South Africa Day 20: Elephant Fights and Hyena Bites 

First thing we saw today were a couple of giraffes having a cuddle. I’m sure they weren’t really having a snug, but that’s what it looked like to me, so that’s what I’ll say they were doing. Anyway, it looked CUTE, with their necks kinda twisted together.

We were out looking for a leopard today. There had been some sightings, and we were combing the area looking out for those beautiful spots. The other guests who were in the truck with us hadn’t seen a leopard yet, and they hadn’t done any other game drives, so the ranger was trying his best to find one.

We found some more elephants. There were two young boys play fighting with one another, which was so cool to see. I’d never seen them do that in real life – they were just like human teenage brothers! They were pushing and shoving each other and one of them turned and ran into the bush, swiftly followed by a tusk in the rump from his playmate.



They thundered off into the trees and we could hear them messing around in there; crashing into trees and crashing into each other it seems. There was a little one in the herd who was just staring to learn to use his trunk to strip leaves from branches. It was so endearing watching him learning. Struggling to control his trunk and tackle the branches, was just CUTE. They are so like humans in so many ways.

We stumbled upon a hyena laying out in the open. He was so chilled, and it turns out he wasn’t far from their den – so it looked like he had been kicked out. Maybe he came home late or something and Mrs Hyena wasn’t happy? Who knows!



Not long after that, we got a call telling us there were some hyenas feeding on a baby giraffe. They couldn’t tell whether the hyenas had taken down the giraffe themselves or whether they had snaffled it off of a leopard. Poor little giraffe. But that’s life I guess – and it’s interesting even if it is a bit horrible, so we decided to head over there to take a look.

On our way over there we hit a roadblock, a giraffe roadblock. There were 6 giraffes standing in the road in front of us, and more to the left and the right of us. They were non-movers.


We had to wait until the one at the front decided they were going to follow the rest of the group, and ran towards us and went to our left. Soon the others followed suit and the road was clear. These guys were probably the group that the little one was taken from – which would explain why they were acting kinda strangely.


We got to where the hyenas were feeding on the baby giraffe and they were all laying around on the ground. Their tummies were so full that they couldn’t get up, they looked like they had swallowed footballs! They were fit to burst, and all they could manage was to lift their heads and glance at us when we arrived.

Look at that tum

 

They soon lost interest in us when the pups arrived and started squabbling over the remains of the giraffe. Mum had to wade in, and one of the little ones didn’t take kindly to her interference and started trying to bite her ankles – which was hilarious to watch. He was snapping and snarling at her as she tried to stop them arguing with one another.



This was a really nice sighting for our last one of our holiday. We have been really lucky with everything we have seen. Seeing the Big 5, then the Super 7 and only being one off seeing the Dangerous 9. All we need to do is stumble upon a Nile crocodile and we will have a full set (somehow, I don’t think that is likely). Some of the sightings we have had of these animals have been one of a kind and once in a lifetime kind of sightings. They haven’t just been glimpses of tails and ears in the bush, 300 metres away. We have seen animals up close and doing their thing. Which is beyond amazing.

I am really going to miss waking up each morning and seeing all these amazing animals. Going back home and opening the curtains to the odd one-legged pigeon and urban fox rummaging through a bin, isn’t quite the same. I’m sad to leave. I’m really, really sad to leave.

 

Bonnie

South Africa Day 19: Lions Sleeping and Hippos Creeping 

We are at a new place now, which is a lodge rather than a camp. I have to say, I much prefer the camp. There were loads less people and the whole experience was much more personal. We got here yesterday afternoon, so we had a game drive in the evening. I got a really good photo of a giraffe as the sun was going down, with the last of the sunlight on his face.

We also saw a hyena going down to the water to drink, which was pretty cool. I hadn’t seen one in the light yet. There was a hippo in the water, and they are super territorial, and as soon as the hyena had started drinking, the hippo was on its way over to it.

It got closer and closer to the hyena, until the hyena decided it was time to scoot off, well out of the reach of the hippo. It sauntered off up the bank and disappeared into the bush.

The next morning, we were out nice and early, and the first thing we saw was a hyena. They aren’t usually out and about at this time, so it looked like she was coming back from a hunt. Kind of like a “morning after the night before” thing.

We saw some more white rhino, which were lazing about and chilling. After our rhino encounter, we saw some elephants, and there were little babies! I don’t know what it is about baby elephants, but they are so endearing.



Just as we were heading back to the lodge, we found some buffalo. This now means I have officially seen not only the big 5, but the super 7 too! There were about 150 buffalo in the herd, and we watched them for a while.

It was interesting to watch the birds on the buffalo picking off the ticks and parasites from them. Their bright red beaks stand out against the brown of the buffalo.

