Friday, June 09, 2006

Animal encounters

So, Cheetahs aside, we have had some brilliant animal encounters. We went to a game lodge on the Garden route. They had a deal on where you got a nights accomodation, 2 game drives, breakfast and dinner and a visit to the reptile centre and the cheetah breeding centre. The place was beautiful. The accomodation lovely, overlooking the game area. In the evening we went for our first gamedrive. In most of Africa, particularly south, wildlife is conserved by being kept on reserves within a fenced area. There are a lot of private game reserves as well as the bigger famous ones such as Kruger. Garden route game lodge was a private reserves.The animals still live wild though. As we entered the gate of the reserve, an American who was sharing our jeep said to his family, "Hey, this is just like Jurassic park... but without the dinosaurs!" Hmmm. I just don't know what to say to that one!

We travelled along and we saw springbok,buffolow, wildebeast, zebras, Giraffes and 2 elephants. We got to where the lions are and disappointingly they were behind a fence. They don't actually live wild there. They were rescued by the park from a reserve where they were being used for hunting safaris, so have never lived wild. Learning this I was glad they were here and not still at that park.

As we travelled around, I couldn't help but notice the fence and a couple of fields along were some cows from a farm. Call me ungrateful, but for me it detracted from the experience. I tried to ignore the fence, but couldn't help feel I was in a very upmarket safari park. However, saying that, it was still a brilliant experience and the animals (apart from the lions) are living wild. It's just that they don't have such a big terrain as at bigger reserves.

We came back to the lodge and had our african bbq style dinner. (very nice). then retired to our lovely room.At 7am we met our group at the jeep and set off on our morning game drive. This time there were no comments about Jurassic park, but as we drove around we had a bit of an adventure, as our guide tried to drive up a hill, but failed;the wheels kept getting stuck in the mud and we kept rolling back. gradually getting further over to the edge 'til eventuallt the wheels had gone over. We had to all get out fo the vehicle so she could try and get uop the hill without the weight. This did not work and at one point I thought the landrover was going to go over. As she radioed for help she said we were lucky as the rhinos are usuallly hanging around where we were! Help arrived in the form of a very angry man who swore quite alot in Afrikaans at our guide. Eventually another landrover came and we continued with our gane viewing arriving back in time for breakfast, the visit to the reptile centre and cheetah breeding part.

Our next animal encounter was even more special for me. We went to Addo elephant national park. As the name suggests there are elephants there, but they also have the big 5. Here you are allowed to drive round in your own vehicle. We stayed for 2 nights; again lovely accomodation; our own cottage overlooking the reserve. We spent a good day anad a half driving round looking for wildlife. We saw warthogs (I fell in love with these; they are so cute!) zebras, lots of antelope species, ostriches, monkeys and elephants. We had driven round for quite a while before we saw the elephants. I was bginning to think we wouldn't, when I looked in my rear view mirror and saw a massive grey shape looming closer. A bull elephant. We stopped the car and watchd in awe as he approached our car. It was quite a moment as he came closer and closer. I have always known that elephants are big, but when you are in their territory, they suddenly seem much bigger. He walked right by our car. Every fold and line of the skin was so clear.

As we drove off I felt so happy. I thought that nothing we could see that day could match that. I was wrong. Later in the after noon we were coming to the end of our wildlife hunting, deciding that we should head back before our eyes dropped out. We were in what seemed quite a wild bit, and as we rounded the corner we saw 2 elephants feeding from a tree. They were really close and we stopped the car to watch them. We could hear crashing and branches dropping and as we watched more and more elephants emerged, until eventually we were practically surrounded by 12 of them. It was amazing.They were a family females and baby elephants. Knowing that matriarchs of elephant families can get protective, we were very cautious about any movements etc. You don't want to mess with these! It was such a humbling moment. They were in control. We were invaders of sorts and there wasn't much between us and them. Our car was tiny in comparison. They gradually walked off and we looked at each othe in awe. We started the car up to move off again and as we did 2 more elephants came towards us; another female. It seemed like she was letting us know who was boss as she walked confidently straight towards us. It seemed like she wasn't going to stop, but at the last moment she moved off to the side. It was such a fantastic experience.

We also saw a dead elephant that day. We stumbled across what seemed like an elephant graveyard; a couple of skulls were by a watering hole and the other side we saw the remains of an elephant. We went back later to see if we could see any scavengers (I really wanted to see a hyena) but there was not any, although a bit more of the elephant was missing!

Although we didn't see a hyena we saw a relative, called an arrdwolf. That was pretty cool as we didnt know what it was and then later we found out that these are nocturnal so we were lucky to see them.

Another highlight of the animal encounters was seeing meercats. We were not expecting it at all. We were driving through the Karoo ( Desert) and suddenly saw these little faces looking inquisitively at us, standing on their hindlegs before they dived for the safety of their burrows.

So, all the wildlife encounters have been a highlight for me. I never get bored of seeing it and feel priviledged that I have.

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