PART TWO OF OUR HONEYMOON - FEB 10 TO FEB 14 - SAFARI AT MALAMALA
“To depart on a safari is not only a physical act, it is also a gesture. You leave behind the worries, the strains, the irritations of life among people under the pressure, and enter a world of creatures who are pressed into no moulds, but only have to be themselves; bonds loosen, anxiety fades, the mind closes against the world you left behind like a folding sea anemone. Enjoyment of the moment, the true delight in living, in life as it is and not as others have made it... all this and more returns."
- quote by Elspeth Huxley (& borrowed from Phoebe!)
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Hot and sunny
Photo: the sunrise when we woke up today (5:30am)
Gareth called us with our 5:30am wake-up call. (He later admitted to waking up at 5:28am to make the calls.) We met up with Gareth, Steve, and Marsha at the main lodge for coffee, then started off on our next game drive.
We drove out near the MalaMala airstrip and immediately saw 2 warthogs grazing.
We watched them for a little while, then drove a short distance to find a single male elephant who was busily eating...
We stopped to watch him, and when he finally noticed us after a few minutes, he turned to sniff us out and try to determine exactly what we were...
He still wasn't sure, so he walked onto the road, seemingly to investigate further... You can see when he gets a little too close to the vehicle, Gareth starts the engine revs the vehicle a couple of times until the elephant backs off. He is still curious as to what we are. You can also hear Steve's "Oh God." He admitted to being a bit of a scaredy cat! =)
After a moment's pause, the elephant again took a step or two in the general direction of the vehicle, and Gareth again started the vehicle and revved the engine for a second. The elephant stepped back again. Eventually, he turned off the road almost in a huff. It was not clear if he was agitated or just curious. Watching these videos now, he seems to be only curious, but at the time, we felt like he was almost mock-charging us.
In case you are curious, Gareth informed us that when an elephant mock charges, he will hold his head high and spread out his ears, to appear bigger than he really is. If he is really going to charge, he will tuck his ears back and roll up his trunk. Hopefully we never have to experience that!
Shortly after driving past the elephant, we saw a very cautious side-striped jackal, who quickly ran off.
...and shortly after that, we came upon a troop of chacma baboons crossing the road in front of us.
Gareth stopped the vehicle, and we watched them for a few minutes playing in a nearby tree.
After a while, I heard a noise which sounded like a quick heavy breath. Martin and I turned around and about 20 meters behind us was another male elephant – walking right toward us, rather quickly for our taste, ears spread out and head held high. We weren’t sure if it was the same elephant as before, as Gareth said it would be quite far for him to follow us all the way there. He came closer and closer, and Gareth started the engine and we shoved off.
There are SO many birds in South Africa...
...here are a just a few that we saw when we stopped at the river on the next portion of the drive...
Photo: Pied Kingfisher (adult, then an adolescent?)
Photo: Hamerkop (Afrikaans for Hammer Head) - thanks Tanya!
Photo: Marsh Sandpiper
Photo: Egyptian Goose
We drove a bit and eventually came upon a dazzle of four plains zebras.
[In case you were curious, the terms are: HERD of elephants, PRIDE of lions (COALITION if all males), POD of hippos, JOURNEY or TOWER of giraffe, PARLIAMENT of owls, COALITION of cheetah, CRASH of rhino, TROOP of baboons, DAZZLE of zebra, PACK of wild dogs, CLAN of hyaena (thanks Phoebe!).]
We stopped and watch the zebras graze a while, then eventually drove off to find more animals.
We came across some more elephants...
Video: at the beginning of the video, this guy is 'pretending' to eat while he was really just keeping an eye on us...
We also saw a few of these birds – called Bateleurs. They are quite beautiful with red feet and beaks.
... and this is one of the many adolescent Bateleurs we saw on our trip.
We came across 2 giraffes, a female and a teen eating some tall bushes and trees.
Near the giraffes, above a small pond, we watched a colony of Masked Weavers busily building their nests to impress their ladies...
Video: I love Gareth's commentary on these weavers...
Later we came across a large male giraffe who walked down the middle of the road ahead of us.
We headed back to camp for breakfast at around 10:00 or 10:30am, had a couple hours break, then lunch at 1:30pm, then another shorter break, and we met again at the main lodge at 4pm for our next game drive.
