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Balule and Kruger on a budget and a week in Tofo Mozambique


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As many of you will know from my trip planning thread, This was my second trip to the Kruger area (and my fourth African safari). The first time, I travelled with family and we hired a car and stayed in the Kruger Park itself at the rest camps, we also stayed for significantly longer than I did this time. I chose Tremisana (Viva Safaris) this time because I didn't want to drive on my own and, with a Mana Pools trip planned out for next August, didn't want to fork out the big bucks on sabi sand. I also wanted to prioritise the divingelement of the trip. The cost of the safari portion equated to £580 for 5 nights and included pick up from Joburg arport and drop off at my hotel in Joburg on the last day.


About Balule:

Balule used to be a hunting concession, therefore the animals are quite skittish. It does not appear to be particularly game-rich, whch was as I expected, given the cost. The habitat is a combination of fairly thick scrub, and more open areas. They do not off-road but drive along the dirt tracks. There are very few vehicles (the most we saw was one other). Leopard is seen, but rarely (I did not see any). Elephants pass through the area approx every 2 to 3 weeks. I did not see any in Balule. I was told that animals can roam into Balule from Kruger. Tremisana lodge is right near the entrance. As such, the road noise does hinder the feeling of being "in the bush" when at the lodge.


About the lodge

The lodge was very nice and comfortable though not as fancy as Elephant Plains. They have a very small waterhole which is overlooked by the Lapa in which Breakfast is served. They also have avery small bathing pool, which I didn't use. The food is tasty and dining is more informal than at e.g. ele plains, with the guests and staff dining together. The staff are lovely and friendly. Thee are some nice sunbirds that frequent the lodge, wit helmeted guneafowl and Yellow-billed hornbills common around the waterhole. A troupe of vervet monkeys provide entertainment while having breakfast but I didn't see any other game in the vicinity of the lodge, despite it being set in a relaively open area (for Balule).

Edited by kittykat23uk
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Keep it coming, KittyKat! I'm very curious as to what animals you saw in Balule.


If I look at the map, then what you say sounds logical. Certainly if you look at the area on a map, from east to west:


- Timbavati: to me, game viewing in Timbavati was pretty much idem as in Sabi Sands.

- Klaserie, east: a bit further away, in Klaserie, the prices drop, but so do game numbers. Not that much though, but to give an example; you have to work a bit harder for a good leopard sighting. Things are improving slowly; a bit more lodges, animals getting more used to tourists and their vehicles, etc... What also helps is huge traversing rights (since recently the AOF/nThambo/GomoGomo concessions hooked up with another cluster of camps further north (Senalala etc).

- Klaserie, west: if you go further away from Kruger NP, then prices seem to be equal, or even drop a bit further. I assume that area has about the same game numbers, as the camps sit on the Klaserie river, and water is life.

- Balule: I assume game numbers drop again (or rather; the numbers of iconic species such as elephant and leopard).


But what I wonder is; is the situation not a bit better for the Balule lodges that sit near Olifants River?



Bottom line of all this; it's a similar situation as DikDik described in his trip report (Ndumo, Tembe, Bayete Zulu, ...): the area is improving, with more and more lodges coming, and more and more hunting concessions or farming concessions turning to ecotourism. And slowly the animals are coming back.





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Jochen, From my experience of Balule I would say you're not wrong in your assessment. There is a reason why they take you to Kruger! ;)


9th October – Jo’burg to Balule


I booked an Egypt Air flight at the cost of £548 via Cairo. On previous trips I booked direct on South Africa Airways, but this time I needed a flight that got in as early as possible on the Sunday in order to make the 9.15 am pick up from the airport. All arrangements went smoothly and I was soon on my way to Tremisana Lodge. We stopped to pick up two other guests, who had been at a space conference in Cape Town.


Viva provided us with a little leaflet in which they provide some information about the tour schedule, the various sights we’d see and also suggesting that you tip each guide/driver around R50 for service, Going by their advice this would work out at around £4.50 per activity. As a single traveller I really felt very awkward with that as I couldn't really afford to tip everyone given the number of different staff that they had for the activities. So I only tipped a couple of the guides when I had either had an exceptional drive (the dogs for example) or who had dome more than one activity. I noticed that a lot of the Europeans didn't tip at all.


