Tag Archives: hyena

The Elephant That Knocked Down A Tree and The Giraffes That Bid Us Adieu

12/17/12 

Big elephant lookThis morning we embarked on our final game drive of this trip. It felt sad, knowing our time here is coming to an end. The adventures we’ve had seem like dreams. Even as they were happening, the experiences have been so magnificent and surreal, they were hard to believe. The mood in our vehicle felt appreciative this morning. As a group, we were quieter than previously, absorbing every moment. It was as if we were collectively trying to extend time.

This morning felt serene, the bush quiet following last night’s storm. The first animal we saw was a sleeping rhino, which further punctuated the stillness of the day.

Eventually we came across a troop of baboons playing in a tree. Last night’s rain water fell from the leaves as they scurried around. The babies were jumping from branch to branch until the dominant male determined it was time to move on. He rounded up the troop, chasing the other baboons as needed, until they formed a line along one of the branches. We watched them walk away in single-file formation.Baboon Family Tree

While we were observing the baboons, an adult hyena came down the hill. One of the biggest misconceptions I had, based on documentaries and movies I’ve seen, is that hyenas are ugly, vicious animals. The babies we saw during our second drive were adorable, playful, and full of character.

Somebody else asked about the common bad reputation of the hyena. Landon explained that they’re quite nice animals, very social in nature. Like other wild animals, when it comes to basic survival needs, hyenas do what is necessary. Sometimes hyenas travel in packs, when they hunt or are fighting off predators – these are the images we often see portrayed in the media. However, our experiences of hyenas in the bush would portray them as calm, curious animals. Hyena

We continued making our way through the winding paths of the bush until Eddie signaled something to Landon. Eddie and Landon didn’t tell us what animal we were tracking, to minimize disappointment in case we didn’t find the animal in the end.

As we progressed through the bush, I began to smell the distinct odor of elephant dung. I had a feeling that we were tracking elephants, but we drove for quite some time before we spotted anything. One of the amazing things about having experienced guides and trackers is that they’re extremely knowledgeable about animal behavior, which direction the animals are moving (even once the tracks have disappeared into the bush) and how they’re traveling (group, solo, with offspring, etc).

Patience and persistence paid off as, one by one, everyone in the vehicle announced that they could see elephants. Landon kept driving, aware there were more elephants and ensuring we wouldn’t be in their path as they navigated the bush. When he stopped the vehicle we watched the elephants eating branches and leaves. Elephant

Elephant Eating

Although we were awestruck when we saw the large herd of elephants cross in front of us a couple days ago, watching them peacefully grazing was a new and equally breathtaking experience. A youngster passed in front of us and we watched as it fed off a tree. The young elephant appeared to be smiling, as if it had struck gold. Baby Elephant

elephant smiling

The elephants began to disappear back into the bush as they continued grazing on trees.

Landon turned the vehicle around, heading out of the area where we visited the elephants. We didn’t get very far before we saw a large bull feasting off a tree. The sound he made as he tore large branches off trees and devoured them, was incredible. His legs were thick, his feet enormous. He was just next to the main path, so we were quite close. Big Male Elephant

I took a picture as the large male pressed his trunk up against the tree. Having seen giraffes scratch themselves on trees, I assumed perhaps the elephant was relieving an itch on his trunk. This is another instance that highlighted how imperative it is to have experienced guides. Without saying a word, and before we had time to think about it, Landon repositioned our vehicle.

We then watched as the massive elephant knocked down the tree, with three solid blows to the tree trunk. IMG_2950

Blow #2: Elephant Knocking Down Tree

Blow #3:Elephant Knocking Down Tree

Thanks to Landon’s experience and quick thinking, we were well out of harm’s way as the tree toppled onto the road. We were speechless. The sheer power and strength of this amazing animal stunned us all. We remained for a few minutes and watched as he continued to devour the tree, the branches, and leaves, all of which were much more accessible to the elephant given the tree was now on the ground.

It was not a small tree: Elephant Tree Down

After our exceptional elephant encounter, we made our traditional coffee break stop. We asked Landon if we could make the coffee stop quick. We explained that we’d rather have more time on the drive since it was our final run through the bush. He obliged, but warned us that we’d likely seen all that we were going to see this morning.

We carried on, and as Landon foreshadowed, we didn’t see much in terms of additional wildlife sightings. It was just nice to take it all in, the expansive land, the sounds, the liberating feeling of riding in an open-air safari vehicle.

