Terry

The Thrill of the Hunt in Klaserie, Timbavati, and Sabi Sands

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The Thrill of the Hunt in Klaserie, Timbavati, and Sabi Sands

 

When we arrived at Gomo Gomo Safari Lodge in the middle of October of 2013, we were handed a cold drink and invited to walk out on a wooden deck overlooking a large waterhole. We took a seat under a century-old Weeping Boer Bean tree and listened to birds singing songs we had never heard before. Weaver birds were tending to nests in a dead tree out front. A herd of impalas walked down to the waterhole to get a drink. Then the elephants came.

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Yes, we were in Africa, in the bush. Of this we had no doubt as we watched this mother elephant and her baby making their way toward us through the trees. The joy I felt about overwhelmed me. Tears filled my eyes; yes, Africa, we were actually in Africa!

 

Until that moment it hadn’t seemed real, Africa for so long was only a dream, a dream we had for a few weeks back fifteen years ago. Then we put the dream away until the summer of 2012 when our parental care responsibilities ended and we could start to think about a trip to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary in 2013. My husband suggested, “Let’s go to Africa on safari”. And I seconded it.

 

My previous sightings of live elephants were limited to a few at zoos or at a circus when I was a kid, and I never realized until I saw this mother elephant at the waterhole where her mammary glands were located. I had assumed elephants had udders positioned like the domesticated cows I grew up around. The mother’s short right tusk allowed us to recognize her in the days to come.

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When we were in the planning stages for this, ‘our trip of a lifetime”, we realized what we wanted to focus on was not scenery, not culture, but the maximum number of quality sightings of animals. We wanted animals accustomed to vehicles, and we didn’t want to share sightings with multiple vehicles.

 

After a couple of months of studying on the internet we settled on four nights at Gomo Gomo Game Lodge in the Klaserie Reserve, four nights at Kambaku Safari Lodge in the Timbavati Reserve and four nights at Arathusa Safari Lodge in Sabi Sands Reserve, all in the Greater Kruger National Park and chosen for their location by a waterhole and within the limitations of a retired educator’s budget.

 

We picked October because it seemed to be the “not” season, not too cold, not too hot, not too wet, not too many mosquitoes, and not much new growth to hide the animals in the bushes. We then contacted the Sun Safari Company in Cape Town to book the trip including transfers to and from the airport in Hoedspruit and between lodges.

 

We were met at the airport in Hoedspruit by HJ, a ranger at Gomo Gomo. In addition to waking us up in the morning and walking us back to our room after dark to ensure we wouldn’t run, he was our guide for the game drives. Between us and the waterhole was a high electric fence to keep the elephants out, but everything else could go underneath and that allowed a leopard one night to make tracks around the porch of the chalet next to us.

 

Our game drives started out with a cloud of dust when HJ spotted a honey badger disappearing into a tunnel in a termite mound and that was our one and only chance for bagging a honey badger on this safari. On the other side of the mound a dwarf mongoose peeked shyly out his tunnel.

 

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HJ stopped briefly at a herd of impalas saying, “Before your trip is over, I promise you that you will literally see over a thousand impalas” and then went on barely gave me enough time to snap this one picture. Leopards we learned love the McDonalds as advertised on the impala bum; the “Fast Food on the Hoof” is true convenience food for them.

 

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Then our sightings jumped in size starting off with a male giraffe with deep claw marks on his side.

 

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Cape Buffalos were all over the road and HJ drove slowly right in the middle of the herd.

 

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“Though they give milk like the water buffalo, never try to domestic them”, he advised, “They will kill you”. No, I was not tempted, they looked too intimidating. Those huge horns and massive necks were nothing that I would want in my barn – if I had one.

 

This elephant was a young male who seemed huge, but he was still with his herd and under the age of eighteen. He will get kicked out when he reaches sexual maturity. “A lot of people are intimidated by the sheer size of elephants, but it is important not to run from them”, HJ told us. “This is what goes wrong in Kruger, elephants have learned to chase cars because the people drive away from them”.

