The Last Roundup

Viewing wildlife was my prime reason to visit Africa. I don’t know how anyone can resist after watching National Geographic nature series, especially those narrated by David Attenborough. So when my last 24 hours of Kruger NP came around, it was with some sadness that I watched the elephants, giraffes, zebras, kudu, lions, hyenas, and all the animals that had become familiar sights during my time in Africa. This would not be the end of wildlife, but this chapter was getting ready to close.

After visiting the rehabilitation center, we returned to Marc’s Treehouse Lodge. Late in the afternoon, we were invited to an evening game drive around their private reserve, one of a couple dozen reserves that give Kruger NP a larger area for animals to roam.

We boarded a game drive vehicle. These are ubiquitous in the parks of Africa – usually a ten-seater with benches or seats arranged in tiers that allowed the people in the rear to see over the heads of people in the front. Once settled, we went off to see who was out for an evening meal.

A young-ish female giraffe, out browsing the trees before nightfall.
Giraffes seem to prefer viewing humans in their rear-view mirrors. The Giraffe Center near Nairobi is the only place where giraffes get friendly – because, of course, you have food for them.
We came upon a mother rhino nursing her young one.

Photographing animals is challenging. I counted twenty-eight photos of this mother and baby rhinoceros in my photo collection, and that doesn’t even count the ones I had already deleted because of blurry focus or just bad photos. Of the twenty-eight I kept, a lot of them look very much like this one, except the mother is in front of the baby, the mother is behind the baby, the baby is further away, the photo is darker because the sun was sinking, or other variations. I was always driven to keep pressing the shutter because animals move, sometimes suddenly, and I always hoped I would get that “National Geo shot.”

Like all baby animals, baby rhinos are cute! The mother was cautious about us, but remained calm.

I learned along the way from an actual NG photographer I met in Botswana, that those shots are often staged by crews who locate the animals, can get closer than the average tourist, of course have all the equipment in their vehicle(s), and know from experience how to approach the animals to (generally) get a good setup for a professional photographer or high-paying amateur. Plus, because they are not part of a tour, they can be patient for opportunities.

Still, the photos I have been able to collect give me a lot of pleasure, looking back over the places I have been and things I have seen, and they jog my memory. I am able to play the scene again in my head, and that’s the best part.

Enough of the humans, time to move on.
Sunsets are always beautiful.

Photographing in the dark and around nine other people also trying to photograph the subject was challenging, but I came out with “genuine” photos of a leopard searching through the dark for a meal.

It was exciting – the closest I ever got to a leopard in the wild.

After following the leopard for about twenty minutes, he disappeared into an area where our vehicle couldn’t follow, and we called it a night and returned to the lodge. I never had any trouble sleeping. Riding in the vehicles over rough ground and the excitement of spotting the animals took up a surprising amount of energy, and made for a good night’s rest.

Early the next morning, we were off to a game viewing drive in Kruger NP, the final drive.

Elephants on the move, looking for a good place to browse.
Wildebeest looking for a good spot.
You can call them wildebeests or you can call them gnus, either one is correct. They are members of the antelope family.
Giraffes browsing for breakfast.
I believe these were females. Both sexes have “horns” on their head. The males horns are solid and are used for the occasional fight, whereas the females horns are mainly tufts of stiff hairs that look like horns. Females don’t fight.
As one could predict, they walked away after a few minutes because they are giraffes.
This time, the mud hole was occupied by a couple of Cape buffalo, using it to cool off and to protect against parasites and stinging insects.
The elephants are on the bank of the river that feeds a large watering hole. It turned out they were here because the watering hole was occupied by a group of Cape buffalo, who were in turn, quietly fending off a lion pride on the hunt.
Here are the Cape buffalo. Notice how they are clustered, a common defense strategy for herd animals. These are no ordinary herd animals, however. These are Cape buffalo, not wildebeest. They are dangerous because of their horns, which can be lethal to lion or human. Lions are usually after baby buffalo, which are not apparent in this photo.
The buffalo are hanging around the water hole, aware that on the other side of the road (which was bumper to bumper vehicles watching to see what would happen) is a lion pride on the hunt, and so they are naturally cautious.
The lions are not after the buffalo, but are interested in something else. Generally, lions are not anxious to mix it up with buffalo if there is other prey available. We never saw what the lions were focused on.
The bigger females move out first, and appear to be calling for the younger ones to come along.
The younger lions don’t seem very anxious about following, but they aren’t happy at the prospect of being left behind, either.
The juveniles finally decide to follow. The whole pride was about twenty members. I used my telephoto lens to get this close, but the telephoto unfortunately narrows the field of vision, so you don’t see all of the lions.
Not after the Cape buffalo today.
Zebras sticking together.
Wildebeest resting in the late morning sun.
Elephants traveling, probably on their way to a water hole.

HOW DO YOU SPOT A LEOPARD? With difficulty. This was one of my two favorite leopard finds. In my travels, I was lucky (and my guides were good) in seeing a leopard twice in Kenya, and once in Kruger NP in South Africa.

Do you see it? Guides develop intuition and eyesight. On the right side of the tree, what looks like branches from a distance, are his/her legs hanging down.
We moved. Now we are on the other side, and so is the leopard. If you can enlarge the photo, you will see him/her looking at you from the tree branch..
Silhouetted on the branch.
Then, the leopard starts to move. They can literally walk down the trunk of a tree.
The leopard is near the center of the photo. Make it bigger, and you can see the spots.
One last zebra photo, and then we are on our way back to Johannesburg.
Along the way, we visit the Three Rondevals. The geological formation is named after the traditional round mud house with the pointed thatched roof.

We arrived in Johannesburg where I spent a couple of days before flying away. I was sad to leave South Africa, but I was excited to be going to Madagascar, which was a decision I made in Rwanda.

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