South African Safari
Our South African Safari Adventure began with 24 hours of flights terminating in Johannesburg, South Africa.
After collecting our baggage we were met outside Customs by our Safari host.
After a several hour drive, we had passed well into the Northern Transvaal through Ellisras towards the Botswana border.
We stayed in a private home with a hunting lodge, deep in the bush, 91 miles from the nearest services. Despite its remote location, the accommodations were splendid. The home was a very grand clay block and thatched roof home with every modern convenience which would be equally suited on the beach front in Hawaii or on a California Country Club. The home was equipped with satellite television as well as an internet connection.
The home was staffed by several servants who prepared our meals, looked after our accommodations and washed & ironed our laundry each night as we slept. Each morning, we would find our fresh laundry at the foot of our bed.
In South Africa, the daily wage of a laborer is a couple dollars, so assistance is abundant. In addition to the house staff, and our Professional Hunter, we also had a skinner, porters to carry out the large game and a teenaged "gate opener" named Whiskey, whose job it was to jump out of the truck and open and shut fences as we crossed the various ranches.
Four porters, the PH and I carry a Greater Kudu from the field.
We were hunting South African Plains Game. The local game included several species of antelope, several species of grazing beasts, warthogs, zebra, wild dogs, jackals, assorted monkeys and baboons, leopards and caracal cats. Our hunting day began before sun-up and lasted until around 11:00am, at which time we would return to breakfast and a late morning nap.
Our hunting day would continue at 2:00pm and last until dark. In the evening we would dawn spotlights instead of rifles and observe the nocturnal wildlife.
We primarily hunted several dairy and cattle ranches which were dozens of miles across. The typical hunting day began with a long jeep ride.
After arriving at the hunting location of the day, we would glass the terrain in search of animals.
When a group of animals were of interest, we would stalk the group in an effort to more closely observe the animals.
All of the animals have excellent defensive skills which include, keen eye sight, sensitive hearing, agility, stealth and adaptability to terrain. It is often difficult to observe the animal in its native habitat.
A herd of zebra leave the grass for the safety of a tree line
A female Nyala peers out of the bush
While on our hunt, we took a mixed bag of plains game including the Blue Wildebeest, the Impala, the Blesbuck, the Caracal or Roecat, the Gemsbok, the Mountain Reedbuck or Reebok, the Wart Hog, the Klipspringer and the Greater Kudu.
The Wildebeest is a food staple in the bush. It has the upper body of a bull on the legs of a horse. It is a very strong and fast running animal. Its a herding animal often observed in groups of 30 or more. Its flesh is mild, remarkably tender, deep red in color and extremely lean. It was comparable to the finest steak I had ever enjoyed. Of all of the animals we consumed in South Africa, this was our favorite.
Back at the lodge, the skinner prepares the horns and skull and salts the hide in preparation for the taxidermist.
Perhaps the most well adapted of all antelope is the Impala. At 90 to 110 pounds the mature Impala is capable of running in excess of 40 miles per hour and have a vertical leap well in excess of 8 feet high.
The Impala is abundant in the South African Plains and are also a food staple in the local markets. As we traveled across ranches, herds of hundreds of Impala could be observed running ahead of the jeep and leaping over 8 to 10 foot game fences intended to keep them outside of the grazing areas for the domestic herds.
Perhaps the most impressive of the antelope is the Greater Kudu. Standing an impressive 5 feet at the shoulder, the Kudu male sports horns which reach lengths of nearly five feet. In the bush, they are often hard to see despite their majestic size and appearance. After stalking this animal for well over an hour, Carlee stumbled and fell, creating just enough noise to send this buck on its way.
On our hunt, our PH misjudged this Kudu which measured a mere 43" and was immature. Still, it is a beautiful animal.
The male Kudu typically travel alone or in small bachelor herds until breeding season. When the breeding season begins, the Kudu become very territorial as they seek to protect their cows. Typically, the stronger bull wins out, however, in the the case of this pair of locked horns I found in a field, a horn of the victorious bull penetration into the eye socket and brain of its opponent, resulting in a mortal wound. With 1,000 pounds of defeated opponent stuck to the victorious bull's horn, it was unable to eat or drink, or free himself. Finally, time took its toll on the victorious bull.
The scattered bones of these two fallen Greater Kudu, littered the field for 100 yards in each direction.
Among the most fascinating species in South Africa is the Wart Hog. The Wart Hog is a very agile, wily and often aggressive beast which resides in large holes in the ground. The Wart Hog is the only species on this hunt which we did not consume as we were advised by our PH the animal is not fit for eating, although it appeared the skinner and the porters found it suitable.
