Wildlife Watching With Friends In South Africa

Most people coming to South Africa can’t wait to chase the „Big 5“ and capture them on their camera. The „Big 5“ means Elephant, Buffalo, Rhino, Lion and Leopard. On the downside of tracking them down is the danger to get attacked from them. That’s why one should stay always in the car, not daring to approach them or wandering around unprotected in their habitat.

There are also parks and wildlife farms with none of these dangerous, big animals. But it doesn’t mean it’s less thrilling to visit them. In the opposite, to walk trough the bush, jogging or riding a bicycle, and meet wild antelopes, giraffes or zebras on eye to eye is amazing. Well, bit difficult to look the giraffes on the eyes, but still.

My dear friends was planning to spend a weekend in such a private wildlife farm and invited me to join them. What a feeling to move free around, chasing the giraffes, going for a so called „game drive“ to find more antelopes, such as elands, wildebeest, oryx, blessbock, impalas, steenbok, waterbuck and so on. Off course also zebras, snakes and many kind of birds. 

I felt so blessed to be there, enjoying nature, wildlife and good talks with old and new friends. Stopping midst in the bush and having a sundowner, before return to the base for a nice evening at the braai, the Southafrican barbecue. 

At The Banks Of River Nile

At the other side of the Nile a fishing lodge offers boat trips even into South Sudan, i heard. Fishing lodge sounds posh, but when i arrived it was a run-down lodge with basic facilities. Yet still the charm of better times stays in the air. A small group of locals arrived just after me. They came for a little party under friends, brought a living goat in the car trunk and let them to the butcher to slaughter it in the backyard. There were more animals waiting to get eaten up, but having a peacefully live till then. A pig with a bunch of small ones, chicken, more goats. Eagles circling over the river when i walked along the banks and gave the scenery a peaceful touch of freedom.

Tracking The Mountain Gorillas

The volcanos look down to me. In the dusk it felt kinda mystical. I knew there are the mountain gorillas, maybe even awaiting me. Pictures of the movie of King Kong slipped in my mind when i looked up to the steep slope of that mountain. But arriving the headquarter, crowds of tourists watched the performance of dancers, before heading to their gorillas groups, lead by experienced guides.

A strenuous three hours walk trough dense rainforest brought the five of us with our guide and a armed guard to our gorilla group. the Susa group. On the way, Eugene, our guide explained about the environment here. Two porters carry the bags of the other four, while i trust my camera gear no one but myself. And then, the first glimpse of a dark fur in the lush green bush. Th big group of gorillas were scattered around in the bush. But we found the silverback, the oldest and leader in the group. While the animals were moving, we follow the silverback, watching him resting and eating and moving uphill again. For one hour we observed those amazing creatures, before we went downhill, out of the forest, and it seems like out of a day dream again.

Rwanda – Nyungwe Forest

A dense jungle on both side of the road. A few times a steep slope gives the view free over the green, lush forest. Morning mist crawls up. Despite my early start this morning, i was too late for the chimpanzee tracking. A canopy walk would be an option, but too pricey. I decided to go for a guided hike instead. With only my guide, i walked trough the huge green. He explained about the plants, spotted some smaller animals, as frogs, birds and also mountain monkeys. A bat flew off when we approached its hide too close and some squirrel crossing in high speed our path. Not quite an adventure, but nice hike after cities and long road drives.

Tsavo West National Park

Surprised by the atmosphere, i didn’t regret to get up so early to reach the park entrance. Mist floats over a hilly area, birds chirping in the bush and the old volcanos looks promising. I’ve hardly seen any other vehicles in the park, but got on very remote tracks on top of volcano or in deep bushland. Stunning views and the loneliness of the place will keep in my memories. Most impressive was the last hour, actually on my way out of Tsavo West. A bit disappointed not having enough time to spot black rhinos in the rhino sanctuary, i got a clear view on a leopard, but missed to take a photo. Another leopard crossed my way around 20km further. This time i had my camera quickly on hands. Unfortunately, the light was already dimmed and my camera setting didn’t allowed a clear shot. It’s unbelievable that i got sight of a third leopard this day. It was next to the road, roaming slowly next to my Land Rover and allowed me to taking series of pictures of it. Sometimes the luck don’t come once, but trice 🙂

the cow race / Das Kuhrennen

Thick clouds gathered over the snow capped mountains,. Rain drizzled down, wetting the grass and made the field muddy. At the end of the alp season, the alp farmers sells their cheese on this annually market at Flumserberg/Switzerland. It became tradition not only selling local products, but gathering for a chat with neighbors and live music. The highlight of the event definitely is the famous cow race. Before the race, the cows are showed to the audience in the event tent, so the people can bet for their favorites. With the sound of „alphorn“, the traditional music instrument, the cows get at the start. A jockey rides the cow, while a supporter runs next or behind the cows to push or tow them towards the finish line. Some run faster than one would expect, while other cows stands stubborn on the race track. The crowd is cheering them up, but with low effect. Somehow all animals were brought to the end, for giving the winner the honor to wear a brand new bell.

