Second post recapping my reading week! I managed to get it up faster than I thought I would. There’s still one more to come after this, but this one is definitely the longest, because SAFARI!!!
After a couple nights in St. Lucia (see the previous post) Ali and I headed to Tembe Elephant Park, near the border of South Africa and Mozambique. Tembe is home to the largest living tusker in the southern hemisphere, named Isilo. A tusker is an elephant whose tusks exceed 100lbs. Elephants’ tusks actually grow faster as they get older, because they wear out their teeth and the calcium that would be going to their teeth then goes to their tusks.
We got to Tembe and quickly dropped our bags off in our ‘tent.’ I don’t know what I’ve been doing so wrong my entire life to have never stayed in a tent like this before, especially given that I’ve lived in tents for the past six summers.
After a quick lunch, we headed off for our first game drive. Tembe is known for elephants, but it is a Big Five game park as well – meaning it has African elephants, Cape buffalo, lions, leopards, and rhinos, along with your general run of the mill African animals. The first animal we spotted was unsurprisingly, a nyala. They’re everywhere, so don’t get excited people.
We then stopped at the main blind in the reserve, and saw our first elephants! We saw some birds as well (Bob and Darcy, a couple from Oregon visiting here, are bird watchers, so they point them out to us and occasionally play bird calls from their birding app) but half the time Ali and I couldn’t see them at all, so we would just smile and nod. Though we did slowly start picking up some bird savvy skills – I correctly identified a hornbill (Zazu) at one point, which will probably be the peak of my career as a birder.
We moved from the blind to head to another watering hole, and watched as three elephants came out from the woods to have a drink and a mud bath.
Then, our guide pointed out a family of rhinos in the treeline. Usually, rhinos won’t approach a watering hole until the elephants leave, as the elephants will generally chase them off. One of the baby rhinos, however, decided it was thirsty enough to test things out, so the family followed.
The elephants and rhinos watched each other suspiciously for a little bit – mama rhino seemed the most nervous with her baby running off into apparent danger (I’m sure my mom sympathizes with her) – but decided they would be ok with sharing the watering hole.
It was amazing to watch these two giant animals just chilling with one another (albeit suspiciously), and you really get an idea of how large African elephants are, considering they make a 2300kg animal look tiny. But it was a great way to knock off two of the big five animals!
The animals finished drinking (other than the ever present nyala and impalas) and started heading back into the trees, which was our cue to head home and grab some dinner.
It seems like while we were away, one of Tembe’s monkeys managed to sneak into our tent to help itself to a banana. Luckily, it left our wine and cake alone (our two main food groups for the break), and darted out as soon as we got back!
We had another early night, as we had to be up for our game drive the following morning at 5:30.
The first animal we saw (aside from the nyalas of course) was a giraffe! It was actually like the opening scene of The Lion King – the sun rose, the giraffes and their babies came out (seriously, go watch The Circle of Life, THAT IS EXACTLY HOW IT HAPPENS). We had seen one driving home last night, but it was too dark to get any decent photos. Luckily, the giraffes this morning were in a better mood for posing, and happened to have a baby!
We also managed to spot a baby grey duiker. Normally, they’re too quick to get any decent photos of, but the baby acted like a North American deer and just stared at us. Duikers are adorable. They’re like mini-deer/bunny hybrids.
And of course, the ever majestic impala.
We turned down the next road, and I achieved a dream twenty years in the making – I saw a wild lion in Africa. I actually had tears in my eyes from being so excited.
It was so totally unconcerned by us, and was just doing its own cat thing, lying in the sun. Like a giant version of a housecat.
But they’re so majestic. I actually have no words to describe the emotional state I went through with this. It’s one thing to see animals in any enclosed area, but to see this guy in the wild, and just how beautiful they are – it’s unreal. I may just drop out of law school and become an animal tracker, or a crazy person who lives with lions.
The safaris are set up so you head out early in the morning, from about 6:00 until 9:00, and then come back to camp for a rest until 15:00, when you leave for your afternoon game drive until 18:30. It was a windier afternoon that day, so a lot of the animals were hiding to avoid being caught downwind, but we still managed to see several species of antelope and some other prey animals, including the Cape buffalo.
On our way back, we finally were able to get an adult red duiker still enough to get a photo.
Unfortunately, it was not being all that adorable – it was having a snack. Elephants only digest between thirty and forty percent of what they eat, which leaves a lot for other animals (like the noble duiker) to pick through.
We ran into a group of young male elephants on the drive home as well, but the sun had already set, so I didn’t get any good photos. But, when we got home, we ran into our ever-present friends.
The following morning was Darcy and Bob’s (the adorable birder couple from Oregon) last game drive in Tembe, and they really wanted to see wild dogs (they were in Kruger for thirteen days and hadn’t seen any, but managed to see five leopards), so we headed to the area of the park where they’re known to be. There is only one pack of wild dogs in the 30, 000ha of the park, so we knew it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Our guide, Carlos, managed to find their tracks and we followed them for a bit, but with no luck. Carlos also saw that a leopard had been by just recently, but again, no luck. All the exciting animals were teasing us.
We did get to drive through the sand forest, though, which is a rare ecosystem found only in the KwaZulu-Natal Province and southern Mozambique. It has many plants endemic to ecosystem, so there are high fences to block elephants from entering into this area of the park, due to their destructive nature.
On our way out of the sand forest, we did manage to spot a giraffe and a female grey duiker, acting much more adorably than last night’s male red duiker.
That afternoon, Ali and I went to a hide, which is the same thing as a blind. The hide overlooks a watering hole. Bob and Darcy had been there for the past two days and had seen around 25 elephants at the same time. We didn’t get as lucky as they did, but there was a group of bulls, including a couple younger ones (~25 years old) being taught how to act by the older bulls.
The elephants were also making use of the water hole to splash around and take a bath. They are so cute when they play in water – they actually remind me of dogs a little bit (especially my Varta) because of the way they roll around in the water and mud.
We were at the hide for just about all of our downtime, so we got back to camp just in time to have lunch and head out for our afternoon game drive. I mentioned that this was our spring break and that we had seen other baby animals, but I think we saw the cutest baby animal that night – though it’s hard to pick just one! Luckily Ali gets just as squealy as I do when we see adorable things.
Our guide told us these baby elephants were 2 or 3 months old. There were also a couple that were slightly older but still, in elephant terms, babies. This was a breeding herd, which is controlled by one matriarch.
We headed back to camp for dinner, and finally, on our third night, we managed to come back to a monkey-free tent! At dinner, a couple bush babies visited us! I didn’t have my camera on me, but Ali and I both got to feed them a few pieces of pineapple. They snatched it right out of our hands and ran off. We were hoping to feed them as much pineapple as possible, but I think one piece was a meal for those little guys.
We were up early again the next morning (after our sleep being disrupted by some late night visitors, hint, they had trunks!) but I will cover that, as well as our drive through Hluhluwe and time spent in Durban in the next and final update of my reading week!