It was dark when I got up. Yeurgh, it reminded me too much of having
to get up in the cold and dark for work. We set off after a light
breakfast of tea and cereal. We started directly in front of my
where Garth pointed out a set of leopard tracks that showed where
it had walked right past where I had been sleeping. On the walk
out we were lucky enough to see some more giraffe and some zebra
grazing. It's such a thrill to be walking the land rather than been
driven about over it. We'd be pretty much stuck without Garth though.
he'll say that there's a, I don't know, warthog family over there.
We'd three all say, "What? Where?" and after patiently pointing
and showing us, we'd begin to see where the bush or tree ended and
the warthog began. 'Lucky', our reserve rifle, had joined us on
this morning's walk and was behind Garth, with me behind him, Alex
and Elana bringing up the rear when we turned off the road and walked
into the thick bush. Garth was looking for a rhino. He'd seen a
print earlier, some dung and now was walking us to a dam where,
based on a hunch, he thought that it was heading. We edged our way
through the shrubs and bushes trying to avoid getting alternatively
hooked and speared by the aggressive flora. Garth spotted another
footprint. We were definitely on the right track. He was head down,
looking for another one when three things happened at once. The
rhino that was five metres in front of us, behind a large bush,
saw us. Garth saw the rhino and froze. We saw Garth stop and froze.
The rhino, all 2000 kg of him bolted. Garth dropped into a crouch
and encouraged the rest of us to do the same. He didn't have to
tell us to be quiet, the site of a male white rhino ten metres away
from you, searching, is enough to keep you still and quiet. He was
looking for us. He knew we were there, he could smell us. A rhino
can't see all that well, his eyes have fairly poor telescopic vision
to the front of him. His peripheral vision is not bad, but as long
as we kept perfectly still, he couldn't be completely sure where
we were. He was looking for us though. Rhino's use their ears as
much as they use their eyes. Their ears are trumpet shaped and set
back high on the head. They're used as direction finders to track
down and locate the direction of any noise source. This is done
by swiveling them round until they point directly at the source
of noise - us. He also dipped and swung his head to try and get
a better look at us. The rhinoceros was a square-lipped rhino (Ceratotherium
simum) or white rhino called 'short horn' and normally fairly docile,
but he'd been surprised by us and he'd also been fighting. Garth
decided that enough was enough and we slowly backed out and left
the old guy to his thicket in peace. I didn't, understandably, take
any pictures of the experience, so you'll have to rely on my explanation.
We were based in a vehicle today unlike yesterday when we simply
walked directly out from camp. This enabled us to drive out to look
for game and then walk in on foot. Next on the list was
buffalo (Syncerus caffer). We drove past the herd to try and get
downwind of them before getting out and approaching on foot. Unfortunately,
the wind wasn't in our favour and was swirling around taking our
scent in and unsettling the animals. They make a hell of a noise
when they start moving through the bush, crashing and smashing their
way through the low lying shrubs and grasses. The sound of their
thundering hooves adds to the cacophony of sound. We weren't going
to get close enough to see them. The bush was too thick and the
wind just kept changing direction. But here's the thing. We rove
right past them and they didn't care. They could smell us fine in
the open topped jeep, they could see us too, but they weren't bothered.
It's the case apparently with most of the animals here that they've
simply gotten used to the jeeps and they know that they offer no
threat to them. You get out of the car though, or stand up and break
the silhouette and it's a different story altogether. They'll suddenly
realise that there's humans in there and either a) bolt or b) charge
depending upon what it is and what mood it's in!
A call came over the radio that there was a cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus)
in the area. It'd just killed a small impala (Aepyceros melampus),
a lightly built antelope. We held onto our hats while Lucky did
his best to beat the land speed record in the jeep. We knew that
we were in the right area when we saw vultures circling overhead.
The cheetah was last seen walking on the road away from the kill.
We couldn't see it, but the guys were doing their best to follow
its spoor (tracks). We stopped at an intersection of two roads.
This was a good place to search for tracks. The red dirt roads that
crisscross the reserve hold tracks very well. Garth and lucky searched
the ground but couldn't see exactly where the cheetah was heading.
That was until they looked up and saw it sauntering off not thirty
metres away. Back in the vehicle we followed it for as long as the
road would allow. The cheetah was in no hurry. It'd just eaten and
was very content just to meander slowly away with the occasional
look behind him at the gawping humans in the noisy moving shape.
Despite this I didn't manage to catch a picture of it.
We drove over to see the kill after we lost site of the cheetah.
We knew we were close when we saw
vultures in the trees. As we drove up there were still
jackals and vultures on the canion. The kill had happened less than
an hour ago but there was nothing left of the
impala except for some skin left stretched over the skeleton. It
was astonishing to see how quickly the creature was devoured.
We drove out to a dam on the reserve for sunset, and to hear the
lions roar. We got there to discover that
somebody else had had the same idea. One of the lions that we'd
hoped to hear was lying down a few metres from the water's edge.
So we drove over to get a closer look and were treated with the
view of an old male lion stretching and padding slowly alongside
the vehicle. He
flopped down thirty metres or so further away from dam. He even
gave us a couple of roars as the sun began to set. In a perfect
end to the day, a couple of rhinos, a
mother and baby came down to drink at the dam. A couple of beers
as a sundowner and it was back to the lodge for food and bed, taking
the drive back as an excuse to look for more critters.
We'll be back up at just after five tomorrow...