Breakfast was served at 7:30 again, and this time we were joined for breakfast by some young nyala at the water near our breakfast deck. R and I would be dropped off at the nearest petrol station and wait for Adam, our guide for the day, to come from the other lodge with four other guests before we entered the park through the Orpen Gate again. Adam is a guide first, driver second, so this day we would learn more about the animals and surroundings than we had the day before.
After the usual suspects of some antelopes, zebras, a couple of ostriches, it didn’t take long for us to see our first herd of elephants. All of us in the jeep had seen elephants on this trip already, and on previous trips for some of us, but as we sat there for 10 minutes, sometimes taking photos, sometimes just watching move mere inches, it was like we were seeing them for the first time. One of the English guys sitting in the row ahead of me, when asked why he came on safari, offered this simple reply, “I just want to watch Planet Earth.” And that is what we did.
We passed a different watering hole this time, Adam’s journey through the park taking us to new pastures. A herd of buffalo were joined by a small pod of hippos, meaning two of the Big 5 had been seen in just over two hours. The day was shaping up to be outstanding.
There are times on safari drives when all you do is drive. You hope the people on the opposite side of the jeep are keeping their eyes peeled for anything to see, to photograph, to learn about. You can go minutes, sometimes hours without seeing anything other than yet another herd of impala. Some people find this tedious. I don’t. I could drive around on safari all day every day. Those of you who are regular readers of my blog know that on most days I prefer animals to people. Just being out on a drive, the breeze bouncing through the open-air jeep, the sounds unfamiliar and quiet, or well-known and loud, the slightest snippet of movement all offering hope that another prized sighting has arrived. And to me, they are all prized sightings.
We turn off the tarmac onto a smaller gravel road that weaves beside a dried out riverbed. Every kilometer or so there are little turnouts where you can park and scan the riverbed below. We drive into each one, each one yielding little more than an outstanding view of the scenery below. We pull out of the third one and bump down the road when a shout comes from the back of the jeep on the opposite side to me, “cat”. Adam slams on the brakes and we all look behind us to see a tail slink into the bushes. Adam reverses to where the cat went in. We all know it’s a leopard. Lions don’t slink. The leopard is even more finicky than the one the day before. He rarely makes an appearance, making photographing him impossible. But at least we all get a good look at him. For the briefest of moments the six of us in the back of the jeep and Adam share silence as the leopard peers out from a bush along the bank, his nose shining. And just like that, he is gone. We reverse further, but we cannot find him again. Still, the most elusive of the Big 5 crossed off our list – and crossed off mine two days in a row.
A little further down this same road we come across a solitary car parked on the edge of the road. We all look around us, spotting nothing. Adam slows down as he approaches. Some conversation happens and then the man in the other car says, “lions down there in the riverbed. You can see them from the bridge.” Adam reverses back towards the bridge, and now we see the line of cars waiting to cross it. When it is our turn, we peer off into the distance. Finally something moves and we can focus on them. I would not have seen them if I was driving by myself.
We had yet to stop for lunch and all but one member of the Big 5 had been seen. We were still heading to go and see the lions with the giraffe kill from the day before. They would still be there. The giraffe would feed them for a couple of days at least. And when we got there, the giraffe looked a totally different prospect than it had the day before. We tried to count the lions in the area, and we got either 16 or 17, which made this a mega-pride. Now sign of a big male though. A lonely jackal tried his luck at sneaking a piece of giraffe (he was chased off), and the ever-present vultures sat in the safety of the trees while sending random scouts to try and steal tiny morsels.
Check out the distended belly on her. That’s what giraffe snacks do to lions.
Can you see the cub inside the giraffe?
We lunched late, at a smaller site this time, and were entertained by unfortunate people having their things stolen by baboons. Food, a purse, even a camera all ended up in the slippery thieving hands of the baboons. We ate quickly, Adam once having to run to our jeep to keep the baboons from ransacking whatever was left in it. For the record, I didn’t leave a single thing in there.
Needed to be out of the park in less than three hours, we had to stick to the tarmac roads and would only stop sporadically. By now, we had all seen countless zebras, antelopes, giraffes, and birds, but we’d still slow down and gaze at each one. And I would take countless more photos.
Southern ground hornbill
The sun was dipping, but we still had enough late for some great photos if the opportunity arose. And in that final hour in the park, we came across a lone elephant with the longest tusks I had ever seen (probably around 50 years old – they can live to around 65 in the wild). And just for good measure, with less than 20 kilometers before the park gate, a rhino was found grazing on the grass. The white rhino is more common than the black rhino seen the day before, but when you hear that three rhinos are killed a day by poachers wanting their horns for Chinese and other traditional medicines, you realize it won’t be long before the only place you’ll see them is in zoos. Two more white rhinos were seen off in the distance a few miles down the road, and for a rousing cap to the day, another group of lions lounging on the far side of a dry river bed. I had seen almost 30 lions on this day. That, to me, is brilliant. And I would have done the same thing all over again the next day.
However, back at Marc’s Lodge and enjoying another great dinner, it was learned that R and I would indeed get to go to the Moholoholo Rehab Centre the next day. I could not wait. But I think I slept okay.