Published: September 17th 2007June 3rd 2007
The Long and Winding Road
This leopard was injured in a fight of some kind and was just walking down the road. It was not bothered with the cars so we got to see him up close.
The image of Africa that I hold in my mind is one of grand wildernesses filled with strange and exotic animals. This image was formed mostly in my childhood with the help of the pages of National Geographic and the heavily abridged stories of Dr. Livingstone and Mr. Stanley's adventures in Africa that could be found in my school textbooks. Later, the African wildlife documentaries and the grand stories from Hemingway, Conrad and Haggard, as well as the unabridged stories from Dr. Livingstone and Mr. Stanley, filled in the gaps and brought life to my mental image. I knew when I stepped off of the Europa in Cape Town that my image did not match the reality of modern Africa, but I also knew, that with a little searching, the wilds of Africa could still be found in the wonderful parks that dot the continent and struggle to preserve a glimpse of the wilderness that once was. We had been in Africa for nearly a month and we had seen many wonderful and amazing things, but we had not yet seen one of these islands of wilderness - That was all about to change!
Hemingway had written about the green
Go Ahead, Make My Day!
The African buffalo is one of the big five and is considered to be one of the most dangerous animals in Africa.
hills of Africa, but it looked more like the golden Hills of Africa that we had been driving through all day. The sun was low in the sky and instead of its warm rays highlighting the African wilderness like we were hoping, they were lost in the depressing, trash-strewn towns that seemed to have gotten more plentiful the closer we got to our goal. We knew we had to be close, but the wastes of modern Africa seemed to have no bounds. It all happened quickly. Where there had been dusty fields and rusty gas stations clogged with junkyard rejects, there were suddenly large fences concealing dense, scrubby grasslands. We rumbled over a few cattle grates set in the pavement and then we saw it looming up ahead of us in the distance - The entrance gate to Kruger National Park. We parked our dusty white car on the other side of the gate, we looked around us and then we cautiously stepped out of the car - We had finally made it to the wilds of Africa!
We relished the short walk from the car to the ranger station, knowing it would be one of the only times
A Spotted Genet
Our guide spotted this guy in the distance on our first night drive in Kruger.
we would be allowed to make an unaccompanied walk in the park in the coming days. The Ranger that checked us in confirmed that the absurdly cheap price we had been quoted on the phone did, in fact, include everything and then he informed us that we could have saved even more if we wanted to! We thanked the man and then we walked back to the car and began our exploration of Kruger National Park.
Our first order of business was to get to our first camp and get our tents set up before the sun left us in the dark. Even before we reached the turn off for the Punda Maria camp the dense, scrubby forest lining the road had revealed some of its secrets - We had spotted our first impalas, which was exciting! We also had our first meeting with a 'tree-affe', which is a dead tree that looks just like a giraffe - We would become well acquainted with the tree-affes and rhinoce-rocks, the latter of which I was excellent at spotting, over the next week. Excited with our early success, we decided to sign up for a sunset drive, which was the only
This is another animal we got to know well during our time in Kruger.
way to get out of the fortified camp at night. It only took us a few moments to set up camp on our quiet patch of grass at the opposite end of the camping area from the armada of land yachts and the sea of satellite dishes. We excitedly filled out the disclaimer forms that held the park unaccountable in the event that anything bad were to happen, such as a lion grabbing us out of the truck, and then it was time to go.
The three of us met our guide and we piled into the back of a large, green Landrover with a canvas top and we drove out of the Punda Maria gate. The sun had already descended out of sight and the landscape was covered in a gloomy, pre-dusk light. The small dirt road was surrounded on both sides by the same thick tangle of small trees and scrubby brush that we had seen earlier. The wall of vegetation was regularly broken by islands of knee-high, golden grass and, off to our left, the landscape rose up the steep slopes of the bluff that the camp was built on. It was in one of the
A Baobab Tree
These massive trees are ancient and are all over the park, but not common.
islands of grass on the left side of the road that we found our first wildlife and what an amazing animal it was! The 'Big 5' is a term that most people who are interested in African safaris have heard, though many don't know what it stands for - I admit that I didn't. The term was coined by the big game hunters of the past. It was a list of the most dangerous and, therefore, the most enjoyable (manly) animals to hunt in the African bush. Some of the world's most formidable beasts - elephant, rhinoceros, lion, leopard and buffalo - make up the list. What we had found was the most dangerous of them all, an animal of such cunning and strength that, even today, it is considered one of the most dangerous animals in the world, the African buffalo. There are countless stories of hunters following the trail of an injured buffalo only to discover in their last moments that the animal, though close to death itself, had doubled back and ambushed the hunter from behind. Our buffalo was a young male of immense proportions and he stood there, about twenty feet away from us, munching on
A Burchell's Coucal
The bird life in Kruger was impressive and we enjoyed looking for them.
a mouthful of grass with a look on his face that clearly said, "Go ahead, make my day!" As we sat and admired the bulging muscles and thick, razor-sharp horns of the hoofed tank in front of us, our guide explained another trait that makes the buffalo so dangerous - Unlike nearly every other animal in Africa, the buffalo gives no warning signs before it charges, so, you may think that it is safe to pass when, suddenly, the calm buffalo explodes into a lightning charge and scoops you up with its horns! We stayed with the buffalo for a while and then we moved on to a water hole that was around the corner. It was still light enough to see, but the shadows were deceptive, each taking the form of some unknown, lurking beast. The shadows had no hope of concealing what we found at the water hole though. The giraffe was the first animal we spotted, only because it towered over the surrounding bushes and trees, and it was followed by the giant gray bulk of a young male elephant, our second of the big five! We sat and quietly observed the awkward and somewhat nervous giraffe
It was a few days old when we found it, but it was right on the side of the road and easy to see.
and the brave young pachyderm for several minutes. The giraffe was not enjoying our company so much, so it bound off into the bushes with a long, slow-motion gait that was deceptively quick and then we were alone with the elephant. With flaring ears and a swift forward kick in the water, the elephant let out a shrill, ear-splitting trumpet and gave us a mock charge and then our guide decided it was time to move on - The wrath of even a small elephant is more than most vehicles can take!
When we left the water hole it was just dark enough that we were having a hard time seeing anything with clarity. We stopped the vehicle and our guide got out. Suddenly a lion darted out from the shadows and... OK, there was no lion. Our guide was getting the spotlights ready for our night-time game spotting. The time from just before sunset to just after sunrise is the best time for animal sightings and, with the help of a spotlight, we discovered that it was easiest to find them in the dark of night, because their eyes reflected the light back to us. We spent the
While we were looking at the kill my friend looked out the window next to me and saw these lions in the shade just a few feet from us.
next several hours driving along four-wheel-drive paths through the large trees and scrubby forests surrounding Punda Maria. Anticipation was high as we incessantly moved the beams of the lights back and forth in the tree tops and along the ground. I think I enjoyed the thrill of the search more than the actual finding - It was like a treasure hunt! We quickly learned that when we saw lots of eyes staring back at us that we were most likely seeing one of the antelope species and that large greenish-yellow, solitary eyes likely meant a big predator, though we didn't spot any of those to confirm. It had been pleasantly warm when we arrived in the park, but once the sun disappeared, a penetrating chill filled the air. We shivered while we searched, but the excitement kept us going. We spotted several 'eyes' that we couldn't identify and we had several false alarms due to the same shadows we had seen earlier in the evening, only the shadows from a movable light move as well and are that much more convincing! Our guide knew just what he was looking for and he stopped the truck and pointed his light towards
A Surprise Find
We spotted this tortoise on the side of the road when we stopped to look at an antelope of some sort.
a thick branch on a small tree and said, "Spotted gennet!" How he saw it I will never know, but it was there and its small, house cat like stature, its spotted coat and its long, raccoon striped tail were all very visible and very beautiful! While we were watching him in the tree, our guide explained that, while cat-like in appearance, the spotted gennet is not a cat and it is a very common animal throughout the park. Our spotted gennet was a cool end to the night's animal viewing, because, despite another hour of driving, including a normally productive water hole, we didn't see anything else of note that night - We returned to camp excited, looking forward to the coming days!
