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Eagle Owl

My beloved Kruger, Nov 2012

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My first attempt at a trip report, so feel free to ask any questions on anything I do not cover, or alternatively feel free to point out if I am too detailed. This took place in November 2012, but I have only just got around to writing it up.

 

My girlfriend wanted to go to Mozambique to swim with whale sharks (which we sucesfully did) and so I saw an opportunity to spend three and half days first in the Kruger, for what would be our third visit. We had spent two full weeks in the Kruger in November 2011 (which I might write up at some point) and a month back in June 2009 doing a guiding course. Given the briefness of this trip we were not expecting to see too much, but I couldn’t wait nonetheless. However, the reality far exceeded our expectations – seeing the big five and others.

 

So, back to the beginning. We left work Friday afternoon and took an overnight flight from Europe to Johannesburg, landing mid-morning, picked up a hire car and drove straight to Phalaborwa, arriving there six hours later. I barely slept on the 14 hour overnight flight from the UK via Germany but the excitement of being back in Africa and on the way to my beloved Kruger was more than enough to keep me alert on the 6hr drive. We got here just as the sun was setting and stayed the night in a nice, friendly, inexpensive lodge in Phalaborwa, just five minutes from the gate; stocking up with supplies at the nearby big supermarket.

 

Up at 5am to the sound of the Red-eyed Dove singing his own name over and over (I am the red, eye dove; I am the red, eye dove – which incidentally means that someone who has a pretty poor ear for sounds and rubbish memory like myself can easily remember its song). We then drove the five mins into the park at 6am through a light drizzle. On entering it was clear that the heavy early season rain of the previous few weeks had really got the Kruger turning green (compared to the trip I had made through a far more arid Kruger the previous year at the same time).

 

Onto the H-9 (a road I have never driven before) and then a small detour to Sable Dam for a look. The drizzle had stopped but it remained cool and very overcast. We watched for about an hour as a small group of impala had their breakfast a few metres from the hide, a lone elephant at the far end of the dam came down for a drink, and a marabou stork stood near the waters edge looking slightly depressed.

 

We continued along the S51 and just before rejoining the H-9 we saw our first ever Kruger rock dassies. Stopped at the Masorini archaeology site for breakfast (the sun was trying to make an appearance by now and it was warming up nicely) before continuing – seeing a nice leopard tortoise by the side of the road and then a great spotted cuckoo flew into a nearby tree. Almost no other cars around, one of the reasons I like the northern half of the Kruger.

 

Took a left onto the S132 where we soon saw a few big male elephants very close to the road and walking our way. A quick scan to see if any were in musth and then turned the car off and let them walk towards us. We then spent a lovely 15 minutes or so as they slowly came closer and then crossed the road only a few metres away and then one came around the back of a bush to sniff us, his trunk barely three metres away (see photo below). It is experiences like this, on our own with no other cars nearby, that make the Kruger for me in many ways. We then followed them up the dirt track (including an impressive five legged adult) for 50 metres to a waterhole where we continued watching them as they washed.

 

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We then continued through the mopaneveld along the S131, seeing very little and into Letaba for lunch – which was where we were staying the night in a safari tent. Letaba is one of my favourite Kruger camps, with its lovely river views and abundant birdlife. We booked an afternoon walk and then killed some time in the lovely pool (it being hot and sunny by now).

 

As luck would have it, it was just the two of us plus two armed guides on the walk. Didn’t see a huge amount, but very nice to be on foot in the Kruger, some of it along a nice sandy dry riverbed – a booted eagle, white backed and hooded vultures, some skittish impala, a grey duiker and some even more skittish giraffes.

 

We then got back in time for a quick 30 min sunset drive north on the H1-6 alongside the Letaba river before the gates closed. Saw a spotted hyena, hippos, lots of vultures (must have been a kill around), waterbucks, and distant eles. One of the things I love about sleeping in a tent is that it is much easier to hear the wildlife at night and sure enough I heard a hyena whooping in the night.

 

Day 1 had been better than I expected even though we had driven through the relatively empty mopaneveld, yet day 2 proved better still. To follow.

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I love the bit about the red eye dove. Maybe we should start a thread about bird sounds and how we remember them.

 

I know the cape turtle dove goes " work harder ... work harder..."

And the Emerald spotted wood dove " My mothers dead;... my fathers dead;.. Booo hoohooohooo."

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Lovely intro, Eagle Owl, and what a great idea about the mnemonic bird calls, dikdik. You should definitely start a thread on that.

