Thursday, February 18, 2016

Like Watching the Nature Channel, But for Real

I've decided, going on safari is simply so much fun, and so invigorating and exciting and amazing!
Safari poster child (right before I was stung by a fire ant)
You know how sometimes you would rather watch a sporting event/concert/show on TV because the cameras are so close up and you get such good zoom angles, and you'd rather be comfortable on your couch and not have to deal with crowds of people?
Psych, no animals in this picture
Well, I've decided that safari is not like that, at least for me.  Seeing a rhino or cheetah in person, even from forty or fifty feet away, beats seeing it on TV, even in high definition, any day.  So imagine how I felt when we saw these animals from three to ten to twenty feet away!!  We brought binoculars which definitely came in handy but you could see a lot with the naked eye.

I'm posting below some of the amazing things we saw in our four days staying at the Vuyani lodge.  We went on two game drives a day (Sunday, Monday), which, including the afternoon safari on our first day (Saturday), gave us a total of five game drives.  After our first drive, where we already saw beyond what we expected (antelopes of varying shapes and sizes, elephants, giraffes, hippo (in the water), lions and zebras), we continued to have fabulous sightings, each one really unique and amazing in its own way.

On the second morning of our safari adventures, we were lucky enough to see the entire pride of lions - seven in total: one male, three females, and three cubs (two males and one female).
It's kind of shocking each time to realize just how big the lion is.  His face, his mane!  Those shoulders!  It's hard not to be awed.

What a beast, am I right?
And then you remember that they're actually really cat-like.  Which means they sleep and laze and groom a lot.
Don't they look so comfortable?
Well, as tempting as this looks… 
Then we got to experience a really amazing moment in the animal kingdom!  Sex!  It was very romantic, I have to tell you.  The male lion got up on his haunches, stalked to his female, licked her back  (points for foreplay) and promptly mounted her.  Six seconds later (I kid you not) he was done.
He then bit her neck in a sign of affection, and she promptly passed out and he was done.  Apparently lions usually mate in April and May, so we were very lucky to witness this intimate encounter.
It's not always about the big animals, either.  Here, the loyal and unwavering dung beetle.  The female sits on the ball of dung and hatches her eggs into it.  The male pushes her and the big dung ball around until he finds a good soft spot to leave the dung.
Giraffes are great.  They always seemed a little non plussed to see us, but also wholly indifferent to our presence.
They cut a pretty stunning figure in the trees.
On one of the afternoon drives, our guides did some pretty amazing tracking to find this white rhino, delighting in the grass and the trees.  
Fresh dung means you're on the right track - it'd be difficult to be this excited about excrement unless you're on safari.
He is a dominant male, very big in size, and had only recently killed another male rhino and taken over that male rhino's territory.  Note that rhinos' ears move distinctly and separately, to help them hear better.
The sad fact of poaching in South Africa means that these reserves proactively trim the horn of the rhino to try to discourage poachers.  You can see that his is starting to grow back, which means they will have to trim it again in 2-3 years.
Sundowner selfie.
Rocking the safari pants.

The portable bar - possibly the highlight of Michael's safari.

 Impala crossing!  These guys are adorable.  And so tasty.
 Here, the same rhino we saw on a previous day, but he had traveled all the way down to the dry riverbed for a mud bath.
 While bathing and scratching his horn, he got very happy.  (Cue childish giggles here).
 He loved scratching his horn!
 White rhinos eat grass and are much easier to find; black rhinos are pretty rare and are also harder to find because they eat trees and bush, hence they are almost obscured in the deep forest.
 It is pretty cold in the mornings, hence my super fly L.L.Bean fleece, circa 1995.
 On the morning safaris, you get a choice of hot tea or hot coffee.
Our trusty jeep
Can you see the giraffe prints?  Tracking is a subtle art.
Sometimes you can only see a part of an animal.  But that's kind of fun too!  Kudos to the sharp-eyed.
 Not everything is fun and games - here are the remnants from a week old giraffe kill.
 Guinea fowl.  Check out those polka dots and their sweet blue heads!

 Here, one of my favorites - a warthog family.

 If only I could have taken home one of these little ones...

 I love the ears on the nyala - look at how big they are!  I definitely have a thing for ears.  Quite a flexible neck too, eh?
 Hippos bathing!  Hippos are in the water all day, and only come out at night.  They eat grass all night, then go back into the water.
 Sometimes, if you're lucky, you can see more of the body as they emerge from the water briefly.
Here, buzzards, patiently waiting for their turn at the leftovers.  We learned that there are three kinds of vultures, and you can identify them by the size of their beak.  The birds with the biggest beaks eat first, hacking away at the bones and the grisly bits.  Then the birds with the mid-sized beaks come next.  Finally, the birds with the pointiest and smallest beaks eat last, picking out the final remaining morsels.
Here, our guide and tracker, Eggy, sitting in his special seat out front.
 Here, our talented multi-tasking driver/guide/tracker, Hendrik.
 They were pretty cool.  When we were tracking rhino and lions, Eggy hopped out of the car and tracked on foot, radio-ing back to the jeep every so often.  Hendrik was a calm and unflappable driver. Here he is getting ready to plow over some trees in our way.
What were we looking for?  These cool cats.
 Do you see the blood on her front forearms and face?  They had just had a kill that morning.  I didn't realize that lions are pretty exhausted after they hunt.  They just sit on the ground and snooze.  But they are still watching their food - buzzards and other animals know the pecking order, and will stay away until the lions are fully done feasting.

Caution: graphic image…coming up…

The remnants of the kill.  It was a baby giraffe.  
I know people get upset by these images but honestly I was thrilled to see a kill.  Call me blood thirsty but it just fits what we had been learning about the animal kingdom.  Nature is cruel.

Ok I leave you with some fuzzy happy pictures now.

 I loved how the giraffes sometimes leaned too far one way and their legs got lopsided.  We learned that giraffes have very long tongues, reaching up to nearly 18 inches in length.

  Do you see the little birds on the antelope?  They are cleaning him.
Love these symbiotic relationships.
 We chanced upon another rhino (different than the one we had seen before).
 He loved his grass so much he was oblivious to the jeeps.

 He got really close to our jeep too.

It was a pleasant afternoon.
Pondering.  Or sizing him up.

We followed the rhino for a bit.  He did what every male animal we'd observed had done so far -  sprayed the bushes every few feet with his musk.

We ended our last afternoon safari with the sighting of a poisonous snake slithering in the trees - the black mamba.

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