The next morning we were up with the sun. We quickly took apart camp and packed everything in the car, a procedure we would be well acquainted with by the end of our safari, and then we started our long drive south. Our destination was Shingwedzi a camp on the river of the same name, but we were taking a slow, circuitous path to get there. We decided to test our small car out on
A Road Block
This was a massive herd of elephants and there were a lot of babies with them, so we gave them a wide berth.
the dirt roads, so we took the first dusty turn off that went in the right direction and we left the pavement. The wildlife viewing started off slowly - We only thought we got away early, but we learned that we needed to be waiting at the gate when it opened at first light! The scrubby scenery thinned considerably until it looked more like grassland than a forest. Birds were the star of the show that morning. We became well acquainted with the yellow-billed hornbill, a common, but beautiful bird that is found throughout the park. I caught a glimpse of color on a distant tree top and we stopped. I had to use my biggest lens to get close enough to identify the bird and the picture was horrible, but it was a lilac-breasted roller, a bird, I was told once, that was extremely rare. I was excited even if it was a distant sighting. We passed a dry waterhole and then we emerged onto the paved, north-south road and turned south. A few moments later we slowed and came to a halt - There was another lilac-breasted roller in a tree beside the road! It took flight before
These baby nile crocodiles were just laying in the sun next to the road.
we could get any pictures, but we did get a brief glimpse of the bird's beautiful turquoise wings. We nicknamed the bird 'pretty bird', which was easier to say and we continued driving south. After about half an hour more we began to realize that the rareness of our 'pretty bird' was far exaggerated - We would learn later that it was one of the most common birds in Southern Africa (not that I am complaining, because is was beautiful to see every time we did)! Another bird we regularly spotted was the glossy starling, a beautiful bird with bright yellow eyes and metallic-cobalt blue feathers.
One of the easiest ways to spot wildlife in Kruger is to follow the vultures, or to stop where other drivers have spotted something - The latter method would help us on several occasions in the coming days. We spotted a van stopped on the side of the road, so we did the same. There was the putrid smell of rotting flesh in the air, but nothing immediately jumped out at us - Alan, who was driving, said, "Look a dead buffalo!", as he angled the car closer for a better view. I
A Lilac Breasted Roller
These were the prettiest birds in the park so we knicknamed them pretty bird.
was in the back seat frantically taking pictures of the stripped carcass when Alan spoke up again, this time with an excited whisper, "Lions!" I followed his gaze and discovered less than fifteen feet away from me, no less than four lionesses lounging in the shade of a large bush - I am glad they had just eaten, because I would have been an easy target! We turned our attention to the lions, but the lighting made them very difficult to see! It was amazing to see the buffalo kill and the lions, because it had only been a few days before that we had actually had a long conversation about how the lions in Kruger were learning how to use the slippery surface of the paved road to exhaust large hoofed prey that they would otherwise struggle to bring down - On our last day in Kruger we got to see first hand how slippery the surface was to hoofed animals. We said farewell to the lions and we headed on down the road.
We stopped for lunch at a small, road side picnic area where we were allowed to get out of the car and stretch our
The pattern of the giraffe was impressive to look at.
legs. Afterwards, we hit the dirt roads again. We had stopped to see a large herd of impala, which, we were learning, were very common throughout the park, when I spotted a large tortoise right next to the car! The small road we were following joined a track that followed the wide, sandy river bed of the dry Shingwedzi River. The vegetation along the river was beautiful with a towering canopy of giant trees and lots of small leafy tangles that made perfect hiding places. The area was known for its large population of leopards and we excitedly scanned the tree tops looking for any signs of them, but our efforts were in vain! We managed to discover the hiding places of many animals, despite the jungle-like tangle - We found zebras, ostrich, giraffes, a few massive kudu, a duiker or two and even a tiny squirrel as we drove through the riverine landscape, but no big predators! Signs of a large group of elephants could be found all along the road, giant clumps of grassy dung, gnawed green branches and giant footprints were everywhere, so it wasn't that big of a surprise when we came around a blind corner
This bird looked a lot like a parrot, but I don't think it was.
and skidded to a halt in a cloud of dust - In front of us, only a few meters away, the road was blocked by a large herd of elephants! At first they didn't pay any attention to us as we sat idling in the middle of the road - Most animals in the park have grown accustomed to the constant presence of cars in their domain. In front of us was a large mother elephant and a few young ones milling about just off of the road. In the thick green brush along the dusty path we could hear several more elephants crashing about, occasionally sending the treetops into a frenzied movement as they passed by. From time to time we could even see them, if only for a moment. The large mother elephant stepped out into the road and flared her ears and kicked up the dust with her front foot in an unmistakable challenge to us. We backed the car up a little further! The older youngsters stepped out beside mom and gave us more brave challenges. We stayed put. Another large adult walked out of the trees guiding a very young calf across the road. A
The elephants are doing very well in Kruger and they would sometimes appear out of nowhere.
procession of elephants crashed out of the trees one by one, or in groups of two or three, each calmly walking across the road and heading down a ravine on the other side, down to the river bed. The pachyderm procession went on for several minutes. Several more young ones appeared and countless adults, each one making sure we were staying where we were told to stay - They were very protective! We waited a few minutes after the last of them had crossed the road just to make sure there were no more and then we continued driving. A little ways down the road we found a nice clearing that overlooked the river bed - In the distance we could see the large group of adult elephants forming a giant, circular corral around the young calves, which were running around and playing like children should, it was a beautiful sight!
It was getting late in the day, so we made our way back to the main road and headed towards camp. To get into camp we followed another short section of dirt road and crossed over a low causeway over the Shingwedzi River. There were a few stagnant
This baboon was just sitting on the side of the road eating. It didn't pay any attention to us.
pools of water at the causeway and, there, we got to see our first crocodiles - There were three babies about a meter long each laying in the sun right next to the bank, but even in their young age their teeth had a menacing look about them! We made it into camp after having an amazing first day on safari. We spent the rest of the evening relaxing around our braai and listening to the sounds of the African night! A loud, throaty roar thundered across the land - There were lions about - and I drifted off to pleasant dreams!
We awoke well before dawn to the same calls of the lions, only they were now closer. We left camp were it was and we headed to the gate. We were in luck - We had made it to the gate before anyone else! At the appropriate time the guard let us through and he told us to hurry to the bridge, because there were definitely lions around - We set off driving quickly, but that only lasted a little while. Ahead of us on the paved road was a large male lion! We slowed down a
Not all animals worth seeing were large.
bit so we wouldn't scare him away and we started getting closer. The inconsiderate fool behind us decided to speed around us so he could get there first and he skidded to a stop right next the large feline - Had he been patient we all would have been able to see the magnificent king of beasts up close, but, instead, none of us saw it, including him! It was an excellent wildlife encounter marred by a greedy tourist, but it was still a great way to start the day's explorations! Over the next hour or so we watched the landscape shed the blue, early morning gloom and take on a lovely orange hue as we searched the dense forests for more wildlife. We found countless impala, as usual, but we also found buffalo, baboons and another couple of lions in the distance down in the river bank. Another neat sighting we had was a large 'tusker' elephant (one with big ivory tusks). Just before we got back to camp, at about the same place we had seen the male lion, there was a large group of chacma baboons filling their bellies with greenery - One of these was sitting
Two Pretty Birds
At first we were stopping to take pictures of the lilac breasted rollers every time we saw them, but we started stopping only for nice pictures.
in the shade, but glowing in sunlight, which was amazing!
We quickly took apart camp and hit the road again. Our destination for the day was the Letaba Camp. We had a lot of ground to cover to get there, but we had enough time to do it at a leisurely pace. We decided to get off of the main road, so we found a nice long dirt road that would take us to the same place and we set off into the unknown. Once we got away from the towering forests and greenery that lined the Shingwedzi River the scenery changed dramatically. The scrub brush that we had taken as normal for Kruger started to thin out and golden grassland started to fill in the gaps. The dusty track we had decided to take actually wound its way along a dividing line between two distinct habitats, so at times we were still deep in the impenetrable tangle and at others we were surrounded by monotonous swaying grass.
