09 Jun2014


The apex of a trip filled with superlatives. If there is only one post you could read of this series on our South African trip, this would be it. The trip of a lifetime boils down to five minutes that made it all more than worth it. On our second afternoon, and third drive, we saw an elephant and a bunch of antelope and I was wondering if this was going to be one of those “slow” afternoons. After an hour of driving around, Sipho and Louis, our guide/spotter stopped briefly and pointed to some animal tracks on the side of the road.


They said that a cheetah had probably recently passed (perhaps within the last hour or two) and explained that they could tell by the shape of the print and the height of the sand/dirt (the sharper the peaks, the fresher the print) surrounding the print. They were quite excited and explained that seeing cheetahs were a rarer occurrence than most of the other predators, and that this cheetah could potentially cross the “border” with neighboring Londolozi game reserve and may not be seen again for several weeks or months. They seemed rather anxious to see if they could track the cheetah, and Louis got off, loaded his rifle and started to walk through the low brush. We sped ahead to check the road at the open “border” between Singita and Londolozi and for an hour so we saw nothing.


We sped by a watering hole with randy zebras, briefly stopped to view some rhinos, and noticed a really agitated herd of antelope careening by, thinking they might be fleeing a cheetah. But mostly, for an hour and a half we saw nothing but the beautiful countryside. Finally, as the sun set, we rendezvoused with Louis who came on foot, and pointed in the direction that he thought the cheetah may have gone, but had lost its tracks. It was a wash-out, we thought, and realized sometimes you are fortunate, and many times, not.


After the sun had set, in the last light, we returned to the watering hole and set up for a quick cocktail. While enjoying our chilled sparkling wine and some salted nuts, Louis, our tracker, heard something in the distance and excitedly asked if we could pack up our drinks and try and see if we could find something in the distance. We didn’t hear a thing, but we immediately got back in the Rover, zipped up our jackets and sped off in near darkness. Our daughter went bouncing about with champagne glass in one hand, trying to finish her drink…


This is where the “five minutes” begins. About a kilometer or two from where we were drinking champagne, Louis kept panning the dark with a spotlight and suddenly, in a field filled with calf high grass, he spotted something. We all grabbed our cameras, the Land Rover went off road, and something just told me this was going to be something really unusual. It was almost pitch dark.


Remember we were on an open Land Rover, with literally nothing between us and the wild. We had never stopped in the dark before but as we got closer, the adrenaline was pumping, as we realized they had found the cheetah we had been searching for the past two hours!!!


It had an impala by the jaws… It couldn’t have been more than 5 minutes since the kill. And we managed to take a few fuzzy photos as the Rover drove slowly, bouncing over uneven land, to get a better vantage point. The headlights provided some light source, and we couldn’t use a flash, so you’ll have to imagine the utterly powerful scene unfolding.


Louis didn’t train the spotlight on the cheetah, perhaps it was sensitive to the light, and we just watched with fascination as it quickly fed on the prime parts of the impala.


The cheetah looked nervous, and anxious, and our guide was just about to explain why when the darkness, silence and the increasing cold was interrupted by the most blood-curling whooping of hyenas not more than 5 meters behind the Rover. Truly gave you the chills.


Mrs. MM’s photo just as the hyenas started whooping, and in a flash, they pounced on the cheetah, scared it off, and grabbed the impala, right before our eyes. It took a second or two and let’s just say we were more than bloody startled. I didn’t like hyenas, I decided then, and seeing how high they can leap and bare their fangs, while we sitting just a few feet above ground was beginning to really drive home the point how exposed we were. Thankfully, the animals didn’t seem to bother with us (much bigger and meatier than an impala I tell you!).


Two hyenas started to dig in, pulling meat off the antelope carcass, while looking menacing at the same time.


With a spotlight trained on them, we managed a few photos. Then what happened next is something we will probably never experience again. The hyenas and antelope were to the left of the Rover, and from the pitch dark to the right of the vehicle, you suddenly felt some movement, a bit of a thud and before you could think, the air seemed to be moving and a massive shape of an animal crossed the headlights of the Rover…


We have more than 3 photos of complete darkness, not sure what was going on, and everyone’s heart pumping so loud you could hear it.


… and with a deafening roar that scared the hyenas and totally freaked me, Mrs. MM and our daughter out. A lion had just entered the scene. What?! First the cheetah, then the hyenas, and now a freaking LION?!


Yes, the King of the Jungle (when there is no jungle) had just grabbed his dinner away from the hyenas. He picked up the impala, moved a few meters away near a tree, and proceeded to tear the poor animal apart.


