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In South Africa: Here are my wildlife November 11, 2010

Posted by Jenny in memoir, nature, wildlife.
Tags: , ,

Reedbuck and impala on alert. Click twice on any photo for full zoom.

For an introduction about my recent trip to South Africa, go here. I wrote about elephant in a separate post.

Why “my wildlife”? I don’t own these animals, not by a long shot. I have no feeling of ownership about any part of nature. But I chose that title because what you see here is my personal experience of South African wildlife—an experience full of limitations, imperfections, and accidental events, yet one that permanently belongs to me. You won’t find any great wildlife photography here, you’ll only see what one person encountered on a few enchanted days, in and around Kruger National Park.

I encountered this creature on a morning walk around the Sabiepark Nature Reserve. It looked very comfortable near the parking area.

The giraffe seems to have parked itself at the parking lot

I saw the animal below at Kruger, on our night drive, before it got dark. Arnold tried to pull the wool over my eyes with some story about the males having white stripes on black, and the females having black stripes on white, or maybe it was the other way around.

All I know is, I like the stripes

Later that night, we heard the unsettling cries of a hyena as it loped right past the house in the dark hours. We got a glimpse of one in the morning.

The round ears were poking up in the grass

We encountered an ample supply of Cape buffalo.

You do want to yield the right of way

They are one of the most dangerous animals in the park.


Best not to irritate one of these

We saw impala everywhere, but I never got tired of them.


Impala are lovely and delicate

I liked this little guy up in a tree.

Vervet monkey

Not long after we crossed paths with an extended family of monkeys, we saw the reedbuck and impala shown at the top of the post. They were wary of something. A little down the road we saw what it was.

She was stalking the impala

It’s not a great shot, but hey, it probably gives you a better feel for the actual experience of spotting lion than one of those gorgeous, crystal-clear shots you find in places like National Geographic!

A male followed just behind

It was a group—I guess the collective noun is “pride”—of perhaps ten lions that moved stealthily, steadily toward the gathering of impala. It was that particular form of motion, that stalking, that sticks in my memory the best. We picked out first one, then another, then another, all moving in that marvelous fluid way. The group of impala made nervous little chirping sounds but stood their ground until the last moment, then successfully bounded away.

By the way, we had the incredible luck to see a mating pair of lions later in the day. They loll about next to each other for two or three days, rousing themselves every half hour or so to do it again. Quite something. You will have to take my word for it, as I got no photo of it. If Sonja sends me one of hers taken with her giant lens, I will add it here.

I can only offer, as a very poor consolation prize, my X-rated baboon photo.

Over in a few seconds. I think they're missing out on something...

We saw a whole bunch of hippo ears sticking out of a big pond.

Hippos, with bird in tree overhead

At the Skukuza rest camp, we had some company near our picnic table.

Lots of beady little eyes

All along, we had hoped to see leopard, but Arnold and Sonja said it would be unusual to spot one in the height of the afternoon. We lucked out. Several cars had pulled over, having detected a tell-tale long spotted tail hanging down from a branch. I guess the leopard, being at the top of the food chain, doesn’t care that much if it is spotted (sorry about that!) taking a nap. We saw one in one tree…

This leopard was having a good snooze

…and its mate in a neighboring tree.

The branch looks quite comfortable

I saw this waterbuck with Klaas and Carol the next morning.

They have a distinctive ring around the rump

And we encountered several rhino.

Foraging in the dry grass

A few hours after that morning drive, I had to catch a plane and return to reality.

P.S. I don’t know where else to put the following anecdote, so I’ll tack it on here. I had completed the Nelspruit-to-Johannesburg leg of my return journey and the killer Johannesburg-to-Atlanta leg, a 16-hour blear-fest for someone like me who can never sleep on planes. On the final Atlanta-to-Asheville leg, I dragged myself onto the tiny aircraft and slumped into my seat.  Out came a stewardess who said, “I would like to introduce you to Maggie, our new flight attendant in training. This is her very first flight on the job.” We all spontaneously clapped in cheerful support of the extremely young and slightly nervous-looking Maggie. Then it came time for her to go through the usual blather about fastening seat belts, exit rows, seat backs and tray tables, turning off all portable electronic devices, etc., etc. Reading carefully from her script, Maggie gave it the sort of dramatic pauses and emphasis that you would expect from an actor going through an important audition. Her voice rose and fell in theatrical changes of pitch— she looked up from her card at intervals to make sure we were all gripped with the intensity of the moment—and at last her voice faded gently with the words, “If Captain Busby or any of our flight crew can assist you in any way, please just let us know…”  And for that we gave her a well-deserved ovation. Best of luck in your career, Maggie!



1. Thomas Stazyk - November 11, 2010

Fantastic pics from a trip of a lifetime! I love the second cape buffalo picture. I once read a book that talked about which of the Big Five is the most dangerous–different hunters all had different rankings, but a few put the buffalo at number one and one guy said, “They look at you like you owe them money.” That picture proves it!

Jenny - November 11, 2010

Yes, as I understand it, buffalo have been responsible for the greatest number of injuries and deaths to humans in the park—not lion or leopard.

2. TWL - November 11, 2010

These are astounding and awesome photographs. I can only imagine what it must be like to have seen the lions in the brush.

I recently took one of my daughters to the Miami Zoo and fed the giraffes. You walk up two flights of stairs and are confronted by these gentle, giant faces, with heads as big as lounge chairs, bobbing on ridiculously long necks. They softly use black tongues to take kale from your hand.

I know it sounds (and I admit is) tacky. But we just laughed outloud the whole time. Of course, I do not feed wildlife in the wild.

Having seen these pictures, I want to go to Africa, but I get the sense you had special access, going with locals who know the Park so well.

Jenny - November 12, 2010

Those giraffes at the Miami Zoo sound absolutely wonderful! I loved seeing giraffes on my morning walk at Sabiepark. There they were, very close, looking at me, amazing animals seemingly designed with a sense of whimsy.

3. Roon - November 11, 2010

Very evocative presentation, Jenny. Re your mating lions, the only time I saw lions at it was at Cologne Zoo, where a very feisty young lioness was badgering an exhausted-looking old pasha to do his stuff. She would nudge and nip him where he lay trying to snooze off the last bout until he gave a huge yawn, got up slowly with a martyred expression and went through the motions again. And again. Made me feel that the life of an old lion with lusty young mates must be trying at times…

Jenny - November 12, 2010

Great description, Roon! Well, I imagine there could be worse problems for an aging male lion than dealing with these demanding younger females…

4. kaslkaos - November 12, 2010

Don’t be so modest- really love the top pic and how the impala just blend in with their surroundings. And I love your thoughts on photography, that these are ‘your’ pictures and therefore have a whole new meaning, and truly the fuzzy lion stalking photo’s do tell the tale better than something crisp and perfect. Great photo essay.

Jenny - November 12, 2010

Thank you!

5. Chris - November 12, 2010

Wow, Jenny, this is an incredible post. Makes me want to go Kruger.

Jenny - November 12, 2010

I hope you have a chance to go, Chris.

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