The map we were using clearly located several watering holes throughout the park and we had made a concerted effort to visit as many of them as we could during
I never saw these guys in the huge herds I had expected - I guess that is only up north.
our drives. Most of the time they were dry and completely devoid of life, but we always remained hopeful as we approached the little blue dots on the map. When we saw the huge windmill rising up out of the brambles ahead of us our hopes were peaked again. We got a little closer and we saw two cars stopped on the side of the road in the same haphazard manner that nearly always lets you know there is something really neat to see up ahead, yet we still only saw trees. We finally came in to view of the waterhole and it was amazing - We had found THE place to be, the coolest hang out on the whole savanna, and everyone who was anyone was there! Off to the right, near the windmill, was a large manmade reservoir that jutted up out of the natural landscape like an above ground swimming pool and that is where the big drinkers were congregating - Several huge ‘tusker’ elephants were bellied up to the concrete basin using their trunks to siphon the water into their bellies. Two of the larger elephants were standing away from the tank in a stand-off with
We spotted these guys at one of the best waterholes we found.
a third elephant that was apparently not welcome at the waterhole. The elephants made a lot of noise and kicked up a lot of dust and eventually they charged and chased the third pachyderm away and then they rejoined the others at the basin.
While the elephants were griping over water rights at their private reservoir the rest of the savanna were doing their dance of life at the natural watering hole a short distance away. There was a small group of zebras skittishly working their way towards the edge of the water - It was amusing to watch them get nearly there only to get spooked by some unseen menace and dart off to try again! A group of six or seven eland slowly, but boldly walked up to the edge of the water and did their business while the zebra were darting about. A short distance away from the water there were several ostriches doing a neck dance, which is a lovely mating ritual that involves dancing about with their wings outstretched and their necks swaying, and a little further away were a few animals that we identified as hartebeests of some sort. There were also warthogs,
This was a rare find in Kruger. One of the guides we told them about was surprised, because he had only seen one in his several years at the park.
wildebeests, one of which ran through the area like a rocket, and a nayala, but one of the coolest things we saw as we sat there at the waterhole was played out by some of the smallest animals in the area - There was a large flock of small birds that were living in a large bush near the water (and blocking our view a bit) and they would noisily take flight in a group and do a lap around the water and then land again in the same bush. There was a falcon of some sort that was sitting on a dead tree nearby watching and waiting and when the flock landed after what must have been their tenth lap around the water the falcon took flight and dove straight into the bush and returned to its perch with a small bird wrapped in its talons! The circle of life…
We could have stayed all day at the waterhole, but we still had a long way to go to get to our camp and being late to camp would be a very costly mistake. We continued down our dusty track into the unknown. The sporadic traffic we had
Another large antelope in the park.
been seeing all morning became more and more infrequent until it seemed that we had the whole park to ourselves. The mid-day heat poured over the shade-less landscape. The swaying grass and the occasional tree were the only life to be found. Just when we were thinking the area was completely devoid of animal life a huge bird, a bustard, presented himself, only to disappear again into the tall grass. It had been a long time since we had spotted anything other than an empty tortoise shell when we turned onto a new road and met another car head on. We stopped and talked to the other driver and discovered that they had not seen anything special for quite a while and we told him the same. Just as we were getting ready to continue down the road the other driver threw in, almost as an aside, “There is a huge dead elephant with lots of vultures on it about ten kilometers down the road” - We were confused how he forgot about something as interesting as that, but I suppose he was only looking for lions like most of the other people in the park! We moved on quickly
The Secratery Bird
These guys were a cross between an eagle and a stork, but they were beautiful.
scanning both sides of the road carefully, doing our best to make sure that we didn’t miss the elephant (or anything else), but, at about the same time our noses began to detect a suffocating foulness on the air, we discovered all our careful searching was unnecessary - A mountain of rancid, guano-streaked gray rose up in front of us blocking most of the road! There was a huge group of vultures of many different types perched in a large dead tree above the pile of putrid pachyderm. They were also standing on the gray heap with their wings outstretched in an apparent show of ownership. We got as close as we could to the rotting carcass, but we were repelled by the unbearable stench and the huge cloud of flies, much like you would be repelled by the intense heat of the lava in an active volcano, and we retreated - I managed to get a few decent pictures from a distance, but even that was a trial! Oddly enough, the vultures that were fighting over the little remaining meat seemed to relish the aroma! We didn’t want to return the way we came and it looked like we
What is that Smell?
These vultures were having a lot of fun with this dead elephant. We had to drive by and, WOW, what a smell!
could just fit our tiny car past the rancid heap, so we rolled up our windows and took a deep breath and approached the well aged elephant. As we passed the smelly roadblock a vulture disappeared into a gaping chasm in its belly - Their work was nearly done there! Somehow, even with the windows closed, the smell and the flies still flowed in and filled the inside of our little car and it took nearly an hour for it to go away (longer for the flies!)
We drove on down the road. We had all of the windows open and I was doing a lot more fly herding than animal spotting. We passed another waterhole, a dammed wetland really, and there we spotted an odd looking bird called a secretary bird, which looked like a cross between an eagle and a stork. Shortly after we left the second waterhole we had an exciting and potentially dangerous wildlife encounter. We had just passed a car that was stopped looking at a group of impala when we slammed on our brakes and came to a quick stop. We were engulfed by our dust cloud and we lost sight of the
You Had Better Stop!
This was a dangerous position we had gotten ourselves in - We were surrounded by hundreds of buffaloes!
large black creature that was standing in the middle of the road in front of us. When the dust settled the black shape had multiplied - In front of us stood a small group of large buffalo including a small calf. The mother was staring us down with a menacing look on her face told us that we had better back off or else! By that time the car we had passed had caught back up with us, blocking us in, and we had nowhere to go, so we decided to do the next best thing and we sat still and watched. I heard a twig snap in the brush to our right and that is when I discovered the rest of the heard! There were well over one-hundred buffalo in the bushes and they all decided to cross the road right in front of our tiny car! The mother and the small calf kept their eyes firmly on us and stood fast, poised to attack, as the procession passed by.
The man behind us was lost in the moment as he snapped away furiously with his camera, excited by what he was seeing (as he should have been).
Now You're In Trouble
A line of buffaloes had come around behind us and now the BIG male was comming to talk to us!
He spotted something in the bushes beside him that made him finally realize the predicament we were in and he quickly backed up, but it was too late for us - Part of the heard had branched off from the main line and they started crossing the road behind us! To make things even more entertaining, a few of the larger buffalo stopped and stared us down from the rear. So there we were on a dusty dirt road in the middle of Kruger National Park surrounded by a huge herd of one of the world’s most dangerous animals! As wonderful as our car had been, we knew that we wouldn’t stand a chance against even one of those magnificent beasts if they decided to exert their wrath on us. Despite the potential danger, we sat and stared in awe at the wild spectacle that had engulfed us! We had been sitting there for quite a while and we had started to wonder if the train of buffalo was ever going to end when we saw him. My friend Alan was the first to spot him as he slowly plowed his way through the tangled brush. He was the biggest
We were always out early driving around the park and we were always greeted with amazing vistas.
buffalo that any of us had ever heard of. It was the type of animal that legends are made of - Even Hemmingway would have called him the most magnificent of beasts, one his friends couldn’t possibly laugh at! His muscular body had the build of a rhinoceros and the huge, bony boss and long, sweeping horns that sprung out of the top of his massive head closely resembled a battering ram - He was clearly the king of the buffalo world, an animal not to be messed with! He sauntered out into the road in front of us and stopped, turning his gaze ever so slightly in our direction. He seemed to be conversing with the mother buffalo that had been staring us down from the start of our little adventure - “Has that tiny carload of tourists been behaving themselves, or should I go have a talk with them?” He must have been satisfied, because, instead of reducing our car to an unrecognizable heap of scrap metal, he gave us one more look and then continued across the road into the brush on the other side, followed by the remaining stragglers of the herd and the ones that
Waiting for a Meal
This vulture was just sitting there watching us.
had been watching us. We were free to go and we didn’t wait around long enough for him to change his mind. We stopped a safe distance down the road with plans on taking a picture of the herd in all of its glory, but, when we stopped, a few young male buffalo that had been lying concealed in the grass on the side of the road stood up and let us know we weren’t welcome. It was a fairly humorous scene: in our efforts to get away quickly, we accidentally stalled the car and stopped helplessly in the middle of the road! Luckily the buffalo were not all that interested in us!