He started with the stomach and intestines, munched on the meaty areas…


…started to crunch on the skull and bones (rather soft in young antelope we were told) and we watched in totally fascination, while Louis, our tracker remained on his chair in front of the hood, just feet away from the feeding lion. Needless, to say, we kept looking behind our backs into the darkness but apparently no other predator is likely to challenge a lion in this situation.


The hyenas hung around at a respectful distance, just in case the lion left some scraps for them to feed on.


The five incredible minutes were now over, but we continued to watch for another 20-30 minutes as the lion devoured the impala. Our guide, Sipho said this was a highly unusual visual treat, something that didn’t happen that often.


We were in shock, but a good kind of shock. An amazing kind of shock. It was day 2 of our trip and the trip was better than we could ever have expected.


We spent a last few minutes watching the lion who finished his meal and headed off and decided to return to the lodge for a special braai or local barbecue they had scheduled that evening. The drive back took over 15 minutes in pitch darkness and that powerful spotlight up front made it all a bit surreal, and we all murmured about the scenes we had just witnessed. It was truly a special experience.


We would get a second look at this lion the following day…



  1. Sleepless in Seattle says:

    Priceless!! What a Nat-Geo moments ;-)..love all the posting & Thanks for sharing your wild adventures as if I was there ..On your awesome play by play accounts!! AWESOME!!!

    Jun 9, 2014 | 1:07 am


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  3. La Emperor says:

    All I can say is WOW! Being able to capture those 3 hunters with your lens in a single night, in a span of a few minutes is a gift of a lifetime. Indeed you guys are blessed! Thanks for the share.

    Jun 9, 2014 | 1:23 am

  4. bagito says:

    Cheetah, hyenas, lion, oh my! My heart is still pounding. Glad you saved the best for last!

    Jun 9, 2014 | 3:46 am

  5. Thel from Florida says:

    My, my, my I was holding my breath there for a while–that was truly exciting! Appreciate it very much.

    Jun 9, 2014 | 4:08 am

  6. Zerho says:

    Never thought a food blog could be this exciting and terrifying! I would have shrieked like a teenage girl if a lion suddenly roared and appeared out of the dark… I now truly appreciate why we need to save these animals.

    Jun 9, 2014 | 5:16 am

  7. Connie C says:

    Your sightings for the day/evening were In party mode and got to the braai well ahead of you!

    Enough said that the prized cheetah made its appearance, but the animals snatching their catch from each other, did you ask your ranger how one is so so lucky to see this live action In the short time you were there?

    This is really what the safari is all about, seeing the animals rare and not so rare in their natural habitat, observing not only this blood curdling moment but all of their possible activities, grazing, watching for prey, feeding, necking, fighting, mating, bathing, wrecking vegetation, etc. etc.

    From a plain and across the vast expanse of the savannah, you saw a beautiful sunset. You must have felt God’s presence and so grateful that you and your family were truly blessed to have experienced the wonders of His creation.

    Jun 9, 2014 | 5:52 am

  8. al says:

    Fascinating, very clear and vivid accounts. I had goose bumps reading this article.

    Jun 9, 2014 | 8:02 am

  9. faith says:

    It’s like The Lion King live action =)

    Jun 9, 2014 | 8:35 am

  10. joyyy says:


    Jun 9, 2014 | 9:03 am

  11. Joey says:

    One word: WOW!

    Jun 9, 2014 | 9:17 am

  12. Khew says:

    What a debut the 5th Big made! I can only imagine the shocking blast from the sudden roar.

    Just wondering if more animals/action are seen during high season.

    Jun 9, 2014 | 9:26 am

  13. Marketman says:

    Khew, actually this was “low season” in the sense that it was late Fall and early Winter in South Africa, and fewer guests go on safari at this time from the Western hemisphere I gather. But the cool weather means the brush dies down and gets sparse, so it’s relatively easier to spot the animals. I guess in the hierarchy of things, seeing an actual hunt and kill is the ultimate of experiences. That’s why we hung around the wild dogs hoping they would go on a chase, or around a lion the next day at dusk hoping it would feed again. These African lodges have a very busy December season when it’s cold up North and warm in South Africa…

    Jun 9, 2014 | 9:36 am

  14. Khew says:

    Yes, I was wondering if summer months would be better versus your winter trip. The prices certainly seem higher then. But you make a good point about the advantage of sparse vegetation. Just weighing out the pros and cons of the seasons.

