FROM THE LOG #84

The Big Five - Almost
Safaris in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

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The guy behind had the right attitude
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Our safaris were a success. We saw all but one of the Big Five.

The giraffs are very curious and you can get quite close to them.
Beware of their kicks, they are the strongest in the animal world

We went on our safaris in company with Lilian and Silvio of yacht Matajusi, from Brazil. Our first safari was at Thula Thula private game reserve, where we first had breakfast at the lodge and then went on a game drive. Our driver-guide's name is Promise, which was a good omen.

Our second safari took place at the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Park, where we used our own (rental) car. The first day we explored Imfolozi in the south and the second day we did Hluhluwe in the north. We spent the night at a chalet at Hilltop Camp.

The phrase Big Five refers to the five most difficult African animals to hunt on foot. The collection consists of the lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros. They were chosen as the Big Five for the difficulty in hunting them on foot and the danger involved rather than their size. We were lucky to find them all, except the leopard (but spotting one of them is probably as rare as winning in the lotteries anyway).

Like everybody else, we have seen elephants in zoos, and one might think that it is not a big deal to spot these animals on a safari.

But it is really awsome to suddenly, when you drive around a corner of the dirt track, find yourself face to face with a free elephant, the largest living terrestrial animal, on her own terms.

The African elephant's society is arranged around family units. Each family is made up of around ten closely related females and their calves and is led by an old female. In the photo below left we are looking at one such family walking past our car.

We saw more than 50 elephants and Cape buffalos and around 30 rhinos, but only two lions high up in a tree. In addition we encountered crocodiles, hippos, giraffs, zebras, impalas, kudus, nyalas, waterbucks, elands, wildebeests, warthogs, vervet monkeys, samango monkeys, baboons, tortoises, a wild dog and a dead snake. We also spotted many eagles and a lot of colorful smaller birds, such as kingfishers. We particularly enjoyed to wach the weaver males build their nests.

 
 

Rhinos are being poached for their horns which are being sold on the black market. In some cultures the horns are used for ornmamental or medicinal purposes. This year the number of killings in KwaZulu-Natal has risen to 59, according to an article in The Mercury.

Above is a herd of Cape buffalo. Owing to its unpredictable nature, which makes it higly dangerous to humans, it has never been domesticated. Buffalos are notorious among big game hunters as very dangerous, with wounded animals reported to ambush and attack pursuers. They kill more than 200 people every year.

Lions in the tree (hover your mose over) A wild dog Crocodile

In the photo above you can see two lions in the tree. Unfortunately my camera lens is limited to 200 mm and the lions were maybe 200 metres away. If you hover your mouse over the photo you will see arrows pointing at the lions. Click on the photo and you will see a larger, higher resolution, photo. We first thought the wild dog was a hyena because of its size, but judged by the big ears I think it is a wild dog. The African wild dog is very rare and seldom spotted, so maybe this was our compensation for the lack of leopard.

The impalas, or gazelles, are plentiful and can be found all over the reserves. The big black animal is a a distant relative antelope, the wildebeest, also known as the gnu.

Zebras are probably one of the African animals most familiar to people. There are three specvies of them. This one is called the plain's zebra. Unlike its closesest relatives, horses and asses, zebras have never been truly domesticated.

A couple of times we encountered troops of baboons on their way somewhere. On the right a group of hippos, which we found in the St Lucie estuary on our way back to Richard's Bay.

Hluhluwe-Imfolozi is the oldest proclaimed reserve in Africa, established 1895 primarily to protect the white rhinoceros, which was almost extinct at the time. Today the reserve has the largest population of white rhinos in the world. Originallly the area was a royal hunting ground of the Zulu kingdom. We were very fortunate to have fantastic weather, blue skies and good visibility. It had rained a couple of days earlier, so the nature was at it's best, but the tracks were mostly dry with only some water pools here and there.

The reserve is a prime birding destination and is home to 340 species.

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