On the suricate’s tail

When you are in the Kalahari desert in Botswana, what makes you jump out of bed before sunrise, hop into a jeep and lie on prickly grass holding your camera in an awkward position? The correct reply is “The prospect of getting close encounters with suricates”. (Yes, I’m aware that suricates are also known as meerkats, but since I have to choose one of the two, I opted for suricate.)

You all have seen photos like this:

But I can assure you that the moments they stand still are few and very brief indeed. Well, as the first scout comes out of the family den, just before sunrise, it does sit quite still for a little while, mostly turning its head to survey the surroundings and make sure no dangers are nearby. Other clan members soon join in as the sun rays start warming the air.

The quest for breakfast begins, and I’m having a hard time keeping up with these speedy animals, while trying to get some good shots (very difficult) and avoiding tripping over little mounds or getting my foot into a hole (which might be inhabited).

Mmm, nice smell here, maybe a frog? Or a scorpion?

They do work hard for their breakfast! I can’t say that I have the same energy before my first meal of the day …

In the meantime, some of them have discovered an interesting hole. They look in, jump back, and peep in again. Is there something dangerous …? Or something edible?

It was just a feather.

Mister Tongue

The previous days of our safari in the Okavango delta in Botswana we had seen two lionesses, each with three cubs, the most charming little creatures one could possibly imagine (see earlier blog posts). But there were three lionesses in the pride, and now we were in front of this third lady. She was in the company of a male, so we expected some action.

But nothing happened.

The lioness seemed utterly uninterested. She looked away, she turned the other direction, she tried to walk away. He wasn’t the type to give up though: he stalked her, but to no avail.

As we observed the failed amorous event, we noticed that the male had his tongue sticking out most of the time, sometimes just a little, sometimes quite a lot. Not very awe-inspiring, if you ask me. It was difficult not to laugh a little at him. Very silently, of course, so that he wouldn’t take offence.

Mister Tongue was an intruder. The lionesses’ pride was led by three brothers, but now he had come into their territory with the aim to be the leader and spread his own genes (which apparently included genes making the tongue stick out).

There was tremendous roaring during the night. Would Mister Tongue’s endeavour be successful? Would he beat the three brothers? If so, he would kill their six cubs in order to favour his own genes.

We slept very poorly and boarded the jeep with anxiety in the early morning. But oh, there was a cub! And one more, and one more! And within seconds we had counted six of them! The relief in the jeep was tangible. The cubs were together with all three females.

At one point there was a family disagreement – if you look carefully you can see how the cubs watch, with some apprehension, it seems, what is going on:

The commotion didn’t last long, and soon the cubs trotted around again, happily unaware of the drama that had unfolded during the night. But doesn’t the mother look a bit tired?

For my part, I’m quite pleased that at least for now there won’t be any offspring with tongues sticking out in the area.


Voracious and mischievous

I was just so happy: having seen a leopard cub on the first morning of my first safari had put me in a state of bliss. What else could I wish for? Well, maybe a lion would be nice, after all.

I didn’t have to wait long: as our jeep continued on our off-road expedition we soon saw her, a lioness under attack by her three little cubs who all wanted to feed, all at the same time.

The mother may have been used to jeeps, people and camera clicks (we did our best to be quiet and moved only very slightly and then with great care), but the cubs soon, but not until after feeding, started wondering what was going on:

No threat, nothing to play with – they very soon lost all interest in us. Much more fun to play, for instance with mummy’s tail!

I suppose nobody likes to have their tail bitten, and the lioness was no exception. She took immediate action:

By this time, I almost suffered from cuteness overdose and started feeling a bit woozy.

All the while the cubs happily continued their exploration of the world, and of their mother’s limits. Is the coast clear now? Yes! Then we can play! But who are these people watching us all the time?

One day later we learned from the guides that a male had come to make an attempt to take over the pride, led by three brothers. Should he be successful he would kill these three cubs, and not only those: another lioness also had three cubs, of similar age.

That night we didn’t sleep well.