    Meanwhile, we’re reminded of the unpredictability of safaris: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=807VjIEOFzw

    Jun 9, 2014 | 9:47 am

  15. Marketman says:

    Khew, that’s correct, there are several deaths a year in Africa, just google like news reports. And when you arrive at the resort, you sign a complete waiver which means you are there at your own risk, period. So one does have to be careful. As newbies, we opted out of offered guided bush walks. That was just too exposed for me.

    Jun 9, 2014 | 9:56 am

  16. marilen says:

    Thank you,MM and family,for sharing your trip of a lifetime with us. How much ‘up-close’ could we get on this adventure. Salamat gid. Truly enjoyed every post on the safari

    Jun 9, 2014 | 10:40 am

  17. ami says:

    This is why leopards have an advantage because they could haul their kill up trees. Poor cheetahs. They put a lot of energy into chasing and killing their prey only to be bullied and losing their meal to hyenas.

    Jun 9, 2014 | 10:48 am

  18. James1 says:

    Oh yeah, Zerho! A complete food blog…from food for humans to wild animals serving as foodd for other wild animals …with detailed descriptions. Wwhat more can we ask, MM?

    Jun 9, 2014 | 10:59 am

  19. Connie C says:

    Khew: MM and family picked the perfect time for the safari. Winter ( May to July in the hemisphere) is a good time for game watching, as the veld is not as lush as in summer and the lack of rain means animals are more likely to congregate around water holes and rivers.

    We traveled early summer (mid October ). It was still spring in some parts of South Africa with flowering trees bursting with blooms, magnolias and other flowering trees like jacarandas, harbinger of the new season as we saw in Jo’burg, Pretoria, Swaziland and neighboring Mozambique. At the KNP, the brush was still brown and dry, so much so there was a lot of destruction, branches broken and trees wrecked and uprooted by the elephants, thirsty for more water and looking to quench thirst by breaking branches and munching on them like squeezing juice from sugar cane. You would have thought you were in a war zone.

    Jun 9, 2014 | 11:17 am

  20. Connie C says:

    Ami: Yes, the cheetahs lose out on their catch more often than not. They are probably instinctually aware that with thin skulls, they and their offspring are less likely to survive if they engaged in a big fight to keep their prey. This explains why they are in such small numbers that they are , some 200 in the whole KNP.

    MM, your animal is the leopard, mine is the cheetah.

    Jun 9, 2014 | 11:43 am

  21. Tina says:

    What a thriller! I had to read this post again because it’s just too exciting..Thank you, thank you for sharing!

    Jun 9, 2014 | 1:43 pm

  22. Maricel says:

    Good things come to good people.

    Jun 9, 2014 | 2:21 pm

  23. Avid Thinker says:

    This is just exhilarating! Thank you for sharing the thrill and excitement MM. More power to you and your family! :=)

    Jun 9, 2014 | 2:39 pm

  24. millet says:


    Jun 9, 2014 | 3:03 pm

  25. terrey says:

    i am totally lost for words but thanks a lot…you could be a thriller or suspense writer hahaha…you had me glued to my seat and waiting with so much anticipation and excitement of the next “actions”

    Jun 9, 2014 | 5:51 pm

  26. gaye says:

    What an experience! Thank you for sharing MM.

    Jun 9, 2014 | 6:05 pm

  27. Andrea says:

    Only here I get to read a fascinating personal experience like this..it’s like reading a book I can’t put down. thank you MM, for sharing this to us.

    Jun 9, 2014 | 7:26 pm

  28. joem says:

    Thank you MM for sharing your once in a lifetime adventure.

    Jun 9, 2014 | 8:32 pm

  29. Cristy says:

    Wow! My heart was pounding as I read this entry! Thank you for sharing with us this wonderful,wonderful experience! :)

    Jun 9, 2014 | 10:35 pm

  30. Ruth Bandera says:

    MM, what an incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience! But also scary to see all those ferocious animals fighting for food. You mentioned that you were asked to sign a waiver upon arrival at the lodge, that you were at the reserve at your own risk. Is this standard practice for African safaris? We are scheduled to do a safari in Tanzania in October but the tour operator we booked with did not mention anything about a waiver at the places that we will be staying in. Thanks MM for your wonderful blog.

    Jun 9, 2014 | 10:55 pm

  31. Divine villaverde says:

    Wow! Thank you for sharing. Really, really exciting.

