Lions, Leopards, and Cheetah, Oh My!

Vumbura Plains delivered on the big cats in a big way. Not only did we get to see the lion family with the buffalo carcass on a daily basis, but we saw several leopards, a couple of cheetah, and other lions, including some that were hunting. It was a big cat fest as far as we were concerned, and we realized just how lucky we were when we met an American man stationed in Gabarone, Botswana, who had been on safari numerous times, and still had never seen a leopard, despite his fervent wish to do so.

One of our leopard sightings was a beautiful female lounging in a tree. The light was decent for once, at least until she turned the other way! After watching her for a bit we got to see her climb down the tree and go hide in the bushes. An approaching troupe of baboons was the cause. You would think a leopard in a tree would not have reason to fear a few baboons, but in reality, she was in grave danger as they could easily have overcome her. Baboons can be fierce aggressors and a lone leopard is wise to seek cover. Here are some photos of that gorgeous lady.

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One of my favorite photos from the whole trip.

One of my favorite photos from the whole trip.



On the way down.

On the way down.

Peaking out from her hideaway.

Peaking out from her hideaway.

We also came across two cheetah brothers who were having a siesta on a termite mound. We watched as they stretched and moved off through the grass to a different termite mound in search of more shade. Though they looked very relaxed, it was clear they were keeping a keen eye on their surroundings.

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Shade was the order of the day.

Shade was the order of the day.

Me and my cheetah friends!

Me and my cheetah friends!

There were, of course, other wonderful things to see besides the big cats. We had a lovely experience in a watery plain watching as two male kudu made their way towards us. With the engine off, we sat in silence, listening to the splash, splash of their steps and admiring the reflections of these magnificent beasts in the water. It was very peaceful.



Another favorite photo.

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Another time, while out on the western edge of the concession that is used by Vumbura Plains, we had just spotted a secretary bird, which I was trying to photograph, when a sable antelope dashed out from behind a bush and ran away. I missed the secretary bird, but just managed to catch the sable. They are very rare so I was quite pleased to see one, even if only briefly!


Here is a smattering of other lovely creatures we saw while at Vumbura Plains.

Mongoose living in a termite mound behind our tent.

Banded mongoose living in a termite mound behind our tent.


A bachelor herd of impala.


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A bateleur

A bateleur


A vervet monkey

A yellow-billed kite

A yellow-billed kite

Crocodile amongst the flowers.

Crocodile amongst the flowers.


Cape buffalo


Red-billed oxpecker

Red-billed oxpecker


One morning after transferring our English companions to another vehicle so they could go to the airstrip, we had Ben all to ourselves. He had heard there were some lions who had been following a herd of buffalo for some time, so we went in search of them. First we found the very large herd of buffalo who were accompanied by many birds taking advantage of the bugs stirred up by their passage. Then we found the lions. There were three of them perched on a termite mound keeping an eye on the herd, or more likely the older male stragglers.

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As we sat and watched them, a couple of older male buffalo got closer and closer. Ben told us that if the lions took off in pursuit, we should be ready to hold on tight as he would try to follow. Not long after, the lions got up and started off into the long grass. It was hard to believe the buffalo weren’t aware of their presence as they were so close. We saw them spread out and slink through the grass, incredibly well camouflaged.


The males watch as the female closes in.


Finally, it all happened in a flash. The lions charged, the buffalo took off, and so did we. That was a wild ride! – two hands on the roll bars and big grins on our faces. The lions missed and the buffalo lived to graze another day, but it was very exciting to see first hand.

After the chase.

After the chase.

The next day we came upon yet another male lion waiting out the heat under the shade of a tree. He was a splendid sight and posed quite obligingly.

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Next time I will share some photos of the incredible elephants we saw and heard and other fun things from our time at Vumbura Plains. Until then, be well and thanks for reading.

Ngala Safari Lodge

Ngala's accommodations were very nice. We had the front half of a duplex cottage. They were arranged so that you really weren't aware of the other half. I trust that was true for the other side as well. The bed was comfortable and the bathroom spacious. Though not as luxurious as Londolozi, it was delightful and far more than adequate. I really enjoyed the porch. Ours looked out across a grassy area toward the watering hole and the dining and lounging decks. The watering hole drew many visitors, most notably herds of buffalo who came to drink and warthogs that grazed on the grass. There were monkeys in the trees as well as squirrels, and a small antelope called a Duiker which grazed on the forest floor. Here are some pictures of our room and the camp.


Baboon on the roof

Fever tree with green bark

Vervet monkey

At the watering hole


The food at Ngala was also very good. We enjoyed the buffet at lunch time which always included some wonderful salads. It's hard when you are traveling to try to keep a handle on one's diet. At the safari lodges they feed you so often it's very easy to over indulge. And then when you are traveling elsewhere, you eat out a lot. So salads were appreciated.

Each night we had a different experience at Ngala. The first night we ate dinner in the courtyard. This was a walled area lit with lanterns. It was quite beautiful, but as we discovered, Ngala does a nice job with the ambiance for every meal. The second night we were treated to a bush dinner. On the way back from our evening game drive, in the dark, Bernard detoured to a clearing in the bush where the staff had set up a bush dinner for all the guests. The clearing was lit by lots and lots of lanterns and there were wood fired barbeque's in use cooking our food. From a distance you just saw twinkling lights appearing out of the bush. It was quite a feat to set up a full dinner service buffet in the middle of the bush and it was executed flawlessly. One can't fault the staff for the the flying beatles attracted to the lights. We were protected from the hyenas by armed guards who patrolled just on the edge of darkness. It all felt very safe.

On the next night we returned from the evening game drive to find a romantic, lantern lit table set up on our porch for a private dinner. Given served us and it really was quite nice. He had already provided our preferred beverages waiting for our arrival. Our last evening turned out to be a Boma dinner. This was another enclosure off the main dining area and Bernard joined us for dinner. With a fire pit going and another buffet it was yet another lantern lit feast.

Our romantic dinner

Ngala has a nice pool which we used one afternoon. There were lovely chaise longues and umbrellas, bottled water and towels, all provided. Michael went over a bit sooner than I and he said an entire family of warthogs paraded past the pool before I arrived, one after the other like a little train. I enjoyed seeing them later on the grass by the watering hole. The warthogs kneel on their front legs while they root around in the dirt and grass with their bottoms sticking up in the air. They move around on their knees without getting up while they're doing this. A lot of times the most common view of the wildlife is from the backside, so I decided to start a collection of “African bum shots”. I'm working on photographing the backsides of as many animals as I can. The warthogs are quite obliging with this.


The people at Ngala were uniformly friendly and some of the most genuine and warm people we've met. Given, our butler, was always smiling. Mama Connie, whose official function I'm not quite sure of, was always making sure people were happy and cared for. The Rangers were all professional, polite, and eager to please. I would highly recommend Ngala Safari Lodge for a wonderful experience with superb game viewing. Their standards are vey high.