Today Ona wants to take us back to the lions.
We had found out that the lions had killed a buffalo the night before, and that they should still be eating it now, as they had been all through the night. Ona booked it and got us to the right area quickly, and we were startled by a lion as we zoomed past a big bush The lion was right next to the rover and I imagined that he could have interpreted our speeding towards him as a threat, but he just lay there. From there we quickly found the other lions eating and went to watch.
There they were, 7 lions eating a buffalo right in front of us- not on a TV. They didn’t care at all that we were there. A few other lions were already dozing off and laying in the surrounding shady areas, their bellies huge from eating all night.
We stayed quite a while by the lions, getting different views of them eating and eventually of them going down to the river to get a drink of water.
As we were leaving, one of the women in our rover, Ana from Georgia, spotted a hyena on the move. It was hidden in the middle of the river behind the reeds by the time our whole group turned to look, and after a minute of waiting we decided to move on and leave it be.
It was time to go back to camp anyway. We had been driving for 10 minutes when we got the call that the hyena had come out, and since they are fairly hard to spot because they are nocturnal, we took the opportunity and turned around and got some pictures of this lone hyena taking a rest. I was surprised by how pretty the animal was. I had expected it to look dirty and disheveled and angry, like hyenas always are in cartoons. In actuality it was one of the prettiest animals we saw. We took some shots from a few different angles and were finally en route back to camp for lunch.
We made our usual morning pit-stop by my favorite tree and termite mound (the termite mounds here help define the landscape- they can be as tall as a person! And when the termites die off, other animals move in to use the home.)
I had just taken a picture of the mound when Ona yelled The Cheetah! Get in! We all raced back to the rover and jumped in and Ona floored it in the opposite direction. (I learned later that Margot, another woman in our group, had thought that the cheetah was right next to us and we had to leave quickly because we were in danger. On the contrary, Ona had gotten the call that there was a cheetah sighting and we were heading toward it, not away.)
Ona was driving so fast to get there that we had to drive straight over a bunch of flexible trees and invent new roads through the wilderness. We had to be on high alert because every few seconds branches would come flying at our faces. It was like a really good ride at Disney World.
Finally in the distance we saw the 2 other rovers, which meant that the Cheetah was close by. And suddenly there he was, walking behind the trees, scanning for his prey. I took a picture quickly in case this would be as close as we got before he decided to flee.
He continued walking and when he was out of sight, the 3 rovers did everything they could to keep up, running over trees in reverse, spreading out in different directions to search, and being generally loud and messy. We alternated between spotting the cheetah between the trees and chasing after it for a few minutes, until we saw it stiffen and then take off in a sprint. It had spotted two impala and was chasing after them.
All three rovers lost sight of it, but a few minutes of frantic and excited searching revealed him down by the water, resting under the shade of a tree. He had missed the meal and was worn out from running but it was nice to get a close-up view for a while. He had beautiful black lines from his eyes down his face and he looked very smart. Unlike the leopard, his spots were solid black.
Now we have been on safari for just 3 days and Poppy and I have already seen most of the big cats- lion, leopard, and cheetah. Add in the fact that we both held tigers in Thailand, and we’ve only got a few wildcats left to check off the list.
Finally, after all the excitement died down, we headed back for lunch.
Our evening safari was a more relaxed one- we finally took the time to look at some of the more common animals. We came across kudu (the antelope with bright red ears), impala, hippos, baboons, and crocodiles. Baboons are actually one of my least favorite animals. I thought they were really gross looking- and I disapproved of their social structure.
Then, as we made a fast and sharp turn into the woods, we nearly ran into the backside of an enormous male elephant.
We got a beautiful view of him from behind the foliage and it made a great picture as he poured dirt on himself to keep the sun and bugs off.
It seemed like he felt threatened by us and he spread his ears and walked even closer to the rover. It is very scary to be challenged by an elephant, even when the guides insist there is no danger. Ona decided to press on. Just like the last elephant we encountered, this one was blocking the road, but Ona went forward anyway. Luckily the elephant retreated, but I moved from the end seat to the middle seat of the rover to put distance between us, just in case.
Next we stopped in a clearning to watch a brightly colored flock of bee-eaters at their nesting ground. I wanted a good picture of their pink and blue feathers but my camera isn’t quite good enough for close-ups of wildlife.
The birds all took off together into the sky when we left. It was not like sitting by a leopard, but it was very pretty. Poppy really likes scanning for birds down by the water, and all of the brightly colored birds are my favorites.
At this point, my cameras memory card became and I worried about what I would do; there is nowhere to buy a spare. But Ana generously gave me hers and refused to take money or even to let me mail it back to her after the trip. Southern hospitality. So now I am taking pictures with the new memory card, which has far more memory than my old card. Thanks Ana!
Our last stop for the night was in a clearing with an old hippo skeleton. Id really been wanting to take pictures of a skeleton, and I finally got one! I still would like the classic ribs-in-the-desert shot though.
So today was a great day, and tomorrow we will be doing our last drive with this group before taking a charter flight to Kwetsani camp.