 

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The next stop was a small waterhole where seven members of the Ross pride, five lionesses and two sub-adult males, just waking up from sleeping away the day.

 

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Edited by Terry
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A lioness that appeared to have suckling cubs started walking toward us and calling for them. Calling? No, she did the whole “Hear Mama Lion Roar” routine. She was answered by distant lion wails and then she followed the sound into the bush.

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The next morning the game drive started with this female Spotted Hyena with an “I dare you” stare. Females are the dominant ones and males mate with them at their own risk. Males that do not please may be eaten by the females. Life has been tough. There is a sore on the top of her front leg.

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We met up with a breeding herd of elephants that morning, including the female with a short right tusk.


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A little boy elephant tried a mock charge or two, and then he got bashful and hid behind a twiggy bush for protection.

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Martial Eagle with a kill

 

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Our first White Rhino came charging in our direction until he was close enough with his poor eyesight to see the vehicle, then he slowed down to a steady walk. He was huffing and puffing from the exertion and kept sniffing the ground from side to side checking for the scent of a rival.

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Eventually, he calmed down enough to pull up grass to eat, all the time wiggling his ears to improve his hearing. There is a loose flap of skin on one side of his face between his two horns that attests to a recent fight.

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One of the guest commented on what small feet the rhino had. HJ was quite emphatic that he didn’t think they were small at all, but I think it was the rhino’s trim ankles the man was eyeing.

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The oxpeckers are checking out their lunch box for breakfast.

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We came across a herd of buffalo that was located a long ways from where the herd had been the evening before. They were more interesting in lying down and chewing their cud than they were in grazing. “Buffalo usually don’t move at night unless they chased by lions”, HJ told us.

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Next up: Discussions for ten-year old boys and how to fix Mopane worms for lunch.

 

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@@Terry

What a great start to your first safari - it sure looks worth waiting for. You write very well and the photos are really enjoyable - I really like the young elephant charging you!

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Great photos and trip report

 

being retired you will have to pick trips well and save your money hard.

 

 

honey badgers are tough guys , they are the reason why you can get deadlock fridges in South Africa (which they break open anyway ), eat chroline and pool chemicals, break wire mesh and cement barriers.

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What a great start to your first safari, some iconic animals from the outset. The welcoming elephant, giraffe, buffalo, lions and rhino not to mention the smaller creatures - the mongoose and the martial eagle, not that these birds are all that small.

 

Thanks for taking the time to share the report and photos.

 

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Hi @Terry Great start to your report - it really sounds like you hit the ground running with some terrific sightings on your first couple of days and that Africa lived up to your expectations. (Also, happy anniversary!)

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Very enjoyable trip report @@Terry!

 

I will await the next installments with bated breath...

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First of all, Happy 50th! Congratulations!!

 

“what we wanted to focus on was not scenery, not culture, but the maximum number of quality sightings of animals.” Can I relate to that!

 

Your first shots fulfill that goal between the massive eles and the little dwarf mongoose.

 

How nice your first rhino sighting was charging.

 

Now you're at the thrill of the trip report part of the journey. Fantastic start!

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After breakfast we were invited to go on walks with our ranger at both Gomo Gomo and Arathusa. On all walks, even in the daytime close to the lodge, the ranger always carried a rifle. Without any sightings of game, the highlight of the walks was always the evidence the animals left behind; dung, scat, poop, or feces. Call it what you please, my ten year-old grandsons would have been fascinated.

At Gomo Gomo on the first walk, the ranger led us through a patch of mopane trees that had been badly mangled by elephants and he talked about the mopane worms and getting them ready to eat. First you pinch the tail end, squeeze out the innards, and dry them until crisp and that was all I wanted to know. However, they do keep a bowl of dried mopane worms at the bar during the season, so if you are there, you can try them.

