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A Safari Dreamer’s Inaugural Outing


joliverself
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As I sit here back in my office in the U.S., passing glances between my computer screen and my well-worn Rockport shoes on the floor (still covered in dust from my many recent bush walks), I am still trying to process all of the experiences I had on my 12 day African holiday (late August-early Sept 2013). As a longtime safaritalk voyeur (and now first time contributor) let me start by saying how helpful and informative the site was for me during my planning. This includes everything from photography/camera tips to tips for flying SAA, so a thanks out to all the great contributors on this site.

 

 

Having limited holiday time due to work demands, I wanted to maximize my time in the bush and out on safari, which is what I did. I will have to make additional installments to fully cover all stops, but let me start with some overall general observations from a first-timer’s perspective:

 

1. I was unprepared for how brilliantly photographic South Africa is in general ( I tool over 1500 pics!)

 

2. #1 notwithstanding, I was surprised at how difficult some of the animals were to spot in the wild, especially giraffe (which I presumed would be easily visible due to their height)

 

3. Observing the biodiversity first hand left me with a sense of wonder and respect for the symbiosis and complexities of the African animals/plants.

 

4. It was very interesting to witness each animal’s behavior in the wild and to see the varying mechanisms each animal used to survive (herds, predators, browsers, grazers, scavengers, etc.)

 

5. Even though I had prior knowledge of the honey badger’s unwillingness to care, the tales I heard from guides/rangers there impressed me with a new found admiration for that animal's tenacity….I think there is something to be learned from the honey badger’s indomitable spirit….(sadly I didn’t see one first hand).

 

6. After seeing the sheer majesty of wildlife in the bush firsthand, it reinforced the importance of considering what more I could do as an individual human to not only preserve and protect it, but to allow it to flourish as it has for eons.

 

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So, on to the trip….Having planned for most of the year, we went to South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe (predominantly the Victoria Falls area). After a brief stay in Johannesburg, we went on to Nelspruit and the Kruger National Park. Our first stop was the Nkambeni Camp near the Numbi entrance gate to the park. The accommodations were rustic, but very comfortable. Bordering on the Kruger, each night I fell asleep listening to the sounds of hyena, leopard and jackals as they conducted their nocturnal affairs. I know this is probably a minor note for the experience safari goer, but coming from a loud and busy urban area, this was a remarkable sensory experience for me. In fact, probably some of the best sleep I have had was during my stay at Nkambeni as I drifted off to the sounds of the African night. Each day we had a morning bush walk and an afternoon/evening game drive. I knew going in, there were no guarantees of sightings, but I was nonetheless hopeful for some exciting things.

 

I must say, even though our first day’s viewings were not abundant, it was truly fantastic to be out in the vast Kruger. Walking and riding out in the bush, no skyscrapers in sight, breathing the crisp late Winter fresh air was very rejuvenating for me. We did, however, manage to see a sable antelope on our first day, off in the distance, which I was told was a fairly rare sighting. I managed to get a picture of it (below), but it was not as close as I would have liked for a really great photo.

 

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Our second and third days proved to be a little more exciting as we saw impala, duiker, vervet monkies, giraffe, steenbock, kudu, warthogs, bushbucks and several hippos among others.

 

 

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Perhaps the most remarkable encounter was on the 3rd day, as we were on our evening drive and headed for a watering hole to watch the sunset. Our driver took us down a very seldom travelled looking route which looped around a small lake. Of course, the bush was especially thick and forward visibility was limited. As we rounded a curve to the right of the lake, just off to our right there were two large bull male elephants feeding on a tree. I was very excited because up until this point, I had only briefly seen elephants and had not managed to get any good photographs of them. Our driver turned off the Land Rover and we sat there, probably about 10 meters away and watched the two fellows as they ate their evening meal. For me, it was a really special moment because for what must have been about 3-5 minutes we sat, quietly, as the gentle evening breeze blew with a slight rustle in the leaves, sun going down, and the elephants gently swayed as they happily crunched the leaves of the tree. While taking time to enjoy the moment, I also snapped as many photos as I could. I am not sure if it was the clicking of the DSLR or just a desire to move us out, but the larger bull elephant quickly turned in our direction and started towards us in a very determined fashion. I was, of course, on the elephant side of the vehicle and I whispered to our guide if we should be concerned and she responded, “no let’s just wait”. Well, the elephant continued towards us, ears flaring out and then the guide yelled a loud warning to him as he was now about 1-2 meters from reaching us. Much to my concern, the large bull summarily ignored the warning and continued on. The guide quickly cranked up the Rover and moved us down the road. The elephant, however, was now on the road behind us and quickly continuing his pursuit. We sped up and around the bend towards the lake, which of course was at a dead end. So there was one way in and one way out. We were completely out of sight from the big guy at this point, but I must say I was somewhat concerned about what our options would have been if he continued to follow to the dead end. Later on, I would learn that elephants usually have several degrees of warning before they actually attack. Nevertheless, this was a big guy, and for a safari goer on his third day of outings, it was quite exhilarating. In retrospect, I really quite enjoyed it! Here is a picture of the elephant as he was nearing our vehicle….of course, no zoom lens was required!