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I love the bit about the red eye dove. Maybe we should start a thread about bird sounds and how we remember them.

 

I know the cape turtle dove goes " work harder ... work harder..."

 

Its only 'work harder' in the morning, if you listen carefully around late afternoon it turns into 'drink lager, drink lager'.

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Posted (edited)

Day 2 Letaba to Satara

 

A long lie in and so not out the gate on a beautiful clear morning (21oC) until 4.45am!! 15 minutes after the gates opened. Back up the H1-6 and onto the S95 loop. Saw 2 hyenas, hippos and then stopped to watch a large group of banded mongoose foraging by the side of the road and as we were watching them I could hear a familiar bird call, but not put my finger on it until I saw it through my binos in the tree above, an African Hoopoe trying to sing his name but only managing part of it, hoop hoop, hoop hoop hoop.

 

We then turned around and drove down the S46, S93 and S44 to Olifants for breakfast and a chance to pop into the shop and but two cds i had wanted for a while, the beginner's guide to bird calls of southern africa and animal calls of africa - much to my girlfriends incomprehension (she generously suffers my wildlife obsession without quite understanding it). The rapidly rising temperature (hit 38oC by midday), meant that the animals were quiet.

 

Left for Satara via the S92, S91 (Balule bridge closed from flood damage at the beginning of the year) and H1-5. Rather more life after leaving Olifants despite the heat – as we left the mopane behind. Our first Kudu of the trip followed by more waterbucks, monkeys, baboons, giraffes, zebra and eles. Got out of the car on the bridge on on the H1-5 (you are lowed to alight here) to watch some giraffes down river, a goliath heron reasonably close, and a small group of African Openbills. Further down the road we could see three adult ostriches with at least 20 babies walking alongside them (just wish they had been closer as never seen baby ostriches before) and some wildebeest.

 

Checked in at Satara (a bungalow this time) and then a swim in the pool and booked a sunset drive (hr or so before and same after sunset with lamps). Straight down the most famous predator road in the Kruger, the S100, and within 20 mins we came across a few cars stopped watching a pride of lions sitting up under some trees, difficult to see how many because they were a good 50 metres back from the road, but it looked like about ten females. Continued on our way and saw the normals, but then at the end of the S100 just onto the S41 we came across a large male lion on its own sitting down just a few metres away from the truck. We (at least our truck) soon had it to ourselves too as everyone else had to leave to get back into the gates before they closed. On the return journey with the lamps we saw a caracal and a hyena. Just over a day into our trip and we had already exceeded our expectations.

 

Back to the camp, lit the braai, filled my mug with wine and then turned around to see a sight i didnt expect to see sober, an African wildcat walking nonchalantly past only two or three metres away and within a metre of my girlfriend who was getting something out of the car (but she didn’t see it).

 

Something made me put sandals on before turning the meat again. Lucky I did as a moment later I stepped on something crunchy and got my torch to look down and see that I had stepped on the stinger of a 4 inch scorpion (see photo). Sadly stepping on it soon killed it.

 

The stars were simply amazing that night with the milky way beautifully bright, a stunning Kruger night and a great Monday all round; it sure beat being stuck in a London office. But, it proved to be just a warm up for super Tuesday.

 

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(not sure i am posting these photos correctly as they are too large, will try again).

 

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Edited by Eagle Owl

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Those photos are fine EO and have the GW's seal of approval. Carry on!

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Enjoying this trip report immensely.

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Wonderful, really getting the feel for it.

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Good stuff. I do love the Kruger and can't wait to get back there this April. Good move putting the sandals on at night!

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Posted (edited)

 

Something made me put sandals on before turning the meat again. Lucky I did as a moment later I stepped on something crunchy and got my torch to look down and see that I had stepped on the stinger of a 4 inch scorpion (see photo). Sadly stepping on it soon killed it.

 

 

That something is our subconscious, our 6th sense at work. Very interesting. I know how you feel about that crunchy sensation underfoot and then realizing you killed something. I did that with a millipede and felt bad at what the torch revealed. Your photos are great! Will there be a whale shark in Mozambique report too?

Edited by Atravelynn

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Day 3 – Tuesday, Satara to Orpen (Tamboti Tented Camp)

 

Slightly less tardy this morning, despite some nice red wine the evening before. Out the gate at Satara at 4.32am. There is just something about being out in an African national park that means I need less sleep than usual and bizarrely are less prone to my normal hangovers.

