Friday, August 12, 2011

Aardvark to Zebras---Going Wild in Africa

Southern Africa's people are fascinating. You could spend 20 years trying to wrap your mind around the complicated history here.

But Africa is just as famous for its wildlife. The Big Five grace book covers and wall hangings and jewelry in every gift shop we stumbled across. People come from all over the world to experience a safari. So a trip to southern Africa just wouldn't be complete for me without checking out a zebra or two in the wild.

I found that first safari trip was just the beginning. Because like Doritos, you can't enjoy just one! Once you try it, you're hooked. We were lucky to spend nearly two full days traipsing after wildlife on this particular trip. And it just whet my appetite for more.

During our stay with the Blessmans we visited Legend Wildlife and Cultural Center near Mokopane, Limpopo Province in South Africa:

Here game keepers and naturalists care for a special strain of lion. We learned that inbreeding has made each generation of white lion more vulnerable to malformation and disease. But through careful cross-breeding with healthy normal lions, it's possible to strengthen the entire white lineage.

White lions are popular on game preserves, and with hunters too. And since wildlife tourism is big money for South Africa, you can see why they'd work hard to keep these animals healthy:

That afternoon we visited Entabene, a private game reserve near the Blessman ranch. An incredible afternoon melted into evening on the enormous preserve:

Looking forward to a great game drive:

You can see the Entabeni ridgeline for miles around:

Ant hill, or aardvark den?

Now you see him, now you don't. A black-backed jackal scuttles through the bush:

Amazingly, some of our best sightings came after dark. Toward sunset our driver, Simon, got a call over the shortwave radio from another jeep in the field. They had come upon a grand old male lion lying asleep by the trail.

He'd been seen eating a fresh gazelle carcass early in the day, and now looked three sheets to the wind. We raced to the spot--then slowly, quietly Simon cut the engine and we sat in awe, watching that big old boy sleep off his meal:

We came upon these rhinos in a ditch by the road. One of the Big Five, rhinos can be aggressive. I felt a bit safer sitting in the center of the jeep when we came up on them:

The next week, we dipped over the border from Zimbabwe's Victoria Falls to spend a full day in one of Botswana's best parks:

In Chobe National Park we expected to see elephants. There were said to be over 60,000 of them. They don't cull the herd, and the elephants have no fear of humans. We got our wish--and then some:

From Elephant bath at Chobe National Park

From Mud slinging baby elephant at Chobe National Park

Some of the best wildlife viewing at Chobe was from the river:

After seeing only the snouts of hippos peeping from their watering holes all day, it was fun to see this (whole) hippo grazing in the marsh:

Watching a warthog family jostle and play:

A scene right out of a National Geographic special--a dung beetle doing its thing:

Traveling to Africa for volunteer work I didn't expect to see so much of the natural world. But maybe because it came as a surprise, I loved it all the more. Like I said about Doritos, you can't try just one--on that last day in Chobe I vowed that someday I'd be back.

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