We stopped in Dullstroom for lunch, which was expedited by our driver phoning through our order en route. However, this didn’t really help as the other vehicle we were due to meet was late arriving. Basically what Viva Safaris do is have vehicles that meet at the lunch stop so that their drivers who know Johannesburg can collect the returning visitors and vice versa. Which seems to be a very sensible way of doing things, although I heard that there were some problems with a new driver they recruited later in my stay. But anyway I digress! I spent some time window shopping in Dullstroom before finally boarding the minibus to continue our journey. I passed many familiar sights, including the road to Trackers, where I’d stayed last time.


On arriving at Tremisana mid afternoon, I was treated to a very warm welcome from the hostess Florence who informed us after offering some refreshing juice, that our game drive would be at 16.45. This gave me enough time to check out my room. This was comfortable and had everything I would need, including tea and coffee facilities (an improvement could be made in the form of some proper milk) and the bed was a little on the short side (a taller person would find their feet sticking out the end of the mattress!), but otherwise nice and comfy and perfectly adequate for me.


My room was also close to the “waterhole” which was no bigger than a couple of small bird baths. Aside from a few guineafowl and some vervets, game viewing from the lodge was not very productive whilst I was there, although there were enough sunbirds around for me to spend a few hours during the week being confounded by them as I tried in vain to get any decent photos.


16.45 soon came along and Wesley our guide and driver Finnias took us out on a game drive in Balule Reserve. There were only a few guests staying that night so there was plenty of room in the vehicle for us. The drive was relatively uneventful in that we saw none of the big five. We started with a small herd of impala in some quite scrubby terrain. Then a steenbok was spotted.



PA093677 Steinbok by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


As we came to a more open area, that appeared to be a flat lawn, we watched a mother warthog and two young grazing.



PA093682 Warthog by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA093699 Warthogs by kittykat23uk, on Flickr




Also present were a couple of Crowned Plover.



PA093706 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


Later we caught sight of a Black-backed Jackal backlit in the setting sun.



PA093702 Black-backed Jackal by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



Stopping at a large waterhole revealed a few birds, including Kittlitz Plover. Nile Crocodile could also be seen there. A few giraffes put in an appearance along with a grey duiker. Other animals we saw on our drive included a few lone Wildebeest, small herds of Impala, and Greater Kudu. Non of which presented any decent photo opportunities.


As night fell, Wesley brought out the spotlight. We returned to the “lawn” and watched a small herd of zebra move out to graze in the open area. A couple of Scrub Hares were also revealed in the spotlight but that was about all.


We returned to the lodge and didn’t have long to wait before tea, served buffet style, which was tasty. Afterwards I had a brief look at the waterhole, in the hope that some kind of nocturnal animal might come for a drink. Their newsletter mentions the sighting of aardvark on occasion but sadly it did not see fit to put in an appearance during my stay. It was not long before I decided to call it a night.

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Off to a good start. Kruger looks dry still.

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:D We must have been reading each outhers TRs at the same time! :lol:
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10th October - Balule morning walk and a sunset drive in Tshokudu game reserve.


I was woken by vervet monkeys playing on my roof before my alarm went off. But as it was nearly time to get up, I really didn't mind too much. As we drank a quick cup of tea, I watched white-bellied sunbirds zipping about in the bouganvillia. Soon it was time to board the safari vehicle and we were off on our way.



P1460896 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


Again, the group was small, only three of us, myself, and two Germans, Tim and Francesca and we were in Balule reserve again. The first sighting was a Black-backed Jackal. Then Francesca, became very animated, as we arrived at a dam by the waterhole. She was pointing to something in a tree, some distance away in a ditch containing quite thick scrub. As our guide Pieter repositioned the vehicle I got onto the creature, which turned out to be a lion cub in a fallen tree!!



P1460901 adj Lion cub by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


Expecting to be on a walk, I only took my lightweight backup camera and with the sun just coming up and the lion in the shade of the tree, the pictures weren't great. Then we saw another cub, and we watched them for a while. They seemed to be alone, there was no sign of mum.



P1460918 adj Lion cub by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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We watched and another vehicle joined us, but they were difficult to see amongst the branches. Soon we left the lion cubs and went on a little way to start our walk. I enjoyed a thress day wilderness trail in Kruger last year, which was the olifants trail. We saw lots of wildlife on those walks. This walk was similar in that it was longer than the short bush walks you get in Elephant Plains, but we actually didn't see any game on foot at all! So we focused on the smaller stuff. In this regard, I think all the guides must get the same basic bush training because they all tell you the same signs.


Pieter showed us how to make rope out of the Aloe vera plant by separating and then plaitting the fibres. He made a bracelet for Francesca which she wore for the rest of the trip.