 

 

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Our next stop was the Timbavati Private Game Reserve, at Tanda Tula tented camp, where we had a number of great sightings. I will be posting that segment of the trip soon….

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Welcome to Safaritalk. You've made a great start and I'm looking forward to reading more.

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Welcome! I have also recently returned from Kruger. Looking forward to reading more.

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Warm welcome, what a great start to Safaritalk and to safaris.

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Thanks for this - I am looking forward to reading the rest of the report!

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TQ: thanks for the excellent report. I’m definitely getting a feeling of deja vu as we did our first safari in Tanzania a few years ago and had many of the same feelings and impressions. I remember seeing animals in the wild for the very first time in Africa (giraffe and elephant along the Tarengire river). It was an exhilarating experience. I was excited to see the animals, had an odd sense of being “freed” from my everyday life and also felt a bit like I walked into a national geographic special!

 

PS – great shot of the greater kudu – and a sable to boot - a bit of a coup for a first timer!

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what an exciting and thrilling start to your safari adventure! I share all your wonderment from a first safari. love the shot of the elephant - he didn't look that cross in the pix, though i'm sure it was pretty hairy at that point of time!

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Timbavati Private Game Reserve:

 

So, after some wonderful experiences in the Kruger we took our 2.5 hour drive across to the Hoedspruit area to the Timbavati Private Game Reserve. The Reserve is vast and also very beautiful, bordering on the Drakensburg Mountain Range. I had yet to see any cats, and I was hopeful to get my chance here in the Private Reserve. I was encouraged to discover that a number of prides lived there. After a quick lunch and change, our first evening game drive did not disappoint. We witnessed a breeding herd of cape buffalo, zebra, giraffe, and a large herd of elephants, among others. We did see a single young male lion, as he was sleeping quietly on the ground. The highlight of the drive, however, was after nightfall when we were lucky enough to witness the delightfully gruesome aftermath of a leopard kill. I watched in awe as the happy girl crunched away on tissue, tendon and bone while ignoring the lights, land rovers and quietly astonished safari crowd below. This was my first leopard sighting ever, as I had only seen them in pictures and nature films prior. I will never forget how beautiful and bright she looked up in that tree, with that complex pattern of yellows and blacks. Here is a pic of her enjoying her dinner:

 

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On the next day, I found myself getting a close encounter with a couple of fellows that would become very familiar to me before my time at Timbavati was through. They were two young bachelor male lions, who I was told had the fairly tragic back story of surviving their sibling’s fate of being eaten by a male from a rival pride. According to the guides there were actually three males in the group, but the largest male was not with them at the time when we first came upon them. The smaller of the two males was resting under some brush, but the larger male was pacing and noticeably agitated because a leopard (not the same one) had left part of an impala high up in a nearby tree. Evidently he was very hungry and the smell was driving him mad. Our Land Rover was very close to the larger male and I was sitting on the very back row. The lion stopped for a moment and sat, staring intently and directly at me.

 

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For whatever reason, he was fixated on me. The guide even commented on how he was very interested in me, and much to my rising consternation, the rest of the group quietly agreed. However, I sat, snapping a few photos and generally enjoying the moment with this great animal. Slowly and deliberately, the lion walked around back of the Rover and stopped, while my back was turned to him, continuing his stare. The guide whispered audibly “don’t move!” and I sat, still, gripping my camera in mid-air above my lap. I could not see the lion, but the looks on the faces of my safari mates brought back a brief pang of anxiety akin to the large bull elephant in the Kruger! Here is a pic that my wife took with her camera as he was just at the rear of the vehicle, and if you look you can see my silhouette in the background holding my camera mid-air:

 

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Shortly thereafter, the lion moved on towards the tree with the leopard kill and stared up at it moaning and grimacing. We watched, over the next several minutes, as he made several attempts to scale the tree for the sweet meat, but to no avail. Clearly frustrated, he ran back over to his bachelor pal and scratched, bit and pawed at him as if it were somehow his fault. This was all very fascinating, as it was, again, my first real sighting of lion behavior in the wild (the earlier sleeping lion notwithstanding). While entertaining, it became clear to us that these guys were very hungry. My safari group unanimously began to identify with the boys ‘ plight and some began asking the guide if it were possible to knock the impala down for them! Of course, the request was met with smiles and reminders of our need for non-interference. I have to say, the smaller of the two lions was actually very thin, giving me the implausible notion to run out and buy him a sandwich myself. At any rate, we moved on to leave the young lions to ponder their circumstances, but this would not be the last we saw of them. Additional sightings of the day included a couple of ground hornbills (below) feeding on insects among a herd of impala. A very interesting sighting from what I learned was a rare bird.