Zwischen Talnebel und dicken Wolken am Himmel sammelt sich das Volk zum alljährlichen Spektakel am Ende der Alpsaison.  In Flumserberg/Schweiz trifft man sich bei Musik und lokalen Spezialitäten auf dem Käsemarkt. Ein Holzschnitzer, Streichelzoo und Schaukäserei bieten Unterhaltung und Abwechslung. Was die Leute aber trotz des Nieselregen hier hoch lockt ist das Kuhrennen. Einzeln werden die „Rennkühe“ und ihre Jockeys im Festzelt vorgestellt, damit das fachkundige Publikum Wetten abschliessen kann. Später werden die Kühe unter Alphornklänge zur Startlinie geführt. Während einige Tiere unerwartet schnell um den Parcours rennen, bleiben andere zum Frust der Reiter bockstill stehen. Da nützen alle aufmunternden Zurufe der Zuschauer nichts. Ein Treiber versucht jeweils die Kühe anzutreiben, zu schieben oder zu stossen. Irgendwann schaffen es alle Teilnehmer zum Ziel und die Sieger können gekürt werden. Neue Glocken zieren nun die Hälse, bzw Wände der Sieger.

Zambia – South Luangwa National Park

The man stands in middle of the path, only with shorts and a towel over his shoulder. “I supposed to take a shower”, he explains, “but now the elephants turned up around the shower hut. Better I wait till they’re gone.” It’s the small group of elephants I followed trough the camp to the backyard, where the employees of the lodge lives. When the group spread around, I keep myself closer to the houses. Just as I warned another man for an approaching elephant he points a spot behind me. A young bull watched us rather aggressively. Suddenly we’re surrounded by two groups of elephants, withdrawn us back to the wall or hiding in the house, until all disappeared in the forest. It was not the last time we’ve seen these giant mammals. In the same night a big bull crossed the electric fence to have a dinner under the trees of the camp.

Wildlife is all around us, but one feel safer to watch them from the car when roaming trough the national park. Despite of not seeing any lions or leopards, we enjoy the landscape and wildlife of South Luangwa National Park. There are quite a few safari cars crossing the way of animals, but mostly we had a great time to observe the antelopes grazing, giraffes resting on the ground, birds chasing insects or sea eagle hunting fish.

The hilly landscape, covered with forest, interrupted by rivers, gives our brand new tyres good terrain to proof his ability for offroading. Patches with deep sand, short river crossing and long, very steep and sharp rocky uphill sections are first tests for them. At the end of the day we watch satisfied the red moon in nighty sky.

 

Mitten auf dem Pfad steht ein Mann nur in Shorts gekleidet und einem Badetuch über der Schulter. Er wolle rüber zu den Duschhütten, aber die Elefanten halten ihn davon ab, erklärt er mir. Besser ist es zu warten und den riesigen Tieren Vortritt zu lassen, pflichte ich ihm bei. Es ist die kleine Elefantenherde, die ich vom Camp aus folgte und die hier Baumfrüchte fressen. Ein zweiter Mann zeigt mir die nahen Hütten der Lodge-Angestellten. Darin befinden sich weder Essen noch Wasser, um die täglich vorbeiziehenden Elefanten nicht hinein zu locken. Manche gebärden sich doch eher aggressiv, erzählt er. Gerade als ich ihn auf einen sich näherndes Tier aufmerksam machen wollte, zeigt er hinter mich und hiess mich vorm jungen Bullen in Acht nehmen. Unter einem Baum wackeln zwei grosse Ohren warnend. Plötzlich waren wir von zwei Herden umgeben und zogen uns näher an die Häuserwand zurück bis sie sich wieder entfernt haben. Es war nicht die letzte, (fast) hautnahe Begegnung mit diesen riesigen Säugetieren. In derselben Nacht durchbricht ein grosser Bulle die elektrische Abzäunung des Camps auf der Suche nach Fressen.

Die Tierwelt lässt sich etwas sicherer vom Auto aus beobachten während man gemütlich durch den Nationalpark rollt. Zwar sehen wir in diesen zwei Tagen weder Löwen oder Leoparden, dennoch sind wir fasziniert von der Landschaft und Tierwelt. Ab und zu kreuzen uns Safariwagen mit Touristen, doch oft haben wir viel Zeit die Tierwelt ungestört zu beobachten. Das lange warten auf einen jagenden Seeadler hat sich gelohnt, als sich dieser auf den Teich hinabstürzt und sich einen Fisch greift.

Durch die hügelige Landschaft mit viel Wald und Busch, durchbrochen von Flüssen, gibt unseren neuen Reifen die erste Gelegenheit ihre Offroadtauglichkeit zu beweisen. Tiefsandige Passagen, kurze, aber schlammige Flussdurchfahrten und vor allem der steile und mit scharfkantigen Felsen versehene Aufstieg am nördlichen Ende des Parks meistern sie ohne Tadel. Zufrieden beschliessen wir den Tag bei einem Glas Rotwein unterm roten Mond .