P1460920 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


He pointed out the lamenting call of the Emerald Spotted Wood Dove which goes something like, "my mother is dead now, my father is dead now, everybody's dead,dead, dead, dead, dead......"


He told us that the Blacksmith Plover is so called because the black bib it wears looks like a blacksmith's apron.


Pieter found a few whip scorpions, AKA crab spiders under some rocks. Francesca wasn't keen to take a closer look.



P1460924 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


He spoke to us about giraffes. Female giraffes can be told from male giraffes because they have tufts on their horns and males usually have bald horns from fighting. Males also have what looks like a belly button but is really their genitals..


He went on to say that giraffes will approach trees from down wind and only feed on a tree for a short time. This is because once a tree registers it is under attack it sends a chemical signal to other trees in the area which in turn start to produce quinine which makes the leaves unpalatable. This is probably where M. Night Shyamalan got his idea for The Happening from.

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This is an aardvark burrow. Apparently before they took down the fences, aardvarks were a common sight in Balule. But now that lions have moved in the sightings have become more scarce. I would like to have seen an aardvark..



P1460922 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


Pieter spoke at length about rhino poaching but I will save that information for later where I can illustrate it.


Pieter was keen to find a scorpion, but he wasn't able to find one. We did find this poisonous centipede though.



P1460930 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


We also saw blue tailed skinks, soldier ants (not sure if these are the same as the mutabele ants we saw on the wilderness trail, I asked him but he didn't know:



P1460940 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


Pieter showed us a mud wallow that started life as a termite mound. Termited farm fungus off dead wood and keep their mounds cool by opening vents in the walls. They sometimes fan the chamber to maintain the correct temperature and humidity.


After the walk, we returned to the spot where we'd seen the lion cubs. This time first we saw one lioness and then four of the pride panting in the shade of some trees, on the bank of the waterhole. A male came to join them.



P1460999 Lioness by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P1460965 pride of lions in Balule by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


Then Francesca said she could hear the cubs, and sure enough they were still by the dam and mum was with them. The cubs were about 4 to 5 weeks old. Pieter said that this pride have not successfull raised cubs before so he hoped these new arrivals wouldn't suffer the same fate. I believe this was the first time he had seen them. He was cursing not having brought his camera. The cubs were delightful, playing rough and tumble with each ohter and then being bathed by mum.


There were too many branches in the way to get decent photos:



P1470005 Lion cubs and mum by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P1470015 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



P1470016 Lion cubs and mum by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



I tried video instead:



Sadly Pieter gave us the bad news that we couldn't stay to watch them for long as it was already 10.00 and they were not allowed to traverse that area after 10.00 am.


On the way back we saw giraffe, Baboons the same 3 warthogs (well we guessed they were), several small herds of impala and a small herd of wildebeest.



P1460942 Giraffe by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

Edited by kittykat23uk
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So then there was some down time before a game drive later in the afternoon. Tim and Francesca were heading off to Marc's Treehouse Lodge so they were scheduled to have a return drive in Balule later that afternoon, whilst I was going to nearby Tshokudu game reserve for a sunset drive. In the meantime there was time for a late breakfast and to enjoy the surrounds of the lodge. Other than the monkeys, there weren't any animals around. But some birds kept me entertained.


A large flock of Red-billed Queleas were occupying a bush and flocked down to drink from the waterhole:



P1470022 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


Pied Crows were a common sight:



P1470042 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


This Black-backed Puffback posed well for photos:



PA103780 Black-backed Puffback by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


As I mentioned, sunbirds were common, but difficult to photograph! This is a Marico Sunbird I believe:



PA103784 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


This one is White-bellied Sunbird



PA103797 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


Yellow-billed Hornbills and Grey Louries (Go-Away birds) were commonly seen from the Lapa along with Helmeted Guineafowl.



PA103808 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA103872 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


Plus the ever-present Vervet Monkeys



PA103874 Vervet Monkey by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA103881 Vervet Monkey by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


Also, there was a pied crow mobbing an Aquila eagle. I think this one is a Steppe Eagle. Looking at the size of the bird, the length of the wings, the white patch on the back and pale wing panels point to Steppe rather than Tawny, but I'm not an expert.



PA103917 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA103913 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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To be continued..... :D

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Thanks I'm going to have to wait for this site to be migrated before posting more.

