Lions and the Notorious Crocodile Bridge
A couple of days ago, as the sun was beginning to disappear behind the horizon, Grammy and I were sitting out on the deck chatting away, when a little ways down the river bank, I saw some white fluffy tummies. Upon better inspection with a pair of faithful binos (**See definition at end of blog) I realised it was our royal visitors – 3 gorgeous lionesses.
They were so sleepy, and were flat on their backs with their paws in the air. I waited patiently for them, until darkness crept in over the bush, but they didn’t move much, and because they were a bit of a distance away I couldn’t get any decent photos. I was glad nonetheless because anytime I get to see my fluffs (**See definition at end of blog) my day is made, even if only from a distance.
That night I barely slept as they continued to roar and contact call until the early hours of the morning. So at about 5am, there I was, in my pajamas (while it was still pitch black outside) hanging out of my door trying to record them because they were just so noisy – I thought they might actually be outside my house…
When the sun had risen, and we were on the deck enjoying our morning coffee, we could see them, as they began to walk across toward Crocodile Bridge, and lay on some rocks directly in front of the lodge for a while. They were in hunting mode and had been scoping out some impala, wildebeest and a warthog family nearby.
Grammy and I decided in our usual tradition, that as soon as they got up again we would jump in the car and head over Crocodile Bridge and wait for them. Usually when they begin to move, they always cross the road in the exact same spot just after Crocodile Bridge. There is actually a sort of “foot path” there that it seems all the animals use it. It’s always the most spectacular sighting because the lions walk right past our car and I just love to see them up close, and how massive they really are.
We left gramps on the deck giving us updates while we went across to the other side. In our mad rush we took all three pairs of binos by mistake and left poor Gramps on the deck, all alone, with no binos – so he couldn’t even see the lions. We stayed there for quite sometime but could only see some plains game grazing, so we came back home.
From Ellie Walk we could see all 3 lionesses again lying in the reeds just a little to the side of a foot path, where all the animals come down to drink, from the river. Clearly waiting for lunch to arrive.
A few minutes after we returned, and were enjoying the sighting, we looked on the road, and saw a young girl walking down the hill towards the bridge.
I can’t really explain the feeling when you know there are 3 very hungry lionesses lying in wait about 50 metres from the bridge, concealed by the reeds, and you see someone come strolling along.
Grammy decided to go over in her car and pick up the girl before she got down to the bridge where the lions were. I sat on the deck, watching the lions to see if they moved and Grammy took her phone with so we could communicate if need be.
The girl had stopped about halfway down the hill, and was now on the phone, someone obviously had called her to warn her, because she waited for a while and then turned back toward the rest camp.
Grammy stopped next to her moments later, the girl got in the car, and the two of them drove across the bridge. Apparently she had indeed known about the lions and had decided she’d wait a while before attempting to cross. Grammy told her it was better to catch a lift with her to the other side, and not walk at all. She was immensely grateful.
A little while later, a guy pushing a bicycle came down the road from Crocodile Bridge Rest Camp. We waited, we watched, holding our breath, and hoping he’d be ok. Just as he got to the top of the hill, he got on his bike, peddled like crazy, and came racing over the bridge to safety.
Gramps says that anyone on a bicycle cycling through the Kruger is known as a "Meal on Wheels". Back in the day, all the game guards used that mode of transport to get around.
Seeing this, made us think of another hilarious story that happened some years ago here (well it wasn’t hilarious for the man involved).
Gramps had a guy working for him, Samson, who had taken his bicycle and cycled over the bridge to get some cigarettes and bread from the camp’s shop.
A massive herd of buffalo had been here that day, and gramps said that behind the buffs were 2 massive male lions following them. The lions had no luck catching breakfast, so they went to lie on the other side of Crocodile Bridge on a flood plain.
Upon Samson’s return from the camp, he got to the top of the hill, climbed on his bicycle and started pedaling like crazy to gain speed, and free wheel over the bridge. But just before he got on to the bridge, the 2 lions stood up, and Samson saw them. He got a huge fright, lifted off the seat of his bicycle, trying to back pedal in mid air, the bicycle went one way and he went the other. Before he even hit the floor, he began to run back to the camp. One of the lions chased him a little ways, and then flopped back down.
Samson ran straight in to a piece of a dead tree that was sticking out of the ground, and cut his leg open, but he made it all the way back to the camp safely in one piece – albeit slightly shaken from his run in with the lions.
The camp maintenance manager saw poor old Samson in a bad way, and offered to give him a lift back to Elephant Walk Retreat. When they got to the bridge they found Samson’s cigarettes, bread and his bicycle, all scattered from each other. Samson absolutely refused to get out of the bakkie (**See definition at end of blog) and pick up his stuff, so the camp maintenance manager had to do it for him.
