Photos and Text By Guest Blogger Diane King
Scroll down for photos
So you need to understand how much training our guide needs to do his job. He speaks English and Afrikaans which he learned in school, as most students do. Afrikaans is mostly Dutch based but it has incorporated French English Asian and German influences also. Many roadway and business signs are in Afrikaans. There are 11 official languages in SA. He has to pass courses to identify the birds, mammals, insects of the area, first aid, marksmanship, driving safety, have the social skills to interact with the guests, and knowledge of vehicle maintenance. And with the way he drove off the paths on safari, he would need to do a lot of maintenance. Those lodges that do not employ a spotter, generally do not drive their vehicles very far off the main paths. You can imagine the difficulty of fixing a breakdown or changing a flat tire in the middle of the bush by yourself, while keeping your passengers safe.
One day I spotted a vulture in a tree, so Sam and Tyrone jumped out of the Rover and took the rifle, and radio, and left all of us in the vehicle, while they went hunting for a possible kill by the lions, then passed to the hyenas/wild dogs, and then left for the birds. Now, fortunately it was daylight then, but we were left alone, and we were very very quiet till they joined us again, confident that the bird was just enjoying the sun.
The Big Five. You will read and see this all over SA. It refers to the 5 most challenging animals to hunt in Africa. They are the Buffalo, Leopard, Elephant, Lion, and Rhino. The Buffalo is not related to the Water Buffalo seen in many other countries. They travel in small groups to very large herds of hundreds. At about 3 yrs of age, the young males are pushed out of the group, sort of like misbehaved teenagers, and they range in bachelor herds with the old males. While looking like a very large bovine, they are considered to be very dangerous, especially a lone male, and are feared even by seasoned hunters. We saw several groups and were able to take some very good photos-using the long lens for safety.
There are a few Leopard in Madikwe, but they are able to jump the fence so it is not known how many are there at one time, or where they could be found. We never saw one there, but did briefly see a few in a very small research facility. They are very powerful and can kill an animal twice its own weight and climb a tree carrying a dead antelope, to feed alone, without competition from dogs, and hyenas.
The Cheetah has a smaller head than the leopard, is not nearly as strong, is lighter but its advantage is speed. It can go from 0 to 60mph in 3 seconds and it is able to kill by knocking its prey off balance, then pouncing on it.
All of the lodges drivers communicate constantly with the others to share finds of animals so all can appreciate the sighting. Sometimes we traveled at great speed over rough terrain, guessing that there must be something very good at the end, and there always was.
One time we were called to see 4 of the 5 remaining male Cheetahs on the reserve. The 6th had been killed, perhaps by lions. Four were brothers and hunted together, the other two, now 1, were separate. Much to our delight, we found the 5th the next day, but it is very sad to realize the fate of this species is to only survive in captivity. There is a very small gene pool worldwide, they reproduce poorly, and if not raised in the wild, they do not have the hunting skills to survive. One of the 4 brothers had a radio collar to help the research teams gather more information. We saw them, fat, happy, lazy and sleepy at the perimeter of the reserve. They had obviously had a big dinner the night before and planned to spend the day in the shade resting. We could have stayed all day but there was a long line of other vehicles cued to take photos too. The informal rule is that only 3 vehicles can be at a sighting at one time. Probably a good idea for all involved.
Elephants-so many now in SA and the numbers continue to increase as there are not many natural predators in the reserves, and they reproduce well in the wild. They are mostly gentle giants capable of walking so quietly, you can be surprised to find one right next to you. This might seem like a good photo opportunity, but solitary males, especially when in Musth, when the testosterone levels rise by as much as 60%, are extremely dangerous and to be avoided at all cost.
Wew saw several males in Musth, and we either held our breaths till he passed us, or we quietly and slowly drove away. They are completely unpredictable when in this mood and have been known to overturn cars. You can usually quickly tell from the secretions on the side of the head from a gland, and the rather constant dribbling of urine on the inside of the legs, both to give off scents. The other obvious clue is when he comes running down the road at full speed with ears flapping making lots of noise.
Lions travel in prides and even though perhaps feared the most of all African predators, they are generally lazy, opportunistic and only kill about 30% of the time. The males will avoid hunting if they can, but are happy to be the first to the kill, after the ladies do all the work. Does this sound familiar?
Rhinos are both of the white and black types in SA. The coloring is not suggestive of the subspecies, but rather the shape of the mouth. The square lipped is the white variety which helps with eating mostly by grazing down low to the ground. It is larger and more numerous than the black which has a hook lip to allow for browsing-eating small brush and leaves from trees. The black is more elusive, hiding in dense thickets, and usually is alone. We did not see any black rhinos but had an amazing opportunity one day of spotting 2 white rhinos at a watering hole. We were able to get photos from all sides before calling in the other Rovers.
The next photos are of a beautiful buffalo, showing off the horns and cute dangling ears, and a small herd of buffalo at a small watering hole. They like to roll in the mud to cool off and soothe their skin from insect bites, like the elephants. A female Kudu, of the antelope family, notable for the vertical white stripes on the body and a white stripe down the backbone, which is not well seen in this photo. The males have long swirling horns for fighting. Finally, a wonderful, if I say so, shot of a dung beetle at work rolling his ball off the road, and just another cute shot of 3 giraffes.
Diane and David