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First Safari: South Africa


hannahcat

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The dog chase looks like a thrill. The second photo is a really nice portrait.

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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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hannahcat

The next morning, we started out with the goal of looking for giraffe (the groom's favorite), but then heard that there were some lions who seemed like they might be interested in hunting some buffalo. We switched gears, therefore, and started towards the lions, but stopped on the way to look at two rhinos as the honeymooners hadn't seen any yet and we all agreed that the poached one didn't count.

 

As it happened, our timing was perfect – by the time we got to the lions, a little delayed from everyone else, another truck was ready to move out, and the lions were about ready to start hunting for real.

 

Two lionesses had brought along two male lions as backup for the buffalo hunt. One of them was either in heat or was just flirting to keep the male lions' attention.

 

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Having got the male's attention, she started the hunt.

 

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And the males followed.

 

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hannahcat

We moved away from the lions and towards the buffalo, parking a short distance away. The buffalo had clearly not yet spotted the lions, and continued to graze calmly. Clearly, theirs was not to wonder, "why is there so much human interest in us this morning?," theirs was to eat grass until they saw a reason to stop eating grass.

 

In perhaps a case of mis-timed anecdote-telling, Fred told a story about a mate of his who had parked too close to the buffalo in a similar situation. When the buffalo finally spotted the lions, they panicked and ran in all directions -- including into the Land Rover. His mate was seriously injured, as were (if I remember rightly) some of the guests.

 

Just as Fred finished this story, the buffalo began picking up the scent of the lions. You could watch as first one, then another, lifted their heads and looked straight ahead, coming to attention, then losing it for a moment and getting another bite of grass, and then coming to attention again as another breeze came their way. We drove a little closer, not wanting to miss the hunt when it happened.

 

And then, all of a sudden, it did happen, and we did, unfortunately, miss it. One of the lionesses had gotten over excited at the sight of all those buffalo, and had decided -- unwisely -- to go ahead and try to take a buffalo on her own before the male lions had arrived, and even without the help of her sister. She couldn't do it, of course, and she gave away the position of the lions in the process.

 

As advertised, the buffalo did panic, and for a little while, all around us was dust and buffalo.

 

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After a short while, however, the buffalo positioned themselves across a drainage ditch from the lion and began a stare-down, which the lions knew they couldn't win but clearly found very frustrating.

 

Here is one of the late male lions.

 

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The angry and frustrated lioness who missed.

 

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And the lions and buffalo facing off across the drainage ditch.

 

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I do find it very interesting that both @@Kitsafari and I had the chance to witness lion/buffalo interactions so close to each other, and at around the same times. I absolutely love her photos of the standoff at the end, and wish I had gotten a bit more of a clear view myself, but as it was, it was amazing!

 

Afterwards, at morning coffee, the bride referred back to the story Fred had told and asked how he had known we were safe. He paused. "I didn't," he said, and we all laughed with relief we had lived, that a buffalo hadn't ended up in our Land Rover, and that we had been able to see what we did.

 

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Excellent dog hunt...the one dog chewing on the duiker's disembodied head is a memorable photograph.

The 'face off' photos between the buffalo and the frustrated lioness are also fantastic.

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Afterwards, at morning coffee, the bride referred back to the story Fred had told and asked how he had known we were safe. He paused. "I didn't," he said, and we all laughed with relief we had lived, that a buffalo hadn't ended up in our Land Rover, and that we had been able to see what we did.

 

It was definitely wise to reveal this after the fact! :)

 

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This is a nice portrait.

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hannahcat

Thanks, @@Marks. I do feel like she's a strong character -- and the cut on her face adds gravitas to the buffalo mission.

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hannahcat

After the coffee break, we continued our giraffe mission, but with no luck -- and time was getting a little tight for the honeymoon couple to see them. (Giraffes are also the favorites of both my mother and my mother-in-law, so I was getting a little anxious too.) We agreed that that evening, we would buckle down in our search for giraffes.

 

In the meantime, though, we did see a fully grown male leopard who had apparently stolen a kill from several wild dogs and hidden it up a tree. He was taking a drink when we pulled up.

 

 

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A hyena was nearby, and he had apparently also been involved in the fight with the dogs. The hyena had lost to both the dogs and the leopard, and been hurt in the process, and was now clearly hesitant to challenge the leopard for the scraps, yet also not quite content to leave. I couldn't bear to take more pictures of the hyena, but suffice it to say that we all learned a great deal that day about the way dogs attack -- crotch first, apparently. I don't know how the groom felt about it, but I think Michael was more than ready to head home after that sighting. At least the hyena got a bone to gnaw on.

 

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I did absolutely love watching the leopard surveying his territory, including the hyena with his bone, and then settling in for a good bath, just like a house cat.