 

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The next day’s safari drive brought more great sightings including: zebra, giraffe, steenbok, impala, and eagle owl. By this time, some of my more experienced safari mates pretty much discounted impala sightings, but I never grew tired of seeing them. In fact, some people remarked about how they were so numerous and were basically food for other animals. While this was true, I came away with the opinion that they were not only extremely beautiful, but extremely successful animals. Their herd survival dynamics and scent marking capabilities were remarkable, making them fantastic animals in their own right.

 

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Anyway, after these few nice sightings, our guide took us to a different part of the reserve to see the two young hungry males from the previous day. As a happy accident, they had discovered a dead cape buffalo that had died from unknown causes. I have to say, this was a very interesting sensory experience. The smell was atrocious and the visions and sounds of the blood, tearing and crunching and goring involved with wild lions feeding can be a very disgusting. It was gratifying for me however, because having seen these guys agonize over the impala from the previous day; they were finally getting a meal.

 

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On the evening drive, we returned to see how the lions were doing. I found it interesting that they were still happily taking turns eating the carcass, but it was in a different location. The smart boys had moved it and wedged it in the forked trunk of a medium sized tree in order to hide it from hyena and vultures. This was only to stall the inevitable, however, as I would find out early the next morning. It is important to note here, that even though the lions had been feeding for some time on this carcass, the bulk of it still remained intact.

 

 

Early on the next morning’s game drive, I was absolutely amazed to see ferocity and power of the hyena first hand. Going back to the location of the previous evening’s cape buffalo carcass, we found a couple of packs of hyena around 20+ strong. After running the lions off from their prize, they had managed to completely consume the entire cape buffalo carcass overnight with the exception of part of its skull, which the hyenas were still fighting over. This would be the only time I had a hyena encounter, even though I had heard them at night throughout my stay in South Africa. I have to say that these animals commanded much respect from me, even though their behavior is often completely inappropriate! The facts that they(in relatively small numbers) can overpower several lions , crush and digest bones with their powerful jaws and somehow live in packs while they viciously fight one another is astonishing.

 

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Later on in the drive, I had one more encounter with the bachelor group of lions near a watering hole in the vicinity of the pack of hyena. This time, they were joined by their larger male counterpart. They were sitting, watchful on one side of the watering hole. On the other side of the water, several hyenas, no doubt thirsty from their overnight banquet, cautiously made their way down the embankment to get a drink. It was really amusing for me to see this sort of standoff between the lions and the hyena. It was as if the lions were saying “We know you took our food and we dare you to come on this side of the water!” At one point, the largest male (who never turned his gaze from the hyena) got up and moved closer to the water. As the hyenas drank just below, he sat back down to continue his stare down from a now closer position. It almost seemed as if the bachelor lions were demanding an apology from these underhanded hyenas and they weren’t leaving until they got it. I am not sure how they got on with each other, because we left them after some 10-15 minutes of entertainment.

 

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We had a few more nice sightings of giraffe, elephant, and impala among others to round out my last day’s drive. My time in the Timbavati was a marvelous and awe-inspiring experience as a novice safari goer. It really encompassed some of the greatest natural world experiences one could want.

 

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My last post for this trip will be for Victoria Falls and my brief safari in Zimbabwe, but I am just into a demanding new job, so bear with me!

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Lovely report and image @joliverself Being eyed up by a lion in that way is quite something, particularly when he goes behind you. An unforgettable experience..

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Great leopard and lion sightings in the last post. Lovely to hear more from Southern Africa at the moment to balance out all the East African reports. And I really enjoy reading your thoughts and ponderings on what you saw and experienced. Tell us a little more about the accommodations and the locations and what you thought about them at some point... And don't forget to sun up because we all love to be taken back to that post first safari feeling!!!

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  • 3 weeks later...

@@pault

 

As far as accommodations are concerned, Tanda Tula was first rate. It is a tented camp, equipped with a comfortable bed, footed tub and outdoor shower. A point that was made abundantly clear by the staff, is that the tents are prone to the routine invasion of vervet monkeys, so visitors need to keep their tents zipped and clasped at all times. I remark on this because, probably like many other camps in Africa, it is a real concern. While we were there, in fact, one visitor had their room ransacked and the monkeys actually consumed and entire bottle of Amarula!