Started off partly cloudy, then quickly became cloudier and cloudier as the afternoon wore on
Right out of the Rattray's gate, I spotted a leopard in the grass, eyeing a herd of impalas. I was so surprised that I could only gasp and point!
Photo: the impalas have seen him and are cautiously watching his every move
We watched the leopard (called the "bicycle crossing male") for a couple of minutes before he disappeared into the tall grass next to the road. We searched for him through the grass unsuccessfully. It’s amazing how camouflaged they are in the bush.
We parked the vehicle near the herd of impalas to wait and see if he would return, and meanwhile we watched a nearby elephant shaking a marula tree for its fruit.
Photo: sorry, I just couldn't resist including this picture for shock value... this elephant has a 5th leg...
A few minutes later, another vehicle called in on the radio that they had spotted the leopard sleeping about a 100 meters from where we had lost him in the grass, so we drove over to meet them.
We watched the leopard rest for a while, then he got up and walked half a kilometer or so, ...
...lay down again for a few more minutes....
...then got up and walked again for a while.
He stopped again to eat and roll in some... uh... dung.
He seemed hungry since he kept only resting for a few minutes (oh yeah, and the fact that he was eating dung was a hint too), so we were all anticipating a kill (or at least a good hunt). But there can only be 3 vehicles at any sighting, and by this point, we had been following the leopard for quite a while and other vehicles wanted to come see him, so we had to shove off. I was worried we would miss the kill, but if you don’t let other vehicles in the rotation, they won’t let you in when they have a sighting, so we left.
At the river crossing, we passed this crocodile "fishing" for food...
A little later, we came across a wildebeest with heard of impalas.
It was pretty funny to see, but I guess wildebeest are somewhat rare in the area, so there aren’t enough to compose much of a herd. It’s smart of him to hang out with the impalas – it’s like having a hundred watch guards on hand. They bark whenever there is a predator in the midst.
The wildebeest was actually one of my favorite animals at MalaMala, strangely enough. I think it was because the only ones we saw were always individuals in a herd of impalas. For some reason I thought that was really cool - you know, diversity and coexistence and all =)
From there, we drove to where the same pride of lions (the Styx pride) was sighted earlier that day. They were all resting and enjoying the cooler weather.
We watched them resting for a few minutes, when there was a radio call that the leopard was stalking a female nyala (antelope-like animal), so we headed back in that direction. When we got there, it was getting dark. The clouds were ominous and a storm had seemed to be brewing all afternoon. There was one other vehicle there who was trying to get through some thick brush in the valley next to us, so we waited to communicate with them to find out where the leopard and nyala were.
Finally the other ranger informed Gareth that the leopard and the nyala it was hunting were between our vehicle and theirs. After a few more minutes of waiting and watching in the dimming light, we heard a distress call, a loud grunt, and we knew the leopard had made the kill. We drove around to where the call had come from, drove slowly down a hill into a valley at about a 45 degree angle and immediately ran into a fallen tree too big to push through.
The other vehicle was in front of us a little to the right. We stopped (because there was nothing else we could do) and in the headlights between the 2 vehicles, we caught a glimpse of the leopard’s spots, and we watched as he dragged something a few meters away under some thick brush that neither vehicle could pass through.
We weren’t sure if we were going to be able to move the truck, but Gareth threw it into reverse and revved the engine. We got about 2 meters back up the hill, and it seemed like we might make it, but the wheels started spinning, and we slid back down the hill. Again, he pressed the gas and we went up 2 meters or so, the tire spun, and we slid back down. We seemed totally stuck. Gareth threw it into posi-trac (4 wheel drive) to get all 4 tires to spin together, and gunned it once more. We got up 2 meters, the vehicle paused for a second, and then it lurched and made it up the rest of the hill! Great driving! We were all very impressed!
We drove around a bend to get back into the valley from another path to try to find the leopard again. We got in the little valley but were not able to see the leopard or any sign of where he might have dragged his kill. It started raining, and we decided to call it a day, since we had no idea where he had gone at this point. We got back to camp and an hour or so later, met up for dinner. Another vehicle that came home shortly after us had seen the leopard cross the road with his kill and drag it up a tree! We would go there in the morning to see if he and/or his kill were still there.
For all of our photos & videos from this day, click here.