ECLECTIC RANT: Remembering Our African Safaris

Ralph E. Stone
Thursday July 10, 2014 - 10:26:00 PM

Recently, my wife and I have been looking through photographs and notes from our various trips. One trip, our longest, was a two-month's long In 2002 to countries in eastern and southern Africa: Botswana, Namibia, Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, and Ethiopia. We especially enjoyed our safaris in Botswana. A "safari" refers to a trip to observe and photograph wildlife.. 

During this trip, we saw the "big five" including our first white rhinos. The "big five" dates back to big game hunting days and refers to elephants, cape buffalo, rhinos, lions, and leopards, which were considered the prize trophy animals.  

Each of the three bush camps we visited in Botswana are located in remote, private, and unspoiled, African preserves. The camps accommodate 8 to 14 guests. The lodgings are permanent tented camps providing the atmosphere of Africa 100 or 200 years ago, while offering comfort. The camps are in an isolated locations with a small airstrip nearby. Guests arrive by air, usually by 5-passenger Cessnas. The plane circles the air strip to make sure there are no animals on the strip and then lands. We were warned to keep the tent end flaps zippered to keep the mosquitoes and monkeys out. It seems monkeys will come into tents and pick up clothes, toilet articles, medicines, etc. We saw monkeys in the trees waving undies. They especially love to squeeze the toothpaste. At the Savuti camp the toilet and shower were open on the side facing a path elephants used to go to and from the waterhole about 100 feet from the camp. We were able to sit doing our business while watching elephants walk by 25 to 30 feet away. It was a little disconcerting at first, but became fascinating after awhile. 

The safari experience centers around twice daily game drives. We were awakened at 5:30 a.m. and then assembled at the lodge at 6 for coffee/tea, juice and muffins/biscotti. We then departed in an open Land Rover for game viewing. The driver/guide knew the vast game preserve like the back of his hand and always seemed to find game. The animals are used to the vehicles and paid little attention when we drove up. We were, of course, cautioned to stay in the vehicle, keep seated, and make as little noise as possible when close to animals. We always saw elephants, zebras, giraffes, wildebeests, impala, wart hogs.  

The morning game drive lasted until about 10:30 to 11 a.m. At about 4, we went out on the afternoon game drive. Most animals seem to disappear during the heat of the day so game drives were in the morning and late afternoon. We stopped for a "sundowner" for drinks and food around our vehicle while we watched the sunset. On the way back to camp, the guide used a spotlight to illuminate nocturnal animals. The light reflected off their eyes. We saw hyenas, spring hare (looks like a miniture kangaroo and hops like one too), and African wild cats. After dinner, we were escorted back to our tents. The camps do not have fences around them. Animals can and did wander through the camps at night. We often heard hippos and elephants crashing about at night. Needless to say, we were cautioned to stay in our tents until daylight. 

We must have been on at least 40 game drives while in Africa. We never tired of watching the animals going about their business. We watched elephants mating -- is that a sight. We watched a baby elephant trying to manipulate his trunk. Kind of like a baby using a spoon for the first time. The baby picked up some grass and couldn't get it into her mouth; it went over its head. In frustration, it finally ran to momma and started suckling. We watched four lions stalking a herd of cape buffalo and a leopard laying on a tree branch feeding on its impala kill. And we saw birds of all sizes and colors. 

One highlight of our trip was watching a cheetah teaching her two youngsters how to stalk and kill an impala. We were within 10 feet as we followed the cheetah as she slowly stalked the herd of impalas through the tall grass. When she got close enough, she quickly grabbed one by the throat and slowly suffocated it to death. She then called her cubs. Momma tried to drag the body to the shade of our vehicle so we had to move away a bit. We watched the cheetahs awhile and then drove away when the cheetahs started feeding. Later we came back to the same spot. The impala was stripped to the skeleton and the three satiated cheetahs were laying contentedly nearby. Cheetahs are sleek and fast and can turn on a dime, the swiftest African cat over a short distance. Although fast, they lack size against the bigger predators like hyenas and therefore, they eat fast before the bigger predators arrive. They became our favorite cat. 

Our two-month Africa trip was one of our best ever. If you like animals, we recommend an African safari.