I’ve spent the last ten days in the bush in South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe, and my oh my, the animals we’ve seen! My bush ranger taught me that to find animals in the bush, I must look out for “things that are out of place.” So this blog is appropriately dedicated to “things that are out of place!”
We first flew into the Sabi Sands Game Reserve of the Kruger National Park in South Africa (on the border with Mozambique) in what seemed to be an Indiana Jones propeller plane, an entirely empty plane except for my mom and I. Hmm. I wondered if this would have a similar exit as Indy did high above the Himalayas in the Temple of Doom. Thankfully for my mom (she can’t swim), we landed gently on solid ground, albeit on an airstrip surrounded by giraffes and elephants. It seemed like we were about to nick the giraffe’s necks as we landed, but the animals couldn’t care less about the buzz of the arriving propeller plane!
The days started early – 5am in order to see the animals when they are most active. The sound of wildlife at sunrise is incessant! Birds chirping, animals yawning, crickets buzzing. The chorus of the bush is beautiful and very eerie at the same time; but you know something’s about to go down, nothing’s ever peaceful in the bush for long. By lunchtime, the heat of the jungle was unreal – easily over 45 degrees Celsius and incredibly humid. We dripped with sweat, even sitting in a veranda under the shade and six fans, too hot to stop a couple cheeky monkeys from stealing our fruit.
Later on our first afternoon in the bush, we went off-roading in search of the Big Five (leopards, lions, buffalos, rhinos and elephants) and got stuck in the deep dense bush of the jungle while giving chase to a leopard. It took us over an hour and the help of several rangers to get our Land Rover out. I’m sure this won’t be the last time this happens to me.
And for sure, the peacefulness of the bush soon broke and something extraordinary happened! The highlight of the entire safari was being stuck in a fight between 4 lions and a leopard. The leopard is a gorgeous animal, but it is much weaker than the lion, or the hyena for that matter, because leopards are solitary animals, unlike the other two. We traced a leopard paw print into the bush and found her eyeing a few innocent, sheepish-looking impala. We waited for a while until the leopard started its slithery leopard crawl to sneak up to its dinner.
It went in for the kill for an impala (which had alerted its brethren of the danger with a sharp cry), but a rabid hyena quickly stole its dinner. Pissed as all hell, the leopard followed the hyena to its den to seek vengeance but it knew it had no chance. The hyena was standing up and laughing at the leopard while enjoying its stolen meal. Did you know hyenas laugh at their enemies to scare them off from dead prey? I’ll try that tactic next time I come across someone wanting my chocolate cake.
Beaten off, the leopard left the hyena den and went to find another kill, but unwittingly ran into a pride of four female lions. The leopard waited, sniffed out the larger cats from afar, and wondered whether she should cross the field in front of the lions to chase some other impala, or call it quits for the night, and go to bed hungry. Wisely, the beautiful cat knew it was no match for the four lions and ran away before it could get slaughtered and lived to fight another day. The lions, unperturbed by our presence, simply came over to our Rover and pissed on our wheels. “Yeah, I know you’re here watching me, but you should know that this is MY house and I AM king of the jungle, so be on your way!”
Warned, off we went, in search of other animals. Did you know that giraffes have very high blood pressure because of their long necks? They also always head into the wind to eat food. They are “browsers” (they eat leaves off trees, as opposed to “grazers” which eat grass only) and their favorite food is the acacia tree. As they eat all the leaves off the acacia tree and leave just the thorns (which they conveniently use as toothpicks!), the acacia tree gives off tannin, indicating that all its leaves are gone. The tannin blows downwind, so the giraffes head upwind in search of trees that still have leaves. Self-guided GPS, go figure!
We came across a bird that I thought was ingenious – the Deirdrick’s Cuckoo. It originates in North Africa, but migrates every year down to Southern Africa to nest. Except, it doesn’t nest. It steals another bird’s nest. You see, it waits and waits for the Weaver bird to leave its nest in search of food, and as soon as the Weaver bird is gone, the Deirdrick’s Cuckoo flies into the Weaver nest, shoves the Weaver bird’s egg over the nest so it breaks on the ground below, then replaces the Weaver bird’s egg with its own and flies away! The Weaver bird returns from its hunt, none the wiser that its egg has been replaced, then nourishes and weans the cuckoo chick until adulthood, even though the cuckoo chick is five times the size of the adult Weaver. Brilliant! Too bad that strategy doesn’t work for human child rearing.
The diversity of birds in Bostwana was simply spectacular. Fish eagles, Darters, Storks, Kingfishers – it’s a chick connoisseur’s delight! Another fascinating bird was the red-billed Oxpecker. It sits on top of other animals, like hippos, rhinos, and elephants, and eats their ticks and fleas. The larger animals don’t mind it at all. This is called mutualism, when two animals in the wild work together in a symbiotic relationship. Something humans can surely learn more from.
The safari highlight in Botswana was running into a herd of about 200 elephants! They all walked into a mud pool right next to us, frolicked in the mud and had a fantastic time! Made me want to roll around the mud. When was the last time you saw 200 elephants together? Yeah, I thought so. Come to Botswana, it happens everyday.
One afternoon, we had a close encounter with a rhino which didn’t like us very much at all. It was happily going to the bathroom and relieving itself of a big #2, when my mom suddenly screamed, disgusted by the size of its dropping. The rhino got startled and charged our Rover. We had barely enough time to get away. We also got charged by a teenage elephant in Botswana, clearly my mother hadn’t learned her lesson. Moral of the story, don’t make fun of a rhino’s dung. They’re pee shy.
Which reminds me, did you know why dung is the color it is? Apparently, dung is greenish if all you’ve eaten is grass. But it turns reddish-brown if you’ve eaten leaves and flowers. So next time you go to the loo, don’t be surprised by the color, it all depends on what you eat! Until next time, happy bush trails!