In The Wild, Where They Belong: Big Five Lucky in South Africa

Zebra in the wild, Balule Reserve in Greater Kruger Park, South Africa
Zebra in the wild, Balule Reserve

Big Five Lucky

Part of our amazingly organized 3-day safari in South Africa, the time came when we had to leave our explorers’ den at GomoGomo and head to Mohlabetsi Lodge for the last leg of our real-life nature documentary.

Mohlabetsi was (surprisingly) a substantial change of scenery from Gomo Gomo. But I’m not saying that in any good or bad way – the places have such a different vibe, that at times it seemed the only thing in common were the animals.

In a chat with the owner of the lodge – a seasoned hospitality veteran who decided to create his own luxury boutique heaven in nature – he told us about the elephant challenges they’ve had, who are often attracted by the green pastures hiding in plain sight, behind electrified fences – especially in times of drought.

And can you blame them? In the wild there’s a constant fight for survival. And this is their home. We’re merely uninvited guests. If elephants could talk, I’m sure they would say plenty, including:

If elephants could talk, I’m sure they would say plenty, including:

What’s up with aesthetics, humans? Grass is for eating!

A Fast Forward Documentary

Only 1 day and 2 game drives, but just like in a delightful fast forward documentary, we saw it all:

A gang of a hundred buffalos, so close you could hear the gentle ripping sound of their grazing

Buffalo gang, grazing in the wild. Mohlabetsi lodge game drive in Balule Reserve, Greater Kruger Park
Buffalo gang, grazing in the wild.

A lone lion basking in the morning sun, after what looked like an unsuccessful night of hunting.

And a while later: double lucky! as we caught glimpse of a pride of seven lionesses hiding in the baked, dusty shadows of the bushveld.

A lone lion in the morning sun, Balule reserve in Greater Kruger Park, South Africa Safari
Lone lion in the morning sun.

A  truly NatGeo Wild worthy crocodile in action, lunching on a fresh impala kill.

And a lake teeming with river horses! I mean hippos of course 🙂 There were at least 6 or 7 that we counted, resembling frogs from a distance, the only thing out the water their heads. I half expected them to leap out like frogs

I half expected them to leap out like frogs.. what a sight that would’ve been.

Hippos in the water, Balule reserve, Greater Kruger National Park
Water Horses! Hippos @ Balule Reserve

I learned the collective noun for hippos, so here you go: a bloat of hippos!

We chased after a leap of leopards in the moonlit night, disrespectfully interrupting their courtship, but politely leaving after a few minutes of gawking. It is their home, after all. (Please make many leopard babies!)

And we watched zebras & giraffes stick together like the dream team they are: a sonar in the sky, working in harmony with ground operations, in a daily fight for survival.

zebras and giraffes at Balule Reserve in Greater Kruger Park, South Africa
Sonar & Ground Ops: The dream-team

Possibly the most impressive of all: elephants.

So many of them, stretching several generations as they were moving across the barren and drought-stricken landscape in search for a moist tree bark to munch on.

Judging that their daily food intake is 300 pounds, you can guess the devastation a parade of elephants can wreak in times of drought…

Still, I can’t bring myself to agree on the controversial matter of culling, or selective slaughter, done in an effort to reduce the elephant population and restore balance.

After all, humans rarely hit the headlines for bringing balance in nature, do we?

Hidden behind the size of the land cruiser and smell of gasoline, I don’t know how we appeared to them – but we got the distinct impression we weren’t much to look at.

Except for one of the more curious youngsters who approached the vehicle; so close that I just couldn’t resist being tacky and snapping us a selfie.

Selfie with the Elephant!
Selfie with the Elephant! yes, I was that tacky

The entire landscape at Balule Reserve was of course splattered with impalas and kudus, competing for a patch of land to feed on.

A difficult endeavor, given the worst drought in a century that hit South Africa. Let’s all hope the rain is on its way down there…

Then There Were Rhinos

We saw a surprisingly large number of rhinos, both in the Klaserie Reserve and over at the Balule Reserve.

But I didn’ let myself fooled into thinking that rhinos have it good – because they don’t.  Not by a long chance.

three rhinos in the morning red hue, Kruger Park South Africa
Rhinos in the morning orange hue, Kruger Park

Kruger National Park still remains a hotspot for rhino poachers, who outgun rangers and kill at double the speed of rhinos’ reproduction rate.

Before going to South Africa, I used to think that rhinos were the scariest of the bunch. With their bulldozer shape, their armored skin that looks almost impossible to pierce through – and of course, the horn.

Obviously, I needed a refresher on my rhino knowledge.

Rhinos are mostly curious & shy animals. Yes, they are extremely dangerous, and you should still climb the nearest tree if you ever find yourself near one.

But they will often run away if they smell humans.

Apparently, our scent is as great as our personality.

On a selfish note, we did get the amazing opportunity to approach a mother rhino and her calf.

They were so oblivious to our existence that they got dangerously near… but got scared and scampered away when they finally smelled us.

Rhino mom and calf, grazing in the Balule reserve, Kruger national park, South Africa
Rhino mom & calf, grazing

Thank you Nature, for being so resilient against our destructive human urges.

And here’s to another thing I never thought I would do:

Seeing Wild Africa’s animals on their turf, where they belong.