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First Safari: South Africa


hannahcat

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SafariChick

@@hannahcat yes, I tried writing my notes with pen in a journal but I type faster than I write and in a bouncy vehicle somehow typing with my two thumbs as I do on my phone is easier than trying to write legibly! And then if it's dark, I have a little backlight too. ;)

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It seems that there has been a rash of first timers contributing their new-found enthusiasm to the South Africa forum, and I am very happy to be contributing my voice to that chorus.   Like many peo

First of all, let me say thanks to everyone who recommended, either explicitly or implicitly through their trip report writing, that it's important to take notes. At the time, of course, I thought "th

So, I suppose I should be a bit more methodical about this, and go back a bit to Cape Town.   Michael, my husband, arrived, and within 24 hours had broken his toe in the shower. We did not realize,

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I suppose, since I just wrote about not even being able to get off the property because of too many animals, this would be as good time as any to weigh in on the Sabi Sands controversy, if controversy it is, about whether the area is wild enough. Obviously, I have no idea what I'm talking about, since I have been on a sum total of one (1!) safari. Still, from my perspective, I really loved the area -- it clearly met and exceeded my expectations in terms of seeing wildlife. I was also very glad to have an excellent ranger/tracker team, as it often seemed that, if everyone on the radio was looking for X, Fred and Martin were the ones who got out and tracked X down -- which often meant we were the first ones there. (And sometimes they waited quite a while before telling anyone else about it too.) So, even though there were plenty of animals about, and I definitely felt very lucky, I also didn't have that "zoo" or "animals on a platter" sense either. All of that was illustrated by the second afternoon/evening drive.

 

To start with, we had a new couple joining the vehicle that we also continued to share with the lovely English couple. (Dulini puts a maximum of six people on each vehicle, so we were now full up. Actually, their vehicles have a very nice set-up: they've taken out the middle seat entirely and put in a box in which there's binoculars, insect repellant, and other supplies, as well as plenty of room for your own photographic equipment.)

 

The new couple were Americans and were celebrating their honeymoon. They, too, turned out to be absolutely wonderful people, very curious about everything, and I loved all the questions they asked. Fred and Martin hopped on, and we went on a lion mission. We searched and searched for a single male lion, but Fred and Martin were being sent all over the place by other rangers on the radio and they couldn’t pick up the tracks. Finally, and much to Fred's disappointment, we decided to give up for the moment, and we went to look at a big bull elephant the new woman who had joined us had spotted. (She turned out to have an absolutely eagle eye -- I felt sure the lodge was going to offer her a job before they left.)

 

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Fred continued to be antsy, though -- he wanted to find the lion. We went back to the area, and ignoring the radio but using the tracker’s skills this time, we found the lion. He was grumpy and almost charged the Land Rover (scaring me considerably), but then settled in for a sleep.

 

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After a while we left for sundowners, saying we would come back after. We did, and when we did, he suddenly got up and started moving!

 

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We knew exactly where he was heading. Very, very sadly, a rhino had been poached nearby a few days before. Even more sadly, the rhino had been pregnant. The body of the rhino had been fenced off for a few days to give the scientists time to conduct an autopsy, and the autopsy had been completed that day. The fences had just been taken down, and it was clear that the lion, along with half the other animals in the neighborhood, had been waiting for this moment.

 

We called in late for dinner and followed the lion back to the rhino. It was amazing hearing him roar! However, when he got there, it seemed he got cold feet. Perhaps he had been chased off the body, or zapped by the electric fence, one too many times, as he seemed more interested in making sure that no one else could get to the body than in starting to eat himself. He chased off some hyenas, but eventually, we lost sight of him in the darkness and so had to leave and go to dinner. Still, it was amazing to track him and listen to his roars.

 

By the next morning, clearly, the lions had come and gone, and the hyenas and vultures had taken over, setting up a ghoulish, yet fascinating and somehow beautiful morning drive the next day.

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Earthian

@@hannahcat

welcome to ST. Sorry to hear about your father and deciding to bring your mother to Africa the next time you are here is great.

Your photographs are lovely. I particularly like the composition of the zebra portrait. Beautiful.

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Tom Kellie

I suppose, since I just wrote about not even being able to get off the property because of too many animals, this would be as good time as any to weigh in on the Sabi Sands controversy, if controversy it is, about whether the area is wild enough. Obviously, I have no idea what I'm talking about, since I have been on a sum total of one (1!) safari. Still, from my perspective, I really loved the area -- it clearly met and exceeded my expectations in terms of seeing wildlife. I was also very glad to have an excellent ranger/tracker team, as it often seemed that, if everyone on the radio was looking for X, Fred and Martin were the ones who got out and tracked X down -- which often meant we were the first ones there. (And sometimes they waited quite a while before telling anyone else about it too.) So, even though there were plenty of animals about, and I definitely felt very lucky, I also didn't have that "zoo" or "animals on a platter" sense either. All of that was illustrated by the second afternoon/evening drive.

