On our fourth day of safari, we spent the morning looking for the leopard again. As we drove towards known leopard areas, we found two male cheetahs walking on the road. They were clearly hunting. We slowly followed them in the jeep. At one point, one of them actually climbed a tree to look around. Did you know cheetahs climbed trees? I certainly didn’t! After about 10 minutes, they wandered into the bush off the road. We didn’t follow them since we were likely a hinderance to them finding a meal. But we got to hunt with cheetahs twice! Woohoo!
That evening, we went on a night drive starting at 9pm. Nighttime on the bush is very different from the day. There are simply many animals that are nocturnal, rather than diurnal (new $5 word of the day). So the weather was clear enough that night, so we went out. I was a bit anxious about insects since we would be in darkness. So I battened down the hatches by wearing a scarf tight over me head, a fleece, and jeans to prevent insects from hitchhiking. I was ready.
In a night safari drive, the driver uses a spotlight on both sides of road since it is so dark. The only issue is that there were lots of bugs attracted to the light. There were more at this time of year due to the rains. Alas.
For this drive, we decided to hunt again for the leopard and hyenas since both are a bit more nocturnal. Almost off the bat, Uly found us a snake, one of two on the entire trip. It looked brown and small. It was hanging out near the meerkat den.
The most incredible thing was to see green and red eyes staring at us from the bush. There’s a piece of skin, called tapetum lucidum, that reflects light and produces the effect. It’s supposed to help animals see in the dark. Humans don’t have this surface. With these reflecting eyes, we saw a lot of antelope, just hanging out, resting under trees. So wonderfully eerie.
At one point, in a rocky area, we thought we found the leopard based on green eyes in the distance. As we got closer, we discovered that it was a bit too small to be a leopard. We think it was a jennet, a smaller cat. Still nifty!
We spent much of the evening looking for the leopard or hyenas. Sadly, we didn’t find either. But it was amazing to wander around in the darkness. At one point, Uly cut the engine, turned off the spotlight, so we could appreciate the darkness. We could so many stars above us! It was not 100% dark since there were so light haze from a neighboring farm in the distance but it was darker than I’ve experienced. I had an inkling of what it was like to be a person before electricity. This darkness was your daily life.
While we wandered in this darkened landscape, we did find an elephant carcass. It is huge. Quite delightfully unsettling at night. Funny enough, we never saw it during the day!
Most exciting, we ended up finding the lionesses on the main road, clearly out to find some food. They were sitting around but then they wandered away from us. These were the cranky lionesses that charge the vehicle. They didn’t feel the need, which was good. I think it would be scary to happen during the day; nighttime would be down right terrifying. It was amazing to see these creatures with their reflecting eyes near midnight. Later, we could hear them at camp roaring.
At one point, we nearly ran into an ostrich who bolted out in front of our vehicle. He really came from nowhere. Thankfully, we did not since that would have been horrific.
So that’s all for now. Tomorrow is a new day of more day safari!
In our afternoon drive that day, we spent our time looking for the leopard. In preparation for this trip, I learned about the “Big Five” animals. One site says they are the greatest wild animals in Africa; another says they are the hardest animals to hunt on foot. Either way, you try to see all five on safari. The big five are: elephant, rhino, lion, leopard, and water buffalo. At this point of the trip, we had seen the first three. The park didn’t have water buffalo because they can carry diseases that can devastate cattle farms. (There are a lot of cattle farms in Namibia).
The leopard was going to be tricky. Uly said he had seen it eight times in the eight years he had worked at Erindi. Some leopards had electric collars but the battery died and they hadn’t been able to capture one to put a new collar on. So we spent the afternoon searching in known leopard haunts, namely rocky outcroppings. So we drove to some particularly rocky areas and scanned to see if we could find a leopard. We did see a violet starling, which was super cool. We also saw a dik-dik, the smallest antelope. So cute!
At one point, we drove up this road in a hillier area. Imagine a road covered in stones like a cobblestone street…but with no molding to keep it flat. But Mrs. Jones managed to get us up and down it without any issues. I’m sorry I didn’t take a photo; it was really a road of stones that were vaguely flat. While we were up in the hills, Uly spotted some recent leopard tracks from the following night. Incredible! We also watched another thunderstorm come over the horizon. However, we managed to completely avoid it. Instead, we got to see some wonderful African rainbows. That was super neat.
After our jaunt up the hillside, we found an open area where we had our afternoon drinks and snacks. We did see two giant hawks gliding over the area. Very impressive. And there is this moment that I’ll never forget. I was drinking my appletizer (fizzy apple juice) with my cheesy crackers. I realized that I was standing over a small amount of antelope dung, tiny pellets. They are everywhere. And I didn’t care. It seemed so natural for me to be eating and drinking. I love it!
On the way home, we ran into another eagle, hanging out in a tree. We watched him for awhile as the birders tried to identify him. He was extremely majestic. Then when we were close to base camp, we also saw two owls. They were massive. It’s crazy but I don’t think I’ve ever seen owls in the wild before. So that was super neat.
As the sun began to set, we also got to experience a most peculiar mating ritual of the red breasted coran. When the bird is courting or alerting others to his presence, it will fly up in the air and then immediately stop flapping its wings. It then drops like a rock but manages to pull up before it hits the ground. Such a crazy thing to watch!
So may not have found the leopard, but we did find some other amazing animals. Goodness, I love safari.
That’s all for now. Tomorrow, we’ll talk about our night safari.
Check it out!
Originally posted on That Belongs in a Museum!:
This month we have two new catalogs on our site:
Inside you’ll learn about a mysterious animal hairball, a musical instrument you can make with parts from the hardware store, surprise finds from auctions, and lots of other objects and stories.
