Richards Bay and the Game Reserve
Trip Start Dec 27, 2008
50Trip End Jun 27, 2009
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South Africa's wildlife is plentiful and diverse enough to make any trip action-packed but most would be disappointed not to see four of the big 5 (Lion, Buffalo, Elephant, Rhino and Leopard). Luckily we did see four, but I'll get to that. Dotted frequently among the big 5 we saw Impala (a hell of a lot), Nyala, Kudu, Giraffe, Zebra, Baboon, Warthog, Wildebeest, Hyena, Crocodile and Bushpig.
On the first night Charlotte, my cousin, her husband and I went on the night drive. This is a great way to view the nocturnal activity of the park. Unfortunately for us, the woman holding the searchlight on our side of the truck was more worried about keeping her hair wet than holding steady so instead of seeing the light reflect off the animal's eyes, we generally saw illuminated grass and sky. Despite this amateur performance we did see a pride of lions on the hunt, stalking through the long grass toward the bush. This was my first ever lion sighting even after visiting the reserve twice before, such is the unpredictability of game viewing. To see them was truly a pleasure. We also saw Hyena, Hare, Buffalo, and Rhino. Then shortly after seeing a male lion sitting in the trees in the distance, we came across two elephants sharing a mud bath. As we shone the lights on them it was as if we had caught them in the middle of some sordid act, they looked up and froze almost ashamedly, then continued to wallow around. R200 well spent.
The second day's main event was exciting and disappointing in equal measure. As we turned a corner we came across a Jeep stopped in the road. The woman inside mouthed to us that she had seen a leopard. Even though she was willing to share her sighting she hogged the road so we couldn't get near. When we did get close it had disappeared into the bush. A short way up the road she asked if we had seen it but I couldn't bear to answer properly or politely so I just said "no" and nothing more. I was so close to seeing 5 out of 5, so close. Although Leopards are common in SA, they are so shy and skittish that they are rarely seen. The rest of day two was rather quiet.
I think the wildlife sensed my disappointment still on the third day as we witnessed a couple of magnificent sightings. Firstly, three Black Rhino, there are only approx. 200 in the reserve, very few compared to White Rhino which Imfolozi is famous for saving from extinction. Black Rhinos are distinguishable from white by their eating habits, they have a pointed mouth designed to eat from trees whereas White Rhinos have square mouths to graze along the grass. As if seeing them wasn't rare enough, the baby of the three had no ears, just holes where they should be, no one we spoke to could give us an explanation of this.
Just as we thought we had used up all our luck, my auntie spotted Wild Dog in the bushes. There are only approx. 40 in the 960 sq km park. What a privilege! It could take ten years to see them if you came every weekend. We could tell by the way they hurriedly ran along the clearings that they were hungry and when they did come across a herd of Wildebeest they had every intention of taking a calf.
The Wildebeest stood tall; a group of three protected the young while the rest charged at the dogs (in a sadist way, I would have loved to have seen a kill, real African action). Wild Dogs have been persecuted in the past, characterized as evil but there are projects set up to protect them from further trouble. I hope they succeed as I found them inquisitive and playful, fascinating to watch. After spending ten minutes following them down the road they ran off into the bush. When we told the park wardens on duty, one of them said "Black Rhinos and Wild Dog in one day, you're very lucky. Forget Lion and Leopard!" Too right.