Last weekend we went on safari. The oldest proclaimed game reserve in Africa, the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, is only about an hour’s drive away from us. We’ve been living here two years, and have never been there. So when my mom came to visit for the minion’s birthday, we decided the time was ripe to give it a visit.
We left home while it was still dark, and arrived at the gate shortly after it opened, just as dawn was starting to light up the sky.
We were barely into the park, when we had our first big sighting of the day. Hluhluwe-Imfolozi is home to the Big Five, and we started our day on a high note when we rounded a bend in the road to come face to face with a big bull elephant.
Of course at right that moment a paid safari operator, his vehicle stuffed with German tourists, came barrelling down the road towards us. I politely backed up so they could also get in a position where they could see the elephant, and the driver just kept coming, forcing his vehicle in between us and the elephant. The tourists managed to get a terrific close-up view of the mighty beast as it came into the road directly behind their vehicle, while we had to settle for a few quick shots as it wandered off into the bush, after the safari vehicle charged off towards the next “sighting”.
This was followed in short order by some impala and zebras.
Not much further we got to tick off the second of the Big Five when we spotted a white rhino cow and calf across a valley.
While this park has the largest population of them in the world, the white rhino is a critically endangered species, aggressively hunted by poachers for their horns which are believed to be everything from a cure for impotence to a cure for cancer in some parts of Asia. In 2019 alone so far 76 rhino has been poached in this and other parks in the province, so we consider ourselves very lucky to have spotted several more, including calves, during the day.
For the ornithologists reading this, the fellow you see perched on the calf’s head is a Red-billed Oxpecker. One regularly sees them sitting on rhino, buffalo, and the larger antelopes, eating the ticks that inevitably make themselves at home on these animals.
Other bird sightings of the day included an African Stonechat, several Fork-tailed Drongoes (the black one), a Brown Snake Eagle, Cape Glossy Starlings (the beautiful blue one), some White-fronted Bee Eaters (this was on my list for the day to spot, as I know they occur here – when we showed one to the minion in my bird book beforehand, she refused to believe it was a real bird: it is painted, she said), a Brown-hooded Kingfisher, and a White-backed Vulture perched high in a tree.
There were many more I couldn’t capture “on film”, including one of my favourites, the beautiful little Emerald-spotted Wood-dove. I wonder how many of these the German tourists spotted. While we were watching the vulture, for example, their tour operator sped past without even slowing down. I guess birds aren’t the reason for their visit to a game reserve.
Our third Big Five sighting of the day was also one of the most dangerous animals in Africa. No, not the lion, but rather, the Cape Buffalo. We saw several of them through the day, but the first were two old gents relaxing in a dry river bed next to a small pool of water which was home to a young crocodile, with a family of warthogs foraging nearby.
These two had clearly been brawlers in their younger days. Their horns were all chipped and full of lumps and weird growths where scar tissue had formed from damage long ago, their faces were likewise filled with lines from old scars, and one seemed to be missing an eye.
The two birds in the last photo are Hadeda Ibis, or jut Hadeda.
The minion really wanted to see a giraffe, and the park did not disappoint.
I love photographing giraffes. It always seems they know what’s going on, striking various poses and holding them long enough so one can get plenty of good shots.
Another highlight of the day was a sighting of one of Southern Africa’s freshwater turtle species, the Southern Marsh Terrapin (Pelomedusa galeata).
And yes, that one is perching on a floating zebra carcass. Apparently they often hitch rides on the backs of hippos, but none were handy that day. They’re also omnivores, and have no qualms about scavenging, so this might have been about getting a snack, rather than hanging out with his little bird-pal (a Black Crake).
We also saw Nyala (including a herd of ewes and youngsters coming for an afternoon drink – sadly no crocodiles obliged us with the opportunity for a terrific action shot), Blue Wildebeest, a Kudu cow and calf (they disappeared to quickly to get a photo), and some Cape Baboons (and of course vervet monkeys who kept a very close eye on our picnic lunch).
We didn’t see any of the big cats, nor any canine predators, but the trip was well worth it. And the park itself is so beautiful, we could have seen no animals at all and it would still have been a wonderful day out.
And we’ve only done the Hluhluwe side of the park. There’s still the entire Imfolozi side to explore, so we’ll need to go back soon. I think we’ll become regular visitors here.