There had been builders on our property at the time and they had watched the entire episode happen from the patio of unit 1. They thought that it was absolutely hilarious, and had explained what had happened to Grammy and Gramps, because they couldn’t get a word out of poor Samson.
A couple of days later, those same guys who had laughed at Samson’s misfortune had a terrifying experience with those same lions. They had pitched tents at the bottom of our property, and were staying there while finishing the job. They hung meat outside their tent, which they were drying out to turn in to biltong (**See definition at end of blog), and while they were fast asleep the lions came through the fence to steal their meat.
This of course caused a terrible commotion. They got a massive fright, when they saw the night thieves, and all climbed on to the water tanks at a great speed. The next morning Gramps went down to see how the building was coming along and found all the builders on top of the water tanks refusing to get down.
But back to the present day, it couldn’t have been very long after the man had come speeding down the hill on his bicycle at top speed, when a white double cab bakkie on it’s way to the camp, stopped just after the bridge, a little ways up the hill.
A couple and 3 kids then got out of the vehicle, the kids looked to be pretty small. Perhaps it had even been more people then that, I don’t actually know because my heart was sitting in my throat at this point, and I couldn’t really think straight, all I kept thinking was those lionesses are right there.
We watched them walk to the beginning of the bridge, and the lady walked a little bit in to the bush in the direction of the lions. I am not exaggerating when I say; those hungry lions were like 50 metres from them in the reeds.
Grammy and I again, sat here debating what to do, and then we realised we better go over there and tell them. We got to the other side as fast as we could, and said to them “Get in your car quickly, there are lions right here, we live over there and have been watching them all morning”.
They didn’t really believe us at first, and I told them to hurry up. Grammy repeated herself “Take your kids now and get in the car”.
The lady who was a little bit off the road towards the bushes replied with “Really?”
“Yes! Really!”, we replied. The kids realised at this point it was no joke, and ran back to the car(worst thing to do - only food runs), and the adults made there way back too.
We waited for them to get back in their car, and once they were out of harms way, they thanked us and we left.
It was a heart racing, palms sweating moment… and I am just thankful that nothing happened, but it could’ve been much worse.
I think many folk don’t realise that once you come through Crocodile Bridge Gate you are actually in the Kruger Park, it doesn’t start from where you pick up your permit.
Its not really like the other gates where you first obtain your permit, and then enter through the gates in to the Kruger Park.
We see so many people who get out their vehicles and take a stroll to the bridge, but there is no signboard that says you can actually alight from your vehicle here, so I’m not sure why they do.
The other day we actually saw a lioness hunting on the bridge which caused a bit of a traffic jam, she spent ages watching the resident waterbuck family in the reeds below, and then she lunged herself off the bridge on to a sandbank and gave chase. She didn't catch any of them though.
We see an abundance of animals here on a daily basis, apart from the lions that are here regularly; we also have grumpy dagga buffalo boys, plenty elephants, crocodiles, and very aggressive, territorial hippos among other wildlife.
The Kruger National Park, its rules, and its wildlife must be protected and respected, and I can't stress enough that people should not be getting out of their vehicles here.
When we got back to the house, we had just sat down on the deck, and within minutes three little warthogs came to drink, when out charged the lionesses, missing the pigs by a fraction, just a little ways away from where those people had been standing minutes ago.
The rest of the afternoon they spent in the reeds, but as the sun began to set they moved up on to the hill and were lazing around in the open. I took a walk down to the corner of the property, where unit 1 and 2 is, and I let our guests know.
It was all terribly exciting because at the same time, an elephant bull had pushed over a tree next to the fence, so as we were walking to see the lions we had a great view of the ellie too.
By the time we got down to unit 1 and 2, we had a perfect view of the lionesses as they had all moved on to the sandbanks. They were cuddling each other, rolling in the sand, and just having an all around wonderful time.
Our guests were absolutely thrilled, as were we. There was a massive traffic jam all the way from the top of the hill till over the bridge, as everyone was trying to get a good glimpse of the royalty before they had to call it a night and exit the park.
As the last rays of sunlight faded in to the night’s sky, and the first star began to twinkle, the lionesses walked over the sandbank to our side of the river, and disappeared in to the reeds below where we were all standing. They were so close to us, and the thought delighted me tremendously.
We didn’t see them again, but they called all through the night, it was pure magic. That night I dreamt of lions, and this enchanting place I get to call home.
Binos: A shorter word South Africans use for binoculars
Fluffs: My term of endearment for lions
Biltong: Dried, cured meat. Similar to beef jerky. Part of South Africans staple diet
Bakkie: A South African term for a light truck or pickup truck.