As we were working our way back to the lodge, Eddie enthusiastically alerted Landon, “Leopard!” Leopard

We watched as the beautiful, and often elusive, leopard made her way through the tall bush. It was spectacular and a wonderful way to end our safari. Leopard

We had a few hours between our game drive and airport transfer and we wanted to enjoy them as much as possible. We were sad to be leaving Lion Sands and so grateful for the experiences we shared there. We brought a bottle of champagne, some water, and the game Bananagrams down to the river deck. We watched the monkeys play and wrestle as we sipped champagne and continued to appreciate the magical adventures we shared at Lion Sands.

Reineck pouring champagne for our toast to Lion Sands

Reineck pouring champagne for our toast to Lion Sands

Final Monkeys

We decided to play an Africa-themed version of Bananagrams, utilizing only words pertaining to our trip. We made up new rules and collaborated on the board, more along the lines of Scrabble.

“That’s not how you play Bananagrams,” exclaimed another guest. “That’s how we play Bananagrams,” we replied in unison.Banagrams

When we concluded our game, we drank the remainder of our champagne, and headed to the lobby so we could be transferred to the airport.

As we drove out of the Lion Sands property – in a van much less comfortable than our safari vehicle – I was thinking about the giraffes. A giraffe was the first large animal we saw on this trip and we’ve seen at least one giraffe every day since. However, we didn’t see a giraffe today. As I was thinking about how magnificent and striking giraffes look against the African landscape, I commented aloud, “I’d like to see a giraffe on the way out.”

Within three minutes of driving toward the exit, we were greeted by two giraffes. The driver stopped the van so we could enjoy the sight one more time. The giraffes were the perfect bookend to our adventures at Lion Sands. We’ve come full circle. It’s time to journey onward. GiraffeGiraffe

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An Unforgettable Safari: Elephant Crossings, Cape Buffalo, Hippos, Rhino, and Breathtaking Sunset

12/15/12

BirdI woke up at 1:00am this morning, too hot to sleep. The air was on but we forgot to turn on the oscillating vents, so it wasnt reaching the bed. It was too dark to get up and make sense of where things were, so I laid patiently awaiting the morning light, drifting off to sleep for brief moments at a time.

At 4:00am, we woke up for good, an hour prior to our scheduled wake-up call. We opened the curtains and watched the morning sky as the sun rose. Moments before our 5:00am wake-up call, we got up and got ready for our 5:30am game drive. We had set all the important stuff – cameras, hats, sunglasses, deet – out last night, so that we wouldn’t forget anything.

We met Landon and the group in the dining area and set out for another game drive. It was much quieter this morning, a further affirmation of yesterday’s blessings. Again we saw numerous varieties of birds, all new to us. The gorgeous colors of the roller bird were striking, making them among the easiest to identify. Roller Bird

In the midst of our peaceful morning drive through the bush, we heard what sounded like angry dogs barking. When we inquired, Landon said that was the warning call of waterbuck, signifying a predator is in the area. Landon speculated there may be a leopard nearby.

We didn’t spot a leopard this morning, but we did see a beautiful male nyala. Landon pointed out some of the distinct characteristics of this antelope, including the orange coloring on its legs. Landon said he’d do his best to point out a female nyala as well, so we could see how vastly different these animals look based on their sex. nyala

After the nyala, we spotted some waterbuck. These waterbuck appeared to feel out of harm’s way of the earlier predator, relaxed and at ease in the wilderness before us. waterbuck

Next, we came upon a baby hyena den. Suddenly, it didn’t feel like such a quiet morning, as the bush continued to present one amazing sighting after the next. When we first pulled up to the den, only one baby was visible.  We watched him as he watched us, our curiosities matched. We marveled at the size of his teeth when he yawned.  Baby hyena IMG_2404

After a few minutes of observing the baby hyena, three more babies emerged from the den. We watched them play, snuggle with each other, and explore the surroundings. They played like children left home alone. They were undeniably cute. I mentioned that it feels like hyenas get a bad rap, often portrayed as vicious and ugly. Landon agreed as he reinforced what we were seeing – a more holistic expression of the hyena. “They are very social animals,” Landon said. baby hyenas

On our way back to the lodge, we came across dozens of impala. Seeing them en masse was spectacular. “We call these ‘impala that survived the night’,” Landon said, balancing the reality with a bit of humor. Impala