After we put the buffalo herd behind us we rejoined the main road and we headed in the direction of camp. We passed several groups of impala, which were turning out to be as common as grass in the park, and then we decided to turn down one last dirt road just before we got to the Letaba River. We were moving through the thick riverine forest a little quicker than was optimal for wildlife spotting, but it didn’t really matter. Just as our adrenaline rush
A Strange Bird in the Grass
Sometimes it was difficult to find the animals, but if you looked closely there was generally something there.
from our buffalo encounter was subsiding, we came around a corner and we skidded to another abrupt stop. This time we were being stared down by a huge mother elephant and several youngsters, including a baby, that were standing in the middle of the road. The large elephant and the two large youths immediately went into defensive mode and the normal signs of flapping ears and mock charges told us that our only path was behind us - The baby was only interested in playing, but I don’t thing the mother elephant would have approved of us obliging him! The trees all around us were swaying and cracking with the obvious signs of a large group of grazing elephants. We had learned a lot from our buffalo encounter earlier, so we backed up to what we thought was a safe distance and we stopped to watch for a while. The elephants started emerging from the forest into the road and it was clear that they were still not happy with our presence. The dense, leafy green trees and bushes behind the large mother elephant started shaking with a primordial violence that foretold the approach of extreme danger! Suddenly a loud
Hippos and a Croc
This was the typical scene when it came to hippos - You could never get close to them.
crashing filled the air and the trees in the background parted as a huge, brontosaurus-sized gray mass that towered well above the ‘large’ mother elephant started quickly towards us! It was a scene straight out of Jurassic Park! It was obvious to all of us that the approaching beast was bent on our destruction, so, despite an overwhelming desire to see what was about to emerge from the dark depths of the forest, we thought it prudent to retreat - Quickly! Our speedy retreat would have made the finest Hollywood stuntman proud and our rental car company cringe, but we got away again! We stopped at a clearing overlooking the river in hopes that the immense beast would show himself below, but it was not meant to be - His image will have to reside in the strange recesses of my overactive imagination! Just before we left the river bank I noticed something interesting in the sand - Pugmarks, there was a leopard in the area!
The camps were getting more and more crowded the further south we went. At Letaba we found an open patch of ground surrounded by a sea of semi-permanent motor homes. Our neighbors were
There was a large crocodile about ten feet away, but these guys needed to drink!
all pleasant people (the ones that were brave enough to emerge from their mobile palaces that is), but we longed to be in tents in the African wilderness, not surrounded by satellite antennae and refrigerators! In an attempt to bring back Hemmingway’s Africa, if only for a night, we went to the camp store and purchased three nayala steaks for our dinner - We had seen our first nayala that day! We cooked the steaks on the braai beneath the African stars. Sadly the meat turned out to be as tough as an old shoe, but I still felt like a lion! Like most nights in Kruger, I was in bed early and I drifted off to sleep amid a chorus of singing hyenas!
We were out of the gate in the first rush the following morning. It was too dark to see anything well, but we were still scanning hopefully trying to spot our first leopard or anything else of interest. We had selected a long loop along the Letaba River and just before we reached the turn off I saw something out of the corner of my eye. It looked like a tree stump, but, whether it
A Spotted Hyena
Our camp at Balule was a lot of fun, because these guys were patroling the fence just feet from us!
was a play of the early morning light on my eyes or not, I had seen it move! We stopped the car and reversed back to where I had seen it - We had had a lot of success with our animal spotting at Kruger because we had decided early on to stop for everything regardless of how unsure we were (we also got to see many of the park’s more uniquely shaped rocks and dead trees that way!) My tree stump ended up being a fairly uncommon wildlife encounter - It was an African wildcat sitting still over a rabbit it had just captured. The cat, which looks just like a common house cat, only a little bigger, didn’t stick around long, but what a beautiful animal! We waited around for a while to see if it would return and then we moved on. We saw several more lovely animals such as buffalo and elephants and even a lone lioness walking in the river bed, but the strangest thing to come out of our morning drive was a hippopotamus! The hippo had crossed the road in front of us - The three of us clearly saw it! We hurried
These were another of the many types of beautiful birds in Kruger.
to the spot where the giant animal had disappeared into the brush only a moment before and we looked down the slope and across the plain, all the way to the distant river - The hippo had vanished without a trace! We were all baffled - How can you loose a giant hippopotamus in a mostly open field of grass? It’s like losing a flashing neon sign in a dark room!
We only had a short distance to go to get to our next camp, so instead of going straight there we decided to drive towards the western boundary of the park to an area that was known to have a large population of wild dogs. The landscape we were driving through was barren and scrubby with huge, gray dirt towers that stood higher than most of the stunted trees. The ‘towers’ were actually termite mounds and they could be found all over the park, but especially in areas with thick grass cover - The termites use the grass to grow a type of fungus that they use as food. As we drove we spotted all of the usual animals, such as impala and elephants, and we found a
Our First Leopard
We saw this guy sitting on the side of the road and thought it was a lion (it was huge!) I thought I deleted this picture, but here it is!
particularly nice waterhole with big groups of zebra, warthog and baboons. We could also see the signs of the nocturnal foraging of the aardvark and the pangolin in the form of gaping holes in the sides of the large termite mounds. I was busy scanning the brush on the side of the road looking for the mottled coat of one of the most efficient predators in Africa, the wild dog, when Alan yelled, “Look in front of us!” repeatedly - I quickly looked expecting to find an amazing spectacle in front of us, but I saw nothing. We came to a stop on the side of the road and that is where I learned that I should have been looking closely on the ground - Alan had seen a large, slender, grayish-brown snake shoot across the road! Knowing that his description was a perfect match for the most feared snake in Africa, I told everyone to roll up the windows and then we sat on the side of the road where it had disappeared and scanned the thick grassy tangle. Sadly, there was no sign of it - ‘We’ had spotted a black mamba, an animal that I wanted to
These were the most common animal in Kruger. They were everywhere and they were very noisy because they were in rut.
see more than any other in the park (I love snakes), and I missed it! A short distance down the road we came across two park guards on foot (complete with big guns) and they confirmed my identification of the snake and told us that we were lucky to have seen it at that time of year and then they told us that they had not seen any signs of the wild dogs in recent days in the area, but that we were in the right place - Wild dogs don’t stick to a certain area, but they do prefer certain habitats and we were in one of the best in the park. We had reached the park boundary and it was time to turn around and head towards our camp. We followed the paved road back, taking a few short detours to places where we were allowed to get out of the car and we stopped at a few nice waterholes. One of the waterholes was actually a lake and there we found a large group of hippos basking in the sun on a sand bar and there was a crocodile that came out of the water next to
A Baby Puff Adder
This guy was just laying on the road getting warm. It was one of three snakes we saw in the park.
them that was massive. Across the lake there was a large group of elephants drinking. It was a lovely spot!
We were staying at Balule camp, which is a small fenced enclosure on the banks of the Olifants River. The camp was considered a rustic camp, meaning it only had very basic facilities, and we had to check in at the Disney Land-like Olifants Camp a short distance away. To get to Balule we had to cross over a small causeway over the Olifants River and we found a large group of giraffes and a small group of impala. We sat and watched as a baby giraffe emerged from the tall, green grass and cautiously drank at the river’s edge, followed by the cautious adults. The impala were on the other side of the causeway and they were acting very skittishly as they approached the water’s edge. One impala was limping and its front leg was completely useless. A small scan of the section of river they were approaching revealed a large crocodile on a sand bar less than ten feet from them (and us) - That is why they were being so cautious! Our eyes were glued to
A Big Yawn
Ok, actually it is a warning to us that he is in charge at that water way. This scene was from our hippo walk with the rangers.
the giant reptilian fiend as we waited for the impala to approach. I thought I was going to see a scene straight out of one of my favorite wildlife documentaries acted out in front of me, but luck was on the side of the impala - The crocodile never even looked in their direction!
