One of the highlights of our trip was our safari in Kruger Park.
[Insert History Lesson] Because of rumors of gold and subsequent destruction of wildlife due to skins and ivory trades, Paul Kruger, president of the Dutch East India Company, persuaded the Transvaal parliament to establish a reserve in 1898. This was Sabie Game Park, which is the southern part of today's Kruger Park. Subsequent efforts at increasing the protected area resulted in a grand total of over 2 million hectares. (That's over 7700 square miles.) After World War I, the government of South Africa took over responsibility for the park. [History Lesson Over]
We spent three days in Kruger. It was amazing. (I've noticed that I use that word a lot in my posts.) We would get up at 430 am, get ready for the day and hop into my parents' Pajero to be at the gates when they opened at 530. It wasn't that difficult since the sun would be up with us. Then we would literally drive all day until the park gates closed at 630pm. We would stop for food and walk breaks, but in general we were driving along, staring into the bush. The anticipation of seeing any wild animal was what kept us going. The longest we would go without seeing anything wasn't more than ten minutes. I had to keep reminding myself that these animals weren't in a zoo. This was "the Wild." It was awesome.
Here's a little glimpse into what we saw. And yes, we took all the pictures in this post! Incredible, no? You've got to click on the pictures to really appreciate them. (especially those hidden little guinea fowl)
Babboons weren't everywhere. But they were common enough that by the end of the three days, we wouldn't stop unless they were doing something real picture-worthy. This mom and babe were just off the road. They were fun to watch since the young ones would chase each other and the older ones would watch us watching them as they cleaned each other. And boy are they big, with huge teeth. They were right outside our windows and we had to keep the windows up. They can be agressive if they think you have food.
These are helmeted guinea fowl. They are my favorite bird. I love their polka-dot feathers and blue heads. It was actually very difficult to get this picture since they are so skittish. We saw them at three different times, but they would always scatter before I could get a good picture.
The elephants were breath-taking. The males were all musking, which means they were all ready for some feminine attention. That also means that they were much more volatile and easily upset. This huuuuuuge bull was on the road as we turned a corner. My dad stopped, backed up and pulled over to the side. Even inside the car, we had to move really slowly when taking pictures and keep quite still so as not to startle or upset him. He walked towards us, checked us out a little, and then walked to the opposite side of road from our vehicle. Then he proceeded to rip a tree out by its roots, eat a few bites, then turned and stared us down. We were stricken dumb. Deciding we weren't interesting enough, he continued to saunter down the road. Later I found out that my dad had his foot poised right over the gas pedal and the car in gear just in case the elephant decided to charge. It was totally scary, but afterwards, completely exhilirating.
We saw so many hippo ears and eyes in the water, but never out. I was losing heart that we would get to see one and finally, on the last day, we saw, across a river, two hippos having a snack. I was so happy!
You've all seen giraffes before, so I hope you'll forgive me for not showing you his face. This picture is just to give you an idea how big they are. They were just incredible. We saw everything from babies to grand-daddies. This one was a big one. It was so close and so big, this was the most I could fit in my viewfinder.
My only shot at a hyena was when this one decided to walk across the bridge we were driving on. He never made it across. About half way something in the grass caught his eye and he was off to investigate. But not before I snapped his picture.
When we first came into Kruger, we saw Impala. We stopped and took a million pictures. They were right on the road. By the third day, we had grown so used to these numerous little deer-like guys that whenever anyone saw one, they would just say, "Impala." and we would all just nod our heads. They were everywhere. But gosh darn it, they were cute little guys.
This large girl is a Kudu. They have beautiful white stripes on their backs and the males grow these gorgeous spiral shaped horns. Their silhouette is the emblem of South African National Parks. (Go to the website link and look to the top left corner.) On her back is an Oxpecker. You see the oxpecker on all sorts of animals, eating ticks and bugs.
On the last night we were there, we went on a night drive. Since the camps/gates close at 630pm, the only way you can see animals at dark is during a guided tour. This is because some of the more dangerous animals become hunters at night. For instance, a lion will more than likely leave you alone in the heat of the day, but if you stumbled up on one at night, it would attack. Our sole purpose, besides seeing animals that you usually don't see in the daytime, was to spot the elusive Leopard. During the day, he usually sleeps and really only likes to hunt at night. Our tour guide made sure that we understood there were no guarantees. We understood. But about halfway through the drive, we saw him! It was only for about thirty seconds, but we saw him! I managed to get three pictures before my camera battery died, but it was okay. I got the mighty leopard! There are only about 200 in the entire 7700 square miles of park, so this really was a big deal. Some friends of my parents have lived in Swaziland their entire life and have never seen one!
That's all for now. I'll give you the other half later. We've only made it to L and in Africa, the alphabet doesn't end until Zebra!