The Big Five

Trip Start Jul 23, 2002
Trip End Jul 23, 2003

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Flag of South Africa  ,
Monday, May 26, 2003

I've now been within not that many metres of all the big five species on the reserve. We were introduced to the buffalo on a drive through the projects which is a separate fenced off area to the north of the reserve. In these separate areas they have animals they want to introduce to the reserve, plus some odd animals that don't have mates etc, and also the buffalo herd which they are trying to keep disease free, ie free of foot and mouth and corridor disease. We found the buffalo herd and they weren't exactly afraid of us and came right up to the vehicles and checked us out as much as we were checking them out. They walked up to us sitting on the back and had a good sniff and were close enough to reach out and touch. Certainly not the dangerous animals they can be when threatened or scared.

The other species I've only seen properly once is the rhinoceros. On the first drive we came across three of them together, and then a single individual not too far down the next road. It was a really nice sighting since they were walking not too far away from the vehicle and weren't paying us the least bit of attention and so we could watch them wander by. We also caught a glimpse of them when we were driving through the projects, but didn't have time to check them out properly.

The first of the big five we got to see were the elephants when they came for a wander around the house. This brought two of the four males in the bachelor herd right up close to us, and probably a bit closer to Shepherd than he wanted, as they wandered in his direction, with neither party knowing the other was there. They came through a second time while we were around and we saw a third male, and got a good long watch of them as they ate, and threw hay over themselves. We know they've been around more than that as they have a habit of digging up the water pipes, meaning some repairs were needed - but there was an upside, because the changed water pressure after the repairs meant there was a slightly higher likelihood that you might be able to have a warm shower. There's also a female group, with the large bull male and some babies which I haven't seen yet, but that are wandering the reserve.

The lions proved to be one of those animals who I had to wait to see. Everyone else had seen them, but I'd always been on the drive that didn't find them, but when I did get to see them, I got to see the whole pride at once, so I was quite happy with that. The male, two females and 5 cubs were all walking through the bush heading down to the river when we saw them, and we got quite a decent view when they crossed the road in front of us. We tracked them in the river bed, but weren't able to spot the females and cubs again, but did manage to find the male asleep underneath a bush and got to watch him for a few minutes. A few days later though we got a much better sighting. He'd been spotted by one of the game drives, and was sitting along the fenceline in the sun but as we pulled up he got up and did a bit of a jog to our vehicle which made Sarah, who was sitting on the back at the time, a little nervous, but he just walked around the vehicle and continued on through the bush not paying us any more attention. When they're right near the side of the vehicle you get a close up of them which is fantastic, but can also be a bit hard on your nerves.

The last of the big five are the elusive leopards. There's three females that are collared, and two males, and on many occasion you can track them to within 20m of where you are, but then just can't actually get a sighting of them because they've disappeared into the bush. It's amazing how easily animals just disappear, not just leopards, but even the large animals like the elephants and giraffes. We have had some good sightings though with a male leopard on a zebra kill, an unknown female leopard sitting on a branch alongside the river, and the closest viewing was that we got to see two female leopards after they had been darted. One of them needed to get her collar changed before the batteries died, and she became incredibly hard to find. So while the KERI staff were doing that and collecting size and identification information we were able to go up to her, and so got to see a leopard right up close which is one of those really rare things that we were lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time for. And we were lucky enough to get to see it not once but twice as another leopard was darted and had the tracker implanted in her abdomen, and so we got to watch the procedure which was a little more involved than just putting on a collar. We've also see a lot of leopard matings but that is another story altogether. The best leopard sighting though happened just the other day when the male leopard was spotted up a tree and so we got to see the way leopards are often shown in photos and movies, draped across a branch with legs and tail hanging - absolutely gorgeous.

But there's more than just the big five here as we've found out.
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