We approached a closed gate with a large buffalo skull tied to it and we waited for the one staff member to come and open it for us, which took a little while. We found a nice campsite right against the perimeter fence and we set up our tents - There were a few motor homes, but the majority of the people at Balule were campers just like us! We did a short drive after we got camp set up, but we found nothing of note and we headed back to camp well before dark. I noticed several footprints in the sand just outside of the fence and it was difficult to tell what kind of animal had made them, but we found that out shortly after we started cooking dinner - I was sitting at the table with my back against the perimeter fence
This guy had a lot of great information on hippos and he was a lot of fun to walk with - It is a hippo skull he has.
when my friend looked past me and calmly said, “Look!”, as he pointed behind me. I have always liked those famous scenes in monster movies where the person turns around to find the beast is right in their face and when I turned around it felt just like that - I found a large spotted hyena staring at me from less than ten feet away! My first impression was to run and get my camera before I lost my chance, but we discovered later that the fence is patrolled nightly by a large group of hyenas and that they are not at all scared of humans, mainly because the careless tourists feed them their table scraps every night! It was a lot of fun being so close to such a famous face on the African savanna and I got excited every time they walked by. One time, when we had just started eating our meal, one of the hyenas belted out its famous ‘BooooWOOP’ call right next to us and a few more joined it next to our fence, but they were begging in vain - I was there to see wild animals, not hand-fed beggars! A hyena walked by
This is one of my favorite scenes from the park.
and a lion roared in the distance and I crawled into my tent and went to sleep - It was another fine night in the wilds of Africa!
All of the noise we had heard in the night had gotten our hopes up for an excellent morning drive and we set off immediately when the gate opened. We headed away from the river, because that seemed to be where most of the noise was coming from. An hour later we had not seen a single animal, not even an impala, so we decided to head out to the river to try our luck there. We cruised along the river with similarly dismal results, so we decided to throw the towel in and head back to camp. We were on the paved road and, just as three cars flew by us going in the other direction, Alan said, “Look on the side of the road ahead of us!” At first we saw nothing, as was usually the case with things he spotted, but suddenly we all saw a huge silhouette of a cat sitting on the side of the road looking at us. The cat was so large that all
Sunset in Kruger
It was difficult to get the perfect sunset picture in the park because you are not allowed to be out at sunset.
three of us thought it was a lioness at first, but as we came to a stop close to the animal we all realized that it was a MASSIVE leopard! We were all excited, because we had been looking for a leopard since we had gotten into the park (I have actually been trying to find leopards and jaguars for many years with no luck) and they are normally one of the most difficult animals to spot! By the time we had come to a stop and I had grabbed the camera, made some emergency setting changes and pointed it out of the window the leopard was already on the move. Luckily, the cat crossed the road in frond of us and, just as I pressed the shutter button, he looked right at me - The one and only picture any of us managed to get of him was perfect! What had started off as one of the worst game viewing drives we had done had instantly turned into one of the best and we were all still excited as we pulled back into Balule and started taking apart camp.
We had to be at Olifants Camp, where we
This was a mother and two babies that we found on the side of the road. Apperently they live in the culvert under the road.
would be spending the night, by mid morning, because we had signed up for a river walk with a few of the park rangers. On our way to Olifants we had another lucky spotting. This time it was a snake in the road and it was happily lying still and soaking up the warm sunshine. The snake turned out to be a young puff adder and it was beautiful! We stopped long enough to take a few good pictures and to get a group of cars surrounding it (otherwise some careless driver would have killed it!) and then we moved on. We made it to camp with plenty of time to spare, so we walked around a bit and then we met our guides.
We loaded into one of the small safari vehicles and we began our short journey to the Letaba River about a half-hour drive to the north. We drove quickly to our destination, bouncing and shaking over the rough, gravelly terrain, and we finally came to a stop on the side of the road in the shade of a giant baobab tree. Our guides got out of the truck and took a look around and then
A Blind Snake
We were told it was a mole snake, but I don't think it was. This was the second snake we saw. The third was a black mamba, but it crossed so quickly in front of us that I didn't even see it.
asked us to step out of the vehicle. After a quick discussion regarding the ‘rules’ for our hike (walk in a straight line, don’t talk, stay together and, most importantly, DON’T RUN FROM THE ANIMALS!) we set off into the wilderness on foot - I had wanted to explore the area on foot ever since I got to the park, so I was excited! At first the scenery was filled with large, twisted ironwood trees and some sparse brush, but we descended a steep slope and the forest ended and we found ourselves in the thick grass of the wide, sandy river bed. As we walked our guides would occasionally stop to teach us how to identify animals by their footprints or their dung, or to point out some unique feature of the landscape. The tall grass that we were walking through was razor sharp and thick, so it took a lot of care to get through intact and there was always the possibility of walking right into a large animal of some sort, so we walked slowly. We passed a large hole in the sand that we were told elephants had dug to get to clean water and then
Giraffes all in a Row
This was one of the funniest giraffe scenes we had.
we turned on to a lovely, well-trodden path that took us all the way to the water’s edge. It turns out that the path through the grass was actually a game trail that the hippos use during their nightly foraging trips - The hippo is known to travel long distances from the water in search of yummy things to eat, which we already knew from the previous morning’s amazing disappearing hippo incident. We followed the hippo trail all the way to the water’s edge and then we walked along the river bank for a short distance to a nice, solid rock section of shore. We took a seat at the water’s edge, but our guide asked us to move back a little, apparently he wanted to avoid a ‘Crocodile Dundee’ like crocodile encounter! We were sitting in the warm, early morning sun about five feet from the bank of the river. The water was imperceptibly flowing by and looked more like a stagnant pool with several lovely stands of tall grass and reeds rising up out of its murky brown water. On the far bank, which was only around thirty feet away, we could see a few tiny crocodiles. Right
Another Lovely Bird
The glossy starling was a very nice looking bird with its metallic cobalt plumage and yellow eyes. They were very common in the park.
about the time a large kingfisher flew by we heard a large splash off to our left in the middle of the channel. Closer inspection revealed a large group of hippopotamuses and we were closer than I ever dreamed we would get! The hippopotamus is statistically the most dangerous animal in Africa, mainly because of their tendency to run straight to the water when threatened, regardless of who or what is there! We were amazingly close, but they wanted to be closer - The hippos were coming our way! Our guide was not at all worried. He said that as long as we stay out of the water we will be safe and then he told us that hippos are inquisitive animals and they want to get as close to us as we do to them. As our aquatic friends approached our guide told us one of many local legends regarding a truce made by hippos and crocodiles so that they could live peacefully side by side in the river and on shore and then he explained some of the behaviors they were displaying. The grunting and splashing and burping were getting closer and closer every moment. At times an
These guys clean the ticks off of the animals, so they are friends with everyone.
unseen hippo would emerge from a giant explosion of bubbles in a section of river that had been completely calm. When the hippos had gotten as close as they could get to us without getting out of the water they stopped and they all stared at us and we stared back at them. It was amazing looking eye to eye with such a magnificent and strange animal in its natural home! There were a few tiny calves in the group and they were playing by climbing up on mom’s back and ‘jumping’ off and swimming around - It was fun to watch, but mamma was keeping here eyes on us. The mother opened her strangely shaped mouth into a big yawn that our guide said was a warning to us to keep our distance and then she submerged to giver her calf a platform to stand on. A huge explosion of bubbles right in front of us foretold of the coming of another hippo and we watched as an enormous male hippopotamus rose up out of the murky depths. Our guide told us that the huge hippo was the dominant male for the group, but we had already figured that
A Giant Kudu
These were one of the coolest of the antelope species in the park. They were hard to find, because the males are a bit scared of us.
out - His head was sticking up out of the water and he did a gaping yawn that highlighted his massive tusks and told us that he was a beast that should not be messed with. We sat on the shore for a few minutes longer, about half an hour in total, and then we said farewell to the hippos and thanked them for the amazing natural spectacle that they had allowed us to witness. We followed a different hippo path away from the river and we emerged from the tall grass into a large sandy area and there we found a skeleton of a hippo. Our guide explained the workings of the hippo’s jaws and then told us that one of their tasks as park rangers was to remove the ivory teeth from the dead animals in order to keep them off of the black market - That also solved a mystery that had arisen a few days before regarding what had happened to the dead elephant’s missing tusks. We made our way back to the shade of the ironwood forest and we climbed the slope. Our guides explained the uses of the amazingly strong iron wood and a
These guys were all over the park and quite common. This one captured himself a big meal.
few of the medicinal plants in the area and then we all walked over to the ancient baobab tree. It was to be our only chance to get close to the amazing baobab during our stay in Kruger. We learned from our guide that the baobab is actually threatened in the park, because Kruger’s huge population of elephants remain in the park year round instead of migrating to the coast and they destroy the young trees before they are able to establish themselves. The tree itself was impressive - It had a massive, but short trunk and all of the branches radiated out in a stubby canopy, looking almost like the tree was standing on its head with its roots exposed! After a few pictures and a bit more looking around we loaded back into the truck and headed back to Olifants, stopping on the way to look at a large group of zebras.