On our third day, we decided to opt for a special drive: the Cheetah Walk. This was the only drive where we had a different guide. Going into this, we thought that we’d go for a stroll on a road with a cheetah. We were a tad mistaken. The cheetah walk meant tracking the cheetah with a radio collar. Then we leave the jeep to hike to where the cheetah is. Then we hang out and follow the cheetah if he or she decides to go places. Craziness! As a rule, you never left the vehicle. So this was a completely new experience for us!
We set off for our afternoon drive. Just outside the gates of the lodge, there was a small colony of meerkats. Three of them. They were so adorable. They came out to check out the truck. At different points, all three of them ended up underneath the parked truck, which was a bit nerve-wracking. One of them had been hand reared so he was very comfortable with humans. He rubbed himself against the tire of the truck. Then he started to dig where the truck was dripping water. So cute. The rangers were trying to catch them to bring them back into the conservation area set aside for them. They explained that there weren’t enough meerkats for them to survive by themselves.
Then we were off to see the rhinos. They can’t put tracking collars on the rhinos since poachers can use the frequency to hunt them. Horrible. So we had to hope that we could find one of them at a favorite haunt. As we were driving by another watering hole, my friend shouted, “There he is.” She had turned around and had seen this incredible brown colored beast grazing. It was a black rhino covered in mud. We kept our distance from him (all the guides knew the comfort level of all the animals). But the rhino decided to trot off into the bush. I feel incredibly lucky to have seen a rhino in the wild. I fear that this might be something that I tell my grandchildren about. I hope I’m wrong but I fear that the economics aren’t good in favor of the rhino.
Also, my friend taught me an important lesson: look to your left and right and behind you when on safari. You will catch some amazing things. That’s how she found the rhino.
After our incredible rhino sighting, we drove up to another small mountain/large hill. Over in the distance, we could see a very nasty thunderstorm coming across the park. It was super exciting to see the dark clouds rolling in and see the rain in the distance. Lightening would occasionally strike, sometimes three times at once! There we heard stories about how they once found the leopard there. The trick with the leopard is to walk away slowly, ignoring it, but you never turn your back. That’s how you survive. Not exactly the most reassuring thing to hear!
Then it was time to return to base camp and deal with the storm. As we descended the rocky outcropping, our friend spotted little eyes from a hole. Another aardwolf! I think it was new for the rangers too! These tiny black eyes and big ears peaked from the hole. So cute. We continued our descent. It started to rain a bit as we began to return to the lodge.
In the midst of it, we stumbled upon Goldie again, sitting in the middle of an open area, no cover from the thunderstorm. He was a little bit more alert this time but not by much. We drove around him, caught some magnificent yawns. Then it was time to face the storm. We all got prepped, positioned our blankets and scarves.
Then the storm came upon us. It was a doozy. It rained so hard that the drops stung when they hit us. My fiancé and I used our hats as shields to block the rain hitting our faces. It actually worked rather well. Then the rain became less painful. That’s when we noticed that all the roads were now effectively rivers. This was the desert, so there wasn’t a lot of water beforehand….For the first time in my life, I was really concerned the jeep was going to stall and we were going to have to be rescued from the bush. But Mrs. Jones kept her reputation. Uly and Mrs. Jones got us home safe and sound. It was really remarkable!
I got my first African thunderstorm. Woohoo!
That’s all for now!
On our second day, our morning drive was initially filled with birds. We had companions in the jeep who were bona fide birdwatchers. We slowed down a little bit and took a longer time to look at the birds. At one point, we came across storks wading in a pond early in the morning. It was simply magnificent watching them. So idyllic.
After a few hours of birding, it became all about big cats. One of the rangers managed to track down two lionesses hidden in the bush. It was the most incredible experience. Uly would just plow through bushes and past trees so we could get to them. The two of them were just lying under a shady tree. They are generally cranky and, like Stompy, also they charge the trucks occasionally. They did growl a few times at us, which made my heart race. Thankfully, nothing more happened. One of the lionesses was named “Yoda”. Apparently, many of the animals were named after Star Wars characters, which is pretty cool.
Then we got word that the male lion of the pair was spotted. So we drove to find him. Like the other two lionesses, he was lying underneath a tree. He barely acknowledged us. So sleepy. But he was huge! His paws were enormous.
Then we got word that cheetahs were spotted. So we were off further into the bush to find them. It was incredible how the terrain changed so much. We’d go from bushes and trees with beige soil to just bushes with red soil, and so on. It felt that traveling five minutes in any direction would change the landscape. So neat.
We came across the two cheetahs, also lazing about in the shade. I had heard that big cats spend a lot of time resting about. I fell in love with these cheetahs. They are such beautiful animals. One of them kept rolling in the opposite direction from the camera. Shy!
The rest of the morning and early afternoon was spent lounging on the deck of the restaurant facing the watering hole. The temperature was perfect; I was shaded and curled up with my best book. During that time, I listened to the hippos making their grunts. They even walked out of the water during the hottest time and grazed on land. It was amazing to watch a small herd of hippos wander about, bobbing their heads as they walked.
And then I finally saw the wild dogs. I was lazily reading when I had this feeling. I grabbed my binoculars and looked to see a whole pack of wild dogs hanging out on a small rocky outcropping. There were at least a dozen of them. Then they wandered across the plains and disappeared into the bush. I counted fourteen of them. A while later, I saw them running back from the bush back to the outcropping. It was so neat to see these relations of our dogs.
That’s all for now! We’ll talk about our afternoon drive tomorrow!