The afternoons in camp with the waterhole were almost as good as the game drives for watching wildlife. The trees in front of our chalet were filled with Grey Go-away birds calling out in alarm "Quare, Quare". With a little imagination it could sound like G’away, G’away.” This male was feeding the female as part of the courtship ritual and they were feeling the love. A raised crest gives away their excitement.

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On a bank along one side of the waterhole was a five-foot crocodile hoping to fool an animal into thinking he was a log. The crocodile arrived here during the January floods of 2012 and never left.

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In the mudflats, a couple of Egyptian geese quacked raucously; while a grey heron stood as a silent statute waiting for a chance to strike its supper.

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The afternoon drive started out with Cape buffalo along the road again and ended that evening with the buffalo in lodge’s back yard.

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This baby buffalo looks scared; perhaps she had a premonition of what might be her fate in a day or two.

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A breeding herd of elephants came though bush and included a couple distinctive females which we came to recognize from multiple visits to the waterhole and on game drives. There is a female with one straight tusk and one normal one. Another female missing the right tusk was very close to giving birth; it looked like the placenta was starting to protrude. I was just about to ask HJ if we could stay and watch the birth when he spoke up and said she would give birth in a couple of weeks.

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Then a little elephant came out to play in the golden light.

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The Ross pride lioness who was roaring the previous night came through the bush with her two cubs, one male and one female.

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She was on a mission, looking for something, and her cubs had to hurry to keep up. One of the guests inquired as to which cub was which, but HJ took a pass on getting out of the car and checking for him.

 

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Fleeing impala caught female’s attention and she stopped to stare, but they were in no danger for it was too early in the day for the lion to hunt. Besides that, the Ross pride is too large to bother taking down an impala; buffalos or giraffes are more their size.

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Then Mother lion was off again.

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A sub-adult male lion came out of the bush from the other direction.

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Perhaps the female was looking for him for she did seem happy to see him. He caught up to the lioness and cut her off from her cubs and pushed her to walk off into the bush with him. Maybe he was more mature than he looked. The little girl is thankful for a break.

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We saw a number of male Red-Crested Korhaans doing their aerial display where they fly straight up, then suddenly tumble to the ground as if they have been shot. The females are supposed to be impressed with such antics.

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After we stopped for sundowners, one of the staff from Gomo Gomo called HJ on the radio and said that a large herd of probably 450 buffalo were out front in the waterhole. Off we went - it was on our way home for dinner anyway. With the buffalos and the elephant herds coming in to drink, it is easy to see why Gomo Gomo has to pump water every other day to keep ahead of the demand.

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The sky was simply on fire that evening.

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On the next morning game drive, our ranger spotted an African Wildcat just off the road in an open patch. The cat just sat there, looked at us, watched some birds, scratched an itch, and did a little grooming, all seemingly unconcerned. He looked just like a larger version of the feral tabby cats that seek shelter under our porch at home.

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The rangers look for those stripes on the wildcat’s legs which show that it is a pure-bred; whereas no stripes mean the wildcat is part domestic cat and will have to be destroyed to maintain the purity of the line. “You are very lucky for these cats are very rare,” HJ assured us. “We see one of these maybe once a month. Pound for pound, they are the strongest of all the wild cats.”

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Then HJ found three White Rhino. A mother and a young one, along with a teenager, all settled down for a nap.

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Heads or Tails? Your pick!

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Along the road were several Greater Kudus that were willing to pose.

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Then it was back to Gomo Gomo to check out the waterhole and to eat breakfast. Some mornings with the parade of animals out front, the staff had a hard time getting the guests in to eat.

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There are at least fifteen elephants in this herd.

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We had a chance to talk to a man who works with the anti-poacher group as a volunteer on his days off . He told us the rhino horns in the reserves are currently poisoned to make the consumers sick, but poison exists which if injected into the horn would not harm a rhino, but would kill a consumer. However, men are serving time in South African prisons for injecting the fatal poison into the horns. He told about his experience tracking poachers all day and then apprehending them after they laid down their rifles for the night. Although he had never had to fire his gun at a poacher, he said, “If any of the anti-poaching group shots a poacher, the police just come and take the body away. No questions asked." He acknowledged it was dangerous work as some of the anti-poaching team have been shot, but added, “A man has to do what a man has to do."

