The craziest thought through my mind during the Kruger trip was the change in perspective. Here, in the open, our spot on the top of the food chain was no longer certain. As we observed the animals in their natural habitat, I imagined where I belonged – most likely near the bottom with my current pallet of wilderness survival knowledge. The world we live in is so different than the natural ecosystem. It’s daunting.
The first journey of the Kruger trip kicked off with a sunset drive. African sunsets are as spectacular as seen in photographs. I wonder why the sunsets here are different than the one back in Canada… With a full car of nine passengers buckled in the backseat and a driver at the front, we drove off as the sun set and soon the night became pitch black. Traveling in the open terrain with complete vision was exhilarating but at night, with only the headlights and one flashlight, I was quite literally sitting on the edge of my seat, squinting to see anything I could while gripping tightly on chair handles.
We (or should I say the driver and our tour guide) caught sight of several animals throughout the night; giraffes, elephants, and impalas. Over the next few days, I really hoped to be able to spot the Big 5: lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard and rhino. The Big 5 were chosen not by size but by their difficulty to hunt. The most difficult to spot of the Big 5 is the leopard. For the next two days, we would be scrambling after every walkie-talkie call that alerted us to the area in which another group spotted the leopard. We missed it four times, but on the final stretch of our Kruger drive, we came across a group of cars stopped at a river bank. To our amazement, there it was. This majestic creature sprawled on the other side of the river bank and asleep to the world.
The Kruger experience is like a lottery. Everyone will come across different animals and sometimes you’ll hear the amazing stories that you only wished to have experienced yourself. I can’t vouch for your Kruger trip, but I can admit that the uncertainty of what animals you see is what makes these safaris so exciting. It isn’t a zoo. There is no map to direct you to where the animal is. There is no right path to take in the park. Instead, you’re driving through this beautiful terrain and surrounded by an unknown. The uncertainty is what makes the sightings you do come across even more special.
The most memorable sighting I saw was by a waterhole. On one side, a herd of elephants from all sizes were drinking water. The youngest elephant was 3-6 months old and could barely control its trunk. The larger elephants stood at the front to drink while the smaller ones stood back. According to our tour guide, this was to protect the younglings in the case of a crocodile attack. The crocodiles loomed right below the surface of the water, but occasionally you could see the head peak up to grab some air. On the other side of the waterhole laid three hippos. Hippos are considered one of the most dangerous land mammals. Even though they are vegetarian, they are very territorial and have dangerous bites. From this perspective, however, this pod of hippos was casually lounging in the back and enjoying the sun.
The most frequent animal I saw were the impalas, also known as the “McDonalds of the Bush”. This title was bestowed for the following reasons:
- Impalas are everywhere, just like McDonalds.
- Impalas are the fast food of the bush because they are very nimble and quick.
- On an impalas bum are three distinct lines that look like the letter M.
And finally, the most intimidating sighting I saw were three male lions resting under a tree. As we would drive around the park, our tour guide would stop and speak to other drivers on what animals they recently saw. When we were notified about three male lions, we raced to the destination. Hidden off trail on a small winded street, we saw three male brothers. They were frighteningly close. We spoke with hushed voices and made very few movements as we stared in awe.
Kruger is really once in a lifetime. The built up suspense as we scanned every tree, shadow and river bank made every sighting we see a treasure. One piece of advice I wish I had is to wear sunglasses not for sun protection but as a wind barrier! Sitting in an open vehicle, the 50km/hour + winds can be quite aggressive so make sure you have proper protection.
A full list of all the animals we came across:
- Cape buffalo
- Vervet monkey
- Lilac breasted roller
- Hornbill (Zazu from Lion King)
- Redbilled buffalo weaver
- White-backed vultures
- Magpie shrike
- Spoonbill bird
- Bateleur bird
- Crested francolin
- Southern ground hornbill
- Fish eagle
- Dwarf mongoose
- Scops owl