Elephant, Hyena and Lions Outside My Tent!

Have you ever been woken to strange sounds in the night while camping, to first find a large elephant standing over your tent, and later a pride of lions battling a clan of Hyena, a few metres from your tent entrance?

Patrick O’ Brien, well-known guide and wildlife photographer, recently took two of our guests on a two night walking safari experience. This experience provides an opportunity for nature lovers and adventure seekers to experience the Timbavati wilderness and wildlife on foot and up close, and to sleep under the stars, exactly as the early explorers did. Our guests sleep in the safety of a raised hide which over looks a watering hole, while the ranger sleeps a few metres away in a tent.

Patrick expected a fairly straight forward few days in the bush, but this was not the case!

Read Patrick’s encounter below. Tanda Tula would like to thank Patrick for sharing his story and images with us. What an experience this must have been!

By Patrick O’ Brien

A two day walking safari turned out to be one of my best experiences ever in my career of 15 years in the African bush. I would like to share an exceptional and truly once-in-a-life-time-story with you.

Tanda Tula Safari Camp is the only camp in the entire Timbavati Private Nature Reserve offering an overnight walking safari experience (where you spend two nights out in the bush). Standard game drives allow us to get really close to animals and we generally see more game in a limited time, but let me tell you that walking makes one really appreciate the wilderness, an awareness that one cannot get in a safari vehicle. The uniqueness of that feeling is so great that words are often inadequate to explain it. But let me try…..

I took two great guests, father and son, on a 2 night Tanda Tula walking safari a few days ago. We camped out at the Machaton dam hide, a beautiful spot with a breathtaking view of the Machaton Dam waterhole.

The first afternoon we walked for just over 2 hours and returned back to the hide just before a honey badger crossed our path. Seeing a honey badger in the wild is indeed a rarity! Dinner that evening was under the stars and Bishop the chef did a great job. We went to bed early and after a good night’s rest started the next day with a pot of hot coffee made on the same fire that we sat around that evening.

We had a very enjoyable 3 hour walk and after a wholesome brunch at the waterhole we all took time off to rest. My tent is set about 20 meters from the hide which the guests stay in, and just as I wanted to rest I heard a loud thump right at the entrance of my tent. When I opened the tent there she stood, an elephant the size of a mammoth. A large female elephant all on her own. I was amazed to learn how incredible relaxed and calm this elephant was. She could not be bothered about me fiddling to take a picture. What a nice surprise-visit!

After the afternoon walk we were back at our base camp to enjoy another delicious meal prepared by Bishop and retired to bed fairly early. A troop of Chacma baboons moved in late that evening keeping me awake with their chatter. I chased them to a nearby tree and finally dropped straight back in bed only to be woken up an hour later with another sound of the night. I could hear a hyena clan creating all kinds of commotion.

I unzipped my tent and walked with my torch toward them, and got a surprise. A mere 20 meters away I could see two lions which appeared to be feeding on a carcass, and at least 15 hyenas standing around them trying very hard to get them to release their prey. I was very excited and so were the two guests who had been watching this event taking place for the last half hour, from the safety of the hide (raised off the ground) and were now desperately trying to tell me that there is a lion 6 meters from me in a tree. This I failed to notice simply because I was so taken by what I had just seen! Well, you would think that it could not get more wild that that, but think again! In the corner of my eye I saw a young male lion looking at me. I am not sure who got a bigger fright. I started moving cautiously back to my tent and he quickly moved down the tree, between me and the tent, and then down the embankment after which he disappeared.

In the meantime the two young male lions held off an impressive counter attack from the hyena clan. Apparently it was their kill that the lions took from them. Hyenas in Kruger Park hunt as much as 70 % of their own food. Lions are bigger thieves than what Hyenas are and this night we witnessed the proof of that. The guests later told me that the hyenas had hunted an impala by chasing it into the dam. No more than 4 minutes after they had killed the impala and started feeding 4 lions arrived and stole the kill from them. This brave move was short-lived and the hyenas successfully took their kill back. A few minutes later the lions made a second attempt out of desperation and luckily took the kill once again away. That was where it ended. The carcass, which wasn’t large, was consumed by both parties with the lions claiming the better part of it. But the hyenas won the fight as they were far more organized being the top apex predator of the African ecosystem.

Unfortunately I could not capture any images of the actual fight due to the time of night and as I was trying to stay out of harm’s way with so much happening around me at that time. Anyway I would like to share a few images I took of the hyena clan which seemed to be a fun event in the same dam a few days earlier.

I hope you enjoyed the story as much as I did writing and re-living it. Come and join me on another walking safari at Tanda Tula Safari Camp!


Patrick O’Brien – Wildlife Photographer and Professional Guide.

View Patrick’s website here: http://mandevowildlifephotography.zenfolio.com/

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