Tag Archives: Elephant

Zimbabwe Africa Safari: One Thing We Did That Takes Nerve

After tracking the Big 5 in South Africa, we set our sights on one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World, Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe.

This led to an interesting encounter that took a bit of nerve — more about that later.  This area of Africa is at the cross section of 4 countries: Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia.

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

You’ve probably seen Niagra Falls – an enormous waterfall that borders the USA and Canada. Victoria Falls, bordering Zimbabwe and Zambia has been billed as the greatest falling curtain of water on this planet, making it one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.

Victoria Falls

It is enormous and awe-inspiring. There are some small pools of water at the edge of the falls and we saw people swimming right up to the edge of the falls, we did not have time to do that but it would have been incredible.

Victoria Falls Zimbabwe


Zambezi River Sunset Cruise

The Zambezi River feeds Victoria Falls and we took a sunset cruise along the banks of the river. It’s all you-can-drink as you meander down the river. Arriving at the launch point, we saw warthogs grazing on the property.

Zambezi River Warthogs

It’s interesting that they take a kneeled posture to get closer to the ground as they graze. You can see that a lot of the grass has been cleared by their efforts.

Zambezi River Warthogs Kneeling

In South Africa, elephants eluded us until our last day and were the last of the Big 5 we spotted. On the sunset cruise, it took all of 5 minutes to spot an elephant drinking from the river.

We also saw a hippo family with a baby hippo following close behind.

Zambezi River Hippos

As we floated quietly down the river, we saw a tower of giraffes feeding. The guide said that it is not an everyday occasion to see a giraffe. As we cruised down the river, sipped on cocktails and took in the view, we discovered how unencumbered wildlife is in Africa.


Lion Encounter

Earlier, I mentioned that we did something that takes a bit of nerve. Just outside of Victoria Falls is an active conservation program called Lion Encounter. Here, you can get up close and personal with lions.

Lion Encounter Petting

These lions are actually cubs – 19 months old. They were born in this conservation park and will eventually be put into the wild. Lion Encounter was started to raise money to conserve lions and to prevent poaching.

Are these lions tame? No, they are wild animals and they hunt game right in the conservation park. The rangers told us that this pair recently killed a baboon and zebra. However, they’ve become accustomed to people and aren’t likely to attack. In our group, there was a ranger with a gun (just in case), nicknamed Rambo!

During your visit, you can walk with the lions. You must carry a stick because in the unlikely event they get unruly, it takes their mind off attacking you if you dangle the stick in front of them.

Lion Encounter Walk

It was a treat to spend time with these magnificent beasts and to learn about the conservation efforts to prevent them from becoming extinct.

Lion Encounter Cubs

Would you have the nerve to walk with them?


Chobe Game Reserve in Botswana

Just a 2-hour drive from Victoria Falls is a game reserve called Chobe.  It’s unique in that it offers a river and land safari so you get to see wildlife in their native habitat from boat and land cruiser. We started our adventure by boat and as we cruised out to the Zambezi River, you immediately appreciate the scenery.

Chobe Marine Island

Pictures don’t do justice to how pretty this place is. You see all kinds of wildlife, like the Cape Buffalo grazing below.

Chobe Marine Hippos

Crocodiles and hippos bask in the sun and you see more birds than you can easily recognize.

Chobe Crocadiles

Chobe Hippos

Chobe Birds

As we meandered down the river, we saw a heard of elephant crossing the river ahead. They don’t seem fazed by the depth of the water, they just swim until they reach the other side.

Chobe Elephants

The younger elephants stop on the other side to play in the mud, using their trunk to stream mud and water onto their back.

Chobe Elephants Playing

As you cruise down the river, you cross over from Botswana to Namibia. As you cruise the river, you see hard-to-reach villas lining the shore.

Namibia Villas

There is even a bar and restaurant called “The Raft” that is only accessible by boat.

Namibia Floating Bar

Many of the locals live along the shore and take a water taxi to get to the mainland each day.

Namibia Water Taxis

After the water safari, we boarded a land cruiser and continued our journey. Not as impressive as the water safari but it does offer a different view.

Chobe Land Cruiser

Along the way, we saw giraffe, monkeys, impala, and kudu.

Chobe Giraffe

Chobe Monkeys

Chobe Impala

Chobe Kudo

Giraffes are built to eat from the tree tops, it is funny to watch them try to graze on grass.

Chobe Giraffe Kneeling


Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed this post on our trip to Africa. We also visited Cape Town, South Africa, a beautiful port side city, we will chronicle that trip in a few weeks.

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I’ll leave you with a final picture of the view we had from the Chobe Marine water safari, couldn’t you imagine hanging out here for a while?

Zambezi River View

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South Africa Safari: Bet you can’t name the Big 5

Imagine visiting a land where giants roam the bush with indifference for humankind. True indifference — you’re not a staple of their diet yet they aren’t intimidated or scared of you. That’s when it hits you – Africa is a spectacularly unique destination.