 

~ @@hannahcat

 

I've read and re-read your comment above. It's exactly what I needed to read, as ten days hence I'm headed to Sabi Sands for the first time.

Your description of how the overall safari experience exceeded your expectations is a solid endorsement of Sabi Sands and of Dulini.

Enjoying your photographs and reading your lively commentary has shown what a delightful experience it was. That brings a smile to my face!

Elephants, lions, zebras, cheetahs, wild dogs — SPLENDID!

As to note-taking, I bring along a very small notebook purchased at Muji. A trusty extra-fine nib fountain pen with medium dark blue ink records what was observed on the day's game drives.

Anything at the lodge or camp, names of those met, humorous incidents, meals, weather — it's all jotted down.

Sometimes it's written by a blazing fire — such as in my room at the Emakoko in Nairobi and at the large fireplace in the Mara Sopa — while other times it's written by candlelight — such as in the Rhino Valley Lodge in Tsavo West National Park.

Thank you for sharing your photos and outstanding safari experience!

Tom K.

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Great report and terribly sorry to hear of your loss.
Far more prepared than I am for all of my safaris and my 'point and shoot' technique with my camera! Though I hope to change that. The course shows and there are some really excellent pictures too - any of the hyaena and vulture visited carcase?
The calm yet appreciative tone of the commentary is also very nice reading. :)

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I quite like the perspective on your elephant shot above, which emphasizes its size.

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fictionauthor

 

 

~ @@hannahcat

 

As to note-taking, I bring along a very small notebook purchased at Muji. A trusty extra-fine nib fountain pen with medium dark blue ink records what was observed on the day's game drives.

Sometimes it's written by a blazing fire — such as in my room at the Emakoko in Nairobi and at the large fireplace in the Mara Sopa — while other times it's written by candlelight — such as in the Rhino Valley Lodge in Tsavo West National Park.

@@Tom Kellie A perfect way to take notes. Not only does it have a kind of Hemingway charm, but it's not dependent on batteries. It's quiet so that anyone shooting video will not have a voice in the background but just the sounds of the animal.

 

@@hannahcat I am also loving your thoughtful commentary and your calm voice. And that elephant photo!

Edited by fictionauthor
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Tom Kellie

 

 

@@Tom Kellie A perfect way to take notes. Not only does it have a kind of Hemingway charm, but it's not dependent on batteries. It's quiet so that anyone shooting video will not have a voice in the background but just the sounds of the animal.

 

 

 

~ @@fictionauthor

 

I'd been reluctant to bring a fountain pen with me to Africa, out of concern that the ink might leak in the aircraft due to pressure changes.

However, at a dinner last year, the CEO of the company which produces the fountain pens I use sat beside me. When he heard my concern he told me that there would be no problem whatsoever if any of the fountain pens was carried with me in an aircraft cabin.

With a certain degree of trepidation I brought one on the January, 2015 safari.

No leaks!

During the two safaris since then and on business trips I've experienced no ink leakage.

The flow of the ink onto fine paper, the subtle variations in line width, and the ergonomics of a fountain pen are highly satisfying.

Recording details of safaris ranks as one of the finest pleasures in the field or in lodges and camps.

Rereading the notes brings back the forgotten yet charming moments of particular game drives on particular days.

As you've so elegantly expressed it above, it's an unobtrusive means of capturing passing reality.

Thank you for your kind thoughts.

Tom K.

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@@Tom Kellie A perfect way to take notes. Not only does it have a kind of Hemingway charm, but it's not dependent on batteries. It's quiet so that anyone shooting video will not have a voice in the background but just the sounds of the animal.

 

 

 

~ @@fictionauthor

 

I'd been reluctant to bring a fountain pen with me to Africa, out of concern that the ink might leak in the aircraft due to pressure changes.

However, at a dinner last year, the CEO of the company which produces the fountain pens I use sat beside me. When he heard my concern he told me that there would be no problem whatsoever if any of the fountain pens was carried with me in an aircraft cabin.

With a certain degree of trepidation I brought one on the January, 2015 safari.

No leaks!

During the two safaris since then and on business trips I've experienced no ink leakage.

The flow of the ink onto fine paper, the subtle variations in line width, and the ergonomics of a fountain pen are highly satisfying.

Recording details of safaris ranks as one of the finest pleasures in the field or in lodges and camps.

Rereading the notes brings back the forgotten yet charming moments of particular game drives on particular days.

As you've so elegantly expressed it above, it's an unobtrusive means of capturing passing reality.