On the afternoon drive Caswell, the tracker who was sitting out in front of the hood, spotted a trail made by a leopard crossing the road and dragging an animal it had just killed. HJ took his rifle and the two of them followed the tracks through the bush.

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If following a track was to take longer than ten minutes, HJ would have come back with his rifle and Caswell would continue to track armed only with his two-way radio. This time HJ and Caswell found a dead impala stashed in a ravine to hide the odor from hyenas. The only marks on the impala so far were on the throat where a leopard had suffocated it, but the leopard was missing. The plan was to come back after dark when the leopard would return to feed. We started on down the road for sundowners and a lone female lion crossed in front of us and went into the bush where we could not follow.

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After dark HJ flattened at least a dozen white-thorn trees to drive the vehicle back through the brush to get the ravine. There we found a female leopard that HJ identified as Cleo, short for Cleopatra, and named for her great beauty.

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Cleo had probably left her kill that afternoon to get her two cubs, a male and a female, both of whom were very shy. We never saw either one, but the guests in the other car from Gomo Gomo which came as we were leaving glimpsed them both through the bush.

After we sat with Cleo for a while, HJ said the car had a flat tire and we had to leave the area to be able to change it. As HJ stopped the car, I was muttering under my breath, “Keep going! Keep going!” It didn’t seem far enough to me. Just then a call came over the radio from the other ranger at the sighting, saying Cleo had left the ravine area and was now heading in our direction. So HJ moved on a little farther away and then stopped again to change the tire.

We all had to get out of the car so it could be jacked up. The guests held the flashlights and directed them on the tire where HJ and Caswell were working and there was no light penetrating the bush around the vehicle. With goose bumps running up and down my arms and my legs quivering, all I could think of was how pitch black it was out there. If a leopard decided to attack, we will never see it coming! It was a scary five minutes and seemed a lot longer, but there was something about knowing a leopard was nearby on the prowl that inspired the men to change the tire at record speed.

On the way back to the lodge that evening with Caswell manning the spotlight, we saw the wildcat again, crouched low, sneaking through the grass until he was close enough to pounce on a pair of doves who were sitting on the ground. The birds took off in flight; the cat leaped into the air and caught the slowest one. Our first kill! HJ was as excited we were, “You are very, very lucky! This is the first time of all my years in the bush that I have ever seen a wildcat make a kill.”

Next up: Will someone let the dogs out?

 

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Great photography and writing @@Terry! I am really enjoying your report. Klaserie Reserve seems like a very nice place for a safari. I turned it down because of some negative reviews regarding the reserve being fenced etc. and chose Motswari in Timbavati and Elephant Plains in Sabi Sand for our next safari in May, but judging by your photos and also by the photos of a friend of mine, Gomo Gomo looks like a great safari lodge.

 

Looking forward to your next installments (Timbavati and Sabi Sand) and I am also interested in your comparison between Klaserie, Timbavati and Sabi Sand... I would assume that it depends on the individual lodges, but still...

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@@Terry

This carries on with great sightings - I love the young elephant, and the lions - but seeing a wildcat so well!

Also Cleo is beautiful.

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Klaserie going strong! Great to see this. Thanks a lot, Terry!

 

@all; Gomo Gomo shares with nThambo, Africa On Foot and Baobab Ridge. A big part of their areas overlap, so they share traverse there. Imho it's just the right number of vehicles out there, to find all there is to find, and to not have any "crowds".

 

I know you probably got tired of me saying this but; if you see what those camps charge, and compare to more known areas/reserves/lodges near Kruger ...these places are an absolute steal. I'll be going back to SA in a couple of weeks, and recently made a small calculation; my days self-driving in Kruger (car+gas+permits+meals+bungalows) are actually more expensive than a day at Klaserie.

