Sabi Sands: Elephant Walk

Leading the pack.

Leading the pack.

This morning’s game drive was incredible! We actually were going to look for Wild Dogs, when we got diverted by some other interesting finds. We were also keeping our eyes peeled for Elephants, since we had passed up some previous opportunities during our big cat tracking.

We soon found ourselves in the midst of a substantial herd of females and babies, Fred counted 30. We had passed the big males close by – the size contrast was unbelievable – from the humongous bull to the tiniest baby (under 6 months). It was a truly magical experience and my husband has dubbed it his favorite of the day.

My favorite was, however, still to come. We got word of a mother Leopard, with two cubs, which were finishing off a recent Impala kill. We found them and watched for quite awhile from no more than 10 feet away. The cubs are 6 months old and are her first litter – they were adorable and playful – I could’ve watched all day.

But we moved on and saw a lake full of Hippos and incredibly a little while later, two Lions mating. The male Lion in this twosome is a sort of bad actor around here, recently returning to the pride after a two year hiatus. Because he was away, he has killed all the cubs in the pride, because they were not his. Nature at work – not always nice to think about.

We actually skipped our break in order to get around all these incredible sights – but the staff was positioned just prior to our return with special smoothies and fruit as a breakfast appetizer.

From the Lodge, we also see animals – today a Hippo (out of the water), yesterday a Giraffe, not to mention the Warthogs that surrounded the pool yesterday.

Dog Day Afternoon.  Even though we saw many animals, our afternoon drive had one goal – to find the elusive and endangered Wild Dogs (also called Painted Dogs). There is one known pack of 10 and they have recently been spotted in the area after a long absence. We did find them – sleeping in the sand and reeds of a dry riverbed. Although mangy-looking in pictures, they really do have wonderfully random markings to keep them well-camouflaged in the bush. This pack has four surviving cute pups (of 6) that were alert and ready to roll. We got to see a little typical dog-revelry with them jumping around and greeting one another – kind of like locker-room antics before a big game.

It’s absolutely amazing that you can be so close to the animals here and they are undisturbed and don’t run away. It can also be very intimidating at times with the larger animals and predators.

Into Africa: The Best of Sabi Sands

A male Cheetah surveys the burned out landscape.

A male Cheetah surveys the burned out landscape.

The schedule is: up at 5:30, coffee & tea at 6, then off for your first drive (and it is quite chilly for the first hour or so). Back around 9:30 – 10 for breakfast then time for resting, napping, reading or blogging. Lunch at 3 and then off again from 4-7. Dinner and drinks follow.

The scenery is amazing here – from the air it just looks brown, but on the ground you see the colors; greens and golds as well as multi-hued flowers. Much of the landscape is the color of lions and it is incredible to learn an animal can be right in front of you and so successfully camouflaged you don’t see it.

We were off again looking for Leopards this morning . . . we could hear them so close by. A young female was pursuing a male, very interested in mating. The females will try to engage as many males as possible, to eventually protect their cubs. A male will not attack a cub of a female he has mated. Today, this male was just not interested. We had a very lively and entertaining trek through the bush and riverbeds, up and down, back and forth, ducking the thorny (1-3″ long spikes) branches of small trees and bushes along the way. But we were rewarded with sightings of both Leopards!

We had a very fruitful morning, seeing the largest male Giraffe we have ever seen, a herd of Burchell’s Zebra, Wildebeest, Kudu, Waterbuck, Vervet Monkeys, and Antelope. We also spent some time watching a group of Water Buffalo, the big males and their nearby harem, not six feet away from us, clearly unconcerned with our presence.

We opted to go on a bush walk after the drive. By then the day was quite warm. Our Ranger carried a 375 caliber rifle and taught us about tracks, plants, how to ID various types of dung, etc. Fortunately, the walk back to the Lodge and our breakfast was uneventful.

Cheetah!

Our afternoon drive took us to the far southern reaches of our camp’s boundary to search for Cheetah . . . and our efforts paid off as we spotted him on top of a termite mound. He caught the scent of a nearby lone Impala and proceeded to casually stroll in that direction, occasionally flattening his ears and getting lower to the ground. Since this was in some of the recently burned area as well as a relatively flat landscape, he was very easy to follow. The unsuspecting Impala finally got the gist of things, sounding some loud cries of distress and moving a bit farther away. The Cheetah eventually tired of the game and sauntered off.

We also spent some time watching Rhinos at a water hole. Impalas and other ungulates are everywhere. I haven’t really explained how the air is here – it does get warm, but this time of year we have very low humidity and often a nice breeze, making the shade a wonderful spot to be (where I am now, sitting on our deck). The air is fresh and clean and occasionally, you pick up the slightly sweet scent of a fresh pile of dung or a faint smokiness from the recent burns.

After stopping for our “comfort break” on a hill overlooking a mountain range and another glorious sunset, we made the long journey back to the Lodge. Upon arrival we were greeted with a champagne cocktail. Dinner was a lovely candlelit setting in the main lodge where we enjoyed incredible grilled prawns and roasted pork along with our South African Shiraz.

After an amazing 24 hours in the bush – we have seen the ”Big 5″: Lion ~ Rhino ~ Water Buffalo ~ Leopard & Elephant.

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