Tales from a Safari Camp: A Lion Cub Murder Mystery

On the 7th of July 2018 we came across a very sad sight on our morning game drive at Garonga Safari Camp. We found the bodies of two young lion cubs who had been killed…and so began our murder mystery. 

Identifying our Suspects and Victims

Unfortunately, life for a young lion cub is a tough one as almost every predator will kill them if they have the chance as it is all part of their instinct to remove competition and prevent the cubs becoming a threat when they are older. Whilst the pool of potential suspects was large, our investigative team was leaning towards an adult male lion as the culprit for the crime. The previous evening we had received reports of a pair of mating lions in almost the exact same spot.

Male lion from the Garonga Pride at Makalali Conservancy
Male lion from the Garonga Pride at Makalali Conservancy

It is always heart breaking to see any of the animals lose their lives, but the Garonga team was especially concerned that the dead cubs might be the two adorable trouble makers from ‘the Garonga pride’. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting them, ‘the Garonga pride’ it is made up of three feisty females; granny, mum and a perpetually curious daughter, two resident pride males and two heartwrenchingly mischievous cubs.

Playful lion cubs from the Garonga Pride at Makalali Conservancy
Playful lion cubs from the Garonga Pride at Makalali Conservancy
Tracking ‘The Garonga Safari Camp Pride’

For about 3 days our lions went into full stealth mode, and despite finding fresh tracks, they had retreated deep into the thickets and we saw neither hide nor hair of them. Now, as guides, strictly speaking you are not supposed to have favourite animals. However, the Garonga pride has managed to sneak its way into the hearts of our whole team and we were increasingly desperate to discover the fate of our cubs.

One morning it was quiet in the lodge so we collected together our expert trackers and set out to unravel the mystery once and for all. It seemed that the lions were missing us too as at about 5.30 that morning they had been calling. This gave us a heading and before too long we found our 3 females looking healthy and relaxed, but the cubs were nowhere to be seen. However, the cubs are still at an age where their mother will usually hide them in thick bush to keep them safe during the day.

A lioness from the Garonga Pride in the Makalali Conservancy
A lioness (and mother) from the Garonga Pride in the Makalali Conservancy

Not to be defeated we left the ladies and picked up their tracks, tracking in reverse to look for evidence that our cubs were still with us. To cover the maximum ground possible we split the team with Josia, Samantha, Derrick, Stewart and Sophie on foot and Kaizer, Phineas and Bongi on the vehicle.

After tracking the one female through drainage lines and across some of our more open plains we had the best discovery – miniature lion tracks sitting on top of the dew from the night before and heading towards a thicket that would be the perfect place to stash a pair of cubs for the day. We radioed in the rest of the team and had a celebratory coffee stop, delighted to have discovered that our little troublemakers were alive and well. Later we slowly started heading towards where the cubs had spent the day and were rewarded with two little furballs full of energy chasing after mum and pouncing on each other. The relief was shared by the whole safari camp team and was enormous.

The Sad Truth

It seems that the two cubs who lost their lives were, in fact, from a rival pride that had wandered into the territory belonging to the Garonga males. It is always sad to see such a sight but a male lion’s instinct to kill cubs that are not his own is one of the harsh realities of the circle of life, it helps to ensure that the strongest genes are being passed to the next generation of lions, which in turn will hopefully help to ensure that we can continue to marvel at these incredible creatures for years to come. The life of a safari camp guide is never a dull one and this episode of Bush CSI [Crime Scene Investigation] is certainly not for the faint-hearted.

Lion cub from the Garonga Pride in the Makalali Conservancy
Lion cub from the Garonga Pride in the Makalali Conservancy

Photos taken, and article written, by Sophie Barrett (guide, tracker and photographer at Garonga Safari Camp) 

A Bush Wedding & Honeymoon Combo

Weddings don’t have to follow the traditional herd anymore. Adventurous love-birds rejoice!

Engaged couples these days tend to look beyond the ordinary and destination weddings (bush weddings in particular) are a great choice. They combine culture, adventure and often very pleasant climates – enabling the bride to wear whatever dress her heart desires, and the groom to reject that uptight suit and embrace more comfy and fitting attire to suit the scene too. Guaranteed picture-perfect wedding moments are part of the destination wedding allure.

Fabulous wedding destinations are also usually equally-fabulous honeymoon destinations…and so is born the ‘wedding and honeymoon combo’. A bush wedding in Africa offers this very opportunity and Garonga Safari Camp was privileged to recently host the wedding of Adam and Ruth Gooding.

Ruth & Adam's Bush Wedding at Garonga Safari Camp
Ruth & Adam marry at Garonga Safari Camp

Here we give some top reasons why the honeymoon/wedding combo is a winner and Ruth kindly gives feedback on their experience with us.

Five Reasons to Combine Your Wedding and Honeymoon…

  • No busy itineraries

No need to pack bags, rush off to the airport and leave the party behind (that’s just not fair anyway seeing as it is your party!) Your honeymoon begins from the moment your wedding day ends so you can ease into married life at leisure.