 

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Great stuff. For what it's worth I like your gory Old Dutch hyenas and vultures too, especially the close up. Probably not going to be a good idea to hang that one on your wall though. :)

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I'm glad the hyena got some kind of consolation prize.

Lovely leopard pictures!

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Ouch...that poor hyaena...
What a fascinating 3-way interaction though!

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hannahcat

Great stuff. For what it's worth I like your gory Old Dutch hyenas and vultures too, especially the close up. Probably not going to be a good idea to hang that one on your wall though. :)

 

@@pault That one, I was thinking of framing and bringing to the office to discourage over-talkers. I think it would work, don't you? :P

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hannahcat

That afternoon, we were about to get down to business looking for giraffe, when we got distracted once again, this time by a herd of elephants crossing a sand river. Fred positioned us ahead of the herd in the middle of the banks of the river, so that at certain points we had elephants crossing in front and behind us. It was just wonderful -- it was a breeding herd and had lots of adorable babies. There's just something irresistible about an animal that will grow up to be so enormous and powerful but, just at the moment, hasn't yet quite figured out all his appendages.

 

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One rather unusual sighting was of an albino elephant who had blue eyes and white toenails. He seemed particularly shy, even when we told him that we liked him just the way he was, and we speculated that perhaps the bright sunlight hurt his eyes and that's why he was hesitating to cross the sand river. Eventually, however, his mother coaxed him across.

 

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A friend of mine who lives in Myanmar said that there, the albino elephants are almost pink, and so this didn't seem to her like an albino elephant. But if not an albino, what could explain the odd coloring (or lack thereof) in the eyes and toenails?

 

One of the last pairs to cross was a young mother and calf. The mother was so young, in fact, that she seemed barely more than a child herself -- this must have been her first calf. After crossing, she stopped by some dry grass and demonstrated how to shake the grass to get the sand out and make it more palatable, leading to some very sweet pictures of the two of them.

 

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And then we were off, once again, on Mission Giraffe.

 

 

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@@hannahcat

 

What an extraordinary first safari!

I was going to apologise for the storm of likes but have decided they are all highly merited so no apology :)

 

Not too sure what I would chose as a highlight from this trip report. The leopard and cub probably. Amazing first sighting.

I am really enjoying your photography. You may have read the books and watched the dvds but there is a lot of innate skill in your shots. Great stuff!

 

THank you for sharing this wonderful experience with us. Really looking forward to reading about and seeing the rest of the trip.

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Very endearing eles, especially that last shot.

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hannahcat

After the elephants continued on their way, we got down to business looking for giraffe. Along the way, we also saw some beautiful nyala.

 

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I know I was expecting giraffes to be relatively easy finds -- and I take it others in our car were also expecting the same. After all, unless my many zoo visits had somehow been misleading all these years, giraffes have always seemed unusually tall. I guess I figured we could drive to a plain, look around at the tops of trees, and the thing sticking up above the tree line would be a giraffe.

 

Of course, that's not how it works. The trees like to hide their best leaves from the giraffes by growing taller than them, and the giraffes themselves don't want to be easy targets. So, it took a good bit of skill and tracking, but we finally found first one giraffe, and then a few more near the banks of the Sand River.

 

As I've said before, giraffes are the favorite animals of some of my favorite people. These people insist to me that giraffes are elegant. I suppose they are when they're standing still, or maybe when they're silhouetted against the African sun, but in general, and with my apologies, I just can't help but find them anything but goofy. To me, they seem like animals that have never grown into their bodies. My pictures probably illustrate my point of view on this.

 

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After admiring and/or secretly giggling a little at the giraffes, we met up with the "Absolutely Fabulous" duo for our sundowner drinks, which was fun.

 

This is the group in the Sand River, with the two honeymooners having their picture taken.

 

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And this is me and Michael.

 

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On the way home, not expecting anything else, we came across a large, very powerful male leopard marking his territory along the banks of the river. I think this was my husband Michael's favorite moment of the safari -- the leopard was so silent, so sure of his ownership and power.

 

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As we followed along, a much smaller female came out to greet him, and to flirt. We tracked them into the bush, but it didn’t look to Fred like she wanted to seriously mate – more that she wanted him not to kill her, so she was paying homage to him by flirting and letting him sniff, etc. However, Barbara and Jean stayed longer and did see some light mating (more like dry humping) – which led to great stories over dinner that night ... and more action the next day.

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SafariChick

@@hannahcat I love your giraffe photos - and they do look goofy in these, but adorably so! Nice to see you and your husband also. Jealous of the leopard sightings!

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There is definitely some goofy charm to your giraffes!