The Blesbok is an antelope with a shoulder height of 3 and 1/2 feet at maturity. It resides in open grass land and relies on speed and agility to elude predators.
While bow hunting on a neighbor's cattle ranch, the farmer found an uneaten freshly killed Spring Buck which was buried beneath leaves. Having experienced the loss of livestock, he concluded the predator was a Caracal or Roecat as the Africans refer to the cat. The farmer asked if we would return after dark and hunt over the kill. We returned that evening and shot this Caracal as it returned to eat its prey.
The Caracal is very similar in appearance to the North American Lynx. This particular cat was about 5 feet in length and quite capable of killing livestock.
Roecat - Caracal
The Gemsbok, or Oryx, grows to around 4 feet at shoulder. Both sexes grow long sharp horns which are at times used defensively. Gemsbok are nomadic and travel great distances in search of suitable grazing land. This mature animal had significant brushing of its horns which was a sign of age and considerable experience defending territory.
Gemsbok - Oryx
The Klipspringer or Rock Hopper as the PH referred to it, is a small antelope which bears hollow quills rather than hairs. It is agile, and almost invisible in its preferred habitat.
Although it was not originally on our species list, the keen eye of the PH observed this outstanding buck with horns which at slightly longer than 5" makes it a monster among Klipspringers.
One of the more elusive species was the Mountain Reedbuck. It moves about in the very early morning hours and right at twilight. Our PH was surprised to see this Mountain Reedbuck and advised that we take it as it was rather unlikely to see another. He was correct as we never saw another.
Mountain Reed Buck
Due to concerns related to social unrest as well as poachers, all of the properties we hunted were surrounded by very high fences posted with very serious admonishments. Despite the posting, the PH decided we needed to climb this particular fence. When I asked if the sign was serious, he replied, "It's Dead Serious...but don't worry, that's my sign." So, we crossed his fence.
The bush of South Africa is a wonderful hunting experience, although it is not without risk. On this trip, I would become ill months later from a tick bite, despite a myriad of vaccinations and precautions. It was a minor inconvenience in comparison to the other array of potential risks associated with Safaris in the bush. Our PH gave us accounts of a number of colleagues and clients who would perish in the bush. Primarily the risks are associated with making mistakes around large cats, cape buffalo or one of the many deadly snakes.
While hurrying across a field to take a photo, Carlee made such a mistake when she unknowingly ran upon a rather aggressive 6 foot long Green Mamba. In an instance, the family Rottweiler raced past Carlee, grabbed a hold of the snake, shook it violently and threw it away from where she stood. The Mamba made a hasty retreat and Carlee was safe. The homeowner was in disbelief and shocked to find a mamba in her yard as it was the most deadly of all venomous snakes in the area.
Given the distance from health services and the lack of anti-venom, snake bite encounters in the bush are typically fatal. In this case, Carlee was blessed.
Carlee befriends the family dog "Basoon" after it saved her from a nearly disastrous encounter with a highly venomous snake.
Near the end of our trip, we decided to take a boat ride on a local lake to observe the wildlife. Much to our surprise, boating does not come without risk in South Africa.
From warning signs the waters are contaminated with Bilharzia, to hippos and crocodiles waiting to eat on the shore, the simple task of putting the boat into the water is a bit of a risk. After being reassured by the PH the crocs prefer fishermen on the shore and no one has got Bilharzia in a couple years, we decided to go for it.
After a couple of hours on the lake, the risk seemed well worthwhile.
The cliffs and shores were full of wildlife.
The rocky crevices on the cliffs were home to hundreds of lizards, some as long as three feet. This particular species leap into the water to catch passing fish.
As our African Safari drew to an end, it was time to reflect. We counted our blessings as we headed home. The 31 hour flight home gave us ample opportunity to consider those blessings. Carlee returned home safe despite her Mamba encounter.
We learned first hand, how the "black people" (as they are referred to in South Africa) are very oppressed. So much so, they do not realize the level of their oppression. On the other hand, the white people we met seemed blind to the oppression. After many generations, they apparently were no longer able to see their oppressive manner.
Upon our departure from the lodge to the airport, I asked the lodge owner how to say "Thank You" in Afrikaans? - as I wanted to leave my hunting knife with the skinner who had prepared our animals.
Her reply was, " You Don't !"
She was obviously wrong, as with a hearty handshake and a good ole' fashioned English "Thank You", the skinner became the very surprised owner of a fine Cocobolo Buck Knife that would be the equivalent of several months of his salary.
Whiskey, the teenaged gate boy, would become the new owner of most of our casual shirts, our ball caps and warm jackets.
Carlee and I returned home a little light on luggage, but rich with experience and with a new found wealth of appreciation for our Country.
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