Completely content, thinking we’d seen all we were going to see this morning, we were surprised and delighted to see two giraffes, grazing on the trees. They towered above the trees, happily sauntering through the bush, plucking leaves off the branches. One of the giraffes crossed the road in front of us and we enjoyed a full, unobstructed view as he devoured his morning meal. IMG_2527 IMG_2490 Giraffe

After our morning game drive, we headed back to the lodge for a delicious breakfast and some downtime. I spent the afternoon on the river deck, sipping champagne. It’s a beautiful space to sit, beneath a fig tree, overlooking the Sabie river. At one point, I looked up just as a hippo was entering the water. It was the first hippo I’ve seen on this trip. I watched him swim around a bit and listened to his grunts. I was the only person at the river deck, so nobody heard my declaration, “hippo!”hippo

Just before noon a troop of monkeys came out to the river deck. They fed off the fig tree for what felt like hours. There were several moms, carting around babies. Initially, all the monkeys were far more interested in the figs, than they were in me.

Shortly after the monkeys arrived, another guest joined me on the river deck. Her name is Colette as well and she is from a town near the small town where I grew up. Colette and I laughed as the monkeys scurried around the trees, chasing each other, tossing figs they felt were sub-par, and playing. In time, the monkeys became comfortable in our presence and soon joined us on the river deck furniture.vervet monkey

The clever bushbuck stood under the fig tree, benefiting from the fig remains dropped by the monkeys. Every time I sat down to write, I’d hear a noise. It was either the monkeys, the bushbuck, or a hippo. It was too exciting to focus on writing so I sat back, enjoyed my champagne, and watched the monkeys.

The monkeys were very curious about us as well, often peering out at us, with expressions that mimicked our own. I looked up at one point and saw a baby monkey in the tree, hand covering its mouth, as if auditioning for the “speak no evil” role. Monkeys IMG_2564 IMG_2583

We were called to lunch around one o’clock. From the dining deck, we could see the monkeys had turned the river deck into their own personal playground. They chased each other around and swung in the swing chairs. They appeared to be having so much fun as they took over our afternoon sanctuary.

At 4:30pm we set out for our afternoon drive. Within minutes of leaving the lodge we saw several hippos and cape buffalo lounging in a river. It was amazing seeing two of the big five sharing space, enjoying the cool river. Landon mentioned that these animals can be very territorial, so seeing them together, in groups, was unique. He attributed their acceptance of one another to the heat – they all needed a place to cool off. Hippos and Cape Buffalo

I couldn’t help but stare at the cape buffalo. They are so perfect, they look like statues. Landon informed us that their commanding presence is matched by their strength and speed. As we watched them resting, Landon explained how powerful and dangerous cape buffalo can be. Cape Buffalo

We drove up the road a bit further and saw some elephants making their way to the river. We were a safe distance away, so we were allowed to get out of the vehicle to view them. Landon estimated there were thirty elephants in the herd. They ranged in size from small calf to large bull. They seemed so organized as they made their way toward the river. Staying close together, each elephant appeared to have a place and a shared, pre-determined, destination in mind. Elephant Crossing

We got back in the vehicle and drove up the road a bit further, just in time to watch the elephants walk up the river bank and cross the road in front of us. The sound of the herd of elephants walking at a solid clip was quite spectacular. We saw them eat along the way, keep youngsters in line, and continue off into the bush. I never imagined I’d witness a herd of elephants crossing my path, just a few feet away. Our third game drive provided another experience not to be forgotten. Elephants IMG_2673 IMG_2693

Continuing along our way, we saw a couple of rhinoceros. In just over an hour’s time, we had seen three of the big five. Rhino

“There was too much animal activity last night, so we skipped our drink break,” Landon noted. Given that yesterday was our first game drive, we had no expectations of a drink break. Tonight we enjoyed a happy hour like no other. We shared our appreciation with Eddie and Landon as we sipped cocktails, in the bush, at sunset. The sunset was magnificent and we collectively marveled at how blessed we are to be here. Bush Sunset

The increasing beauty of the evolving sunset provided the opportunity and backdrop for us to have more than a few drinks. The six of us in our vehicle took down two bottles of champagne, two bottles of wine, and some gin. We were giddy, if  not a bit drunk, as we made our way back to the lodge.

Tonight we headed straight to the bar, with our cameras, hats, sunglasses, and all our gear. We reflected on the outstanding events of the day – reminding each other that it wasn’t a dream. What we experienced was very real, but so spectacular it’s still hard to believe. We celebrated with more wine and were then treated to a traditional African BBQ, with our guides, out under the stars.