  • Best of both worlds – privacy and company

Having your friends and family right there on your honeymoon with you can be a draw card or quite the opposite depending on what you are seeking but quality and experienced venues will be able to ensure you still get that seclusion and privacy. For example, at Garonga we can arrange private dining, private game drives, exclusive accommodation as well as experiences like The Sleep Out and Bush Bath to make sure you still have that all important private honeymoon feel. And for the socialites amongst you, having your nearest and dearest with you just adds to the ongoing paaaarty!

Ruth & Adam marry at Garonga Safari Camp
Ruth & Adam marry at Garonga Safari Camp
  • Less stress and expense

Planning a wedding and honeymoon can be stressful but when you combine the two you are generally dealing with one venue and often one specific contact at that venue. The less people interfering the better (mothers-in-laws included) and the simpler and more enjoyable the experience will be. Destination wedding venues also sometimes offer cost effective packages with thrown in perks. At Garonga, included in the wedding package is a cake, bouquet, massage for both bride and groom, a private dinner for the married couple and even ceremony/vehicle décor. You can see more on our weddings page.

  • Bucket List Tick

Choosing a destination wedding and honeymoon venue, such as a bush wedding, is also a way of (or maybe excuse for?!) being able to tick off one of those key locations you’ve longed to visit and its highly likely it will be on your guests’ lists too.

  • The ultimate setting and photos

Honeymoon destinations lend themselves to wedding settings with romance and beauty at the forefront of everyone’s minds. And you don’t have to leave your guests for hours just to get those picture postcard wedding photos.

Ruth & Adam marry at Garonga Safari Camp
Ruth & Adam marry at Garonga Safari Camp

Ruth & Adam’s Bush Wedding & Honeymoon…

This couple from Scotland had their hearts set on a bush wedding in South Africa and booked the venue and accommodation (The Hambleden Suite) two and a half years in advance. The countdown then begun to their big day.

“We booked the Hambledon Suite as it was a ‘once in a lifetime’ trip and it was everything we could have hoped for and more. From the spectacular view from our own private deck and pool, to the luxury copper bath where I have very fond memories of relaxing on the morning of our wedding day taking in the view and the peace and tranquillity – not many brides can say they spent the morning relaxing. It was exactly how I hoped it would be.

The Hambleden Suite at Little Garonga
The Hambleden Suite at Little Garonga

We were lucky enough to stay for 8 days for our wedding and honeymoon.

Upon arrival it was much more than we could ever have expected. The day I had dreamed of was here and we were completely blown away. We were made to feel welcome from the second we arrived which in turn made it all the harder to leave when our time was done.

I say it was a once in a lifetime trip, however, that certainly won’t be the case as something keeps calling me back and I fell more in love with Garonga than I could ever have imagined and cannot wait to return. We now have a 2-year-old daughter and just as soon as she is old enough to stay we will be booking our next trip out. Not a day goes by that Garonga isn’t on my mind and that’s testament to just how amazing this place is.”

You can read more about Ruth and Adam’s day on their wedding blog.

Photography thanks to Jeannie C Photography

10 signs you may need to get back to Garonga

“Way over expectations.”
“The only way to do a safari!”
“Like a dream!”

A visit to Garonga in South Africa’s Makalali private conservancy bordering the Kruger National Park impacts our guests in the most magical ways. Luxurious bush life and all its unexpected perks stick with them when they go back home and inevitably make them want to return again and again for more. And we’re so glad it does.

If you’ve visited us before, here are 10 tell-tale signs that you are missing your Garonga experience and it’s time for another visit soon.

1. Slumbering under the South African stars, listening to the wild sounds of the bush below you on the private Sleep Out Deck ruined any other treehouse experience for you.

Sleep out deck

2. You now look for animal tracks on the ground and tails in the trees when you go for a walk in your local park.

bush walk

3. You can’t fall asleep at night without a teddy bear in your arms.

safari camp accommodation

4. You drop everything you’re doing to stop and appreciate the sunset that unfolds before you. It was mandatory when in the South African bush after all. Why not everywhere else?

African sunset at Garonga

5. You can’t walk into a New York restaurant and feel at one with nature like you do dining in a boma that has the coolest outdoor bar you’ve ever seen.

Bush bar and boma

6. Your bathtub at home, between the four walls just doesn’t quite manage to set the scene for a relaxing bubble session anymore.

Bush bath

7. And back rubs from your partner in front of the TV don’t cut it anymore either.

Massage sala

8. When you hear something that sounds like a falling tree branch you look outside to see if there’s an elephant nearby.

elephant in camp

9. You leave a little note for your spouse to read when they come home from work. Maybe not as creative as the ones you found left by Garonga staff on the small zen garden in your room, but it’s the thought that counts.

zen garden in room

10. You’re saving up your annual leave days because you’re ready to go back!

Game drive