Kapama Private Game Reserve

As you meet others that have visited Africa, the first question is almost always

“did you see the Big 5?”

As soon as we landed in Hoedspruit, South Africa, we were met by a young, funny and quick witted ranger named Ruan. He whisked us off to the Kapama Private Game Reserve. Along the way, he said we would be driving through the private game reserve to our lodge and that we would be on alert for animals along the way.

Young Ranger for Kapama Private Game Reserve

Ruan asked “what did you come to Africa to see?“. I quickly said “elephants and lions” and he said “Can you name the African Big 5?“. Big 5, eh?  Not sure but my guess is “elephant, lion, hippo, giraffe, and zebra”. Well, I got 2 of the Big 5 right, they are:

  • Lion
  • Elephant
  • Black Rhino
  • Cape Buffalo
  • Leopard

Just minutes on the way to our lodge we spot a giraffe. We’ve all seen this lanky animal at the zoo but to see it within a stone’s throw away was amazing.  We stopped as it contemplated drinking from a nearby watering hole.

Giraffe

It quickly spotted cousins and made its way to join the pack flanked by a lone zebra. By the way, a group of the giraffe is called a Tower, you can kinda see why:

Tower of Giraffe

At that moment, Ruan grabs his binoculars and excitingly focuses them in the distance. He sees something a half mile away and tells us to hold on. With dust flying and our backs pasted to the seat, we go flying down the road to come to an abrupt stop. As if seeing it for the first time, Ruan exclaims that one of the more difficult-to-find of the Big 5 is just ahead. He kills the engine and we wait as the giants make their way within feet of our land cruiser.

Rhinos

If you’ve never seen a Rhino in person or especially without any protection between you and this mammoth animal, it’s a bit intimidating.

Rhino

Ruan explains the plight of Rhino. They are often poached for their horns, as just a small section of the horn can sell for over $100,000. When Rhinos mate, it can last for up to 45 minutes and local folklore mistakenly suggests that eating Rhino horn can increase your stamina. Go figure. It’s become a huge problem in South Africa, about 2,000 of these wonderful animals have been poached in the last year.

As we continue our journey to the lodge, we see a few more animals, mostly antelope. In less than an hour, we’ve already spotted one of the Big 5.

Wow, this is going to be a great trip! 


Kapama Karula Lodge

Once we arrive at the lodge, we are greeted by name by the staff at Kapama Karula. This professional staff is very welcoming and give us a tour of the place. Their reputation is well deserved — they realize you’ve come a long way at considerable expense and want to ensure that you enjoy the absolute best experience possible.

After providing refreshments, they show us to our private villa, an incredible lodge complete with a huge deck with a private pool with direct views of the bush.

Kapama Karula Pool

View from the pool

The accommodations are 5-star, with beautiful architecture. It comes with a fireplace, private pool, indoor and outdoor showers, soaking tub and incredible furnishings. The staff explains that the mini bar is fully stocked, anything we desire in food and drink is at no additional cost — enjoy everything they have to offer.

Kapama Karula Bedroom

Kapama Karula Bathroom


Twice Daily Game Drives

Each day, we were awakened at 5:30 a.m. for our first game drive. It’s a bit cold — South Africa is in the southern hemisphere so our summer is their winter. Most days, it starts out at about 50 degrees Fahrenheit. We make our way to the restaurant for a quick snack before we start our game drive. We again are greeted by name by our assigned waiter. His name is Themba, a native South African with a kind manner and eager spirit. We sit by the fire as we enjoy a cappuccino and pastries as we anticipate our day.

At 6 a.m., it’s time for our first-morning game drive. Ruan introduces us to our tracker, a native South African named Nick that grew up in the bush. As a young boy, Nick learned to read animal tracks to determine which way animals are migrating. Nick sits at the front of the land cruiser and instructs Ruan as to where to go as he reads fresh tracks along our path. The picture below is not of Nick (it was another oncoming tracker), but it illuminates the vulnerable position of the tracker — they can be very close and unprotected from big game.

Safari Tracking

Although chilly, they provide blankets and a warming pad for the morning game drive. My hope was that we would see a lion today and it wasn’t long before Nick was hot on the trail of a pride of lions that we quickly found.

Lioness

The lioness had cubs that were just a few weeks old. They were running around playfully, learning to become quick and nimble. In the afternoon game drive, Ruan told us of 3 male lions called “the 3 brothers” that had formed an alliance to take over the pride from an older lion. The brothers were about 4 years old and during the day they would hunt independently and come together at night. We were fortunate to track the 3 brothers on the first night and saw them at dusk taking a nap.

The next day during our drive, we spotted one of the 3 brothers out hunting. We watched as he walked across the bush in search of a warthog, one of their main staples.

Lion on the Prowl

As we approached the massive lion, he seemed oblivious. It was a bit eery as he made his way within feet of our land cruiser. If he made a quick jump, we could be his next meal.