Thank you for your kind thoughts.

Tom K.

 

 

I love fountain pens myself, but would never have thought to bring one on a safari. I can see that doing so, however, turns your note-taking into a moment of ritual -- something to be enjoyed in and of itself. I'll have to think about that. Thanks, and if I don't get the chance to say it -- I hope you have a fabulous time at Leopard Hills! I can't wait to hear all about it.

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Sorry about the all quiet on the safari front -- I'm Jewish, and there's always a lot of fuss heading into Yom Kippur, and then of course there's the holiday itself. Now, however, to rejoin the topic ...

 

I swear I did not plant the question with @@Big_Dog, but I do indeed have photographs of the poached rhino, the hyenas, and the vultures. Before I get to them, though, a few words about the poached rhino. At least according to our ranger, Fred, the Sabi Sands has tried many of the techniques I asked about (poisoning the horn, dying it, etc.), and of course they have an anti-poaching team. None of these have been 100 percent effective, however. He argued that, when you have over 40% unemployment (apparently the government puts it at under 30% but no one trusts their numbers -- I heard this several times from several different people) and a commodity that's worth many times the price of gold, it just doesn't matter what you do, you will have poachers. He thought that rhinos are susceptible to domestication and could be farmed, and that that's the only way to save them.

 

I am sure many of you have much, much more experience on this issue than I do. I will say, though, that in our truck we did just about come to a pact with the honeymooning couple that, if our respective careers weren't working out, we'd come back and try our hands at rhino farming. So, there's always that to look forward to.

 

Now, onto the photos. There was just something about the light that morning and how it was hitting the hyenas and vultures that makes me think of old Dutch still lifes or Caravaggio paintings. To me, these are some of the most beautiful photos I took on the trip, though I know others won't find them so.

 

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Eventually, we moved on to see warthogs and wildebeest, and then my first buffalo herd. I amused myself by trying to get a classic oxpicker shot, but I'm not sure if I ever quite got there. Close, but I'm not sure if it's quite a cigar.

 

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This was the start of what I consider our Death and Destruction day.

 

 

 

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Kitsafari

the cavorting zebra pictures are a hoot, particularly the last one with the zebra baring his teeth.

 

and I did like that first picture in the carcass series when the hyena and vulture both looked up in the same direction.

 

so poaching does happen in Sabi Sands! i wonder if it is easier to breach the fences in the west since it's closer to the villages?

 

oh dear. that last sentence in your last post sounds rather foreboding.

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SafariChick

@@hannahcat I hope you had an easy fast. I like your photos from your last post too. It must have been a very emotional sighting given the circumstances. The topic of how to save rhinos is so complex and there are many different opinions. I like the last photo of the buffalo with the oxpecker - the buffalo is giving it quite a look.

 

Your last line is quite ominous - look forward to seeing more.

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No worries @@hannahcat ! I say 'what, no hyaena pics?' so often i really should make it my signature.
I loved the carcass ones, and agree thoroughly on their beauty. Other may not think so, but @@Marks and I would disagree!
It is a disgusting shame that poaching occurs in the Sabi Sands too (as well as everywhere, obviously) but there is something better about seeing it dissapear under hyaenas and vultures than seeing it waste away, cordoned off.
Death and Destruction day has piqued my interest indeed...

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Yep, the hyena and vulture series is excellent! I really like the first one with the hyena and vulture staring off in the same direction.

Agree with @@Big_Dog on another point, too - it is some small comfort to know that at least the poached rhino was able to contribute to the ecosystem in this manner instead of going completely to waste.

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Atravelynn

What a gripping intro. I am so sorry for the loss of your father. Your grief and coping and dreams of safari seemed to be intermingled and I'm sure this jumble of feelings was part of your journey. The leopard cub is a tremendous find. What a blockbuster way to begin your safari and you got such excellent photos. That sighting and resulting photos alone had to confirm your decision to go to Africa, get the camera, and prepare yourself with classes.

 

My first steps in safari planning back when it was just a far off dream for me, started in the library with travel books.

 

Looking forward to the rest of your report.

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My first steps in safari planning back when it was just a far off dream for me, started in the library with travel books.

 

 

Just wanted to say "Yay! Library!" They are such places of inspiration.

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"Day of Death and Destruction" does sound ominous, but fortunately the most grisly part by far was over. The next part was pure adrenaline: a wild dog hunt.

 

I can't quite remember, but I think I was the one who suggested that our evening game drive be given over to the wild dogs. Now that I'm writing this up, I'm almost certain that that's true. It was going to be our last game drive with the British couple -- they were leaving early the next morning -- and they had mentioned several times that one of their most memorable game drives on any of their past safaris was the one in which they followed a pack of wild dogs. So, if I'm remembering this rightly, I suggested that we try to end their trip on a similar high note.