We had planned our stay at Olifants as a rest day, so we spent the majority of our time just sitting around on the amazing lookout point at the top of a bluff over the Olifants River and watching the comings and goings of the
The slender mongoose was easy to see along the roads in the late afternoon.
animals below - The riverine landscape that stretched out before us was possibly the most stunning view in the park and it was a pleasure to sit there and watch. After lunch we checked in to our fancy three person bungalow and spent the rest of the day at our leisure. That evening we decided to do another sunset drive despite the fact that it was in a large truck with lots of other tourists.
Keeping with the theme of the day, our sunset drive was absolutely amazing! We started off on the main road and at first our animal spotting was not going so well. Just before sunset we came to a bridge over a section of river and found several elephants playing in the water, which made for one of my favorite photo shoots in the park - The elephants were silhouetted, but the water glowed in the setting sun! We moved on and came to a stop at a culvert where an injured spotted hyena and her two cubs were lounging. The two youngsters were tending mamma’s wounds when we showed up, but their playful side took over when we arrived. The youngest cub was a
newborn and it still had a black coat. We watched and laughed as it rolled around and climbed on mom and then it walked over and sat down right next to our truck (right where I was sitting) and looked right at me - It was one of the cutest animals I saw in the park, which amazed me considering the adult hyena is the meanest looking animal there! We moved on to a nice place to watch the sunset and then we slowly started driving back. We spotted a crocodile and a few hares and even a mole snake, but the animals were doing a good job hiding from us - It didn’t help that our guide was treating us all like inept fools and refused to stop unless he was the one that spotted it! We found a slender mongoose running in the road and then, after a long dry spell on a dirt road, I found a well hidden spotted gennet and forced the driver to stop - It took a little while to find him again in the thick, tangled brush, but he finally showed himself and everyone was happy to see him. Our guide was
Looking for Food
Another shot of our feline friend.
clearly mad at himself for not being the one that spotted it and he apologized to us for his brief ineptitude, but we let him know that we didn’t expect him to see everything (he started stopping a little more frequently when we spotted something after that!) The rest of our drive was pretty uneventful until right at the end when we were headed back towards camp. We were moving along quicker than we should have been but it didn’t matter. We found an impala grazing on the side of the road and just behind it, less than fifteen feet away, were two glowing greenish-yellow beacons - it was a small, well camouflaged leopard crouching in the tall yellow grass getting ready to pounce! It was amazing to see the hunt in progress, but, sadly, we were five minutes too early and we ruined it for the leopard - The impala got away and the leopard ended up slowly walking away hungry! Two different leopards in one day, one of which was in the middle of a hunt - What a wonderful day! We made it back to camp and went to the restaurant. We had planned on getting a
You can see a large hole in his side in this picture.
nice fancy meal, but we discovered that they had a fixed, all-you-can eat menu that cost more than most peoples’ first car, so we went back to the bungalow and made a tasty concoction out of the remaining food we had!
The following morning we took our time getting ready. We ate a leisurely breakfast at a table overlooking the river and then we hit the road again. We didn’t have a long way to go to get to our next camp at Satara, so instead of going straight there we decided to head west again. We started off driving through the mysterious, riverine forests of huge, twisted trees and boundless, shadowy hiding places that we had come to know so well. We had been told at the beginning of our safari that the big trees were great leopard habitats, but we had yet to find one lounging on the trees’ thick branches - We had already seen more leopards than most regular visitors see in a lifetime, but we still kept our eyes glued to the treetops as we drove. Our drive through the forest didn’t produce another leopard sighting. In fact, we didn’t see anything of note
This was the exact moment that the leopard, only feet away from us, looked up and saw the young boy. The excitement shows, but luckily the guide was quick to pull the boy back into the truck.
along the rivers that morning except for the amazing landscape and the ever present impalas! As we got away from the rivers the tall trees were replaced by stunted, scrubby trees and thick tangles of brush. The pleasantly green atmosphere that we had enjoyed in the shady forest took on a dusty, arid feel as we drove deeper into the orange-tinted, brushy expanses. As we drove, we started having more regular wildlife sightings and we found many wonderful animals, including kudu, buffalo, elephants and wildebeests. We were driving along a winding dirt road and we began finding giraffes on both sides of the road. At times they were completely hidden except for their head rising up out of the top of a tree and at others times only their body was visible! We approached a car that was stopped in front of us. They were looking at the giraffes to the right of the road and when we got to where they were parked we found out why - There were several giraffes standing together in a group eating and they all were looking straight at us! The angle of their necks and the expressions on their faces made for
In the Dark
This was the third of the 'Big Five' that we saw on our famous night drive.
a comical scene.
A wrong turn resulted in one of the best animal encounters of the day. We had taken the wrong turn-off and we were heading away from camp, but when we emerged onto a paved crossroad we found two large and beautifully ugly ground hornbills. The ground hornbills, which are black birds with red, fleshy faces, are critically endangered in the wild, but they are doing well in parks like Kruger where they have been reintroduced. Every camp we have been to in the park had a separate ‘ground hornbill sighting’ book and we could finally put our names in one! The rest of the drive to Satara was fairly uneventful. We did find a few nice birds of prey and several slender mongooses, one of which stopped to pose for the camera. We also had a very amusing animal encounter at a waterhole just off of the main road - We were watching a large turtle that was sitting on a strange, rounded island. From time to time we could see bubbles rising up from the water near the island and we couldn’t figure out where they were coming from. Suddenly the island trembled and rose
I just caught this guy in the corner of my eye.
up out of the murky brown water a bit and took on the shape of a giant hippopotamus - The turtle didn’t seem to mind much that his island had just had an amazing earthquake! It was exciting to pull into Satara, because the area is known for its lions. We got checked in and then we went and found an amazing camp site in a tree filled area at the edge of camp - There was a huge green lizard on a tree nearby and the camp was filled with the beautiful cobalt-blue, yellow-eyed glossy starlings. We grabbed a bench from an unoccupied camp and then we set up our tents. A few hours later we were standing on the curb outside of the camp’s headquarters waiting for our sunset drive to begin.
Every time we set off on a game drive we did so with high hopes of seeing amazing animals everywhere. Normally the picture I painted in my mind regarding what we would hopefully see was far grander than what we actually found. Our sunset drive from Satara Camp was unusual, because it far exceeded even what I could come up with in my grandiose imagination!
We had seen the buffalo, the leopard, the elephant and the two large rhinos. Now, just before we pulled back into camp, the lions.
The excitement started even before we left the camp - There was a young kid and his mother sitting in front of me in the truck. The father was not going on the drive, but he wanted a good picture of his wife and son setting off. Instead of getting one in the parking lot, he decided that the picture would be better from outside the camp’s fence on the main road. He was correct of course, but the sheer number of lions in the area and the fact that certain potentially dangerous animals, like hyenas, like to patrol the camps’ boundaries make walking alone outside of the fences a little dangerous. He was completely oblivious to the danger and he walked right past the inattentive gate guard and into the wilds of Africa alone. Our guide spotted the man before anything bad happened and, after several shouts from him and the other guards, managed to coax him back into the camp!