 

Ciao,

 

J.

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Great trip report! Excellent photos and a lot of foreboding...

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Excellent report and I love the rhino photos especially. Looking forward to more.

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Great to see a wild cat. Some good experiences, sightings and photos @@Terry

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Yes, we were in Africa, in the bush. ... The joy I felt about overwhelmed me.

 

Those were exactly my thoughts on my first safari two years ago. :)

 

I´m enjoying your trip report very much, especially your enthusiasm for everything you saw. Beautiful pictures as well, I especially like the lioness with the tongue out, the little elephant in golden light and the buffalo herd at dawn. Klaserie really looks great, and appears to be incredibly good value for money.

 

Looking very much forward to much more of this, @@Terry .

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Just finished your first part - you lucky newbie :-D

Hearing a lion roar/call beside you is a thrill and a treat and you had one first time out. If that doesn't keep you wanting more ...

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@FlyTraveler The Klaserie reserve is not fenced with Kruger National Park and it's border with Timbavati is not fenced. While we were staying at Gomo Gomo, we did drive by a fenced-in area. The guide told us that it was a private game farm or something like that.

 

I wanted to see the Giraffe Pride of Timbaviti and my understanding is that sometimes it is seen at Motswari. Hopefully you get to see them. Elephant Plains shares traversing rights with Arathusa. You should have great game drives.

 

Thanks for reading.

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@FlyTraveler @TonyQ @Jochen @Big_Dog @twaffle @michael-ibk @johnkok

 

Thank you all for reading this and sharing your comments with me. It means a lot. I am happy you like it.

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@FlyTraveler The Klaserie reserve is not fenced with Kruger National Park and it's border with Timbavati is not fenced. While we were staying at Gomo Gomo, we did drive by a fenced-in area. The guide told us that it was a private game farm or something like that.

 

I wanted to see the Giraffe Pride of Timbaviti and my understanding is that sometimes it is seen at Motswari. Hopefully you get to see them. Elephant Plains shares traversing rights with Arathusa. You should have great game drives.

 

Thanks for reading.

Thanks @@Terry, this is very useful to know, I apologize for my ignorance.

 

I truly enjoy your photography (even asked my wife to come to the computer and see the photos) they are all great, it will take me too long to comment on individual images. Would you, please share with us the info about your photo equipment - body(s), lenses.

 

Once again - looking forward towards seeing your next installments! Cheers!

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@@FlyTraveler, I welcome all questions, that's what this trip report and all the forums are for, to learn from each other. I read the same reviews on Trip Advisor about Klaserie being fenced so when I saw the fence, I asked about it.

 

My camera is a Nikon D5100 and a 18-270mm F/3.5-6.3 lens with vibration control.

I am glad you are enjoying the report.

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@@FlyTraveler, I welcome all questions, that's what this trip report and all the forums are for, to learn from each other. I read the same reviews on Trip Advisor about Klaserie being fenced so when I saw the fence, I asked about it.

 

My camera is a Nikon D5100 and a 18-270mm F/3.5-6.3 lens with vibration control.

I am glad you are enjoying the report.

Oh, it's a Tamron lens, that explains the slightly brownish nuance. I'm really impressed by the sharpness and quality of images that this all-purpose 15X zoom lens produces. Most of the credit goes to you, of course.

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Posted (edited)

The next morning a pregnant giraffe was making use of a termite mound as she reached for branches in the tree. The giraffes had traveled far during the previous night to put distance between themselves and the lions.

 

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Compared with male giraffes, her horns are slender and hairy on top.

 

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Zebras were hiding in the bush, but there was one who forever spoiled my grandson’s favorite riddle by being brown.

If the answer is, “An embarrassed zebra” - how now can the question be - “What is black and white and red all over”?

 

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An African Wild Dog stood along the road on guard duty. He was stained with blood and we knew a pack had made a kill. As the dominant male dog, he got to eat first. Now the rest of the pack was feeding while he watched for any hyena that might think stealing dog food would be an easy breakfast.

