Wednesday, January 20, 2010

South Africa the “Big 5”

I cannot believe how fast this visit has gone. It seems like I just got here and just like last time I am having the time of my life. I have to thank my DH for most of it. He sure does go ‘one up’ to make sure that we really enjoy our outings!

Let me begin by explaining the ‘Big 5’. It’s not the best attractions, the best malls or cities in South Africa. It’s about the animals- not the biggest in size or the five most magnificent (although to me they are)- no it the five most likely to kill or hurt you if you get in the way!!! They are the Elephant, the Cape Buffalo, the Rhino, the Lion and the Leopard. In the days of trophy hunting, these killed lots of hunters….too. These five are the most deadly if find yourself in a bad place!

So what does the “Big 5” have to do with this post? I have seen 4 of the “Big 5” in the wild. Well at least as wild as we humans have left the animals too. I say that because there really isn’t much ‘wild’ left in the world- we have either fenced or preserved some space for what traditionally had the entire world as their backyard. This past weekend we went back to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve (Shish Louie). This time arriving on Saturday morning and leaving on Monday afternoon! Talk about time to see the park.

On this trip, we saw 4 of the “Big 5” and I have pictures to prove it!!! It is summer here so there are periods of the day depending on the temperature where nothing is out and about. But we got lucky this weekend with a partly cloudy, slight rain weekend.

So, once we got through the gate, we took the long way up to the lodge, on one of the dirt roads, and because I don’t limit my photos to just animals, it was a long ride… and very slow. Not only did we see large animals, we saw some bugs, birds and flowers too. (There are lots of pictures on the Flickr page too and you can click photos here to make them larger).

Our self guided ride brought us to the White Rhino first (there are Black Rhino here too, but they are more solitary, we didn’t see any this trip), they were doing what Rhinos do when not eating- lay in the mud. On Saturday I got one rolling in the mud…

they don’t look so fierce when they are belly up. The first ones we saw closely only a hundred feet or so away- not a ½ mile or more... were in a bit of a bad mood… and actually got to their feet and did a bit of snorting, stomping and mud pushing, all while giving us the evil eye. So after a few snaps we did move on. I also like to get the birds too, which makes for some very slow going and one of things we learned is that if you go slow enough for birds and bugs, you see lots more stuff!!!

So as we were rolling along… we could hear the cough/sounds of Baboons. On my last trip here I didn’t really see the Baboons. So as we are heading towards them the sounds really ramped up… sounded like something was getting killed! So we hastily followed the sounds, not knowing what we would find. The sounds lead us down a little

spur that is obviously not used much… and we found a troop of Baboons, having a bit of an argument. The Alpha male and a female with a very young baby on her back were hopping about making LOTS of noise. The rest of the troop stayed out of the way. I got a couple of good shots, but this was really in a shady area!

Next we found ourselves at the Hilltop Lodge, we were going to check in, but we were too early for that and the sky had gotten a little drizzly, so we decided to have some lunch and then check in.

After lunch back to the car, and we decided to go back to the area where my husband and a group of friends saw a Leopard the same week I arrived in South Africa. So we headed down that road, slowly. Some where a bush deposited this little guy on my door frame.

 He was the brightest green and only
about a half an inch tall. Just too cute!!!

So we are driving slowly and not seeing too much until we come upon this- a Lioness. She just stepped out of the brush on the side of the road. I immediately noticed that she either has milk or is drying up and at that very moment, out pops these!!!

Three kittens, (my estimate is at about 6 weeks old, based on the size of the 4 month old ones I saw on my last trip here). We got to see and follow this little family for about a ½ mile, until they ducked back into the brush near the river. This actually made the trip for ME!!!

DH and I saw lots of other animals, too. Some just walked out of the brush right in front of us- one was a male Nyala- which is a solitary animal. He just stepped out onto the road and calmly walked across.

We had made an early dinner reservation, because on our last visit… the buffet had been pretty well picked over by the time the Nighttime Game Drive ended. After dinner we went to the room for some relaxation and sleep. We were up early to get to the park early.

On Sunday morning we got up early because we were to meet a Guide, (Sean) at the Memorial Gate at 7 and we wanted to take our time diving down to meet him, just in case we saw something. Once again the day was cloudy and a bit over cast. We didn’t see much on the way down… a giraffe, some zebra and a bull elephant- but all were a good ways off and nothing too spectacular.

Sean took us down a road in an area of the park we hadn’t even touched on in our previous visit, and quite frankly didn’t even know it was here. We generally saw lots of large animals and some really large birds. I got a great couple of shots of a Yellow Billed Kite in flight. And of course a bug or two… the dung beetle and his ball of Shit. There was bright green one too, but his picture didn’t turn out so well. We saw Impala, Blue Wildebeest, more White Rhino and more White Rhino… as we were returning to the Memorial Gate, we found a couple of Bull Elephants, more Baboons, and some more giraffes. But we did not see what we were really looking for- a male Lion or a Leopard. So we dropped Sean off at his residence and on his advice took a dirt road back to Hilltop. The gates to the park close at 7 and they prefer you be back at your lodging before dark, but we decided to continue our theme of go slow and did it pay off.

On our little drive at almost dusk, we spot a herd of Impala at the top of a hill, that were nervous. We stopped and we could hear them snorting- which is a sound of pay attention everyone. So we waited a bit…

and out of the tall grass came a hyena. Just one, that was NOT interested in the Impala at all. We didn’t figure out what he was after. Hyenas will kill, but prefer to steal a meal after the hard work is done. We didn’t see any of the others, and maybe if we’d have stayed we might have seen something more.

So next we are driving along….and we come around a turn in the road and there is a bull elephant walking toward us. Now we have been told that the bulls are a little frustrated, because it’s summer and the cow elephants are avoiding the males, so the males can be touchy if they are in ‘musth’ (sexually frustrated). Well this guy looks calm enough… so we move to the side of the road (you've seen the car insurance commercial where the elephant sits on the car, it can happen here), put the car in neutral and wait quietly. He wanders toward us calmly, stops and takes a bite of tree or two, and moves along. As he passes the car he checks us out… no big deal, except… he is in ‘musth’… and it could have gone bad if we had been noisy or obnoxious; but nope we were within an arms length of a ‘wild' Bull elephant’!!!

We skipped dinner -we have eaten twice at the Hilltop Buffet dinner, and we decided that we don’t like the food. So we allowed our late lunch and the snacks I packed suffice. I had packed some cheese and crackers, cookies, fruit and nut packs and some water. A nice simple picnic dinner.

On Sunday, once again we were up early to see more of the park before leaving. We attempted to see the lion and her cubs again, but no luck. We went looking for the leopard in another area where leopard have been seen, again no luck. We looked for the Bull Elephant or the herd of cows and juveniles, but again no luck. I did get a great photo of a bird on the ground, though. On our way out of the park we stopped at the curio shop and bought a few more items.

So we headed for home and turned in the rental car and spent the afternoon up and down loading photos!

I only have a little over 1 week until I head home. I just can’t believe how fast the time has gone! Next weekend Pretoria. Not sure what we’re going to be doing up there from Friday to Wednesday… but I’ll let you know if it’s anything interesting, although I was told to be sure and bring the camera!

As always more later!


Becky said...

OMG! Incredible! Especially love the pictures of the lion family, elephant and hyena! WOW! What an incredible experience! Thank you for sharing!!!!!

Karen S said...

That upside down rhino bears a disturbing resemblance to Rosie the Bernese Mountain Dog!

Love the kitties!