Friday, December 3, 2010

On Safari (Part 2)

We woke up at 5:30 to have breakfast and get ready for our first game drive. As soon as I opened my tent, I could see a herd of impala about 100 yards from our camp and a few Zebra also wandered by. I drank some instant coffee and got in the truck to head out.

Shortly after leaving our camp, we saw another herd of impala (All told, we probably saw 500 of them over the weekend). We also saw another herd of zebra that were quite playful. We stopped and watched a few wildebeests with their young and saw a single giraffe and a single ostrich in the distance. It was almost too much to take in. At points, I could see animals in every direction that I looked.

There were also a lot of toppled trees. Alwyn explained that the elephants rub their tusks against the trees to knock the bark off. Once this bark is stripped, the tree will die and then the elephants come along and knock them over to eat the bark when food is scarce. We continued on and headed towards the river. Alwyn is an expert tracker and at times he would lean out of the side of the truck and look at an animal track. He would say things like, “buffalo, passed through here yesterday afternoon” or “female lion that walked through here last night.” I have no idea how he could tell this and it was fascinating. Alwyn caught site of some lion prints and we tracked them.

We passed by a tree surrounded by bushes and one of us in the back called out that they had a dead animal in the bushes. Alwyn backed the truck up and we found a fresh water buck carcass and two female lions in the bushes. They were so full that all they could do was lay under the brush and pant. Alwyn explained that lions only eat about every 3-4 days. Because they do not know when their next meal will be, they binge eat. A lion’s stomach can expand so much to take in all the food that it squeezes the lungs and the lions literally pant because they cannot take in a full breath. We sat no more than 15 feet away from the lions and just watched them.

The interesting thing about being out on safari is that as long as everyone stayed in the truck, we were safe. Most wild animals see the truck and view it as one object, not as a truck with 8 people inside.

We left the lions to digest and decided to check back in on them in the afternoon. We continued on to the river and saw several hippos. They were underwater but occasionally, one would stick its head out of the water or would float a bit. A little known fact about hippos is that they kill more people than any other animal in Africa because they are fiercely territorial.

We left the hippos and headed back to camp for lunch and a nap. Along the way someone made the comment that they were surprised we hadn’t seen an elephant yet. No sooner had that been said that an elephant walked out of the bush, right next to our truck. Alwyn shut off the engine and we watched the elephant walk right past and down to the river. We followed him and watched him drink water from the river and eat some of the grasses. Alwyn told us that the elephant we were watching was over 40 years old and told us about how elephants have 6 sets of molars that they go through in a lifetime. The elephant we were watching was very careful to bite the grass off before the root and avoid getting any of the sad or mud in his mouth. This was probably because the elephant was down to its last set of molars and didn’t want to wear them down too fast.

We watched him for a while and then headed back to camp.