If someone had told me six months ago that in the span of 24 hours I would see nine Lions, two Rhino, four Elephants, three Hyena, one Jackal, a Journey of Giraffe, a Dazzle of Zebra, and countless Wildebeest, Springbok, Oryx, and Impala I would never have thought it possible. But that is exactly what happened this last day. As Ann remarked, "whoever thought I would be so casual about seeing another Zebra"
On the drive into the park we got really excited about seeing a couple of Elephants and Giraffe in the distance, then Joey pulled off onto one of the many side roads that takes you to a water hole and we were able to get a little closer. But later we were to find out that that initial excitement was just an appetizer. A couple of water holes down the road, we pulled up and there were two huge elephants just standing 20 yards from the bus. And the Giraffe seemed to be everywhere along the side of the road. It was really incredible to get so close to all of the animals.
We stopped for a late lunch and then walked to the water hole at the Na… Rest Camp, someone had sited another elephant and it looked like we could get close to this one standing on the observation platform. However when I got out there it had disappeared into the bush. I had turned around and was headed back toward the bus when Josh Martin softly called me back -- "Rihno!" I got back but the Rhino had wandered into the trees so I was only able to get a partial shot of it with my camera. I have a great 70-200mm zoom, but I was now wishing I had upgraded to the new 100-300 model!
When we got to our rest camp we were all planning to sign up for an open air Jeep excursion. It was a little confusing, but our options were to go out at 5:30AM, midday, or an evening excursion starting at 18:30. I don't think any of us was particularly excited about getting up for another early morning drive, so lots of conversation ensued. In the end we all booked the 5:30AM tour and were not disappointed. Remember that we are in Africa, so even though the days are long in the Northern Hemisphere we are at some of the shortest days here. At 5:30 it was still completely dark. However we were treated to a spectacular view of Venus and Mars. Our guide and driver for the morning was named Samuel, he's been working in the park for 20 years and does an amazing job of spotting the game. We told him that we really wanted to see some cats and he smiled and told us that what you see on any given day is mostly luck.
We drove for quite a while in the dark with Samuel illuminating our path with a red handheld light. It was COLD, we all had on many layers including winter coats, and luckily Samuel provided us with ponchos to put over our legs for another layer of warmth. We never really did see anything in the dark. At the first water hole we stopped we didn't see anything so we drove around to the other side of the water hole where Samuel said 'Lion!' We looked and at first none of us could see it, but eventually we all saw what he was pointing to. A male lion laying down at the edge of the water hole munching on something that was freshly killed. As I was watching the lion through my long lens I noticed something much darker pop up from the grass behind the lion. Samuel confirmed that it was a Hyena, in fact there are probably several of them waiting for their chance to eat whatever the lion leaves behind. We also discovered that there was another lion that had been lying a few meters away from the first. We were just starting to pull away when we were rewarded with a final view of the Lion who stood up and took a big stretch.
We drove on through herds of Zebra and all kinds of antelope when Samuel spotted another pair of Lions just on the edge of the pan, these were farther away than the first but the light was much better so I was able to get some good pictures and really zoom in on these. In fact it turned out that there were seven Lion in this area, and Samuel said probably two more that we didn't see, because the pride is eleven, and we had already seen two of them at the previous water hole. The drama of seeing this group of Lions was heightened by one lonesome and apparently suicidal Springbok. This poor creature seemed completely unaware of the Lions and just kept wandering closer and closer. Samuel said that Lions only strike if they know they won't have to chase their prey for more than 100 meters, but would could see the lions get very still and very low to the ground, they clearly had not missed this Springbok. Eventually the little guy came to his senses and escaped with his life, at least for today.
When we got back from the drive we went to breakfast and we have spent the rest of the day sitting and observing at the water hole, or lying around the pool area soaking up some of the warm midday and afternoon sun. We are hoping for a return of the Rhinos that appeared here last night, but as Samuel said its mostly luck as to what might show up on any given day.
And just as I finished writing those words we were rewarded. A giraffe came ever so slowly and cautiously out of the trees to get a drink. This is a really amazing process. First she approaches the water hole very slowly, checking each way several times. Then she must get in position to drink, which involves spreading her legs very wide so her neck can reach the water, but you can tell this puts the giraffe in a very vulnerable position so much stopping and starting and looking around ensues as she prepares to drink. And when she does its a long one. Twenty seconds maybe with the mouth in the water, and then with a mighty shake she raises her body up and assumes a position that looks like she's ready to flee. With all of us sitting up here taking pictures and whispering she is very cautious of us. What a site, this whole trip to the water hole probably took just over an hour between her cautious approach to the hole and then multiple long approaches and drinks. Patience is a virtue.