We set off on our drive and immediately found two buffalo that were staring each other down in the tall grass off to our right. We stopped and watched them for a few minutes, but one of
This is the skull of a primordial demon, or it is just a broken skull of a wildabeast.
the buffalos charged the other and they both disappeared into the brush and we moved on. Next we came to a small bridge over a stream and there was a large male kudu there boldly showing himself off - Most of the time the male kudu, with his amazing spiraled horns, is very timid, but he stood there in view for a few moments before he hid himself. We moved on and after a short distance we came to another bridge and the guardrails on both sides were covered with playing baboons - There were attentive adults and playful youngsters and even several babies and they were all cute. We sat and watched the baboons for a while, but a car drove by and told our driver that there was a leopard in the road ahead. We said farewell to the baboons and shot off towards a possible leopard sighting. The man sitting behind me was excited - Apparently he had been making regular trips to Kruger for the previous thirty years and he had never seen a leopard! We could see a large traffic jam ahead of us, so we knew we were in for a show of some
In the Heat of the Day
This is where most animals could be found in the middle of the day.
sort. We came to a stop and took in the amazing scene ahead of us - There were cars stopped in both directions on the two lane road and the people were hastily putting their windows up as a small male leopard walked down the center line of the road between them. He was only an arm length away from the cars and he was not even trying to get away, which was unusual behavior for a leopard. We were in a better position than most of the other cars, because we were allowed to be out for as long as we wanted, the rest of the cars had to go back to camp before the gates closed. We sat and waited and watched - There was the photographer who found security behind her big lens as the cat walked by less than a foot away from her open window, there was the small pickup truck full of alarmed park workers who were sitting, watching the leopard walk by, in the open bed of the truck in easy reach of the cat’s razor sharp claws and there was the long line of people who were all trying to get one
This guy was soaked with mud.
last look of the amazing animal before they had to race back to the camp. The last of the cars pulled away and we were alone with our leopard. We were the paparazzi and we stayed right with him, but he didn’t care. At times we were lagging behind and at others he was walking along beside us on one side of the truck and then on the other - Our guide did an excellent job of making sure everyone got a good view of the animal. The magnificent cat had a grayish coat instead of the beautiful yellow that they normally have and our guide couldn’t say why. He was clearly acting strangely for the normally elusive leopard and our guide was baffled at that as well. At times the leopard would stop and stare off into the brush on one side of the road or the other as if he was looking for food, but for the most part he stuck to the center of the road. It was clear that the cat had been in a fight of some sort as there was a small open wound on his right side and his face was scratched up,
The southern part of the park was full of these guys.
so our guide said the cat may have been searching for a new territory after loosing a fight with a dominant male in the area. We were stopped and watching the leopard as he scanned the brush on the right side of the road when he took an interest in us and came closer. He approached the right side of our truck and he took a seat as if posing for the cameras. When he got tired of the flashes he got up and walked around the rear of the truck and to my side where he was only a few feet away from me. It was an exciting experience to be so close to a wild leopard with out any real protection around us (the cat could have jumped into the truck if he wanted to!) I was excitedly snapping away with the camera. I had focused in on the leopard’s face when his expression changed from the calm, disinterested gaze, which he had had up to that point, to an attentive, ‘hunter watching his prey’ look. At the same time I pressed the shutter button, our guide screamed, “GET BACK IN THE TRUCK!” I quickly learned the reason
The story goes that when Noah had just finished the arc these guys were the first on board and they had to go to the bathroom so bad that they sat on the freshly painted, and still wet, toilet seat - Note the white stripe on their rear.
for the changed look on the leopard’s face - The young boy sitting in front of me and his mother were both hanging over the rail of the truck as if they were serving themselves up on a silver platter! The leopard was clearly interested and in the split second that it took me to take the picture and hear the scream the leopard had crouched as if he was going to pounce - His unblinking eyes were firmly set on the little boy! In a quick action our guide jumped out of his seat and pulled them both back into the relative safety of the truck and the leopard walked on, dejected and hungry. The mother was clearly upset that they were pulled away from their wonderful wildlife viewing - I felt sorry for that kid, because with parents lacking in common sense to the level his parents had both displayed for us, he doesn’t have a chance! After everything calmed down in the truck our guide explained how lucky they were by telling us the story of the last ranger that died in the park - He was apparently pulled out of the driver’s seat of a truck
A Better Sunset
This came on our last night in the park at Lower Sabie camp.
just like the one we were in by a similarly sized leopard! We stayed with our feline friend for a few minutes longer, a half hour in total, and then we continued down the road. We drove for another twenty minutes with limited success and then we turned around and headed back in the direction we had come from. After about fifteen minutes we spotted a feline figure in front of us on the road and quickly found our friend again - We asked our guide if it counted as a second leopard sighting, but he didn’t think so! We watched the leopard for another five minutes and then he walked off the road and disappeared into the darkening brush. A few minutes later night swept across the savanna and out came the spotlights.
We turned down a dirt road and drove off into the night. A crash to our left revealed a large elephant, but he was fairly aggressive so we left him alone. A short distance later we had an amazing animal encounter and a not so amazing tourist encounter. We stopped and our guide pointed the light into the tall grass to our right. There were
What a Shot
The sun was just right and the bird was cooperating.
two honey badgers standing next to our truck looking right at us. They were standing still and we were all looking at them in amazement when a booming explosion of words erupted from the back seat of the truck, “What is it? I don’t see it! OH THERE THEY ARE! Why are they running away?”- Volume control is a necessity in the bush! I was still as happy as I could be, because the honey badger was one of the animals sitting at the top of our list of animals we wanted to see at Kruger - They are known as one of the most ornery, vicious animals in Africa! As a consolation prize our guide told us a story regarding a honey badger and a lioness that had taken place in Kruger - There was an old honey badger that was minding its own business when a lioness found him and thought she had an easy meal. The lioness attacked and an epic battle ensued. The badger tenaciously fought back and after a short, but damaging scrap the lion cut its losses and tried to escape. That wasn’t good enough for the badger. As if he were saying, “Oh
We got lucky on our last day in the park and we saw seven white rhinos.
no you don’t, you’re not getting out of this that easily!” the badger charged and attacked the fleeing lioness. The badger eventually died, but in doing so he proved that he was the toughest scrapper in the savanna!
We continued down the dirt road for a little longer when Alan spotted two enormous, gray shapes on the other side of a row of green, leafy bushes beside the road. His light crossed over the head of one of the animals and everyone gasped - There were two elephant-sized white rhinos standing there looking at us. The rhinoceroses were not happy with us being so close, so they took off running and we immediately lost them - It seemed like another impossible animal vanishing act, much like our previous hippo experience! We searched for a while, but we never spotted the rhinos again. It had been in all of our minds after we found the leopard - Was it possible to spot all of the ‘big 5’ in one night drive? Our guide said he had not done it and that it was fairly rare, but we had spotted four of the five and we still had a long way
This group had several youngsters in it.
to go to get to camp. All we needed to find to complete the list was a lion! We turned around and started back towards the main road. Along the way we found a few more elephants and a very lucky eagle owl sighting - The owl was sitting on a low branch just above the truck and I caught it out of the corner of my eye as we passed beneath it. We made it back to the paved road without spotting a lion. We turned towards camp and drove slowly. We were approaching the bridge that told us we were very close to camp and we still hadn’t spotted a lion. Suddenly our guide said, “There are two large animals in the road ahead of us!”, and he hurried towards them. As we approached the two shapes took the form of two lovely lionesses! The lionesses walked off of the left side of the road and we stopped right next to them. One of the lions sat down in the golden grass about fifteen feet from us and stared at us. The other lion walked around a bit and then sat down as well. They didn’t fear our
A Rhino's Rear
These guys were right on the side of the road, but we scared them away.
presence at all and it was an amazingly close encounter!
Our safari drive had been amazing and had far exceeded our expectations. We managed to spot the big five, including an unbelievable leopard encounter, and we saw our first rhinos at Kruger. The two honey badgers added icing on the cake. As if we needed more, just before we reached camp we could see two small eyes bouncing up and down as it ran towards us along the road. Our guide shouted out, “There is a gennet in front of us! No, an African wildcat! No, a cerval!” - The excitement in his voice as he said ‘cerval’ told us how special it was to see one! We pulled back through the gate into camp and thanked our guide for a great trip - He would be the talk of the town for many days to come!
