Clambering into our open Land Rover, we came to South Africa to see the famous Big Five—elephants, rhinos, buffalo, lions and leopards–with our driver, JP, and our tracker, Andres. During the game drive, Andres sits in the raised seat dangling out in front of the Land Rover, looking out into the bush and constantly communicating with the driver.
Passing herds of impala, nyala and kudu on both sides of us, we almost immediately came upon a rhino clomping his way to a watering hole where he flopped into the cooling mud. JP maneuvered the Land Rover so that we could get closer. We watched our rhino relax, stretch, get up and flop down again for about 15 minutes.
Moments later they found us a family of elephants munching on shrubbery. When you are in the presence of these great animals, everything feels leisurely, them, us, a respectful few yards between us.
When at last we left our elephants, a warthog family bounced through the bush alongside of us. Who knew warthogs were so jaunty? And that’s when we came upon our first family of giraffes. Their tall bodies are hidden in the trees but when you settle in and really look, you see their long slim legs moving down among the tree trunks and then you see their spotted heads bobbing improbably above the treetops.
Occasionally a couple would emerge into the open and we could enjoy their whole spotted figures, necks crossing necks as they reached for the juiciest leaves.
One morning just after sunrise, we came upon a sleeping pair of rhinos, startling them which in turn startled us.
They begrudgingly got to their feet to check us out, then decided we weren’t very interesting and plopped back down, snuggling together again. Yet we still hadn’t seen a lion or a leopard. They are elusive, shy and well-camouflaged, and JP and Andres were determined to track one for us. Now and then Andres asked JP to stop, they both got out and looked at footprints, talking softly to each other.
Then we’d set off in a new direction. Finally we drove right off the road. Our beast of a Land Rover crashed over fallen logs, shrubs and small trees, deeper and deeper into the brush. They had heard the laughter and yips of hyenas nearby, the sounds of a kill stolen from a leopard. Soon we passed a tree filled with patient vultures and then the victorious hyenas themselves. We barreled deeper into the wilderness.
At last Andres spotted him, an adolescent male leopard ambling through the tall grass.
JP maneuvered our Land Rover closer to him and from 10 feet away we watched our leopard discover a warthog hole. He crept down into it until nothing but his long spotted tail was left showing. Luckily for the warthogs but sadly for our leopard, he came back out empty-jawed, shook the dirt off his face and walked even closer to us.
I could barely breathe! We were awe-hushed and thrilled…and he hardly registered our presence. This is one of the reasons I suggest that you safari on a private game reserve. The trackers and drivers are respectful of the animals and never overwhelm them with the human presence. The reserve only allows two Land Rovers to be at any animal sighting at a time. The animals see our Land Rover as just another huge creature and as long as we stay seated in the car, they are not intimidated, not fearful…and they feel comfortable enough to approach surprisingly close.
We watched as the leopard sauntered curiously between our two Land Rovers, then he slowly walked off…where he was joined by his mother!
They greeted each other and we followed this little leopard family for a long while as they walked beside each other in the sun, finally disappearing deeper into the bush. Nothing I have ever done has struck me with such awe and reverence as being in the presence of all these animals, enjoying their world in the bush together. If you dream of a safari, don’t put it off. Call me and let’s make that dream come true. Lisa Kallen 925-837-8742 ext 18. This adventure is life-changing!