Seeing the Animals

The last time we went to South Africa, I wrote separate posts about experiences viewing different animals.  If only I had the time to do that these days…but I digress. I want to write a separate post about the day we did a walking safari, because that experience was very distinct, but I am going to have to group all of the others together.  I am sorry if that disappoints, but I don’t think anyone cares that much.  We stayed at Jock Safari Lodge for three nights, meaning that we took six game drives, plus our drives to and from the amazing Skukuza airport, which is inside of the Kruger National Park. The size of Kruger National Park is vast, and many of the herd animals like Wildebeest and Buffalo had migrated to a different part of the park while we were there.  We did manage to see a few herd animals scraggling behind, so we saw some Wildebeest and Buffalo (so our big 5 viewing experience was complete), but not the giant herds of them. We saw a few other herd animals too, like sad zebras left behind.

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What did we see so many of? Elephants. I cannot tell you how many different elephants we saw.  Elephants in the riverbed! Elephants knocking down trees! Elephants in the road! Elephants! Elephants! Elephants!

DSC_0691DSC_0608DSC_0426Now it just so happens that aside from the carnivores, elephants are my favorite animals to see. Seriously, if I had nowhere to go and all of the time in the world, I could sit and watch a herd of elephants all day, or even a week, month, even longer.  Maybe I was just missing my babies tremendously, but seeing mother elephants protecting their young calves made me weep.  It is so much beauty to witness. DSC_0383DSC_0328DSC_0305

That is scientifically the fewest number of elephant pictures that I possibly could have included considering that I took approximately 452 different pictures of them.  I couldn’t possibly understate how many elephants we saw.

Is it possible to talk about seeing elephants and not then discuss seeing giraffes?  I feel like they automatically go together, even though I didn’t see them together in Kruger.  We saw many lonely juvenile male giraffes. I don’t know where the others were but all of those adolescents were out and about.

DSC_0412DSC_0551DSC_0396DSC_0828Within the barren landscape of Kruger at the end of its winter dry season, giraffes feature beautifully.

We didn’t see the elusive black rhinos, which are pretty rare in the wild these days, but Kruger boasts the largest concentration of white rhinos, and the southern part of the park, where we were, particularly boasts large numbers. So we easily saw a dozen of them. Of course, there large numbers is also why they are being poached there all the time. This year is on record for being even worse than last year in terms of number of rhino poached. They are being poached at such a rate, that I hope when we take the boys to South Africa in seven to eight years, there are still white rhino left to be seen in the wild. DSC_0560DSC_0663

It was the dry season, so water was scare but we did manage to find a couple of spots with enough of the liquid stuff to attract a hippo or two and a crocodile.

DSC_0746DSC_0819Here is your friendly neighborhood warthog too:

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So now that I have your attention by discussing the animals that people are mostly interested in, here is the middle part of the post when I talk about birds!  Yes, people don’t care about birds the same way.  It really is a shame, because the bird life of Kruger is amazing. It even made a bird watching convert out of me (sadly, up until now, my sister Melissa was the only birder of our family). I am sorry if you think birds are boring. Just scroll past and go down to the end if you must.

For those of you still with me, here is a yellow-billed hornbill, just like Zasu in the Lion King.  We saw loads of these birds.DSC_0414Maybe you prefer some birds of prey?

DSC_0504DSC_0523These Bataleur Eagles and their brilliant orange faces were some of my favorite birds to view.  I love birds that are mating pairs for life. DSC_0806

Probably the most beautiful birds we saw were these beautiful saddle-billed storks, one of the big six birds of Kruger.DSC_0437DSC_0439They two are generally found in a mating pair.

Alright, enough with the birds.  How about an adorable dwarf mongoose?

DSC_0642Or how about those pesky Chacma baboons?DSC_0552No, you probably want to see those things that can kill those pesky baboons. Well, I finally saw one of those, a majestically beautiful leopard who had just killed a chacma baboon and was saving him for dinner.

DSC_0587We saw his baboon kill up a tree, and when we came back for our evening game drive, we saw him feasting upon his kill.

DSC_0704DSC_0728 (2)DSC_0732I am sorry, but after finally seeing leopards in the wild, I am pretty confident there there is not a more beautiful animal to behold.  I feel pretty strongly about it.  Finding that leopard was a lot of work for our experienced ranger, Jan, but what finally gave the leopard’s spot away wasn’t the leopard himself, who was well-concealed in the bush, but a skittish young hyena who was looking for some scraps.

DSC_0564We later saw a female leopard in the tall, dry grass tracking a lone impala.  Sadly, the impala got away, and the leopard’s hard work tracking went unrewarded.

DSC_0781Speaking of hyenas, we saw several packs of them as well.  Who knew I would feel so affectionately towards hyena pups?

DSC_0540DSC_0397And then, of course there were the lions. We had some pretty amazing lion sightings at Shamwari, so at first I wasn’t thinking they were high on my priority list to see.  The first night drive, we saw a pride of female lions that made me very, very sad. One of the females was injured with a prominent broken leg that she could barely walk on, and only did so with tremendous pain.  It looked dreadful. She was very emaciated and struggling to keep up with the other three female lions.  DSC_0373DSC_0372DSC_0377Honestly, it made me cry.  When a lion is in that state, she isn’t long for this world, and I hated seeing her suffer.  I know, that is nature, but it doesn’t make it any easier to witness a majestic animal reduced to that state and suffering.  After that sighting, I didn’t know if I wanted to see any more lions.  But then, as we ticked off the game drives, we came to our last morning and we still hadn’t seen any males.  I realized, I would feel very, very incomplete about the experience without seeing a male lion.  That morning, we were in for a treat. Right when the sun was rising, we had a beautiful sighting.

DSC_0766DSC_0770I know I said the leopard is the most beautiful animal to see, but that dark maned lion was the handsomest lion that I ever have seen. Even more amazing was hearing his morning roars.

Yes, I think I will end this Kruger post with that, because I still hear his sounds in my dreams as a call for me to return to Kruger.

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