Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Kruger National Park - Is it possible?

After seeing the Big Five yesterday in a record time of 5 hours, I was rather pleased with my visit to the Kruger so far. I don't know how much luck one person can have, but today I was hoping to see at least another leopard. But, who is fortunate enough to see three leopards in one visit? There is obviously much more to the Kruger National Park than leopards, and anything I was about to see today would've been good, but a leopard is just so special. There are plenty of animals and birds that are just as beautiful and amazing I guess, but they just never get so much attention as the Big Five does. Anyway, this morning we were heading from Skukuza in a southerly direction. Apparently coming from the ones who know, in the southern part of the park you find even more animals than in the north, with your chances of seeing the Big Five a little better.

After about 4 hours on the road with nothing more than a few Impala and Kudu, it was clear that today was NOT going to be a good day, let alone a Big Five day. We saw one or two rhinoceroses, but far away from the road, and even some lions, but also too far to take good pictures. One thing that is absolutely certain is that the Kruger National Park is not a zoo. You might pay to see animals, but you have absolutely no guarantee that you are going to see the "ones you came for."  Another gentleman in a car mentioned that since yesterday he had only seen two elephants, so I refrained from telling him about my Big Five in an effort not to spoil his day even further. After 5 hours on the road we had breakfast in the bush and headed back in the direction of the Numbi Gate where my brother-in-law was leaving the park to go back to Johannesburg.

We were driving for kilometres with absolutely no game in sight when something amazing happened. Right in front of us, appearing from absolutely nowhere, a cheetah emerged from the grass, walked a couple of meters down the road and then disappeared again on the other side of the road. It didn't take him 60 seconds to appear and disappear. Is this pure luck or what? I hardly had enough time to grab my camera and take a picture. According to the statistics there are about 200 cheetahs and 400 leopards in the park, so seeing a cheetah is probably a bigger event that seeing a leopard, with 50% less chance of course. What is so amazing is that just when you think that your whole day is ruined, then one of the most beautiful animals appear from nowhere and lift your spirits even higher than what is was the previous day.

After my BIL said his goodbyes at Numbi Gate, we headed back to Skukuza camp. We took one or two dirt roads which were just as "dead" as the roads from the morning. Except for the cheetah incident of course. We saw more rhinoceros, elephants and lions, along with some other animals and birds of which I have no clue what their English names are. Eventually we started feeling better, but none of the animals we saw were as close as the ones from the previous two days, so I didn't even bother to take pictures. At around 3pm my son got a  bit agitated after spending a second full day in the car and we took him back to the camp.

My father-in-law felt that with still 90 minutes to go before the gates close, there was still enough time to go search for more animals. I joined him and we did a small circle route aiming to be back in the camp just before 5:30 when the gate closes. The sun was already starting to set and even though we weren't expecting to see much, we were quite amazed by what one still could see in such a short time; a couple of elephants from very close-up, baboons, Kudu, Impala, Waterbuck, Warthogs....and yes, we even saw more lions. On our way back, 3 kilometres from the gate and 7 minutes before it closes, something weird and wonderful happened. Another leopard was lying on the side of the road, hidden behind a thorn bush. It was just unbelievable. Not only did I manage to see three cheetahs in three days, but also three leopards. I tried to take a picture but my zoom lens made it very difficult as it was focusing on the grass and thorn bush branches instead of on the leopard. I realized that I still have to work on my manual focusing skills, but there was no time to start working on that now as the gate was about to close and we had to get there as soon as possible. I managed to get proof at least.

When we entered the camp I mentioned to my FIL that I had nearly seen the Big Five again today. All that was missing was the Buffalo. Strangely enough we didn't see any Buffalo today. It just shows you that you can visit the park and not even see one of the most common animals. Anyway, still chuffed with ourselves, we stopped at the bungalow where my wife and my son was just returning from a walk alongside to the river. Obviously interested in what we have seen, we told her about the leopard. Pretending also to be interested in what she had seen at the river I asked her the same question. "Oh, just some Buffalo", she replied. Needless to say I left everything in the car and ran down to the river just in time to see the last Buffalo disappearing into the grass on the other side of the river. The Big Five two days in a row! What a privilege. 

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