Dec 10th, 2000, 8 pm
Safari – In search of the Big 5
One of childhood dreams has come true. Like most kids, I was fascinated by wild animals, and dreamed of going on safari. My interest in animals, especially those in Africa, was reborn in secondary school after my uncle lived in Tanzania for 6 years. His town was just a few kilometers from the edge of the Serengheti National Park, home of the famous wildebeest migration.
So finally I’m here in South Africa, and I’ve joined a small, private four-day tour. Our guide, Mary, has taken people through Kruger National Park for about twenty years. Yesterday was 38℃, so today began with a pre-dawn wake-up call so we could hit the trails before sunrise in search of the Big 5 (elephant, giraffe, rhinoceros, leopard and lion).
Before breakfast we searched more open savannah. We hoped to spot some large cats hunting or feasting on a leftover carcass. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen but we did see a large group of about 40 elephants walking along a road. Seeing the structure of the group was interesting, with the leaders at the front and back giving instructions about danger or sources of food. It was just like a school excursion, with teachers at the front and back to guide and protect their students.
Our next target was some low, rocky hills on the grassland, but once again we found little due to the extremely hot weather. This all changed just before lunch when we had an interesting and possible dangerous encounter with a young bull elephant. He was standing on the road, not willing to move out of the way for cars or trucks. Mary stopped the truck about 80m from him, but he could sense danger. He turned and started walking slowly toward to us with his large ears standing pricked. We didn’t move so he continued to come our way, now aggressively. Mary was not worried and began to reverse slowly so he wouldn’t get too excited and charge.
After lunch we focused on the heavily-wooded areas and it paid immediate dividends. Suddenly Mary spotted something just beyond the first bunch of trees and stopped driving. Seconds later, a pack of rare hunting dogs appeared and Mary went nuts. Turns out, she hadn’t seen them for about 8 years. On top of that, we witnessed the pack hunting a herd of impalas. The dogs are thin, scrawny looking things but have amazing stamina.
We arrived at the lodge, complete with full kitchen, pool, spa and restaurant at about 3:30. It’s amazing, and though it is expensive, I may never get the chance again. After a swim and chat by the pool, a nice shower, a first-class dinner, and a couple of beers, it’s time for bed. Yes, at 8pm! It’s been an exhausting but rewarding day. While two of the Big 5 have evaded us, there’s always tomorrow. Won’t dream tonight, too tired.