During my guide training course, I spent a month studying just across the border in Botswana; a place called Mashatu. This little-known area is as packed with awesome animals as it is beautiful. One day, we were given a break from our studies to spend time at the neighbouring reserve and it turned out to be one of the best days ever. Our very first sighting was a stunning leopard asleep in an enormous Nyala tree! These highly elusive cats are incredibly hard to find, especially in the daytime, making our sighting all the more special.
As we were busy committing this rare moment to memory, we got a tip that mating lions were just discovered relatively close by. Not wanting to miss an opportunity, we started up and zoomed over, finding the lions flat out under a bush. A pretty crazy fact about lions is that they will copulate every 20 minutes for 3 or 4 days when the female is in oestrus. No wonder these two looked exhausted! After waiting just a few minutes, however, we were treated to a front row seat – again, not many people get to witness this type of behaviour in lions so it was another INCREDIBLE sighting!
Thinking we had already pushed our luck today, we were almost in disbelief when the other training car buzzed in some hyena over the radio. This time, we got pretty lost trying to find the exact spot, but our perseverance paid off and we were rewarded with the best encounter of the entire day. Pulling up alongside the other vehicle, we realised they had stumbled upon the entrance to a hyena den and there, on the ground next to us, were 3 adult hyena and 3 fluffy pups playing happily as if we didn’t exist!
We switched off the engine and started snapping wildly with our cameras. Two of the pups were very young, still with their dark brown coats and suckling from mum. The third had just got her trademark hyena spots. This one was my favourite. Super inquisitive, she walked right up to the car, sniffing the tyres and trying to crane her neck to peer at the strange beings inside. At one point, she even crawled underneath the car, much to her mum’s horror – the adult female stood disapprovingly just metres away, making sure to keep an eye on her audacious young.
For at least half an hour we sat quietly in our own thoughts, absorbing and cherishing such a rare moment with these beautiful, vibrant animals. Being able to be so close to them as they ate, played and socialised with one another was a truly unforgettable experience. Yes, lions are the king of beasts and leopards arguably the most beautiful, but there is now a very special place in my heart for this misunderstood villain of the savanna.