Buffalo weren’t as ugly as I thought they would be, and their horns reminded me of an old fashioned Swiss milkmaid.

That afternoon, the first animals we happened on were a group of lesser mongoose. I love these little guys, as the interact with each other constantly. They are always chattering away and playing. Pulling each other’s tails, chasing after one another and engaging in a bit of rough and tumble.


We saw another hippo in a watering hole, and a giraffe came down to drink at the edge. It isn’t often you see a giraffe drinking and it was cool to watch the way they have to splay their front legs so they can reach the water.


Both hippo and giraffe kept a beady eye on one another, but there was no aggression shown by the hippo. I guess this must be because the giraffe doesn’t really pose a threat.



Just around the corner from these guys, were some lions. Yay, more cats!!! There were a few females and a male.

I still can’t get over just how much they are like out domestic cats at home. They do all the same things, and it’s so cute to watch.



Watching them stretch out and move around is beyond enjoyable. They all had a good wriggle and stayed dozing in the last of the afternoon sun.

Bonnie

South Africa Day 17 (AM): Elephant Herd and Cats that Purred

We were up and away quickly this morning and out looking for a leopard. The guys were determined to find one this morning, and I think they were willing to go on all day to look for one of these elusive cats. We started off where we had lost the male leopard last night, and spotted a couple of warthogs on the way, having a munch.

It turns out, he is new to the area and hasn’t quite established a territory yet, so he is keeping himself to himself. We followed some tracks, but they disappeared across some hard ground, and we couldn’t see which way he had gone from there.

We drove down the riverbed looking for more tracks. It seemed that the leopards had been out in force this morning and there were loads of calls on the radio for leopard tracks leading in every direction. Out of nowhere, we were racing down the riverbed. Someone must have heard something on the radio! A leopard had been spotted, and the guys weren’t taking the chance of a leopard eluding us again.

You could tell how excited the guys were, and we raced towards where this leopard had been spotted. We rounded the bend and you could see her. Wow. She was so gorgeous. And accompanied by her 6-month-old male cub. OMG!! I nearly had a heart attack there in my seat. I love cats at the best of times, but these kitties are so beautiful. The markings on them are out of this world and the way they move and act just makes me want to explode, they are just like kitties at home, just bigger, and so beautiful.

 

Cub left, mummy right

The little one was feeling playful and affectionate this morning, and he kept walking in front of his mum and brushing up against her. He was stopping her to try and get her to play, but she wasn’t having any of it.

He was bounding around, just like a little kitten. Playing with things on the ground, running up trees, and generally making a nuisance of himself. They were chatting with one another and you could hear the little one calling and purring to his mummy.

He started jumping around in the trees and trying to jump on his mum. This made my heart MELT.


His mum stopped and he carried on walking, he had spotted a bird up ahead. He made a good job of stalking this bird, but to no avail, as it flew off as he was about to pounce. Mum looked on in amusement.

It was time to make ourselves scarce and leave these two to it, so we headed off in the direction of some elephants. We drove into the riverbed and waited. One elephant appeared and made its way up the bank.

 

Little and big

The another one appeared, and another one and another one. They were all sliding down the bank on the left-hand side, and walking back up the bank on the right-hand side to feed.



There were lots of mummies with their babies. They looked so funny when they were trying to slide down the bank after their mums; we even saw one sliding on its bum.



One even trumpeted at us and tried to charge at the vehicle. He was a boisterous little one and he ran off to wreak havoc and bother the other little elephants.



There was one female digging for water in the river bed, the dug down far enough and was drinking water from the hole she had made. Her baby then came to try and get some water, its trunk was too short and the little one ended up having to get in the hole to get something to drink. Sooooooo cute!!

In total, there were about 30 elephants in this group. We didn’t count them exactly, but there in front of us, we counted 20 and a few had already wandered past and were straggling behind.

On the way back we saw some more zebras who looked like they were cuddling. They were actually grooming each other’s backs and getting the spots they couldn’t reach by themselves. Apparently, they sleep this way sometimes, and it’s kind of like a combination of a pillow and “I’ll watch your back, you watch mine” situation.

We saw a few vervet monkeys in a tree and a huge male kudu, just as we pulled into the camp.



Wildlife seen today:

  • Warthog
  • Giraffe
  • Impala
  • Nyala
  • Kudu
  • Leopard – mummy and cub
  • Elephant
  • Zebra
  • Vervet monkey
  • Baboon
  • Steenbok
  • Dwarf mongoose

 

Bonnie

South Africa Day 16 (PM): Elusive Cats and Flying Hats

We’d had some lunch and chilled for a bit, and whilst we were sitting at the lodge some ngala came up really close to us and were eating some of the vegetation nearby. These creatures are so sweet and they have such endearing faces and eyes.



