Searching for Lions! #African Safari Adventures
Whether you go on a cruise through Europe or stand on the summit of the Burj Khalifa, there is still nothing that compares to the adventures of a Game Drive in the bushes of Africa. Tracking the wild animals and following them around without intervening in their activities and experiencing what they experience leaves one with alot of appreciation for how magnificent these animals are and sometimes even with a broken heart because of the helplessness one feels when these animals are in distress. The policy of the Game Reserves is not to interfere with the animals, even if they are injured. The animals are left in their complete natural habitat and the only function of humans is to be spectators. After being overwhelmed with my first game drive I have made it my purpose to visit the bush once a year to connect with nature and remind me of how amazingly marvellous these animals are.
Here is my recollection of the recent game drive while I was at Phinda Mountain Lodge in the heart of KwaZulu Natal-The Zulu Kingdom.
Day 1…I have never seen lions before.
We were introduced to the Ranger named Matthew and the Tracker named Siphiwe. These 2 guys would lead us into the bush, driving, tracking, explaining and ofcourse finding us the Big 5. It was just after 3pm and there were trackings of cheetah near the lodge. After having lunch we made our way on board a beastly vehicle that would make its way through rugged terrains in the next 2 days.
Although it was winter it was swelteringly hot. I had never seen lions before so that was all I wanted to see. Not far off from the lodge we spotted Nyala, Impala, Kudu, Duikers and some warthogs. We spotted some tall trees and some very long necks reaching the top and eating from it. It was a giraffe. A few metres away from her was a baby giraffe eating from a smaller tree. The mother seemed un-hindered by our distant presence but the baby stopped eating and just stared at us in utter awe. She had never seen these strange creatures before…humans.
We then spotted a family of Rhinos, they were just grazing in the grass unaware that a predator lurked very nearby. Only a few metres from where they grazed were a mother cheetah and 4 ‘teenage’ cubs. Like typical cats they slept on the grass under the warm sun and played with each other. Their bellies looked flat, an indication that they had not eaten for a few days. We assumed that the mother would want to go hunting so decided to follow her. The naughty cubs, which seemed to be between cub-hood and adulthood, followed her too. She walked and she walked in search of food and it was interesting to see how the cubs mimicked her behaviour. There were times when they would walk faintly and dared not to disturb mama Cheetah. It was amazing just being there with them and realising that these wild animals were casually walking near the vehicle we were in. We followed them for over 2hours hoping they would find something to eat but as dusk came the hungry Cheetahs had to find a spot in the long green grass to sleep for the night and alas, go hungry for yet another night. On the way back, in the pitch dark of night there was a hyena den spotted. The tracks of the animals are distinguished and then we go in search of them. We parked a few metres away and there was a hyena pup being licked by its parents. This was most amazing.
Upon returning to the lodge we found a baby squirrel in our room, she moved like lightning and was incredibly difficult to catch. Apparently, squirrels aren’t found in this part of the country so we were incredibly fortunate to have one in our room. It was indeed a day filled with adventure.
Day 2…Lions keep evading me.
Our day began very early with the winter sunrise. The reason for this is because the animals arise and begin moving…that is life in Africa.
My senses were now heightened to the differences in the hues of grass. I learnt that they meant different nutritional values. I also saw yellowish greenish trees that populated the area and were so beautiful to look at. We saw the carcass of a zebra and that of an elephant. We were told of how a herd of elephants passed through the elephant remains and each one ceremoniously walked by making sounds in acknowledgement of the demise of one of their own kind. The tracker then spotted lion tracks and amazingly enough was able to decipher how old the lions were, how many were in the pride and whether or not those animals were tracking other animals. We decided to stop right in the middle of the bush and have some snacks. Just imagine there could be lions anywhere.
We continued after that in search of lions but to no avail. Instead, we got to see more of the precious Rhinos and other animals.
The afternoon game drive proved to be far more exciting. As we set off we immediately spotted a herd of buffalo. Then our search for lions resumed. As the drive continued we came across an elephant. He reached the top of an Amarula tree with his long majestic trunk and plucked off some branches for an afternoon snack. Just watching him was watching a wonder of nature.
Thereafter, we came across crocodile in the creek and rhinos having a mudbath. And we just seemed to see more and more rhinos. We also came across tremendous birdlife. As we were headed back, it became dusk and as the sun descended the moon ascended. The moon was bright orange and we just stared at it in amazement. I had never seen the moon that beautiful, ever. Then, as we made our way back to the lodge we spotted a very rare sighting, an aardvark. This creature is nocturnal and upon seeing us ran for its life. We never saw it again but it was still a rare sight…..but still no lions.
DAY 3……Lions? Maybe
The next morning was our last game drive. The morning started with the spotting of a fox, another rare sight but we had one thing in mind…lions. They had become very evasive when I reached the lodge. It was as if I was cursed not to see lions.
We drove and drove and it seemed as if they were my nemesis animal. With a very despondent heart we were almost heading back when the call came… A lion cub was spotted at a drinking hole. We drove off in a hurry just in case we missed him. When we had reached the spot there were other vehicles already there and then I saw him. This yellow coated cat like creature, the lion cub, was seen previously with his mother and 4other cubs but it seems like he was left behind because he had an injury and he would slow the pride down. This sweet creature (for now) was thirsty and he was trying to make his way to a puddle of water but got mud all over his paws and chin. He was clearly daunted by our presense and called out in anguish to his absent mother. His cry was like a Meeow without the M so it sounded like Ow, Ow. It was heartbreaking. He took a few sips and made his way up to a thicket where he continued to hide and call for his mama. It then became clear that the mother hid him in the thicket while she hunted. He had a full belly indicating he was recently fed. Although the mission was accomplished that we had found a lion, albeit a small one, my heart was broken. I couldn’t bear to see him helpless like that. I wish I could have done something to help him.
We then saw a zebra and her young one and drove to the highest point of a steep hill which overlooked all the valleys and provided a 360degree view of the entire land.
I was far more alert to nature on this trip and apart from animals I ended up learning alot about birds and plant life too. I am so appreciative of our incredible ranger who relentlessly combed the entire area in search of lions. Matthew is surely the best ranger at Phinda.
When you see the animals in their complete natural habitat then you will understand why zoos’ and circuses’ ought to be banned. If you are ever in Africa this is an adventure that is incomparable to any other. I promise that even if one is not an animal lover this type of adventure is life changing. So, come to Africa and see the Big 5.