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Tshukudu sunset drive


Tshukudu Game Reserve was started in 1980 on what used to be a cattle ranch. Although many antelope species as well as giraffe were already on the property a variety of animals had to be reintroduced. One of the first were rhinoceros hence the name "Tshukudu" which means "rhino" in Sotho. They also take in orphaned animals, including three cheetah, which can be seen wandering around the lodge. They are tame enough to pet, and I must confess I gave one of them a little stroke. Cheetah fur is quite rough to the touch.



PA104014 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA104017 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA104023 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA104027 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA104031 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


We had time for some delicious cake and sandwiches before starting our game drive.

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We started our game drive to look for some wild animals. the first thing we saw was Kudu:



PA104041 Greater Kudu by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


We came across a small herd of White Rhino. But their horns had been removed. I said I would write about rhinos. I'm sure I don't have to tell you that there has been a surge in rhino poaching recently. Well, things are really bad, Pieter told us that one rhino a day is beling killed by poachers in Kruger alone. I can't believe Kruger has that many rhinos, but that's what he said! So game reserves like this one have started to cut off the horns in an effort to deter the poachers. but it doesn't always work because the poachers still track the rhino and still kill it even if it has no horn because they don't want to go to the effort of tracking the same de-horned rhino again. Furthermore, there is still the base of the horn which they also still cut off.



Rangers have tried implanting tracking devices in the rhino and in the horn, so if one is removed from the other, the beacon will go off. Trouble was, the initiative was publicised on TV and the poachers are now wise to this trick so they just cut the device out of the horn and leave it with the body of the rhino!


They tried poisoning the horns and in fact this has had some "success" as a few people have actually now died from ingesting poisoned rhino horn. But the poachers don't care and once it's in the supply chain you can't exactly trace the poisoned product back to a particular rhino.


So here we are, some rather sad looking rhino, who apparently took some time to get used to the fact that they no longer have their horns... :(



PA104045 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA104057 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA104062 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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We also saw hippos, corocodiles, giraffe, impala and a fish eagle. Further on we encountered some zebra as the light was fading:



PA104103 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA104110 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


Then this owl, our guide said it was a pearl spotted owlet, but I suspect it is actually a scops owl, judging by the ear tufts. Possibly Southern White Faced Scops Owl.



PA104114 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


After dark we spotlighted for animals on the way back and found this gorgeous Small Spotted Genet who had just left his home in a hollow tree trunk. A lifer for me!!



PA104120 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA104124 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


We crept closer and closer until we were close enough to get these photos. But the Genet then decided it had enough attention and sank back into it's hole.


Just as we took a fork in the road, our guide spotted a lion on the adjoining track. He swung the vehicle round and drove up to the cat, and then revved the engine loudly. In response to the threat the lion gave off a tremendous roar!!



PA104132 Lion by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA104134 Lion raoring by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


Show over, we returned to the lodge and were then transferred back to Tremisana in time for dinner.


There were lots of frogs around at Tremisana. I'm not sure what species this one is:



PA104137 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


We had another lovely meal, delicious soup with home made bread and a Braai of boerwarse and steak, I retired to bed after waiting in vain at the waterhole for a while.

Edited by kittykat23uk
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11th October- a Special day in Kruger


The vervet monkeys started tap-dancing on my roof before dawn so I was up early. I spent the first part of the morning trying to photograph some of the birds around the lodge.


This stunning black-headed oriole showed well, but I wasn't successful in finding the babblers, who I could hear cackling away just out of sight..



PA114144 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


A beautiful Scarlet-chested Sunbird perched in a palm tree.



PA114183 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


We had some new guests arrive the night before so the vehicle was a bit busier for our trip into Kruger. Meneth was our guide.


We entered Kruger through the Orpen gate arriving around 9.30. Which although probably a longer way round is a much more productive route to entering at Phalaborwa. Stopping at the gate office, we saw some blue waxbills and hornbills. Then a couple of giraffe were browsing.



PA114214 Giraffe by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


We took the s106 towards Satara, and spotted some elephants sleeping under the trees.



PA114234 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


A leopard tortoise was also spotted ambling along but couldn't get a decent angle on it. Anyway, some browsing giraffes had attracted quite the entourage of Red-billed Oxpeckers.



PA114249 Giraffe by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA114240 Giraffe with oxpeckers by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


But they looked somewhat more out of place on the more diminutive impala. This one looks like the oxpecker is weighing heavily on her head:



PA114256 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA114263 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA114267 Impala by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA114264 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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A party of Dwarf Mongoose entertained us by scampering around in the brush by the side of the road.



