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  • Writer's pictureDanielle Sheedy

Growing up on Kruger: Lion Cubs, Serval kittens, and Golf Cart Game Drives

It is no surprise that growing up on the Kruger National Park was simply magical. Our property runs right next to the Kruger National Park, with a view of the magnificent Crocodile river and our location, is literally right next to Crocodile Bridge Gate. We have an abundance of wildlife here, all creatures great and small... and we have many stories to tell, to go along with it.

Darryl, (my brother who is 3 years younger than me), and I had the most wonderful childhood here. Technology wasn’t what it is today, and so most of our days were spent outside, playing in the mud under the warm, Lowveld sun. We were bush kids through and through. (He was always way braver than me though) For more on that, you can read here: Childhood Reminiscence and a Rhino Encounter

Bush kids (Darryl and I, as youngsters)

My love for lions began from a very young age. For one, Lion King came out a few years after I was born, and I watched it every single day (and I should confess that I do still watch it a lot)…

But our neighbours, on the other side of the Crocodile River at the time (the section ranger and his wife), had a lion cub as well. I was pretty small when they lived here, so I don’t remember this all too well, but my dad loves to tell me this one story in particular.

One day him and my mom took me over to ranger’s house, to play with the “little” lion cub. We had a wonderful time, and as we were leaving, my dad had the window of his Volkswagen combi down. My mom was in the passenger seat, and I was standing in the middle console, waving goodbye.

Just a tiny tot when my love for lions began

Next minute, the “little” cub, jumped on to the side of the combi, and put his huge paws on my dad’s chest, and stretched his paw out towards me. My dad says I was so excited, because the cub was trying to get to me to play, but that he got the fright of his life. Even though it was a cub, it was a big cub – and no one ever expects a lion to jump on to the side of their car. My mom says he went completely pale.

To the front of our property, Kruger is our border, and behind our property and to the sides are neighbouring farms. Mostly its sugar cane and citrus like oranges and grape fruits. When we were little, my grandparents knew the owners of the neighbouring farms, so we spent a lot of time on them, riding horses and motorbikes, and taking long walks and even doing golf cart game drives.

We used to cross the main road on the golf cart, drive through the rows of sugar cane, and then along the Kruger fence line. On our journeys we used to see many animals; herds of elephants, pods of hippos and amongst the citrus often large troops of baboons.

A favourite pastime of ours: Game Drives on the neighbouring farm, along the Kruger fence

My grandparents even saw lions a couple of times. I remember in those days, there were also giant, gaping holes in the fence, which made me nervous. I have heard the stories over the years, of all the wildlife that likes to visit these farms.

The last time I went on a golf cart game drive with my Gram, I told her I was concerned because I didn’t know how safe this really was… “Oh my girl, its so safe, you really needn’t worry”, she said.

That day, we nearly drove over a black mamba that sailed in front of us. She stopped so fast, and reversed, and it slithered across the road and back in to the Kruger. I was shaking, and turned to her and said, “See I told you it's not safe Gram”, she laughed, “that’s just Murphy’s law my girl.” My grandmother is fearless.

Thinking back on recent wildlife visitors to the farms.. I recently saw a post a few months back with amazing photos of a lioness and her cubs on the neighbouring farm. Obviously, they feel it’s much safer for them to have their cubs amongst the oranges, then in the Kruger.

A lion right next to our neighbouring farm

There have also been many occasions, when the lions have come on to the farms, and we have had to pick up our staff that live there and bring them to work. There is a high density of lions in this area, and I think often they get out in search of new territory.

Toni dropping our staff off, when the lions are on the farm

The ellies also adore the sugar cane, and I have seen them cheekily sneak through the fence a few times for a sweet treat.

We used to have a restaurant on our property when I was little, and I remember being very scared to walk back to the house at night (even though a member of staff would escort us), because there were often hyenas lurking around the rubbish bins at the back of the restaurant.

One day, some farm workers came over to the restaurant with a surprise. They had been clearing sugar cane, and had found an abandoned serval kitten amongst the sugar cane. It was small and dehydrated, so they brought it over to us, and I spent the entire day, with this adorable little kitten on my lap, feeding it a special milk formula, and giving it cuddles. That afternoon, when the section ranger had finished work for the day, he came over to pick up the little kitten. I was reluctant to give it to him (naturally I wanted to keep the cute ball of fluff), but my Gramps told me it was the right thing to do.

A beautiful image of a serval kitten. Photo credit: Ken & Michelle Dyball

I remember him thanking me, for being its foster mother for the day, and promised that he would take good care of it. The serval lived a happy life, and when it was big enough, I believe it returned to the wild on its own.

Kruger is very much a part of my heritage, and my love for this beautiful wilderness was instilled on me from a very young age, and if I should ever have children one day, I will most certainly pass it on to them.


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