A female nyala outside my room as I walked to breakfast
Breakfast was served at 7:30 (fresh made muffins, eggs, bacon, toast) and we hopped into our open-sided jeep for the 40 minute drive to the Orpen Gate leading in to Kruger. We would be in the park until 6, when the gates closed, hoping to cross as many of the Big 5 off our list as possible – Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Rhino, and Buffalo. I had seen 3 of them this trip already; but I wanted more.
How you doing?
The eight of us in our jeep didn’t have to wait long for our first sighting, a couple of giraffes hanging out by the main gate. While giraffes are awesome, and should not be as graceful as they are, we all wanted to see something a little different, or bigger, or more cat-like. We weren’t greedy. We just wanted to expand our African horizons. Antelope came and went, followed by a big herd of buffalo. The buffalo is the most dangerous member of the Big 5. The buffalo has no tell, if you were to put it in poker terms. An elephant has a tell, a rhino has a tell, leopards are rarely seen, and lions, like all cats, have a tell. The buffalo has the same behavior and facial expression at all times. And a pretty impressive set of horns and headplate designed to cause damage (usually to lions that think they can feast on buffalo).
I have been to Africa on numerous occasions, and on this day, I witnessed something I had never seen before – a group of hippos out of the water. I had only seen them submerged, rarely more than the tops of their heads sticking out of the water. And I was about to see several large pods of an animal that kills more people each year than lions standing outside of the water. These things are absolutely enormous, but there is something cute about them. Maybe it’s the ears. I don’t know. But they are ridiculously cute in their own special way. Which leads me nicely to the troop of baboons that blocked the road. I don’t like these animals at all. Nasty little things but they have their place in the ecosystem so I will that be with that.
Momma and baby
We passed a solitary elephant amongst a zebra and a giraffe, before spotting a small herd of wildebeest and buffalo. That took us to lunch. Our first four hours in the park offering up two of the Big 5, and plenty of other surprises. We stopped at one of the larger rest stops in the park and I had a plate of beef ribs and French fries for lunch. On our way out to the jeep, I overheard some people saying they had just come from seeing lions with a fresh kill – a giraffe – and asked where they had seen this. Armed with the location, I sought out our guide Isaac and told him. He already knew this. The sighting was miles away, probably too far for us to cover in the afternoon and still be on time to leave the park at the gate we needed to. But we would try.
Three of our group were late back from lunch so we waited before heading out. Every minute lost was a minute removed from the lions so I was none too happy if I’m honest. But after we left the rest area and came across a large watering hole with an elephant and family unit of hippos, I didn’t mind so much. Standing across the road opposite the water was a solitary giraffe, enjoying one of the greener trees in the park.
A family of 3
We headed off down the road leading us to the lions. We still had miles to go. The paved road was empty as I sat in the back row, always looking to each side and behind me in case anything was to wander into sight. As I looked ahead, it happened. It walked out from the grass on one side and trotted across the road into the grass on the other. The elusive leopard. I went on this trip to get a better photo of a leopard. Had I just missed my chance? We slowed down until we reached where we thought he had disappeared. We waited. And then we saw him again. Walking down a path carved into the grass. I snapped off a few photos as he appeared and disappeared. We waited for him to turn around, to show us that majestic face of his, but it never happened. But I got him. And I saw him. Simply beautiful.
The leopard who wouldn’t turn around
Minutes later, a line of cars indicated we had reached the lions. Down in the dried out river bed below, the body of the giraffe lay perfectly still. A couple of smaller lions still sat around it, but most had moved off to the shady areas to rest their overflowing bellies. I snapped off about 100 photos as we sat there for 10 or 15 minutes. Sorry if some of you find this offensive or violent. This is nature. The lions were still about 100 meters from us so my zoom got a workout. I’d never seen so many lions at one time before. Every day in the park offers something new. And this day was just the same.
We turned around and headed back the way we came. I was hoping the leopard had made a beeline for the largest tree in the vicinity and would be sitting there within sight, but there was no such luck. He had vanished as only leopards can do. We didn’t stop too often on the drive back to the gate; only when something big presented itself – such as elephants or an animal threatening to cross the road in front of us.
I thought I would include some birds as well – the African fish eagle above
the Kori bustard
the grey heron
my favourite bird – the lilac-breasted roller
As we hustled towards the gate, the African sun began to descend. There is nothing on Earth like an African sunset. NOTHING.
Watching the sky shine down
Back at the treehouse camp, we had a dinner of impala stew with rice, salad, and pasta. Dessert was a simple mango pie, or something like that. I didn’t have any. I was told that the next day, a day supposed to be spent at the Moholoholo Animal Rehab Center and a private reserve had to be changed as Moholoholo was not open on Sundays. It would be back into Kruger for another full day’s drive. And remember, no two days are ever the same.