PA114289 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


A pair of Green Wood Hoopoes were clambering around in a large tree, but were to far away to get a decent picture. We drove on to the waterhole where we found a large group of elephants who were busy having a mud bath. Even the tiny baby elephants were enjoying the cooling mud pudding.



PA114305 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA114336 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


A few hippos were also making their way out of the water in preparation for a siesta.



PA114345 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


The elephants started to move off, so Meneth drove us to the oher side of the waterhole, expecting them to emerge at any moment. First this adult crossed in front of us:



PA114350 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


She led the way and soon the younger members of the herd were trotting across the road.



PA114356 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA114357 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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In the same area we saw an African Harrier Hawk (Gymnogene) soaring above us.



PA114367 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


Then we came across some frisky zebra. These two were having a bit of a disagreement:



PA114387 adj Frollicking Zebras by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA114391 Zebras chasing by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA114395 Zebras chasing by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


A mare with foal looked on dissapprovingly at the antics of the others:



PA114404 Zebra and foal by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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Having seen all there was to see on the S12/s40 loop, we returned to the H7 towards Satara and came across a large herd of Cape Buffalo.



PA114423 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


Accompanied as always by red-billed oxpeckers..


PA114435 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA114418 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA114440 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


Afterwards, it was time for lunch at the restaurant at Satara rest camp.

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While having lunch at Satara, there was a troupe of Vervet Monkeys with some very playful youngsters. It was great fun watching their play fighting.



PA114452 Vervet Monkeys by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA114487 adj Vervet Monkeys by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA114488 Vervet Monkeys by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA114492 Vervet Monkeys by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA114495 Vervet Monkeys by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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We headed out on the H1-4 then onto the S90 to the North east of Satara. Here the park seemed even drier than elsewhere (which was also dry) and I first spotted a Kori Bustard.



PA114514 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


Then a trio of ostriches crossed the road uo ahead of us. I managed to capture a photograph of two of them:



PA114520 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


As we headed back down on the S41 there is a river that runs parallel to the road, some distance away. We spotted a pride of four lionesses who were making their way along the bank, but they disappeared into some reeds. There were a couple of distant fish eagles too.


A small party of baboons were foraging along the side of the road.



PA114531 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA114534 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA114535 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



Then not much further on, a woman in a car stopped us to say that there were lions sleeping in the long grass just off the road. Buth the grass was so long we couldn't see them. That was until one of them got up to reposition herself briefly.



PA114541 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


She also said that further on, at a waterhole there were lions with a kill. We arrived and could see one lion sleeping by his kill and looking more closely other members of the pride could be seen mostly obscured by some bushes.


Then in front of us by the water tank, Meneth pointed out four sable. Including this stunning bull.



PA114548 adj by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


With the lions at the waterhole, animals were reluctant to drink, even though they must have been hot and thirsty.



PA114558 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


A stunning Bateleur posed for the camera on a dead tree:



PA114572 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr

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I've added some video of the elephants that were having a mud bath earlier. You can see they are really enjoying themselves:



Later on, another herd, or maybe the same herd caused a bit of consternation, as they started heading straight towards us. You can hear some of our group getting a little nervous...



Deciding discretion was the better part of valour, Meneth pulled forward a little, to allow them to cross.


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Thanks Kavey,


As the light started to fade, a southern Ground hornbill could be seen displaying:



PA114593 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA114594 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


Then movement in the long grass betrayed the presence of a Black-backed Jackal. We could just about make out his eyes, watching us, watching him.



PA114599 Black-backed Jackal by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


By this point we were past the Orpen Checkpoint, heading out towards the gate. We stopped to photograph the setting sun.



PA114604 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


But the game drive wasn't quite over yet....

Edited by kittykat23uk
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Some distance away, a pari of Jackal had emerged from a den.



PA114615 Black-backed Jackals by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


One of them came straight towards us and crossed the road:



PA114618 Black-backed Jackal by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA114630 Black-backed Jackal by kittykat23uk, on Flickr



PA114633 Black-backed Jackal by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


He turned to look back for his mate, and then trotted off into the grass.



PA114634 Black-backed Jackal by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


It was really getting late now, as we made our way out of the park, a mother giraffe and calf moved away from the road as we approached.



PA114635 Giraffe by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


I took a scenic shot of the moon:



PA114640 by kittykat23uk, on Flickr


We thought the drive was over...

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