So where were we? Oh yes…Africa! Day Three began with the pre-breakfast bushwalk at 6:00 am. This time, we went with Enoch, our tracker (his normal job is to search for animals all day and alert the guides as to when and where he finds said animals), rather than Greg, our guide. There were endless unidentifiable tracks, but occasionally one we could recognize. Here is a rhino track. His big ol’ feet are bigger than the boot print next to it.
Here are some additional photos from that morning’s hike. We didn’t see a lot of live animals during the first two hours, but we did see some interesting stuff.
And Enoch lived up to his title of tracker, and followed barely-identifiable leopard prints until we found evidence of a leopard. This evidence came in the form of an impala that the leopard had killed, and dragged up a tree to keep it safe from marauding hyenas. I had no idea leopards were that freakin’ strong.
After coming across some more giraffes (who were busy with breakfast), Enoch taught us a local game – spitting impala pellets for distance. I did participate (note the mid-air pellet in the photo below), but I can’t say I was too disappointed to lose this one – certainly not enough to try again. Stephanie wasn’t feeling great and flat-out refused to participate, despite Enoch’s threats that if she was a bad sport, she would be denied breakfast when we got back to camp.
VIDEO – Spitting impala pellets for distance
That afternoon on our game drive we spotted a bird called a Kori Bustard. This is the heaviest flight-capable bird in the world. And, of course, what would a game-spotting day be without elephants? Stephanie and I agreed that if we could only see one type of animal in Africa, it would definitely be the elephants.
VIDEO – An up-close snack
So far, we had seen three of the Big Five, and on this night, we saw our fourth – the Cape Buffalo. They look like they’re wearing bad toupees, which makes them look a bit silly, but they are actually one of the most dangerous animals in Africa, injuring or killing 200 people a year.
Next up was our nightly sunset viewing:
As we mentioned, the guides and trackers in the Range Rovers often radio to each other to report the location of various animals. When they do, they don’t use the English names because they don’t want to get the tourists all excited (and then disappointed if the animals disappear before they can get us there). I set about learning some of the words in the local dialect, including: Ingala (lion), N’globo (elephant), Mafasi (female), and Madoda (male). On this night, the important new word was Ingwe (leopard). Our final Big Five sighting was the leopard who had returned to his tree for a dinner of antelope leftovers from the night before!
Cool! So now we had seen the Big Five in just three days! What else did we need to capture on film? Stephanie wanted hippos and zebras (okay, we both wanted zebras). But I really wanted to get a good photo of an African Hornbill – aka Zazu from The Lion King. There was even a bonus Lion King sighting – Pumbaa! (There were no meerkats, or we could have collected the set.) And according to our guide, Greg, warthog is the tastiest of all game meats. Don’t worry; we ate no game meat on this safari. (Impala pellets don’t count.)
And now, we pause in our search for animals of the bush as Stephanie the Photographer presents: Sunset in Africa!
After seeing more animals today than any other, the sunset kicked off a great night’s game drive. We saw a cat-like animal called a civet who was trying to lose himself in the bushes. Just as we came up on him, he realized he was being stalked by our friend the leopard who was happy enough to have us accompany him on his night’s prowling. We actually drove off-road chasing this leopard for a while, which was really exciting, but Stephanie worried about the leopard’s need to be away from us tourists. We saw hyenas looking to poach other animals’ kills, and we *finally* saw our zebras. They didn’t seem to care that we had been looking for them for days. They simply turned away from the light and headed off.
Day Five brought our final morning walk and somehow still held our biggest adventure of the whole trip. It started innocently enough with us stalking some cape buffalo, and then trying to get ahead of a group of elephants. Our guides had told us it’s much better to let the animals come to us than to try and come up on them. As we circled around them, a young bull elephant caught wind of us, and came to check us out. He was just old enough that he wasn’t dependent on his mother anymore, yet not old enough to truly be on his own. Basically, we was an angst-y teenager, and he made a big show of letting us know who was in charge. He flared his ears and ripped up some small trees like they were chopsticks and threw them around. He did all this on the other side of some brambles and trees. We had already learned that elephants will not charge through an obstacle, so we felt safe.
Until…he came around to our path and was right in front of us with nothing in between us and him except our guide, Mike, and his gun. The elephant kept making it clear that we were not welcome. He threw a few tree branches and trunks at us. He would back up a few paces, and then start to charge. As Stephanie and I took a few steps thinking we might make a run for it, we had to be reminded to stand quietly behind the gun and not to run. (Elephants can run faster than we can.) Mike’s gun was loaded and ready, and a few times I was afraid that our safari would end with a dead elephant. Mike never even broke a sweat. He kept talking to the elephant saying: “Yeah, yeah. We know you’re big, but we’re not afraid of you.” (He was obviously not speaking for all of us.) Mike would also slap the butt of his gun hoping the unnatural noise would scare the elephant off. Eventually our elephant left with a parting look that said: “Next time I see you, we’re gonna throw down.” Somehow, Stephanie got some of it on video.
VIDEO – Elephant encounter 1: Safe behind the brambles
VIDEO – Elephant encounter 2: The charge
Back at camp, Mike admitted that this was his most “hair-raising” encounter with any Africa wildlife. He told us that each guide had their own line at which point they would pull the trigger. His is four meters when with guests, but he said that if he were alone, he would not have shot at all, trusting the elephant to stop in the last minute. What a brave dude! I told him that all he had to do was take his accent, attitude and wildlife knowledge to the States, and he could pretty much get any girl he liked. 😉