Where the Animals Run Free and We Don't


A Lioness rests after lunch by the side of the road. Photograph: Pam Harrell

Of one thing I am certain, I will never grow tired of visiting Kruger National Park.  In fact, I am so intrigued with the wildlife that I would move to South Africa in a mini-second.  I feel that I am home when I drive into Kruger.  A longing to return lives in my being whenever I am away.  I am an animal lover.  To have the opportunity to watch these magnificent creatures living the way God meant is an experience that does not wane.

We paused to watch a pride of lion intending to rest on a riverbank.  First we saw the male of the pride stretched out for a comfortable nap.  Soon he was joined by a lioness, then another two lionesses, and a youngster cub came into view.  All intended to nap out the afternoon.  Across the river a herd of elephants emerged from the bush.  What would happen?  Would they have a stand-off?  Would this be the O. K. Corral –  bush style?

As the adult elephants with hugh ears flared headed the herd, the lions rose to their feet.  Then more and more elephants came forth.  Baby elephants protected among the adult legs. Clearly the elephants intended to move across the lions’ area; the lions could move or face a large herd of determined elephants.

It was no contest.  The lions slowly withdrew.  Looking backward, they calmly abandoned the riverbed and climbed the embankment right beside the car.  The cub limped at the end of the line. A large pride might attack an elephant if fortune were to place the elephant in a precarious position, but no pride is about to face a herd of belligerence and bulk.

Another morning we came upon a traffic jam.  Cars were trapped by other cars haphazardly parked.  All vying for a position to watch a family of leopards.  An impala kill rested in a vee of tree limbs close to the road.  Not wanting to waste a chance to photograph this unusual opportunity, my husband talked a lady who had a prime viewing position into letting him climb from our back passenger window into her back passenger window.

A mother leopard and two cubs rested on the underside of a bushy embankment too obscured for photography, although we did get back to the States with a bunch of blurry attempts to photograph them.

John got some clear shots though of the male leopard when he returned to retrieve the kill.  He had a difficult job wrangling the impala out of the tree, but he succeeded.  With the kill on the ground, he dragged it to a close location for the mother and cubs to feed.

Another day, another location, we watched a lioness in a creek wallow with a wildebeest kill.  She moved from one side of the buffet to another.  The dying had been gruesome: frightened opened eyes stared up in death.  The only remains untouched were from the jaw bone to the top of the head.  Cleanly stripped, white ribs arched toward each other.  After she finished her feast, she lay down near the kill. Her lips were outlined with blood and for all the world, looked as if she had freshly applied lipstick.

A traffic jam is a clear indication something big has happened.  We wormed the car up to an incredible sight.  On one near side of the road two lions rested under a skimpy tree a short distance from a buffalo kill.  Much of the kill remained and the stench was overwhelming.

Directly across the road another pride had another buffalo kill a bit of a distance from the road.  Cars lined the sides of the road.  Lions, always in search of good shade, had found the shade of the cars as a prime location for a nap.  Periodically lions would emerge from the bush and settle around the buffalo for a fussy snack.  Although lions have poor table manners, they quickly lose all pettiness when it comes to sharing shade for a nap.  They couple up, drape limbs across each other and rest as if friendship is the best bond of all.

As we were leaving Kruger one evening, a buffalo crossed the road.  He was alone, not a common sight as the herd instinct is dear with buffalo.  “What’s he dripping?  Is that blood or urine?”  It was hard to discern in the pale light of dusk.  Finally, he staggered on across the road.  His guts were hanging out, almost dragging the ground.  We could only imagine how his wound had come about.  But probably he had either been attacked by hyenas or another buffalo had gored him.  He would not survive through the night.

We have never seen a kill take place, only the feasting of it.  Difficult to watch at times because the pain an animal goes through is obvious.  But one has to grip the truth.  Every predator must kill to survive.  If man or rather poachers and big game hunters could be taken out of the equation, nature has created the balance for each species to survive.


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