That day started like most others, there wasn’t much to see at first. But when we drove down to the first water pan it received a whole new dynamic. There were more than one hundred water buffalos drinking and rolling around in the mud. It was like at one of those Open Airs when people don’t care anymore if they get dirty.
There were also a couple of hippos taking their turns and at least one or two crocodiles. But for once those two weren’t the ones getting into a fight. This time it took some elephants for it. But first the zebras and impalas arrived to enjoy their morning drink. And pretty much when they were done those elegant giants showed up. First there were only three males making sure the area was clear and then there was the rest of the herd. More than fifty animals showed up. From the smallest baby elephant to the biggest 6t fully grown bull – it was spectacular.
And they could have all coexisted peacefully but there was one idiot ruining it again, this time a teenage elephant. He was kind of the clown of the group, walking backwards, taking twists and gaining a lot of joy out of his attacks on the water buffalos. Once more the strong one against the weak one, the aggressive one against the peacefully one – it almost seems like a law of nature. And while the attacked water buffalos tried to avoid the bully, the other ones stayed calm and carried on.
As if we hadn’t had enough elephant action already our next stop was with a baby elephant and his mother. While the mother was feeding from a small tree, the little one was still overwhelmed by his new features. He was impressed by his huge ears and how he could wave them and even more impressed by his trunk. He was swinging it around and trying to imitate his mother by stripping off some leaves from a bush. Eventually he was holding a branch and carrying it around like a trophy.
Exhausted by all these impressions we had to process, we took a lunch break at one of the picnic sites. While enjoying the lunch we had prepared on the braai we named the animals we haven’t seen so far and would still love to see. It came down to the cheetah, the rhino, the male lion and the wild dog, plus all sorts of cups.
And not long after we took off we saw an entire line of cars at the side of the road and one of the observers whispered this magical word to us – cheetah. And there she was, sitting on the grass, calm and elegant and of an immense beauty, constantly checking out her surroundings. And then there was another one not far from her and both had that relaxed appearance and a belly that looked unnaturally big. As we later figured out, they had just eaten an impala and didn’t need to hunt anymore for the next 2-3 days. So, they were hanging around on this spot for hours, sitting, lying, cleaning their fur behaving pretty much like my parent’s house cat Chester. When we finally left the scenery, we were glowing a little bit from the inside, grateful that we were given the opportunity to observe an animal of such an immense beauty.
As this was one of the few days with a good chance for a nice sunset and one of the even fewer days where we arrived before 4pm at the camp we decided to book a sunset drive. As you are not allowed to drive after 5.30pm this was the only way to see nocturnal animals. After all we had seen already that day, we didn’t expect much but had to process even more after this three-hour drive.
When the ranger asked the group what we would like to see, we were joking that we want to see rhinos, cheetahs, leopards and lions not knowing that almost all those wishes would get fulfilled. First, we stopped for a couple of zebras but then out of nowhere the number one on our list appeared, a white rhino. It was only a brief appearance but long enough to take an amazing photo. As they are a popular target for poaching, their sights do not get reported and we even thought that there weren’t anymore rhinos at Kruger National Park, but obviously we were wrong. There she was walking with her fully-grown horn, big and majestic. Ticking off this box completed our big five list, but as this list is based on how difficult and prestigious it is to hunt those animals, we renamed the list to the secret five.
Afterwards we saw a fully-grown kudu, some elephants and a male pumba until we entered that area with the cheetahs again. And there they were still chilling, but what we hadn’t seen the first time, was that there was a third member of their group also chilling and enjoying the benefits of their successful hunt.
Meanwhile the sun was down, and the time of the nocturnal animals begun. We saw a large-spotted genet that looked like a cat with a too long tail, an owl was scanning the area and then there was probably the most exiting close encounter we had experienced so far. A male lion walking down the street taking the same direction as us. When we stopped right next to him, he also stopped and stared at us. There he was, fully grown with his prestigious mane, starring at us. Even though we knew that he only saw the whole truck as an object and not us as his prey, it was scary to stare into his eyes from less than three meters. When we drove off we all felt a bit saver but also a bit proud as we had just survived a close encounter with one of the deadliest animals on the planet.