 

The grounds are well maintained with a swimming pool, lake and private veranda for lounging, napping and reading in between safari drives. It is an open camp, equipped only with elephant wire, so the animals are free to roam anywhere throughout the camp. We did not see an abundance of wildlife while on the camp grounds, but we did manage to see impala, warthog, nyala and mongoose during our stay.

 

The staff of Tanda Tula was enthusiastic and very hospitable altogether. The guides, mostly all local fellows, were extremely knowledgeable and well versed on making the most of each game drive for the visitor. The food was of high quality and variety, providing (as one would expect from a private camp) more gourmet choices than the buffet style offerings at a Nkambeni. In short, Tanda Tula was a very upscale, but unpretentious luxury bush camp and I have nothing critical to say about anything I experienced there.

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Victoria Falls/Zim/Zam:

 

 

After reluctantly leaving the wonders of the Timbavati Game Reserve, we made our multiple flight journey to Livingstone in Zambia for a two day tour of the Victoria Falls (Mosi Oa Tunya). I had a preconceived indication that Victoria Falls would be a bit of a well-trodden tourist destination, but I was no less excited. I love waterfalls and the power, majesty and beauty they represent. My final verdict is that it was all worth it. While it was well travelled and busy, the falls are truly spectacular.

 

 

 

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The baboons and other animals that occupy the area are also very interesting, although they are much tamer (accustomed to humans) than animals we had seen throughout South Africa. We stayed on the Zambian side, but we did also tour the Zimbabwean side of the falls as well. Our lodging was the Zambezi Inn, which was a nice tourist class hotel, directly within a 5 minute walk to the entrance of the Falls. There are some resident animals on the property, including zebra, giraffe, monkeys, baboons and impala. It is always a delightful thing to wake up the morning and come downstairs from your room to see zebra grazing just outside your building.

 

 

Resident Zebra of Zambezi Sun:

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Outside of the tour of the falls themselves, we also took an evening sunset cruise on the Zambezi River. It was here that I tried Mosi beer for the first time! Sightings on the cruise were sparse (some hippo and a flash of crocodile), but it was a really relaxing experience and the sunset was very beautiful.

 

 

 

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On our second day we actually toured the Zimbabwean side of the falls, which is, of course, larger than the Zambian side. Even though we were in the low water winter season, the spray coming off some of the 15 viewing points on the Zim side had us well soaked. We did manage to see a few sightings along the way, including some birds, steenbok, vervet monkeys, warthog and the like.

 

Not surprisingly, there was also a large number of human being sightings in the area, but after all, this was the “touristy” segment of our trip (smiles).

 

 

 

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So our last afternoon and evening we spent taking a last game drive on the Stanley and Livingstone Private Game Reserve in Zimbabwe. This reserve is much, much smaller than Timbavati in South Africa, so while definitely “out in the bush”, it did have a much more managed feel about it than the expansive Timbavati. To further explain, I just mean that we saw many more signs of human activity than on our previous drives in South Africa. However, the reserve supports an impressive array of animals, and the likelihood of having a wonderful sighting there is very good. Among our sightings were: eland, sable, cape buffalo, zebra, giraffe, red horn-bill and the lilac breasted roller.

 

 

 

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So, thus ends my first safari journey. I feel like I had an extraordinary experience for my first outing and I consider myself lucky to have had it. And while it is true, that you “never cross the same spot in the river twice”, I hope that it is NOT a trip of a lifetime for me, as so many have commented to me since my return. I have every intention of returning to the continent as quickly as I can.

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  • 8 months later...

I enjoyed your trip report very much. Thanks for taking the time and the effort to share it with us. It was good to see the pictures of the water falls and the eland. We have only been to the private reserves around Kruger Nat'l Park and have not seen either the Eland or Sable. The story of the of the young male lions was fascinating along with the hyena interactions. I think it is great to stay at a camp long enough to have follow the animals and glimpse their lives for a couple of days for more. Looking forward to reading about your second trip to Africa.

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Thank you for sharing your trip with us. Though it was your first trip to Africa, you show an appreciation for all animals and experiences (rather than focusing solely on cats or the BIg 5, for example) that speaks of a seasoned traveler. Seeing a sable right away, for example, would have been quite a treat. I would love to see any other photos you'd like to share with us, too.

 

And good luck with your new job, hopefully it will provide the means for you to safari again & again.

 

@@pault

While we were there, in fact, one visitor had their room ransacked and the monkeys actually consumed and entire bottle of Amarula!

A very serious offense!

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Excellent report. While sitting on our balcony at Vic Falls my daughter had her can of coke taken from her by the monkeys...if only I had a video of that.

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