Friday, March 22, 2013

Day 2 at Sabi Sabi in South Africa

Sunrise at Sabi Sabi
We weren't sure how we could top such an extraordinary first safari, but we tried anyway at 5:30 a.m. the next day.  Early, but the anticipation cured any fatigue.  
We wasted little time before our tracker, the eagle-eyed Richard from the nearby tribe, caught a glimpse of this extraordinary creature out of the corner of his eye lying deep in the weeds:
This leopard was well known to the Sabi Sabi rangers and was affectionately named Sand River.  
He stole our breath.  We spent about 15 minutes watching him alternately perk up, then yawn and fall over asleep. Eventually he decided to start his day, and he almost brushed up against Richard’s leg as he emerged from the long grass.  
Sand River, were were told, was a dominant male who claimed a large part of the southern Sabi Sabi resort as his territory (which we watched him marking with his urine as he sauntered down the dirt path).  

However, his eye had been destroyed recently in a fight with a rival, so his depth perception is no longer accurate.  As a result, he has had to give up taking down large antelopes and other big game, and is now a warthog specialist due to the relative ease in which he can hunt them.  His trademark is to wait on top of huge termite mounds for warthogs to emerge in the morning (warthogs frequently sleep in such mounds at night), and to then pounce on them as they exit unsuspectingly.  Despite Sand River’s ability to continue to fend for himself in the food department, the rangers were doubtful that he will be able to defend his territory for much longer moving forward, as his recent weakness had become apparent to younger, ambitious male leopards.  The laws of nature.
After reluctantly leaving Sand River, our luck continued.  We ran into a baby elephant and its older sibling.  After watching from close-distance for several minutes, we moved on knowing that its protective mother must be somewhere around the bend.
We also saw herds of gentle impalas; a half lizard/half snake reptile called the Rock Monitor; 
the Puff Adder, one of the two most poisonous snakes in the bush (along with Kobe the black mamba being the other); and two male rhinos still young enough that they didn’t mind hanging with each other.  
What are you doing here?
Our evening drive began around 4pm after the sun stopped beating and the animals began to stir again post mid-day slumbers.  
We came across a majestic waterbuck; 
a wart hog with two babies; a discerning hawk; 
some more big grey elephants; 
a lime green boomslang; a spotted genet; wildebeest; birds, birds, birds; and another rhino.  We felt blessed, especially given the abundance of rhinos.  
Unfortunately, many Asian countries prize the rhino horn, mistakenly thinking that if it is ground into powder it will give them health and wealth (and sexual virulence).  This belief is basically hogwash, as rhino horn has no scientifically beneficial properties.  Nevertheless, poaching is decimating their herds across Africa, a problem that will take international cooperation to solve.
Drink break
As the day was wrapping up, we came across a massive male bull.  Before approaching, ranger Joe warned that he could smell that the elephant was in heat but frustrated because all of the local females had already gotten pregnant.  We approached slowly up a steep dirt road and watched as he peered into the distance.  But then he gave us a menacing stare and began to strut towards us like a cocky boxer before a prize fight.  Before I could express my fear, Joe was whipping us backwards down the incline and navigating big ruts, rocks and sharp turns while calmly explaining that “this is how people get killed.”  Cold comfort, but exhilarating.    

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