 

Straight onto the S100 and within 10 minutes we came across 11 lions crossing the road within a few metres of us. They were very close to where we had seen the pride lying up the evening before and so presumably the same lions I imagine, or at least from the same pride. Another good thing was that there were only about two or three other cars around, which for a good lion sighting on the S100 is pretty good. After watching them cross we continued, seeing the usuals such as a nice Wildebeest, with the rising sun catching it, as well as a lovely saddle billed stork close to the road.

 

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I then spotted an animal on the side of the road 100 metres ahead about to cross the road. As we got a little closer it transformed into a beautiful leopard. An animal I love to see, but have rarely done so (we didn’t see one at all during the month in the Kruger in 2009, but did see our first ever leopard last year on the first day of our Kruger trip and then a mother and adolescent together at the end of our trip).

 

I pulled up alongside the leopard and it slowly walked into the undergrowth, but nevertheless gave us, and one other car that pulled up behind us, a few minutes of viewing pleasure. We then drove forward and turned right into a little turning 50 metres down the road whereupon the leopard reappeared and walked nonchalantly past us, within two metres, stopping for a few seconds to look around and then slowly sauntered off – sadly didn’t manage to get any great photos (time I invested in an SLR) but good enough to get the idea, see below.

 

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Onto the S41 and down to N’wanetsi picnic spot to stretch the legs and then onto the nearby Sweni bird hide to watch a few hippos and a goliath heron and listen to a pair of Black-collared Barbets singing their name in a duet; black collar, black collar, black collar.

 

Back along the H-6 to Satara for breakfast, watching zebra and wildebeest along the way before stopping to watch two giraffes for a while, towering over our vehicle. Soon after that we came across the first and last Kori Bustards of the trip, one either side of the road.

 

After breakfast we left for Orpen the long way round, via the H1-3, S126, S36 and H7. Nice scenery, but quiet animal wise until 10km from Orpen gate, probably due to the heat (39oC by lunchtime). We could see a couple of cars stopped up ahead, which given the emptiness of the roads till then raised our hopes. Sure enough as we slowed down behind them I saw a wild dog’s head poking out of the long grass and then a few more dosing dogs scattered around, slumped down in the grass around a small swamp. Our first ever wild dogs, an animal I had long wanted to see. Every couple of minutes a dog would stand up, walk a few metres and then slump down next to a pack mate. It was impossible to tell how many there were because of the height of the dog coloured grass, but I estimated a dozen, all within 20 metres of the road. At times (during the hour or so we spent there) we had them to ourselves as cars moved on, but even at the busiest of times there were no more than 2 or 3 other cars.

 

Onwards to Orpen to check in for our night in Tamboti Tented Lodge. Given it was mid-afternoon there was time for a dip in the Orpen pool first, where we were serenaded by the lovely liquid voice of a nearby Black-headed Oriole. Tamboti was lovely, I will definitely return one day and as luck would have it, when booking the safari tent a few weeks before all the low price tents had gone and so we had to go for an ensuite tent with its own outdoors kitchen. I highly recommend them despite the cost.

 

A quick unpack and then back out for a late afternoon drive, back to see if the dogs had moved; they hadn’t. But they were waking up now as the sun was only an hour from sliding off the edge of the earth. We watched them walk up onto the road all around us, the younger ones playing whilst those longer in the tooth continued enjoying doing nothing before the inevitable exertions ahead. A few more cars had turned up compared to earlier, but there was space for everyone to watch them given my earlier estimate of about a dozen dogs had been an underestimate. There must have been about 20 dogs running around the cars, an amazing sight.

 

Again no great photos due to the fading light and the lack of an SLR camera (kicking myself yet again; a situation I will resolve before my next Africa trip, whenever that will be), but you can get an idea from the pictures below. As we watched them I noticed a couple of cars 200 metres down the road stopped up and decided to take a look. A smallish group of lions were sat up under some trees about 60metres off the road, but as they were sat down I couldn’t see how many. What a great evening drive, 20 odd wild dogs playing around us whilst a pride of lions sat waiting for the dark to fall less than 200 metres away.

 

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Lions, leopard, wild dogs, elephants, wildebeest, hippos and zebras, plus to top it all, a stunning, dry heat, blue sky day; heaven in the Kruger. We had to get to Johannesburg by the following evening and so had planned to leave by the Orpen gate after a short early morning drive. But the pleasure of super Tuesday meant I couldn’t face leaving the Kruger that easily. Instead, we decided to leave Tamboti at 4.30am and undertake a Ferrari safari all the way back to Satara, down to Tshokwane, then Skukuza before exiting through Phabeni gate. Ambitious given it would likely take eight hours to exit the park and then a further five hours to drop the car off in Jo’burg. It would be a very long tiring day, but I was much happier going this route. We were not to be disappointed.