The wind was still up and it was looking fairly overcast, plus it was quite chilly. We went out to see if we could see a leopard. Victor (the tracker), or Uncle Vic as he is affectionately known as, found tracks of a female leopard. We couldn’t quite tell where she was headed, but he made a guess and we scouted about for a bit, but didn’t see anything. He guessed that he had probably headed off in a particular direction, and we would come back later to see if we could find her.

We saw a few giraffes on the airstrip, which was cool. Apparently, they are a nightmare when light aircraft come in to land and the guys need to clear the runway. The giraffes come straight back onto the tarmac as soon as they are shooed off and they have to be kicked off again.

There wasn’t much to see this evening as it was still windy and it makes the wildlife go to ground as they can’t hear and smell as effectively. We drove around for a while following various tracks of various animals, and came up with nothing. We were trucking steadily along when I happened to look up at something which had caught my eye (I assume it was a bird) and my hat flew off. Rats! I wouldn’t have worried about it, but it was brand new and I was using it to try and protect my face a bit from the windburn that was removing my top layer of skin. We skidded to a halt and the hat was retrieved, in one piece, but somewhat dusty.

We headed to a small body of water, where we managed to see some hippos. Hippos are the most dangerous animals by far in Africa, particularly when it comes to humans. They are exceptionally territorial, and if you get to close or upset them too much, they will try to kill you. They don’t eat meat at all, but they don’t think twice about getting rid or something causing them bother.

Classic hippo yawn

 

The guide told us a story about an impala he had seen running away from some wild dogs. The impala had tried to swim across the water, but the wild dogs had met it at the other side. It tried to swim back, but the hippos had had enough, and killed the impala right there in the lake. They then wandered off to the other side of the water. This goes to show how angry they can be.

We also saw a tawny eagle standing at the edge of the water, taking a drink.

We trucked on for a bit and came across some wildebeest running around madly in a clearing in the bush. They were playing and chasing after one another, and kicking up quite some dust. They kept running around in circles and butting in to one another, it was really funny to see. We also spotted some hyenas running down the road and they crossed in front of us. We suspected they were heading towards the giraffe upon which we had seen the vultures feeding earlier.

We followed the hyenas, but as soon as we got back to the giraffe, we got a call on the radio about the leopard we had been tracking earlier. It turns out she had done exactly what the guys had thought she would do, but we had missed it. We raced in the truck to see if we could make it to the area before she disappeared (having to dodge a few bushes along the way), but we missed her, and she disappeared into the thick bush. Damn.

After that, we got another call from one of the guys saying that a male leopard had been sighted next to the airstrip, so we went that way as fast as we could. By now, you could feel the guide and the tracker getting frustrated, we had been after a leopard all day and we hadn’t managed to see one. As we got to the area where the leopard was sighted, we couldn’t see anything. He’d slipped into the bush and the guys were struggling to locate him in the dark, and the dense thicket. All of a sudden, we managed to catch a glimpse of the male leopard, winding his way through the undergrowth, but it was only for a second. Just enough for me to recognise that it was a leopard.

We’d lost him again and we really couldn’t see him this time. In multiple locations, we tried navigating through the bush using the truck. We came crashing over fallen trees and poor Victor on the front was having to fend off the branches and thorns like a madman, practically bending over backwards and laying on the bonnet to avoid being attacked by a tree. I came a-cropper on a number of branches, including one which decided to spear my hood and strangle me a bit.

It started raining, and it was decided it was time to head back to camp. You could feel the guys were raging about having not been able to see the leopard, and were upset that they hadn’t been able to show us. The elusive leopard strikes again! Funny, considering they are the most abundant cat in the area. But you don’t get to be the most abundant cat in the area for nothing. To be honest, I think we all thought it was a great laugh crashing through the bush and getting impaled with branches. Well, I did anyway.

 

Wildlife seen this afternoon:

  • Giraffe
  • Hippo
  • Tawny eagle
  • Wildebeest
  • Spotted eagle owl
  • Hyena
  • Leopard (briefly)

 

Bonnie

South Africa Day 15: Propelled Planes and Frog Games

Today we fly from Port Elizabeth to Hoedspruit, which is around the Kruger National Park area. I can’t say I am sorry to leave Port Elizabeth. There is nothing there and it is one of my least favourite places I have ever visited. We fly from Port Elizabeth to Johannesburg and from Johannesburg we fly to Hoedspruit. The plane we took from Joburg had propellers – it has been a very long time since I have flown in anything with props. I think the last time I flew in a plane with props was when we were in Canada when I was about 10 or 11.

