Leopard and Cub

Charlotte’s 5 Most Memorable Sightings of 2019

It’s hard to choose a ‘top’ sighting. There’s so many factors that go into making a sighting great — Was it a beautiful scene? Was there interesting behavior? Was it rare or the first time for you to see this?  Did you get an incredible photo or video? Did it make you feel something?

When reflecting on some of my favorite sightings from the year, the quality I am considering is what was the most memorable. Perhaps I didn’t get a great photo, but it was something so special in that moment that I know I will never forget.

Migration Crossing the Mara River – Masai Mara, Kenya

2019 was the first year I visited the Masai Mara to view the Mara River crossings of the Great Migration. There is nothing else to describe seeing this for the first time. In hindsight I regret not going years ago, it is that incredible. When you are there amongst it all, the volume, chaos, and pandemonium is palpable. There is just much happening it’s hard to know ever where to look. During this sighting, there was an enormous quantity of both zebras and wildebeests, and the group was so large that they kept coming and coming and coming, all sprinting and jumping into the Mara River. Based on the general frenzy, it would seem that they understood the peril of the situation — make the wrong move and die. You can feel the tension. Then there is the action, from crocodiles and other predators who use the opportunity for a feast. In this sighting, we had crocodiles take two wildebeests, and also had lions take two wildebeests. Four kills in the space of 30 minutes. It’s something that is unlikely to happen in most other safari situations. It is also quite an emotional experience, because all you can do is sit and watch. You can see animals getting hurt or even dying, but you know that this is an annual occurrence that has been going on for centuries and is part of the natural cycle. It is an incredibly powerful thing to witness and I can’t wait for next year’s migration season.

For information on Wild Eye tours to Kenya, click here.

Relaxed Leopard with her Cub – Masai Mara, Kenya

Leopards are my favorite animals, and baby leopards are my favorite kind of leopard. But getting to see them in the wild can be difficult. It really comes down to luck. I have spent considerable time in the best places in the world to see leopards – Sabi Sands, Okavango Delta, South Luangwa, Yala National Park, and even still, a good sighting of a leopard cub is a rarity. The Masai Mara isn’t necessarily one of the top places you would expect to have a good sighting of leopard cub, so I had little exceptions of seeing one on the trip. But as it turned out, in the area we were staying in the Masai Mara National Reserve, there was a very relaxed female leopard with a ~6 month old cub. The cub was very boisterous and not at all shy of vehicles. Over the course of several days, we were lucky to spend several hours with the two of them since she was keeping it in the same area. On our final morning, the mom had decided to move den sites, so we spent at least an hour with the two of them romping around the open plains of the Masai Mara as the mom led the way to their new temporary residence. It was incredibly special to watch the two of them with unobstructed views and acting in their most natural behavior, especially watching how playful the young one was with the mom and in turn how tolerant she was back with it.

For information on Wild Eye tours to Kenya, click here.

Lion Perched in an Ebony Tree – South Luangwa, Zambia

South Luangwa has excellent predator viewing. There are several prides of lions, and during a visit in the dry season, you are likely to see lions frequently if you try. One morning out of Kaingo Camp, we were viewing a pride of lions. We had seen them over the previous few days, and recognized that one of the females was missing. They were lying along a dry riverbed, and there was thick bush behind it, so we assumed she could have easily been hidden there. As we drove away, a tawny shape way up in one of the enormous Ebony trees caught my eye. I had to do a double take for my brain to compute what I was looking at. The missing lioness was way up in the top of the tree. She was sitting there so casually, looking around at a troop of baboons that were surprisingly tolerant of her. I am used to seeing leopards up in trees, and even lions climbing shorter distances off the ground, but I couldn’t believe how high up this lioness was. She proceeded to climb down the tree with a surprising agility for such large cat. And once she hit the ground, the baboons started shrieking out alarm calls. I suspect this is because in the tree they knew she was too clumsy to successfully hunt a baboon, but on the ground she was on her home turf again and became more of a threat. This was a special sighting for me because it was something that I had never seen before and I loved watching a new behavior.

For information on Wild Eye tours to Zambia, click here.

Cheetah Kill – Masai Mara, Kenya

When you visit the Masai Mara, you stand perhaps a higher chance of watching a kill than other destinations because of a high density of predators and also because the landscape is very open. So when we were following a cheetah in the late afternoon who seemed to be clearly hungry and on the hunt, we knew we stood a chance to see a kill, particularly as she entered an immensely wide open space filled with prey. She made a few passes at young wildebeest, unsuccessfully. Then when she seemed to have given up, the sound of a jackal alerted her to a much easier prize. The jackal, who had been following her opportunistically for a free meal, had found a very young gazelle. Mothers stash their babies when they are too young to follow. Though the babies are camouflaged and remain very still, if they are spotted, they have no defense. The jackal held the gazelle in its mouth but hadn’t killed it yet. We watched as the cheetah approached, and the jackal quickly yielded its prize to the more dominant predator. That’s when the cheetah came right up behind the gazelle, and in a moment of calculated stealth, she had grabbed it by the throat and made the kill. I can visualize every part of this kill, and as it happened only a few meters away from us. Of course it is sad to see an animal die, but for me witnessing the behavior and stealth of the cheetah was remarkable insight into their behavior.

For information on Wild Eye tours to Kenya, click here.

Black Rhino Charges Vehicle – Sabi Sands, South Africa

Black rhinos are a special animal. They are smaller than their distant cousins, the white rhino, but what they lack in size they make up for in aggression. Black rhinos are known for their inquisitive, and often aggressive temperament. They are animals that most guides try to avoid when on a bush walk because they can be quite dangerous. Black rhinos are endangered and rare to see in most places. On one afternoon game drive in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve (South Africa) it was getting dark and we had just made a stop for a quick sundowner. As we were getting out of the vehicle, we heard branches breaking and heavy snorting. We looked up and saw a black rhino. Then another appeared, and then another. It was a group of three. They were at a very far distance when we spotted them. We of course staying in the vehicle for our safety, but wanted to see what would happen next. As is usual with black rhino, their curiosity prompted them to come and investigate us. The biggest and oldest of the three cautiously approached, with the other two in tow. She got closer and closer, and then stopped to assess. By now the light was low and it is likely that she couldn’t tell what we were, but considered us a threat. In a flash, she charged at our vehicle full throttle, dust and smoke expelling from her nostrils as you might imagine in a cartoon. She briefly paused and charged again. The guide, with over 20 years of experience, was extremely competent in handling the situation, and revved the engine, causing the female to stop in her tracks and retreat. The three then ran off, but the spike of adrenaline that ensued lasted for quite some time. This was memorable first because of the rarity of having such a close encounter with three black rhino, but also because of the intense feeling it created.

For information on Wild Eye tours to South Africa, click here

So there you have it – my most memorable sightings of 2019. I can’t wait what 2020 will bring!

I hope everyone has a wonderful festive season and we look forward to connecting with you in the New Year.

Cheers,

Charlotte

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