After our customary breakfast we headed into Hoedspruit (pretty much on the edge of where we were staying), and waited for a couple of people from the other lodge to join us. We stopped at the petrol station and noticed the sign for the Timbuktu Bar. I was intrigued by the “topless bartenders” aspect of it and wondered if any of them would be in at 8:30 in the morning. But fear not, dear readers, I knew this was a brilliant marketing ploy as I can read the fine script.
With the others in tow, we headed for the Moholoholo Rehab Centre. Doors to the centre open at 9:30, so we had to wait in the parking lot for 20 minutes. During this time, a rather friendly giraffe named Elliot wandered around, getting too close to some people, and in his excitement to have fun and play, he kicks out a lot. Luckily no one was kicked, as a kick by a giraffe, even a young one, can maim a lion!
Inside the center we were given an introduction of the animals we would see and what exactly the center does. Our host for the 45 minute intro was Oscar, who loved nothing better than talking to over 100 people about what they do, the situations they find themselves in, and how he had to give 15 cows lobolo for his wife and has been paying ever since! Most of the animals at the center are away from people. These are the ones they hope to release back into the wild. The ones on show have no chance of being released. They are too accustomed to humans, never fully healed and would become prey for other animals like them, or have no place to go.
The center showcases a lot of birds of prey, and Africa has many different species of such birds. I have attached a few photographs below as an example. I’m hoping to post a blog just of photos I haven’t used for you as well. They have vultures and eagles and hawks. They have owls and falcons and hornbills. I will be honest with you. I hadn’t given much thought to birds growing up. It wasn’t until a safari in 2011 when my guide, who was also an avid birder, got his hands on me that I really started to appreciate just how beautiful they can be.
Moving on from the birds brought us to the star attractions – the cats. They had several lions on display, two leopards, two cheetahs, and some smaller cats. The leopards and cheetahs weren’t as easy to photograph as the lions. My apologies.
We then met Olive, a young white rhino whose mother was poached for her horn. The centre hopes to release her, but odds are she’ll stay there for the rest of her life unless a zoo or other private center comes for her. One of the volunteers gets to sit with her all day, occasionally feeding her milk or water. Sounds like a great way to spend a week of summer vacation if you ask me.
Another big attraction was the honey badger. Pound for pound, the honey badger is one of the most feared and fearless animals on the planet. I had never seen one, even at a zoo, so this was a special treat. And they are also very smart. This was the fifth enclosure in a few years that he had been in. He had managed to escape from his other ones using various means.
honey badger doesn’t care
With the tour over, and after leaving a donation because, well, I like animals and think the centre is doing a wonderful service; we headed back into town for lunch. I had ostrich kebabs with garlic-mashed potatoes. And a beer. As you do. Later that afternoon we would go to the Tshukudu (it means rhino) private reserve for a 3 hour game drive after high tea.
The reserve is small and intimate, but boasts all 5 members of the Big 5. Sadly, you are greeted at the gate by a sign that says all of their rhinos have been de-horned for their protection. While it would be odd to see a rhino without a horn, at least these rhinos weren’t butchered and left to die in order for it to happen. Some smaller parks will also lather the horns with toxins that are bad for humans but harmless for the animals in order to keep poachers away.
After some tea and lovely chocolate cake, we hopped in our jeep and set off. Within 30 minutes, and only a couple of miles of each other, we encountered buffalo, rhinos, and then elephants. These animals must have been used to the steady flow of jeeps as we got closer than some of us would have liked. But as long as you stay in the jeep and don’t stand up or hang out of it, thereby changing its shape, the animal sees the jeep and all those in it as one object. Once that object changes shape there could be a problem.
keeping an eye on the prize
one final African sunset in the bush
We drove around and saw all the usual suspects – antelopes, zebras, giraffes, many birds, a few hippos, and all the while the radio was buzzing with information about what was moving here and there. As the sun started sinking, the spotlight came out, and Isaac, our driver for the day, asked if we wanted to go see the lions. He headed in the direction the radio voices were pointing to, and when we got there, another jeep was waiting. Isaac and the other driver made a plan so we drove forward about 500 meters. And as we did, the lions came by. Five big females led the way with a solitary male bringing up the rear. The night sky had darkened and I didn’t have anywhere near the equipment necessary to capture them in full detail. These are the best two shots I could get.
We noticed two of the females slink off in the same direction and we followed them in the jeep. Standing alone amongst the trees was a giraffe, oblivious to us and the oncoming lions. I asked if the lions could take down this giraffe – the answer was possibly and it looks like they were going to try. Just as the girls in the jeep started cursing the lions, the giraffe bolted, crashing through the trees at a speed I didn’t think possible. We could hear the crash of branches as he disappeared from sight. We saw no lions, but he obviously did. I cannot tell you if he got away or not. It sounded like he got some distance on them though.
Under the glare of spotlights we returned to the lodge, stopping only once to cross off another first for me – the honey badger. Much too dark to photograph, a male and female scurried along beside us before disappearing into the hedges. But I did see the distinctive colorings and know it was one. If that was to be my final animal sighting, I could not have asked for a better one.
Back at the Marc’s camp dinner was waiting on our final night. Pretty told me that if I came back with 20 cows I could have her as a wife. I told her I would get 30. I had an early morning walk around the camp before leaving back to Johannesburg so after dinner and saying farewell to some of the staff, I headed for bed.