Nice "human sightings," too, looks like everyone was having a great time. :)

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Atravelynn

The challenges you mentioned with wild dogs are so often the case. The quick movements, the mottled colors, all contribute to tricky photo ops. Lovely to get the leopard drinking. That green water would not appeal to me though. Your observations underscore the brutality of nature: "it didn’t look to Fred like she wanted to seriously mate – more that she wanted him not to kill her, so she was paying homage to him by flirting and letting him sniff, etc. "

 

That ele eyeball is definitely distinctive!

 

What an appropriate description of an elephant calf: "There's just something irresistible about an animal that will grow up to be so enormous and powerful but, just at the moment, hasn't yet quite figured out all his appendages."

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hannahcat

Thanks, @@Atravelynn!

 

And @@SafariChick and @@Marks, giraffes are definitely charming and adorable, as well as being maybe just a little goofy. So glad we got to hang out with this one.

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hannahcat

I feel very guilty for not updating more -- work has gotten crazy lately -- so just a quick story without pictures before the next update:

 

Sometime at around the third day, we were driving along, and the bride in the honeymoon couple asked about a bird we were driving by. We were on a mission for some particular animal -- I've forgotten what -- and we were all pretty comfortable with each other by then, so Fred handed his bird book up to the bride, told her it was an Egyptian goose, and asked her to read out loud the entry for that bird. She did, starting with the normal stuff: what it looks like, what it eats, and so on. But then, she read out loud the last little addendum, which was a story about the fierce Egyptian goose -- so fierce that it apparently has been "known to attack crocodiles -- and it has won!" Fred, distracted from our mission by this impossible-sounding story, stopped the car and took the book back, checking to make sure she wasn't pulling his leg. She wasn't, and naturally for the rest of the trip, Egyptian geese became the frequent punchline to our discussions.

 

"What did you see today?" people asked when we got back to the lodge.

 

"Oh, lions and leopards ... and of course, the fiercest predator of all, the Egyptian goose."

 

Or maybe one of us might ask, "why have all the animals scattered from the watering hole?"

 

Well, of course, "Look out! Here comes the fearsome Egyptian goose!"

 

And so on. Lots of fun ... and maybe even a little informative too.

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I will look at the goose with new respect henceforth!

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hannahcat

OK, I'm determined to finish this up; this is getting embarrassing.

 

We started the next morning wanting to know what had happened to the lions who had been chasing the buffalo. Fred and Martin did some tracking, and found the lions feasting on two nyala that the three females had killed. One group of lions had divided up the meat and seemed content, but another lion and lioness were flighting over the carcass of the second nyala. They were both claiming ownership by sitting on the carcass and trying to nudge the other one off.

 

Here are the content ones:

 

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And here are the two battling for the "lion's share."

 

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This was a battle that the male lion was destined to win, as of course he had quite the advantage in weight and size over the lioness. Fred said that normally, the lioness wouldn't put up such a fight about it -- she would just give up and go kill something else -- but she had cubs to feed and so really wanted the nyala. Everyone in the truck was a little surprised by this and asked essentially the same question in different words: why would the male lion deprive his own blood line of food? It didn't seem to make sense.

 

But, as Fred pointed out, humans sometimes get greedy and don’t make great decisions too. It's not like we always act rationally. So, the two lions kept up their very, very slow tug of war, eventually rotating around and giving us a great look at different angles.

 

While all this was going on, another female lion walked up and sat right next to the truck and looked me straight in the eye, giving me chills. Fred said that when you look into the eyes of a lion, all you can see is ponies dying, and I can see what he means.

 

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A male lion also came and sat almost next to the front wheel of the vehicle, and I realized that, for him, he was not a lion living in a human world -- far from it. Instead, we were humans living in a lion world of territories, and it felt very much like he had just claimed us as part of his territory. I've never felt so owned in all my life.

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hannahcat

Later that morning, we saw some enormous crocodiles, some impala in lovely light and then fighting, a hyena, a happy hippo, and -- forgive me -- some birds. I'm hopeless. I meant to look up the birds in my bird book before posting, but I'm at a cafe and so don't have access to it. If anyone wants to chime in on the birds, I'd be grateful.

 

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They seem to be asking us for some privacy while they fought, so we gave it to them:

 

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@@Big_Dog A hyena!

 

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Birds:

 

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We also saw something very special at the end of the drive, but I think I'll save that for the very end.

 

 

 

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Tom Kellie

We also saw something very special at the end of the drive, but I think I'll save that for the very end.

 

~ @@hannahcat

 

You've certainly piqued my curiosity.

Given the quality of what's already been posted, what you'll share at the very end is sure to be interesting.

Thank you for setting aside time to write up and post such a nice trip report!

Tom K.

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