 

 

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Nice job on the dogs and the individual dog portrait, even without an SLR.

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Really great sighting of the dogs with only one other car in attendance :)

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Looking forward to the long way back to J'burg

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Great sightings; I had wondered what a self-drive through Kruger might be like

and nice shots of the dogs!

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Really great sighting of the dogs with only one other car in attendance :)

Must have been at the time of a petrol strike. :P

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Posted (edited)

 

Really great sighting of the dogs with only one other car in attendance :)

Must have been at the time of a petrol strike. :P

it's a common misconception that pretty much all the good sightings in KNP must be shared with tons of vehicles, in the past years I had lots of leopards and lions completely for myself, even in the southern and in the mid section of the park - and before I pay 2.000 $ for a night during high season in Botswana I'd rather accept a few cars next to me and pay 200 US$ per night at any time in KNP

Edited by ice

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it's a common misconception that pretty much all the good sightings in KNP must be shared with tons of vehicles, in the past years I had lots of leopards and lions completely for myself, even in the southern and in the mid section of the park - and before I pay 2.000 $ for a night during high season in Botswana I'd rather accept a few cars next to me and pay 200 US$ per night at any time in KNP

Very reasonable tradeoff

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Ice I am just taking the mickey out of this ,nothing personel meant ,we live with these strikes on a daily basis and it is beyond a joke now.

I have done my time in KNP and get no pleasure from going there anymore ,the day they tarred the roads was the day I stopped going.

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no worries A&M, I didn't take your comment personal

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Day 4 – Wednesday

 

Out the gate at 4.30am. A cloudy cool morning. Drove fast by my standards given we had nearly 700kms to go before day end (although within the tar road speed limit of 50kmh) to Satara. Not a lot around until 30 mins in my girlfriend shouted to stop and quickly reverse, to see a leopard in a tree right by the road, which he sadly quickly exited. A beautiful sight nonetheless and the second leopard in two days; we couldn’t believe our luck.

 

On to Satara, although with a stop for a while to let a long line of elephants cross the road in front of us and then another stop a km outside Satara to watch a large herd of buffalo cross the road in front of us. A stretch of the legs and then we left Satara at 6.15am (and so still early enough for some animals especially given the weather was still cool) driving south on the H1-3 to Tshokwane picnic site for breakfast.

 

Thirty minutes from Satara we came across a young male lion crossing the road. He stopped right in front of us, no more than 2 metres in front of our car, as you can see from the photo below, whilst a couple of other lions disappeared into the bush on our left.

 

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Onwards and it wasn’t long before I spotted a Ground Hornbill walking towards the road and so we stopped to watch it cross right in front of us (the only one of the trip). Soon after that we came across two rhinos grazing within ten metres of the road. Likewise the first rhinos of the trip. As we watched them I did my usual quick 360o scan to check I want missing anything else and saw something unusual looking walking down the road about 300 to 400 metres ahead. Quickly drove forward to investigate and came across a Porcupine that we followed for a couple of hundred metres as it jogged down the road and by the road until it crossed over and disappeared into a ditch by the side of the road. An amazing sight in full daylight; I have only ever seen them at night before. Didn’t manage to get the greatest photo, but good enough to see it is a Porcupine alright.

 

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We continued on our way having already seen more than I had hoped on this Ferrari safari and thereby justifying going the long way around back to Jo’burg. It wasn’t long, however, before we saw a car stopped up ahead near Nwatinunga and as we slowed down behind it the driver pointed to our right and there 40 metres back from the road was a beautiful leopard lying on a fallen tree trunk. A stunning position and one that made me rue the decision not to invest in a good SLR for this trip. Nevertheless, you can see from the photo below how good a shot I could have got had we had a good camera with us.

 

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We stayed there about half an hour watching it as a stream of other cars (though not too many – about ten in total) drove past during that time. Watching their faces light up as they saw it was a leopard lying there was also quite a sight. Our second leopard of the day and third in two days. Amazing.

 

This fast drive was rapidly becoming anything but, and barely 1km further on the pace slowed even further. Again we came up behind two or three stopped cars and as we got closer we saw a large male lion saunter across the road and flop down a few metres to our left. There were pride females and young males seemingly flopped everywhere, some as close as two metres away.

