Erindi: Breakfast with lions
VISITORS to national parks in Namibia can usually go on game drives in their own vehicles because of the vast tracts of land.
However, in private game reserves, visitors are most often taken out on drives in 4X4 vehicles either very early in the morning or late afternoon to enable tourists to experience prime game viewing moments.
The pursuit of wildlife this month took Prime Focus to about 200km North West of Windhoek to Erindi Private Game Reserve, a place with diverse landscape sandwiched between the Erongo Mountains and a place where wildlife meets man.
The conservation of the natural environment and continuation of biodiversity saw Prime Focus at Erindi for a couple of days.
Erindi sits on 77 000 hectares of land originally designated as a cattle farm, then a hunting farm, became a game lodge, and underwent years of rehabilitation to become a game reserve in 2009 housing a whole spectrum of animals - leopards, lions, elephants and rhinoceros.
The buffalo is the only Big Five member not at Erindi due to its foot and mouth vulnerability.
Erindi is the only game reserve after Etosha national park whose lions are AIDS free in Africa. They were brought here as problem animals from other protected areas but have found a safe haven with other 15 000 animals and a wide diversity of predator species that matches no other wildlife destination in the world.
Before receiving the thrill of game viewing, guests enjoy the comfort of a top class lodge.
Erindi’s Old Traders Lodge offers a five-star service and a personalised attention to detail. The lodge offers packaged rates for convenient budgeting; rates which include meals, game activities and some beverages, offering competitive rates per person per night.
The lodge encompasses several components. In addition to the wonderful thatched restaurant, there are 50 compact manageable rooms ranging from standard rooms, family units, luxury rooms, one double VIP and eight double superior suites which houses up to 104 visitors when fully booked.
Wildebeests, kudus, springboks, Oryx, impalas to zebras and giraffes come to drink water at various water points surrounding the lodge.
Apart from two standard rooms, all the other rooms have little verandas which offer a chance to view the animals. Next to the family units, which houses up to four people, is a plunge pool.
The superior suites, one which once housed Former President Sam Nujoma among other top dignitaries who visited Erindi also have a private splash pool and an outdoor shower. Yes, outside shower. And because of the dam, crocodiles can be seen sunbathing 80metres from the superior suits, although the property is set in a way such that animals cannot come into the residences, whatsoever.
Erindi, owned by Namibian Gert Joubert, also has a restaurant of international standard offering buffet style meals.
Dinner is served with the melodious African voices of waitresses who entertain diners with song and dance. The restaurant also has a deck from where visitors can enjoy the view of tens if not hundreds of animals who come to the biggest water point at Erindi.
It is picture perfect and one can sit out there until midnight. The water point is a dam which is a spitting distance away from the restaurant.
French, Dutch, Australian, German, Finnish and American speaking nationals all comprise the guests on this evening of our visit.
The sound of a hippopotamus is very distinctive and waitresses tell stories of lucky guests who have been fortunate to be there when a crocodile is hungry and hunting.
The lodge looks smart, swish and well maintained. There is a quintessential conference hall which can accommodate close to 100 people, and seems specifically designed for companies.
One distinctive feature is that everything in the interior is made of Nguni skin. The kind of material you would find at State House, even the staff quarters or the visiting tour guides and drivers’ quarters.
Two international and world acclaimed documentaries have so far been shot at Erindi; ‘Into the Pride’ by Dave Salmoni and ‘Survival’ by Ray Mears, both which have won global attention.
An ITV crew from England is busy shooting the Erindi animal kingdom at the game reserve.
Marsha Els, one of the hotel supervisors says the busy period for Erindi is from April up to the December holidays when the place is full of locals.
Outside the restaurant, there is a curio shop and a diary board detailing what the game guides, trackers and even tourists witnessed during their game drives.
Erindi should be proud of its magnificently maintained facility. It owes its grandeur to many facets of its make-up with the structure contributing a fair share of the elegance and exclusive air that defines the lodge.
However, it falls short on the fact that the rooms do not have phone lines, in case one wants to call outside, although cellphone reception is excellent.
But from the observation time, one can conclude that this is a place for people who like their tranquility and who appreciate the values of courtesy, elegance and wildlife. Air conditioned rooms, a hair drier, satellite TV and en-suite bathrooms among other luxuries.
It is a heavenly jungle.
“Our road is debatable. Some complain that is it not easy to get to Erindi while others love that adventure part of the road. But we have teams on standby during the rainy season in case one’s vehicle sinks or has a problem.
