A sense of respect and admiration dawned on us as we surveyed the large expanse Kruger National Park, home to the largest density of animals in South Africa. We are now in their territory with a different set of rules we had to follow. From the level of noise to the distance our vehicles should be – in respect of their privacy – this was nature’s playground – and we are but humbled visitors.
We enjoyed the privilege of going on 6 game drives with a very knowledgeable ranger, Mike, a local Durbanian and our tracker Elvis who spent his childhood and growing up years in the bush hunting for elephants, rhinos and buffaloes as his father and grandfather did for generations past. Thankfully conservation awareness has proven testament to its efforts as Elvis and the communities around have ceased poaching as a source of income. Instead they work as skilled labourers and well respected people within the safari community.
Every game drive lasted about 3 hours as Mike and Elvis mutually decided on the route we should take. A frequent question always preceded each game drive, “What would you like to see today?” On the first day we answered bright eyed, “Lions!” On the same game drive we saw zebra, impala, buffalo, giraffe, kudu, hippo, elephant and of course lion!
Cuddled up on the bed of sand on the dirt road, a ‘coalition’ of lions was found snoozing under the setting sun as temperatures started to cool. ‘Coalition’ meaning a pride of all male lions. Our 4×4 pulled up a few feet away and we watched in quiet splendor. Their eyes would twitch as flies buzzed by, occasionally they will smother their paws over their faces as they let out enormous yawns bearing fierce teeth. The earth came to a standstill, we even held our ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’.
The Big 5 was our ultimate aim – we had already spotted the lion, buffalo, elephant and rhino but the leopard was still out of sight. Our search continued as Elvis our tracker kept his eyes steady on the road to spot leopard tracks. His tracker seat allowed him full visibility as his chair was right in front of the 4×4. At the instance Elvis spotted leopard tracks, he would signal Mike to slow down. Elvis would carry a walky-talky and leave the vehicle by foot to trail the tracks. He would snake into lowbush shrubs, sandy river beds and grass laden expanse – wherever the tracks brought him. All this time we would continue in our pursuit for other big game.
On every game drive, we would stopover for a ‘drinks break’ where a make shift table would be set up and covered with a checked table cloth. Goodies were pulled out from green picnic bag and laid on the table. For morning game drives we would enjoy a steaming hot cuppa whilst on evening drives we quench our thirst with some wine, beer or juice. Our munchies ranged from roasted nuts to jerky to dried fruits. The best treat was of course the view, overlooking watering holes where buffalo, elephant and hippo splash and drive or peering into the dry Timbavati river bed where buffalo rest in the morning heat.
Still the most rewarding experience was with the beast of the bush – our personal favourite, lion. We spotted the same coalition with one lioness one morning just about to wake from slumber in the rise of the morning sun. Absolutely unperturbed by our presence they continued to snooze, tossing around every once in awhile. After about 20 minutes of watching, the lioness slowly awoke, gave a big mighty yawn and a relaxing cat stretch before standing up and making its way around our vehicle. We watched in silence. Within the next few minutes, the entire coalition stood up one at a time and took turns walking pass our vehicle before sitting down for another cat nap. Each came within few inches to our vehicle, surveyed our vehicle, regarded our presence and moved on. The few minutes was heart stopping and teeth clenching. There was absolute silence except for the ear shattering shutter clicks from Terence’s camera. Each time the shutter went off, my knuckles clenched harder on the metal bar. We sat awe-struck by their presence and broke out into quiet but hearty smiles after the last lion passed our vehicle. Our eyes met Mike and Elvis and we just knew that this was another breath-taking moment where mankind respects beasts and vice versa.
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