Early the next morning we loaded into another safari vehicle and we left the camp again. It was still over an hour before the gate would officially open, so we had the park to ourselves. We turned down the same road we had used the day before to reach Satara and
These huge birds were a little hard to find.
we stopped beside the waterhole that had given us the amusing hippo encounter the previous day and we waited for the sun to come up. When the guide was comfortable with the lighting he got out of the truck and after a quick look around we joined him. We were going on a second walk through the African savanna! We went over the same rules we had discussed a few days before and then we set off in single file. We spent the next four hours cautiously walking through the scrubby forests surrounding the waterhole. From time to time our guide would stop to explain some interesting feature of the landscape or to teach us a bit about tracking animals. We learned that a male rhino always uses the same place to go to the bathroom and if he is the dominant male he will scatter it around as a way of marking his territory. We learned that during the winter months black mambas spend most of their time hibernating in the termite mounds. We discussed how the elephants’ destructive habit of ripping trees out of the ground to get to their roots can actually be beneficial to the ecosystem.
Yet Another Leopard
We were lucky. We spotted four different leopards in three days.
We learned how to identify elephant tracks and rhino tracks and even baboon and giraffe tracks and how to determine which direction they were heading in. We found the skeleton of an old wildebeest kill and our guide explained how some animals, like hyenas and giraffes, eat the bones as a source of calcium - Hyena dung is often bright, chalky white because of that. We didn’t expect to see many animals during our walk because even the fierce predators will run away from us if they can, but we still saw several amazing sights. We got to see the amazing bounding abilities of the kudu first hand when we came across a large group of them and they decided to get away quickly - Our guide told us that they are capable of jumping even double height game fences, which makes them difficult to contain. One of my favorite scenes from the walk actually involved impalas! We were walking through a large, grassy area. There were islands of brush and some beautiful trees and the early morning sun was bathing the landscape in a brilliant gold as it shed its warmth across the land. There was a line of
On our way out of the park we spotted several animals we hadn't seen yet.
trees in front of us and just beyond them we could see a large herd of impala. As we got closer they got spooked by our presence (presumably) and took off in unison running through the trees in a big group. They were leaping and bouncing and sprinting as impala always do, but there was a magical grace about seeing so many living things together in the wild with no fences or car doors segregating us - I felt like I was actually a part of nature, if only for a few hours! We also saw two lovely parrots, a distant giraffe and a few banded mongooses. We stopped for a break about half way through the walk and we sat around telling stories of our time in Kruger - Our guide was absolutely amazed by how lucky we had been with our wildlife viewing, especially by our eland encounter and of course the previous evening’s famous sunset drive. As we walked back towards our truck, a familiar, throaty roar filled the air with excitement and reminded us that we were walking through Hemmingway’s Africa! The lion was close and there were no fences to be found, our only protection
Please Give Me Some Food
These monkies were common all over South Africa.
was our wits (and the big guns our guides were carrying) - I had found the Africa of my dreams, if only for a short time! I was sad when we spotted the green safari truck in front of us and our amazing walk came to an end!
Our destination for the day was Lower Sabie Camp on the river of the same name. It would be our last night in Kruger! We had a long way to go, so we decided to stick to the main roads and get to camp quickly. The scrubby landscape was replaced by seemingly endless expanses of grass, with only occasional trees breaking the monotony. We had several nice overlooks along the way that gave us sweeping views of the African savanna. We also had several nice animal encounters including a huge herd of zebras and another big group of elephants. We made it to camp in the early afternoon and selected our last home in Kruger. After camp was set up we headed out to explore the area around Lower Sabie. We were starting to get wildlife viewing burnout and it was reflected in the number of quality animal sightings we had
The Ground Hornbill
These guys are extreamly endangered but are common in Kruger. We saw several.
(very few!) We had a nice drive regardless and we decided to risk being late to the gate and we stopped on a long causeway that crossed the Lower Sabie River to watch the sun set over the water. We sat and listened to the hippos laughing and grunting nearby and we watched as the giant, fiery-orange orb descended to the horizon. As it went down the sky changed from orangeish-yellow to a hazy purple - The colors reflected on the calm water were amazing, it was worth the risk to see it! We made it back to camp with minutes to spare. We decided to eat at the restaurant instead of cooking so we ordered our food and took a seat at a table overlooking the river. It was a pleasantly cool evening and we sat out there for a while listening to the hippos grunt and laugh. Just before we headed back to camp, we decided to look down at the grassy river bank one last time. To our surprise, we found a massive African civet, which is a large raccoon-like creature with spots, walking out in the open - It was a great way to end another
Literaly an hour before we left the park we saw this guy at a waterhole.
We were up before the sun the next morning. We had a long way to go to get to Pretoria before dark! We were being indecisive regarding which way we wanted to go to get out of the park. We had two exits to choose from, one was known for having good rhino populations and the other for having populations of wild dogs - We wanted to see both, so we did a compromise and drove south first into the rhino area and then to the west towards the wild dog area. It added a few hours onto the drive, but it made for a great journey. The loop we did to the south revealed some hippos and a few giant crocodiles, as well as a big group of wildebeests. Thanks to Alan’s eagle eyes, we also spotted a distant pair of rhinos that were standing in the open surrounded by large bushes. We drove on and found a large group of zebra including a few babies and then in an amazingly green landscape of extremely dense, bamboo-like, thorny brush we startled two more rhinos that were standing next to the road - We got a close,
These were just out of the park.
but brief view of them and I even got a blurry picture of their rear-ends! Four rhinos in less than an hour! We reached the main road and we turned towards the north and the exit we wanted to use. A few miles down the road we came to a stop on a bridge packed with gawkers. We asked the man in the vehicle next to us what they were looking at and that is when we found our fourth leopard. This time it was a magnificent beast that had been sunning itself on a rock in the creek bed below. When I pointed my camera at him he got up, as if on cue, and did a slow walk into the leafy green bushes - It was a short lived viewing, but an amazing one. Four leopards in as many days - That must be some kind of record! We reached the Lower Sabie River again and turned towards the west. Our detour had been very successful!
The drive along the river was filled with amazing animal encounters! We found three lions in the river bank - We were one of ten or more cars sitting there watching!
The Nile Crocodiles
These were the last animals we saw as we emerged back into the hustle and bustle of the modern world.
We also found countless impala and baboons and we had a funny encounter with a pack of vervet monkeys - We stopped to take a picture of them and they all charged the car, which sent us scrambling to get the windows up. We were quicker, but we still had to be careful driving away since they were all around us! We got to see first hand how slippery the asphalt is for hoofed animals when two impala exploded out of the brush behind us and their feet slipped out from under them when they landed and they crashed to the ground! The most exciting animal encounter along the river happened when a massive male kudu leaped out of the brush right in front of us, landed in the road and immediately bound off of the road on the other side - There was no way we could have stopped, so it is a good thing that the kudu can jump so well! The traffic along the river was oppressive and the inattentive drivers were dangerous, especially to the animals - Just before we reached our turn we found a baby baboon dead in the road, hit by a careless driver! Our drive to the south didn’t yield any wild dogs like we were hoping - They, along with the elusive pangolin, will have to remain at the top of our list for next time! Despite not seeing the dogs, we had a wonderful drive south. We found our fifth rhino of the day and, just before we hit the exit, we found a cheetah drinking at a waterhole - We had seen every cat that lives in Kruger, excepting the caracal, and, thanks to the cheetah, we had managed to keep our streak of seeing something new every day going! Our time at Kruger had come to an end. It had been an amazing journey from north to south through the diverse ecosystems that Kruger has to offer. We had amazing luck finding the animals and I had an amazing time. It is difficult for me to believe that I didn’t want to come to Kruger at first! I though it was going to be an ‘amusement park’ atmosphere, much like a zoo, but it was everything but. I didn’t like the fortified camps - I would have liked to have more wild camping options away from the motor homes (it works in other parks in Africa, so it clearly isn’t as dangerous as it sounds!), but, in the end, my Kruger safari was everything I had hoped it would be and a lot more!
We passed through the gate and stopped on the bridge over the Crocodile River. We sat and watched several Nile crocodiles twist and turn in the murky water below and then we said good bye to the wilds of Africa! We drove quickly through the progressively modern landscape and we made it to our hostel in Pretoria just as the sun was setting!