We had a wait of a couple of hours in Joburg airport, and we sat and had a coffee and I caught up on a few bits of life admin. This coffee place is the second place I have been able to find almond milk on this trip, so I was a very happy bunny.

We boarded the plane and set off to Hoedspruit. The airport there is so cute, it’s arrivals and departures “lounge” and more of a garage, it’s tiny. It reminded me of when we flew to a place in Australia and we had to take our own luggage off the plane. This wasn’t quite so involved, and they brought our luggage round on the back of a tractor.

We jumped in our hire car and set out to find the place we were staying; Thornybush Lodge. This turned out to be more easily said, than done. The instructions we had were not helpful, to say the least. We ended up driving round in a big circle, only to realise we had driven past the lodge right at the beginning and hadn’t clocked it (thinking it couldn’t possibly be that close). We eventually got there, after driving down loads of bumpy, dusty dirt roads. Which was really fun, well, for me anyway; not so sure about those in the back.

 

We spotted a fair few animals on our way, seeing giraffe, impala, and warthog. Quite a find, considering it was the heat of the day and it was about 33 degrees when we got there. Giraffe are so majestic, and it was amazing to just see three of them nibbling leaves off the trees as we drove past.

We get to the lodge and we are greeted with homemade lemonade and lunch. The lemonade is delicious, as was the lunch, and there are different salads to choose from and light bites. Super scrummy. We then had 30 minutes to sort ourselves out, and we were out on an evening game drive at 4 o’clock in the afternoon.

We are in what is called a “tented camp”, but to be honest, these tents are so posh, they are more like houses! They have proper beds and showers, and I even have an outside bath. The rooms point directly into the bush, so there is a chance you might see some wildlife wandering around when you open the curtains in the morning.


Whilst we are out, we see different types of antelope in abundance, including the tiny Duiker, which is very shy. We see loads of birds, including the Hornbill, who you might know from the film, The Lion King. We tracked some Elephant for a bit, but they were much faster than we were, and they made it across the border before we could see them.

By far the best experience though, was when we paused in the truck and a huge male lion leaped out from the river bed to our right-hand side and strolled straight in front of our vehicle. He was massive! The size of his paws was incredible, and he had a big gash on his right hind leg where he had been protecting his Pride from neighbouring male lions.

 

Shame it’s blurry eh?

We followed him along, and he led us to where 4 members of his pride were laying out, snoozing in the sun. There were two young males, who were about 18 months old and two females. In a few months’ time, the young males will be kicked out of the pride to fend for themselves, as they will be well on their way to maturity.

I love this photo of them all in a line

The lions lolled about in the sun, laying on a nice flat bit of ground where we could get a really good look at them. We were so close, it was unbelievable; I had never thought I would be that close to a lion in my life.

After a long time watching the lions and learning about them (did you know that male lions could form a coalition? And they will look after multiple Prides of female lions in the area together? No, me either!).

 

A young male, about 18 months


We headed on for a bit, and found a good place to watch the sun go down. The sunset here is beautiful, and it is wonderful to watch the vibrant colours as the sun goes down, and the stark contrast of this in comparison to the dark trees in the foreground. We had a cheeky little alcoholic beverage as we watched the sun set, and I walked around the area and found some giraffe bones that were 5 years old to take a good look at.

 

Leg bone

 

Pelvic bone

We set off again and came across some baboons playing around in the trees, so we stopped to watch them for a bit. It always amazes me how agile monkeys are, they seem to defy gravity as they are leaping through the trees.

It was dark now, and we were looking for a leopard around the dry riverbed. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much luck, but we did see a tree frog, a hare and a cute little bushbaby chilling in a tree!! We headed back to the camp, and the first thing you notice is the sound of the frogs. They are SO loud, and they don’t stop. The only time they stop croaking for a bit, is if someone disturbs them. They stop for a few moments, but soon enough they are at it again. I wonder if it is all a big game to them, and whether they think it is hilarious to croak, knowing we can do precisely nothing about it.

We had some dinner, and then we were off to bed. We’d been up since 5.30 this morning, so we were fairly knackered. I sit here writing this, to the sound of a symphony of frogs. I wonder if they will ever stop, or if I will be dreaming of frogs… Or dreaming of throttling frogs.

 

Wildlife seen today:

  • Giraffe
  • Wildebeest
  • Common warthog
  • Lesser bushbaby
  • Duiker
  • Impala
  • Nyala
  • Baboon
  • Vervet monkey
  • Lion – male/female/cubs
  • Scrub hare
  • Tree squirrel

 

Bonnie