“The other issue most people do not realise is that much of the road from the main road to Erindi is not owned by the lodge but is a public road. The massive rainfall we got this year made it difficult for authorities to mantain that road,” Els says as we retreat into the night from the restaurant.
By midnight, lions can be heard roaring into the night, something not for the faint hearted but a delight to the adventurous.
During the 06h30am game drive, Jessie our tour guide assures our group that the lions we had heard overnight were very far from the lodge, although they sounded like next door.
“What do you want to see in this game drive today?” he asks as the safari begins, and the six of us, a French and American couple, myself and my photographer unanimously agreed that we wanted to see the King of the Jungle.
Safaris are done in open vehicles to allow tourists to get ‘up close and personal’ as the vehicle does not have to stay on the road. Besides the exclusivity, there is the added benefit of being guided by an experienced game ranger to lead the excursion.
Erindi employs 200 staff members, including 15 guides, some like Jessie who have applied for this job from as far as the US, Germany and South Africa.
Jessie now and again stops the vehicle to read the spoor of animals on the ground and informs us about the animals that would have passed by here. He surely went to school for this.
For two hours, we drive with no sight of any animal bar a variety of bird species like ostrich and the white tailed shrike. Patience generates into apprehension, and then nearly becomes fatigue.
It is a waiting game.
Finally, one of the game guides, Will, radios in; “I have just spotted one guy in a bad mating mood. I startled him with the sound of my car as I got close. He seems to be looking for his lover. Drive carefully,” he says after the standard identification procedures.
Jessie asks us to lower our voices for a lion is in the vicinity and “we wouldn’t want to agitate him as my colleague says he seems like a jilted lover”.
There is excitement among us.
Jessie is radioed again by Will, this time to switch off his engine and is given co-ordinates of where the lion is.
We hear the sound of Will’s vehicle.
“Will woke up at 04h00 to come and have breakfast with the lions. He has visitors coming later today and wants to give them the best of the game views,” Jessie tells us.
Will, a young man in his 20s with a British accent is alone in the wilderness and directs us where the lion is, before leaving.
“Your two o’clock Jessie.”
We spot him, hiding in the thick grasses behind a bush, with a kill next to him.
“It might not been sexual urge. He was rushing to protect his onyama, when you nearly bumped him, Will,” Jessie radios back to his colleague who had not seen the meat.
Onyama is local Otjiherero for meat, just as Erindi means ‘a place of water’ in the same language.
The lion is not eating the meat but seemingly guarding it, with a bit of ignorance to our presence. For 10 minutes, Jessie circles the lion with the vehicle without getting too close for comfort.
We are, however, close enough to see that the lion has a damaged left eye which is releasing puss and Jessie assumes it to be cobra venom spit.
The lion’s name is Fugitive and he is four. Two years ago he escaped from Erindi to a nearby farm and dozens of dead cattle were found in his trail.
“We captured him, compensated the farmers who wanted him to be put to sleep, but we later decided otherwise. He then surprised us when he fell in love with one sister who had two cubs. Lions usually kill the cubs when they fall in love, but this guy did not. He still had a heart, despite the damage he did on the farms. For two years now, they have been in love, but it’s been an on-and-off relationship,” narrates Jessie, as Fugitive guards his kill next to us.
He adds, “Fugitive is probably the one who was roaring last night calling the lioness to come and dine with him on this kill. He is one of the best hunters in this reserve. So the female could be around. He is trying to lure the lady back with food.”
Will radios in again; “Just spotted our beloved sister, she is out here hunting wildebeest.”
We immediately leave Fugitive, all of us raring to see a lion in the action.
They are 25 lions at Erindi, all brought from Etosha.
We spotted the lioness in the action. She had just downed a wildebeest and was battling to hold her kill still.
“She’s got onyama,” an excited Jessie tells Will, who is in the other vehicle across us.
The lioness then drags her kill and stashes it under a tree, before looking for a small waterhole.
Within moments, she calls out and a cub roars back from a distance before appearing within minutes.
The female is about 225kg and the cub is two years old, old enough to be hunting on its own.
In no time, the second cub appears from the blind side, and the three lions begin moving in winding circles as we follow. Strangely, they were moving her family away from the stash.
The lions look formidable. We are so close, I felt like getting off the car, to go stroke them.
Within 20minutes, four lions and two kills. Our breakfast was served. As we drive back to the lodge, another group of tourists is coming from the opposite direction, probably, their guide having picked up Will and Jessie’s conversation on the walkie-talkie. PF