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Pretoriuskop Camp, Kruger National Park

SOUTH AFRICA | Friday, 12 December 2014 | Views [253]

How's that for relaxed?

How's that for relaxed?

On the morning of our departure from Satara Camp, we went on a walk through the bush with two park rangers.  We arose at 3:30, and met at 4:00 for a ride in an open safari vehicle to our start point.

Something we have learned on the game drives we’ve been on:  you never know what’s right around the corner.  You can drive for miles and not see anything but occasional birds, and other times the game is so dense it’s difficult to take it all in.  One thing we can count on—the really exciting stuff is always very sudden and always unexpected, sort of like a treasure hunt.  On the drive to our walk start point, we came around a bend to find three young male lions ambling down the road.  They posed very nicely for us, mildly curious about the vehicle, but apparently more intent on finding a nice spot to take a nap.  Pretty exciting, as this was our first close-up view of lions.

Our walk was about 2.5 miles through pretty open bush territory.  Our two guides were armed with high-powered hunting rifles.  They said that every now and then a guide had to shoot a charging lion or rhinoceros, but those occurrences were rare.  Since 1926 when the park opened, no visitor to the park has been killed by an animal.

The walk gave us a completely different perspective of the countryside, letting us see things not possible from even a stationary open safari vehicle.  We shooed the vultures off a recent impala kill and examined the remains, studied insects and spiders, and got several lessons about footprints and tracking.

After the walk, we met Hayden for breakfast, and he introduced us to Frank Watts—a good friend and business associate of Hayden’s who has worked and guided in Kruger National Park for more than 25 years.  He knows all the staff and all the other guides, and certainly knows the geography of the park like the back of his hand.  Together, he and Hayden made a great spotting and commentary team, as we spent the next two days riding around in Frank’s “safari Cadillac”.  We are sure that we got to see things that many tourists don’t get to see, just because those two were so on the ball. 

We saw:

            - A leopard relaxing in a tree (completing our list of the Big Five*)

            - A highly venomous male boomslang snake

            - A couple of fantastic buffalo herds on the move

            - More lions, including one catching his breath next to a buffalo calf he had just killed

            - Sparring rhinoceros males

            - Two cheetahs on the hunt across open bush

            - Eagles, hawks, vultures, buzzards

            - Herons, storks, geese, ducks, ibis

            - Warthog, jackal, hyena, mongoose, giraffe

            - Birds of every color and configuration imaginable

            - Steenbok, water buck, impala by the hundreds, klipspringer, and kudu

            -Elephants—single males, and family groups with all ages and sizes

And we were treated to a barbecue cookout by Hayden and Frank, including sausages, lamb chops, impala chops, tossed green salad, chicken kebabs, potatoes, and peri peri sauce.  And beer.

In his years at Kruger, Frank has seen some amazing sights, and he is actually quite famous for being the guide for the “Battle at Kruger”, an amazing film at a water hole that you all need to check out on YouTube.  The film has won world wide recognition, and is an extraordinary example of the dramas that happen in this countryside every day.  The essentials of the film:

            -Frank’s vehicle is parked near a water hole

            -On the far bank, a herd of buffalo approaching from the left

            -The buffalo don’t see the lions on the right

            -The lions charge about the time the buffalo see them

            -The lions grab a calf, and the cluster falls partially into the water

            -A crocodile lunges from the water and grabs the calf

            -A tug of war ensues, the lions finally win

            -Meanwhile, the calf is yelling, the buffalo regroup and come after the lions

            -Melee, including tossed lions

            -Calf, amazingly escapes

Frank also recounted another story at the same water hole, which didn’t make it onto film.  He saw a water buck near the edge of the water, and two approaching cheetahs.  The water buck bolted, and fled the cheetahs, all three passing between the vehicle and the water.  The cheetahs were gaining on the water buck, so the latter jumped into the water to escape.  The crocodile at the other end of the lake was so excited by this opportunity that instead of gliding silently toward the water buck, it was flailing and splashing at a high rate of speed toward breakfast.  The water buck saw him, got out of the water just in time, only to have the cheetahs take up the chase again.  So back into the lake goes the water buck, this time planning to swim all the way across, here come the crocodile after him again…..and the croc swims full speed, apparently by accident, into a group of hippos.  Frank said the flailing and splashing between the hippos and croc was quite a show—and the water buck escaped into the tree line.

 

*The “Big Five” term harks back to the first African big game hunters of the Victorian era, referring to the five most dangerous animals to hunt in Africa:  lion, leopard, black rhinoceros, elephant, and cape buffalo.

 

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