Lions in Kapama Private Game Reserve

He had his sights set upon a warthog just a few hundred feet ahead. The lion began to crouch as he made his way towards the warthog who got spooked and luckily made it safely out of harm’s way.

Warthog

On our second day, we heard that the most elusive of animals had been spotted nearby. It was the leopard, many people on safari never get a glimpse of this elusive animal. We raced out to the spot where he was last seen and as we arrived, he was making his way to the road, spraying his scent as he marked his territory.

Leopard in Kampala Private Game Reserve

As the leopard approached our land cruiser, Ruan warned us to not make any quick movements and not to stand up. I nervously snapped a few pics as the leopard walked a foot from our cruiser.

Leopard up close

After seeing the leopard, Ruan and Nick spotted buffalo tracks. Within 10 minutes, we came across a buffalo heard making their way to their morning drink.

Buffalo in Kampala South Africa

We watched as they drank and playfully splashed around in the pond.

Buffalos at a Watering Hole in Kampala

Wow, in just two days we’ve seen 4 of the Big 5.


In Search of Elephants

Lynn and Ruan have similar personalities. Both are great conversationalist, fun loving and are always joking and teasing, so they got along well. Lynn kept teasing Ruan because he would see animal scat (like a huge pile of Rhino dung) and would pick it up, inspect it for what the animal had recently eaten in an effort to help Nick track its location.

Since we had not seen elephant to round out our Big 5, Lynn and Ruan made a bet. Lynn told Ruan that if he would find elephants, she would pick up some elephant dung. If you know Lynn, she is a slight germaphobe, so picking up dung would certainly be out of character.

It was our last morning drive and we had yet to see any elephants. Ruan and Nick spent all morning tracking elephants. They spotted tracks and sectioned off quadrants of where they thought the elephant would be. But they were elusive, each time we thought we got close to seeing them, they were nowhere to be found.

Although we saw lots of other animals along the way, I could sense that Ruan and Nick were frustrated that we could not find elephants. We saw zebra, antelope, and Impala.

Zebra in South Africa

Antelopes in South Africa

South African Antelope

As we were finishing our last morning drive, we stumbled on a heard of hippos getting a bit of vitamin D.

Hippo lounging in Kampala

They are loud and rambunctious. We learned that hippos are the most dangerous of all African animals — big, nasty and can sprint at 35 miles per hour on those short legs. If you are between them and their watering hole, you could be in great danger.

We returned from our last morning drive without seeing an elephant. We had scheduled a massage at the lodge spa and that wiped away the disappointment of the elusive elephant. Lynn and I get massages often and we left the spa both thinking that this was the best massage we’ve ever had. The masseuses at Kapama Karula are simply the best.


Settling the Bet

It’s now our last game drive at the Kapama private game reserve and elephants have been elusive. Ruan and Nick are feeling the pressure of their bet with Lynn. They want to track an elephant in return for Lynn stepping out of her comfort zone in picking up and inspecting elephant dung.

We spend hours tracking fresh elephant tracks. Each time we feel we are close to finding them, we speed up to the area they should be and we see no sign of them. It doesn’t look like we are going to see them this trip, but 4 of the Big 5 isn’t bad. I can the see frustration in Ruan and Nick’s eyes as we drive mile after mile with the same result.

Earlier, Lynn and I told Ruan about a recent movie we saw that we really loved called Baby Driver. It is a story about this young gifted driver that was the getaway driver for a gang of robbers. If you haven’t seen the movie, it is a must — one of the best movies we’ve seen in a long time.  Ruan is a great ranger and incredible driver, so much so that Lynn teased Ruan as being “Baby Driver”.

The sun is setting, it’s our last game drive. The prospects of finding elephant look dim and Ruan apologizes to Lynn for not spotting any elephants. We stopped at a water hole and Ruan asked if Lynn would still pick up the elephant dung. Lynn’s a good sport and decided to do it even though we had not seen an elephant.  The picture below doesn’t do it justice, but Lynn was squirming back and forth as she handled the dung.

Lynn and Baby Driver picking up elephant dung

We decided to make our way back to the lodge and along the way, Nick spots more elephant dung and fresh tracks. Ruan quickly reverses the land cruiser in the direction of the tracks and speeds forward. After a couple of turns, I hear Ruan exclaim “there they are!“. In front of us stood not just one, but a huge herd of elephants.

Elephant in South Africa

Mission accomplished.


Conclusion

I hope you enjoyed this post on our trip to Africa. We visited a lot more areas than just Kapama, I will be chronicling those visits in the coming weeks.

If you are not subscribed to our blog and would like to subscribe so that new posts come directly to your email, scroll up to the right top section of this page and type in your email address.

I’ll leave you with a final picture of the view we had each day at the end of a game drive as we made our way back to the Kapama Karula lodge.

Sunset at Kapama Karula

If you are planning an African safari, I can’t say enough about the warmness of the staff at Kapama Karula lodge. If you want to learn more about Kapama Karula lodge, click here.