 

I really had no idea what I was asking for, although I could sense Fred (the ranger's) excitement when i made the suggestion. I'm sure I don't have to describe it to many of you: the dogs lazy to start, then stretching, then snapping to attention as if they had all simultaneously received some inaudible radio signal, and then they (and we) were off, plunging through the bush, with shouts of "watch out for the thorns, chaps!" trailing behind us.

 

The dogs were quicker than us, and made their kill out of our sight, but we got there in time to see them devouring a tiny duiker. Some dogs immediately went back to the den, to regurgitate a good bit of it for the pups and other dogs who hadn't hunted or weren't successful, while others stuck around to try to suck the marrow out. One dog in particular was having a great time with the duiker head, though he was having a hard time getting to the brains and was clearly worried that other dogs might challenge him before he could open up the skull.

 

I never did get pictures of the dogs hunting that I just loved. The combination of them hunting at sunset and being so super-fast makes them really challenging for me. Hopefully, there will be a next time, and if there is, I've been thinking about things to try -- raising my ISO levels prime among them.

 

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On the way back to the lodge, we saw mongoose (dwarf mongoose, I believe?), which I absolutely fell in love with.

 

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And, delighting the honeymoon couple, we saw zebra! (One of the many things I loved about them was that their two primary wish list animals weren't "Big 5" animals at all -- zebras and giraffes. Not that there's anything wrong with lions, etc., and I'm sure they liked seeing them too, but it was just very endearing.)

 

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Back at the lodge, two more Americans had joined us. (One of the owners of Dulini is American, and he does market the place to Americans, so that may make the guest list somewhat disproportionately American.)

 

They were two middle-aged women, friends and co-workers, who apparently often traveled together. They were in some respects caricatures of Americans -- they were loud and in everyone's business all the time. They took a picture of their ranger and tracker and told them to “say sex!” instead of "say cheese!" and the two African men were apparently almost rolling on the ground laughing. They drank champagne, and only champagne, at every opportunity, and seemingly knew very little about animals, at least when they arrived. On the other hand, they were clearly having a great time, they were curious about everything, and after a momentary irritation passed (quiet observers of nature they were not), we grew to really enjoy their verve. Still, I'm glad we didn't share a vehicle with them. On another night, we did stop and have sundowners together, and it really was like going on safari with the characters from the British sitcom, "Absolutely Fabulous."

 

 

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Alexander33

@@hannahcat

 

Great job on the wild dogs. And yes on the dwarf mongoose. You did very well with those photos as well.

 

Americans commenting on how loud other Americans are? Love it. As a fellow American, I occasionally have noticed others looking down their snouts at us as we laughed and carried on. But those drips always looked a tad envious, too, as if they knew they were boring outsiders who hadn't been invited to the party.

 

In all seriousness, I'd probably have been irritated with them, too, had they been loud in the midst of a drive, but champagne and Ab Fab characters during sundowners sounds like a pretty good balance to me!

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fictionauthor

@@hannahcat A wild dog hunt as the last game drive is right up my alley. What a wonderful choice.

 

I did appreciate your vulture shots - very much.

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"Americans commenting on how loud other Americans are? Love it. As a fellow American, I occasionally have noticed others looking down their snouts at us as we laughed and carried on. But those drips always looked a tad envious, too, as if they knew they were boring outsiders who hadn't been invited to the party.

 

In all seriousness, I'd probably have been irritated with them, too, had they been loud in the midst of a drive, but champagne and Ab Fab characters during sundowners sounds like a pretty good balance to me!"

 

I know, I'm loud too! It was like having a mirror held up to me. It's true that only people of your own nationality can really get under your skin, but re-reading what I wrote, I think I got the tone wrong -- we really did end up liking them a lot. They were a hoot! They had their own "Big 5" sightings: the handsome rangers from other lodges. :rolleyes:

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Atravelynn

Not quite as rare as that leopard cub, but your frisky zebras were another stroke of luck.

 

What did your husband do, kick something? Breaking a toe on safari, oh my. But if that's what's needed to have such a good view of the leopard cub, I bet there'd be many of us willingly sacrificing our big toes.

 

I loved your hyena and vulture shots too.

 

Now add a wild dog kill to your first safari and this one will be hard to beat!

 

I would have loved the "Ab Fabbers!"

Edited by Atravelynn
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Wow @@hannahcat, sounds like you had an amazing first safari if you ask me with some superb sightings of leopard, lion, wild dogs and cheetah!! You're already showing some great photographic skills as well I must say. That final leopard image where the cub hugs its mother is just picture perfect, I would get a lifesize canvas of it and hang it in my living room if I were you... :)

 

Cheers,

 

Michel

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