Kruger National Park was where we spent the next 3 days getting up close to wildlife. To put into perspective, the size of Kruger is about the same size as Israel or Wales or Belgium. Or if you prefer another comparison, Kruger is also about the same size as the state of Massachusetts. This flagship of conservation park in South Africa is tremendously huge and home to varying species of all kinds. Given the size of Kruger, it is not possible to cover the entire area in one trip and at the end of our 3-day safari, we truly understand now why people return again and again to see and experience the wildlife that they have fallen in love with.
Simon from Wild Wings Safaris (we do not hesitate to recommend) was our fantastic safari ranger and guide who led us in the game drives in an open vehicle. An excellent advantage to going on game drives in an open vehicle was that that there were no windows separating us from the wildlife. Combined with a sense of humor, Simon also proved to be extremely knowledgeable about different wildlife behaviors and tendencies.
What made our safari experience special was that everyday was different with no expectations. We were in the animals' natural habitat where the wildlife call home. The types of animals we saw and the order we saw them were anything beyond our control. Sometimes we saw them in herds and sometimes an animal was solitary. We could only tune our eyes onto the keenest mode and keep a lookout on the wildlife during our game drives in the open vehicle. It was pure nature.
Seeing the Big 5 is always the goal anyone going on a safari hopes to achieve. Some people leave happy being able to see the Big 5, but some leave disappointed without spotting all the Big 5 animals even after spending several days on a safari. That is nature. We were extremely lucky to have spotted the Big 5 on our very first day and then joked, "Now the pressure is off!" What we did not realize was that it was only the beginning of it all.
The term Big 5 was originally created to list the 5 most dangerous animals to hunt: lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant, and rhinoceros. This meant that if the hunter misses the first shot at the animal, it is very likely that the animal is going to get the hunter first. However, with so many safari photography enthusiasts these days, the other animals such as zebras and giraffes are also high up on the list for animal sighting.
Given the tremendous size of Kruger National Park, the drive from the main Kruger Gate entrance to Lower Sabie Camp where we stayed inside the park took about 1 to 1.5 hours drive. It certainly did not feel that long because game viewing began as soon as we left the gate entrance. We spotted a whole lot of animals and wildlife on the way to camp.
As giraffes get older, their skin becomes darker. Young giraffes have lighter skin. Another way to differentiate between male and female is that the male giraffes have thicker horns.
Elephants very much live and travel in herds and have a tendency to stick with their own family members or relatives.
Impala is a type of African antelope that we saw in abundance throughout Kruger. Impalas were always seen together and they make perfect prey for lions, leopards, and cheetahs.
Kudu, another type of African antelope, has its own interesting way of ensuring survival. The animal has evolved in a way that when walking, its hind leg follows the front leg to reduce overall noise produced from its footsteps that might be overheard by its predators.
Kudus have beautifully structured horns but if the horns break from fighting or from a struggle, the horns do not grow back and the kudu is left with a broken horn for the rest of its life. The horn is a separate structure from the body, unlike deers that have horns that will grow back if they break since the horn is part of the deer's body.
Baboons are African monkeys and given the evolutionary theory, it is no surprise that we saw the baboons demonstrating behaviors that were almost human like.
A very common sighting among the baboons was the female looking for lice on her male partner's skin. It was almost an amusing sight because we so frequently saw this act of the female checking for lice (or maybe for something else) on the male partner's skin. Clearly the female baboons know how to please their partners.
We continued making our way to camp and saw a pride of lion cubs with one of them looking back at us.
Rhinoceros is a species that is endangered due to the illegal poaching of the animal in order to get its horn used for medicinal purposes in the Far East. The rhinoceros is unfortunately killed just for its horn. To protect the rhinoceros, Kruger has set up watch posts throughout the park to prevent the illegal poaching. The current population of white rhinoceros is higher than the black rhinoceros with the latter being more endangered given the very few number of black rhinoceros left in the wild. Pictured below is a white rhinoceros.
Not to be confused with water buffalos found in India, these buffalos in Africa are considered the most dangerous animal in the Big 5 group. That would mean that they can even outdo lions when provoked or attacked. Even when injured, buffalos still show the strength to fight on to ensure survival. Buffalos are very protective of each other as can be seen in their tendency to travel together in big groups in order to protect one another and ensure the survival of each other.
Leopards are solitary animals and generally live on their own. We saw this leopard asleep up on a tree looking contented. Word from around Kruger was that the leopard had just completed a kill, which we missed seeing as we were still a few kilometers away from where it happened. Having a fully belly from devouring its prey from the kill probably explained this leopard's lazy sleepy demeanor on the tree.
We spotted an owl on a tree, probably waiting for sundown when it will take off and enjoy the upcoming nocturnal hours.
When we arrived at our camp, it was sunset. We had a delicious dinner of hunter's pot, lamb chops, and South African Castle lager beer at the camp restaurant before returning to our bungalow. It was already dark by then. Other than the lights illuminating our bungalow, it was difficult to see beyond the first few meters of our bungalow. We fell asleep to the sounds of hippopotamus snorting (while at the same being awoken by the sounds of fruit bats). The animal sounds were real and near, with only an electric fence separating us from the animals when we go to sleep at camp. First night sleeping on a safari and it was wildly exciting (no pun intended) and yet serene. It was a perfect trade to fall asleep to the sounds of hippos snorting rather than to the sounds of Chicago city traffic back home.
Early next morning we awoke to more animal sightings...