 

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We sat there for probably an hour watching them flopped on top of each other and then standing up walking a few metres before flopping down next to another pride mate. The original large male with its full mane joined his other large male companion slightly further away from the females and young males. It was difficult to count how many lions there were exactly (there always seemed to be a few hiding somewhere) even when they eventually all got up and walked down the road and off to a nearby stand of trees, but I counted at least 16. It was a real privilege to be able to spend so long with them all around us.

 

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By that time we were running much behind schedule, having seen the big 5 and some by breakfast time. A quick breakfast in Tshokwane and on to Skukuza. This time we barely saw anything, bar a beautiful baby impala with its mother just off the road, probably only hours old given how unsteady it was on its legs. The S1 to Phabeni Gate was extremely quiet, which in some ways was what we needed in order to not lose further time. We left the park at about 1pm, with just the 460 odd kms left to Johannesburg. The three and a half days in the park had hugely exceeded our expectations. I can’t wait to return, although that might be a few years off.

 

The following morning we got picked up by our little tour company (one other tourist) at our Jo’burg hotel and drove to Mozambique for a 12 day trip, focussing on the coastal areas up as far as Vilankulo and the Bazaruto islands.

 

We had a great time. The highlights being:

  • watching dugongs swimming around our little boat on the way out to the Bazarutos,
  • snorkelling over nice coral and beautiful fish (including the biggest parrot fish I think I have ever seen) when we got there;
  • watching speckled mousebirds, black collared barbets and bulbuls finish off my fruit in a lovely beach hotel near Barra before running through the white powdery sand for a dip in the sea; and
  • going on a boat trip to find whale sharks (and sitting next to someone who had been on seven previous boats trips over the last week with no success) and finding two very quickly. We then spent the next couple of hours swimming with them. (I know some people reading this might feel a little uncomfortable about people swimming with these magnificent creatures, but this outfit was good in that it made sure everyone watched videos beforehand about not touching them and not getting in their way etc. I am of the mind that eco tourism is a good way of ensuring local communities have a vested interested in conserving wildlife).

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Fabulous sightings on that little safari & an amazing trip. I've swum with Whale Sharks at home in Australia and it is a fantastic experience. From what i remember as long as you keep a distance the sharks largely ignore you. In days gone by you could wear a mesh glove and rub their bellies, the sharks would stop still and literally bob up and down like a cork, thoroughly enjoying the parasite removing scrub.

 

I couldn't help myself either I gave your leopard pic a 30 second touch up in photoshop. I hope you do not mind.

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the big pride you saw will most likely be what they call the S100 Mega Pride, which some say has up to 30 different individuals...I've written about them and shared some video footage in my Kruger Trip Report

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the big pride you saw will most likely be what they call the S100 Mega Pride, which some say has up to 30 different individuals...I've written about them and shared some video footage in my Kruger Trip Report

Ice, it was your Kruger trip report that inspired me to write my trip up, i really enjoyed it and was jealous of your cheetah sightings and the leopard with the porcupine.

 

I would have though the big pride i saw was probably not the S100 mega pride for a few reasons. We saw at least 11 of the mega pride on the S100 the day before and where we saw the ones in my post yesterday was nearly 40km south of the S100 neat Tshokwane (i understand prides can be formed of units and so the 11 could be part of the 16+ i saw, but i think this is unlikely for the following two reasons. To my untrained eye, the manes look a little different between my two big males and your two big males in your video. I also have a book on my shelf which thus far remains unread, called 'Nightstalk: The Story of a Kruger Pride', which i bought for a few pounds off amazon a few months back. It was written in the 1980s and claims to be about one of the largest prides ever recorded in Africa (39 lions at its peak). Its territory at its northern extent reached between the H6 and S100, but its southern limit did not quite reach where i saw my 16+ lions. Whilst this was a few dacades ago, i guess territry size probably hasnt changed too much - unless prey density has changed over this period, which I have no idea on, but might investigate, unless anyone on this site knows? Interesting stuff, thank you for your stimulating thought, i will keep looking into this.

 

Geoff, i dont mind your photoshop touch up at all. It is a skill i need to put my mind to soon and learn. Thanks.

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sorry, EO, my bad, I should have read your TR more carefully, I only noticed that you mentioned Satara which is where the Mega Pride is located...I agree, if you saw these guys 40 km south of Satara they will not be part of that pride; according to SMITHERS, the average size of a lion territory in KNP is 150 km², equaliing a radius of appr. 12 km

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