    Jun 9, 2014 | 11:16 pm

  32. Marketman says:

    Divine et al, as they say in South Africa with the most charming of accents, “it’s a pleasure…” Ruth, I suspect it is pretty standard practice to sign a waiver. You are there at your own risk, period. And while I never really felt unsafe, you need to FOLLOW what the pros tell you. That’s why I feel the first time around, you need to go with the best…

    Also, make sure you are covered by extensive travel insurance, including medi-vac transport out of Africa if necessary. If billionaire and first time safari traveler Thomas Seibel (who was on a walking tour with guide in Tanzania in 2009?) can get trampled on by a female elephant then you have to realize there is some smidgen of risk involved. He recovered after over a dozen operations and extensive rehab and was subject of a National Geographic special. But there’s risk involved by crossing a street in London getting hit by a bus because you were looking the other way as well.

    Jun 9, 2014 | 11:39 pm

  33. Nina says:

    OMG! That’s really scary… does it mean when driving at night there’s a possibility that you could be unaware of a bunch of those Big 5’s are at the back of the rover and trying to determine whether you will be their dinner for the night?

    Jun 10, 2014 | 1:29 am

  34. dhayL says:

    That was one heck of an amazing experience! :)Thank you for sharing it to us!

    Jun 10, 2014 | 1:33 am

  35. Connie C says:

    Ruth Bandera: When you stay at many luxury accommodations, they are extra careful with possible litigation from guests paying top krugerrand and can hire the best lawyers. I don’t remember that we signed a similar waiver when we did our safari trip two years ago, but I could be wrong. As MM said, it is likely standard practice when you sign in at your lodge like we do in hotels. We just tend not to read the fine print.

    We stayed at the Shishangeni Private Lodge at the KNP with similar amenities as Singita but we only had one ranger guide who also served as driver instead of Singita’s staffed by two for the game drive We drove to the KNP with a private tour guide and did not take a helicopter. Our jeep could take other guests but the whole time ( midOctober safari), a young German couple overlapped with our stay and they joined us in our ranger only for 4 game drives .

    Jun 10, 2014 | 6:12 am

  36. Betchay says:

    Just last night I caught that episode on Thomas Seibel at Nat Geo! And all I could think of was how risky and real that Safari trip you took and you are indeed very, very lucky to come back home in one piece!

    Jun 10, 2014 | 8:08 am

  37. shane says:

    MM, if your blog’s a book, it would definitely be a page-turner…your blog makes me want to read faster to know what happens next and at the same time trying to catch my breath as if i was being chased by all the animals at the reserve…i felt like having my own safari while reading…fascinating read indeed…thank you MM…

    Jun 10, 2014 | 10:04 am

  38. AlexME says:

    MM…congratulations to you and your family in the experience of a lifetime. How much luckier can you get in this one night? If there was a lottery drawing that night in the area you probably would have hit on that also.

    I’m sure the album you make of this safari along with the tales that come with it will add to your treasure trove of life’s experience that will be shared with your family and friends always. Thanks for sharing it with us too.

    Jun 10, 2014 | 11:47 am

  39. David B says:

    what an experience! i’m turning green with envy. thanks for sharing this post

    Jun 10, 2014 | 12:34 pm

  40. Richard says:

    I often hear our ranger say “Spoor” which I later learned to mean animal tracks in Afrikaans. Love your sundowner photos. I would consider you to be truly lucky to have spotted the elusive cheetah during your trip. Hope you enjoyed Hot Chocolate spiked with Amarula on your early morning game drive.

    Jun 10, 2014 | 8:53 pm

  41. EJ says:

    Probably your most thrilling blog entry so far!

    Jun 10, 2014 | 10:14 pm

  42. maddie says:

    Wow!!! Phew!

    Thank you for sharing your South Africa/Singita experience! Definitely on my bucket list (crossing all fingers and toes)!

    Jun 11, 2014 | 1:12 am

  43. emily c says:

    now this post makes me wanna go to africa! :) yay!

    Jun 11, 2014 | 7:55 am

  44. greens_blossoms says:

    Ohhhhhhhhh ehhhhMmmmmm Geeeeeeee!!! I was at the edge of my seat while reading this….

    Jun 11, 2014 | 12:00 pm

  45. Chinky says:

    What an adventure, MM. Thanks for sharing!

    Jun 11, 2014 | 1:10 pm

  46. Kasseopeia says:

    I do believe we’ll hear a retelling of this story tomorrow. It’s too wonderful not to repeat!

    Jun 13, 2014 | 12:53 am

  47. dizzy says:

    OMG what an experience! I don’t think you’ll ever want to go to zoos anymore. :)

    Jun 13, 2014 | 8:23 am


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