The fourth day of our safari and its definitely everything I expected and more. I mean... I'm not even phased by seeing zebras and giraffes anymore because I have already seen so many. Its a really sad thing to think about - but its true.
Today's plan was to visit the Rehab center and do another bush drive in the afternoon. The rehab center serves two purposes: to treat injured animals and to educate the public. Let me be clear, the point was made abundantly clear to us that it is not conservation. They save single animals, not entire species. But through those animals and education, they try to save species and promote awareness. Whether its with the locals (and telling them not to kill the animals) or through tourists (by raising awareness). The fact highlighted was simple, people always choose to save the cute animals - even when, especially in this case - they don't need to be saved. There are many thousands of elephants too many in Kruger that kill the habitats of many species; but due to humans, the money and effort goes to saving the elephants. Also, if an animal in Kruger is injured - even if he is found, they let him die because that's the circle of life. Rarely does the center save injured animals from the actual park. The point was also re-emphasized that hunters are not bad. In fact, if a rich guy responsibly kills and animal, pays a ton of money, and it goes back to the community and nature - he has saved way more than he has taken. In addition to the animals they save and release, they also keep some as ambassadors to other animals and the community when they are too injured or domesticated to return.
The animals at the center were very diverse. We saw a lot of rare birds that are only found in the Kruger including falcons, many types of eagles, and vultures. Heather and I both got to feed vultures while holding them on our arms. I fed an African Cape Gryphon elephant meat out of my hand. How many people can say that? Another crazy fact about vultures in SA. Because the fly so high and can see so far (over 6 miles), people here believe that they can see the future. Because of this legend, people will kill them and eat them to get the power to see the future and win the lottery. It has made the birds almost extinct. I mean its 2010 - but these people don't know any better.
We saw "Big Boy" a lion that was raised from birth by the center. A pair of baby cheetahs that we got to play with, and lots of leopards. An interesting fact about cheetahs, did you know they cannot climb. Unlike leopards who climb a lot, cheetahs apparently just run fast. Another interesting fact - did you know that lions and leopards have white under their eyes to reflect the moon and stars so they can see at night. How crazy is nature? While the animals are in cages, they are by no means tame. In fact, even the staff refuse to trust any of the animals because of how unpredictable the can be.
We also saw wild dogs which are some of the rarest things to see in the region. There are only about 150 in all of Kruger. They look like ugly mutts, but can apparently kill a buffalo in under 50 seconds. I was impressed. We saw more cheetahs - which run at over 100 km/hr. We also saw Hyenas. We were told that they hunt as well as lions and the two often stay clear of one another in the bush. They are some of the most dangerous animals in SA. They can bite right through a human femur, but at the same time, the can playfully nibble on a human arm, not puncture the skin or cause injury, but can bruise the bone because of the even pressure they are able to produce. They bite off the feet of their victims and kill them slowly, and to show how ruthless they are, their poop is white because of the calcium from all the bones they eat.
The final animal we saw was a first, and the worst - it proves bad things come in small packages. It is the SA honey badger - one of the most feared in the country. Don't laugh. Yes the thing looks like a chipmunk, but its a killer. It is super small, but can kill anything (including the lion) by attacking it from below and bleeding it to death. They are super smart (the one we saw was called Houdini) and most animals in the bush steer clear from them. Humans are pretty much their only enemy. Don't say I didn't warn you, but seriously, who wouldve guessed?
We took a long lunch at another lodge and met some cool people from Norway. The dad of the family in our group hung out with us while his family hung out together (for over 2 hours telling the most annoying stories and knowing everything on earth). After lunch we headed out on our last long game drive. The park we went into had no elephants or lions, so we were really hopeful for the leopard - our last requirement for the 'Big 5'.
We saw tons of the standards closer than ever (like within 5-10 ft) - rhinos, giraffe, zebras, antelope, and two new ones - the antebe and nyala - two antelope looking things. We also saw a python and some mongoose, but were still evaded by the leopard. We have one last short game drive in the morning, but otherwise - we may leave Kruger with only 4 of the 5.
We got a few more good stories about local justice and our next destination of Johannesburg (Jo-burg). I had don't enough research to know it was a piece of trash city before I came, but after the stories, I'm glad I stayed away. Its in the Gauteng Providence, so their license plate starts with GP-___. The locals say it stands for gangstas paradise. And in fact, Jo-burg is rated one of the top 5 most dangerous cities in the world - up there with Baghdad and Kabul. Awesome... I cannot wait. No worries, we are staying outside the city and won't be there for more than a few days of the whole trip.
Finally, I got personally invited to attend a one-week ranger school in Kruger next year because according to the guides they felt I had the passion and were interested in the facts more than others. Really? I just thought I talked a lot and asked a lot of questions. I mean, as great as having "completed Kruger Park Level 1 Ranger School" on my resume would be (that's called promotion potential) - let's be honest, you have all read the blog: the school requires me to sleep in the bush with no tent of anything. I may have loved my time here, but I'm not stupid.
I don't plan to write again for a few days where I will sum up the safari and trip out the bush. I wanted to write regularly during the safari so I didn't forget details even though I didn't really have the time to do it - this is a lot to type on a BB. I will try to update everyone again before the US v UK game this weekend from Rustenburg. I hope everyone at home is cheering loudly for the US - we will need it.
Until then, keep writing me emails, and hopefully my phone continues to work so I can keep updating. So far... So good.
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