 

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The pack was made up of six adults and four pups and they had just taken down an impala.

 

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One of the guests commented how the dogs did not smell good. “No, the odor is coming from the kill”, HJ said. “The dogs are quite clean animals. They go in the water and are much cleaner than lions.” He paused and then added, “of course, they urinate on each other at times.”

 

 

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Every dog eats in rank order and every dog gets something. See the little pup lying on its belly on the ground? He apparently was stealing bites before it was his turn. The other dogs started to pick on him to teach him a lesson regarding his rank in the pack and to not sneak food before the older dogs had all eaten. He tried to run away. but didn’t get far before he was pushed down. The pup was squealing and dragging his hind quarters like he was injured, trying to get the older dogs to leave him alone.

 

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His mother came rushing in and crowded the other dogs away from him.

 

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When she left, the adults came right back to pick on the pup again.

 

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This was the low dog on the totem pole - the last dog to get to eat.

 

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HJ told us we could tame a wild dog, but we would never get him change his ways before he killed all our other animals. I guess that's better than the buffalos that would kill us.

 

After breakfast two armed rangers accompanied us on the second walk at Gomo Gomo as we were going to track a herd of elephants that had just left the waterhole.

 

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The rules were to walk in a single line, do not talk, and do not take any pictures unless the ranger told us we could. It seems the elephants had too much of a head start so eventually we stopped to discuss elephant dung. I learned that if elephant dung is fresh, I can squeeze water out of it and drink it. If it is dry, I can pick the termites out it and burn the dung to boil the water for cooking the termites and eat them like rice. Wonderful stuff, that elephant dung is.

 

Then the rangers introduced us to impala pellet spitting contests. South Africans did not get television until 1980 so impala middens were important entertainment for a long time. Impala, or any animal that eats only plants, produces scat that is safe to put in a human mouth. First you get an impala pellet all wet with your saliva and then spit it as far as you can. The two rangers demonstrated for us and then challenged the rest of us to a contest. They talked only one man - not my husband - into trying it with them and he ended up being the champion “Impala Pellet Spitter” for the day.

 

In the afternoon the wild dogs were some distance away from where they were in the morning and just waking up after sleeping off their morning feast. The dominant male got up, walked off a little ways, urinated and then returned. Then the other dogs got up one by one, walked over and sniffed around until they found the exact spot and then added their contribution.

 

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The dogs were just across the road from a fence built all the way to the ground that separated Klaserie from a private game farm. Two of the dogs had broken through the fence and were running back and forth as if they were looking for the hole to rejoin the pack again. HJ told us a fence can not be built that will keep wild dogs out.

 

There were only about 75 wild dogs in all of Greater Kruger National Park and they are endangered for a couple of reasons. First, if they leave the park boundaries, they are shot by the villagers to protect their animals and, second, only the dominant male and female breed. If another female has pups, the pack will abandon her and her pups.

 

A ranger found a coalition of three male lions in the area. They were about four years of age and were probably brothers who had been kicked out of their birth pride by their father. Two of the lions were together in the bush and a third was about a half mile away under a tree. Another vehicle was with the third lion so we went to watch the two brothers. At dinner that night the guests in the other car said the third lion appeared to be injured and had roared as they sat a few feet away.

 

The two brothers snoozed and they yawned.

 

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One demonstrated the “King of the beast” walk.

 

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They stared at some birds, stared back at us, and showed off latest in male lion hairdo fashion.


 

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We left the lions after awhile because it was too early for them to hunt and they had exhausted all the interesting poses they knew. We were off to have another look at Cleo, the mother leopard, and we found her moving through the bush.

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On the trip back to the lodge after dark Caswell, on his seat out front, turned on a spotlight and moved it from side to side, looking for cat eyes and checking every tree for nocturnal animals. This was our fourth night drive and so far he hadn't found a thing.

 

Next up: Will the lions eat dinner before we do?

Edited by Terry
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