by the female and skipping along behind the two cubs.

For about five minutes we sat an stared at these awesome and wild creatures so close to us that we could hear them lapping up the water. Without a care in the world they finished drinking, looked at us, considered their route out and where gone.

This magnificent moment summed up in a few breath taking minutes how Africa and its wildlife continue to behold and surprise, yet never disappoint.

Thornhill safari lodge, kruger national park accommodation, big 5 safari lodge
May21

Having just received the “Trip Advisor 2014 Certificate of Excellence award for the second year running, I felt it pertinent to write a few words on how we achieved it.

Many years ago when I was starting out in the hospitality industry an old manager of mine said to me one day “It’s not about the number of stars above the door; it’s about the number of stars working within”. This simple statement along with my belief and our work motto that we should always ‘under promise and over deliver” ensure that we work as a team and all are aiming for the some end result…….. “Great customer service”

A good lodge first begins its relationship with their guests by having staff that bring out the value of the lodge; their services are always offered with a smile and from the heart. The location, the views, and the rooms etc. simply complement the experience.

Whether it is the transfer driver or guide that greets you with a charming smile and imparts passion and knowledge or the chef whose culinary expertise manages to set off fireworks on your taste buds, the people that run the lodge will definitely make it a great place for everyone who wishes to unwind and relax and ultimately have a great holiday…

Thornhill Safari Lodge is privileged to have such staff that are reliable, hardworking and enjoy their work. It’s about their sense of pride and being one family that can interact in any situation to ensure that we deliver a service second to none time after time.

I, as the general manager am blessed to have all this in abundance and as such hope that when you come to stay with us, you too can experience hospitality at its best

T – Totally Affordable
H – Happy Staff
O – Outstanding Service
R – Reliable and Consistent
N – Nobody is Undervalued
H – Honest
I – Intermit and homely
L – Longevity
L – Love the job, love our guests

rangers-diary-Thornhill-safari-lodge-activities_kruger-national-park-giraffe
Apr02

As dawn breaks on Thornhill Safari Lodge and the choral sounds of early morning birds ripple across the veldt, we head out to see what the new day has to offer – hoping to see a young female giraffe. Here in the lowveld, with winter rapidly approaching, the paths and surrounding vegetation has been scorched by the burning sun and the grass is brittle and turning yellow. As we stop to investigate the previous night’s activities in the sandy path, the baying of a distant zebra carries across the air and the guest’s eyes and ears immediately tune in to the possibility of an up-close encounter with probably the most photographed African mammal.

We move off again in a southerly direction, picking up recent tracks of wildebeest and the distant zebra. There’s a feeling of excitement as we make our way through the sickle bush, passing mountain aloes and time aged Marula trees. As we round the corner of a well-trodden animal path suddenly the swish of a tail on our left catches our attention.
Less than fifty metre away a young female giraffe meanders from acacia to acacia. She stops as we approach and wistfully watches us before gracefully moving away to catch up with the now visible remainder of her herd. The social group is made up of a young nursery herd with a young female giraffe, carefully overseen by a two grazing adult females and a huge bull giraffe that takes no notice of us whatsoever.

After much clicking of cameras and a deliberation about the pro and cons of being a giraffe we move on, stopping to discuss the merits of camouflage or better known as disruptive markings (spots over strips) having watched a young nyala break cover and bound away. Moments later we hear the distinctive call of the fork-tailed Drongo and then the alarm call of the Red-billed Oxpecker and we realise that we are actually closer than we thought. The slight pungent aroma of a stallion’s urine and a pile of fresh dung indicates that we are right on the zebra’s tails.

We momentarily stop as already the beetles are starting their clean-up operation and gleefully chatter about the whole dung beetle life cycle, watching a beetle busy rolling its newly made ball of dung. Our quarry is close now and the anticipation is quietening the guests and all eyes are scanning the nearby thicket. Will we see one of the Kruger National Park big 5…