Utterly exhausted after 4 days “on holiday” at Kruger with 530 AM starts and days spent in a hot, hot car with four others actively looking for African wildlife. The trip began first with a slight detour to see the “Big Tree”–the worlds second largest Baobab! Located in a small rural village where every man, woman and child waves to you and the sand glistens not from the heat or diamonds, but from sprinkles of plastic, glass and metal and the trees are spun with shredded plastic bags.
Quite impressive, this “Big Tree” with smooth petrified elephant skin carved across from visitors and low hanging branches that seem tired after centuries of begging the sky for rain. Our guide took us around its base, asking us to use our imagination– pointing at this branch that looked like a giraffe or that lump representing a hippo. There are also more perverted protrusions along it’s bark such as lovers, genitalia and breasts, but for the most part they represent fantastical creatures.
Staying in Northern Kruger at Punda Maria, we encountered many typical African animals such as elephants, antelopes, zebras, giraffes and many exotic birds. Our first encounter left us breathless as a large bull elephant took to the road, slowly made his way towards us and loomed close to our car. Happy, I could have left then and there and been satisfied with the whole trip! After an afternoon rest, we took a drive in the more tolerable heat and was almost late getting back due to a group of elephants wading at a waterhole. Back at 602 PM they give you a five minute leeway–after that the gates are closed and you get stuck with a heavy 750 rand fine.
On our way to Shengwedzi Camp further south, we encountered a whole group of elephants and stopped and watched as they made their way across the road to a waterhole. These elephants proved to be the most interesting to watch including a cow in oestrus with two calves being pursued by two bulls (one peeing on his hindlegs and sweating behind the eyes showing he was in musth). She ruffled and shook her head at us, warning that we were too close, made nervous by her suitors and protecting her young. Another lone bull gave us a similar warning and pretended to be browsing. Luckily, Oldrich knew better than to pass and demonstrated this by revving the engine slightly. Upon hearing this, he flitted his head around and realized that we had stayed put.
The local baboon troop was also amazing to watch with their playfulness and babies and juveniles everywhere! Some were munching away on peanuts–probably stolen. Three larger males were asserting and determining dominance with loud chasing and the whole group watched from the trees or road.
At Shengwedzi, we were fortunate to stay at the Research Camp outside of the gates. However, we still followed the rules, out at 530 AM and back by 6. Our camp (a bunch of houses and tents) was surrounded by electric fences–protecting visitors from hungry predators. Several years ago, a guard at the gate was killed by a leopard that crawled into his open window, dragged him out and ate him down the road. That same window now has bars across it.
Friday night with a full moon we went on a night drive! Not a good night to see predators since their prey can spot them easier. But luck was on our side with 2 lion and 2 lioness sightings along with wildcat and other animals. The first lion, couple meters from the open jeep, looked straight at us with glowing eyes and I had a brief vision of been dragged out and eaten in the bush. Instead, he laid his head down and took a nap on the tar road still warm from the day’s heat. The second lion, sauntered down the road then roared with his pride. Lionesses answered his call and we listened to them go on.
Making our way out, we stopped for lunch at Punda Maria and watched Vervets play and lounge on the cool tiles. Several newborns with black, wet fur and pink noses were being passed around and their mothers groomed by interested parties. Bold youngsters took their chances and came within a foot of us, lapping at water or trying to steal crumbs.
After Kruger, zoos will never be the same.
Next week (a common saying on Town days!), hopefully photos will be uploaded with a list of animal sightings!