Tuesday, February 28, 2012

On Safari in South Africa

We have certainly seen some great animals here at the Sabi Sand Reserve in northern South Africa. This is a privately owned reserve on the boundary with the more famous Kruger National Park. That park is 5.4 million acres big, while Sabi Sand is about 160,000 acres. They both hold some incredible wildlife. Have a look.

This is the Sand River which flows east into the Indian Ocean at Maputo in Mozambique

The Sand River had a huge flood on January 19 of this year and as the flood waned, the bed of the river was so choked with sand that no water was flowing on the surface - it was moving within the sand body that was deposited on the bedrock!

Our morning game drive encountered impala up ahead in the road

This was a bachelor herd composed of all young males. They certainly are graceful looking (and we ate some of it later that night - a very light colored meat that resembled chicken but tasted more like red meat).

We also spotted three rhino's along the way

Populations of this threatened species have turned around and they are not that hard to spot here. Conservation efforts have paid off but illegal poaching for their horns is still a problem.

A golden orb spider on its web

The Cape buffalo was seen wallowing in a muddy pool

This is the animal that the American bison was mistakenly named buffalo

A nyala male
And a young one. The wildlife was everywhere to be seen on this reserve. The last time I was here was during the dry season and the trees were leafless. It was totally different this time. Nothing could prepare for what we saw next. Our driver and guide sped away at a high rate of speed on the dirt track. Obviously, one of the other guides had spotted something unusual.

When we arrived at the scene, we saw four young male lions that had just taken down a Cape buffalo. The prey was still alive when we arrived. The scene was gruesome in many respects but this we knew was how nature worked. The lion needed food and this is the law of the land. Some animals eat others. Graphically, it was bloody but our guide told us how lucky we were to see this. He himself had not seen a kill in over 11 months. Here you can see one of the lions eating the testes of the buffalo, while the other three hold it down. One of the lions had put its mouth completely around the muzzle of the buffalo to suffocate it. It was an unbelievable scene!

After the buffalo expired, the lions got to work.

They moved toward the gut area to remove the easy stuff with bone

It was amazing to see how they worked together. We were here for about 1.5 hours watching it all unfold. The guide gave great commentary about what was happening the whole time and took pictures himself - a testament to how unusual it is to see something like this.

We were very close to this awesome scene!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch.... This is the entrance to our hotel, the Singita Lodge on the Sand River
The entrance sign says it all - this is wild country and you should not wander off anywhere with an armed escort. We were escorted to our rooms after dark as animals have been known to roam into the property at night (rare).

It is very tastefully appointed

Above the bank of the river. I'll post more more pictures of this amazing property after we arrive at our next stop - the Maldive Islands.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Leaving Rwanda and on to South Africa

As we took the three hour drive from the volcanoes area back to Kigali, I reflected on this amazing little country. Consider - plastic bags are outlawed here and there are none of them seen trashing the highways or the countryside - anywhere. In over 72 hours here, I saw a total of one plastic bottle littering the highway! One. (Some of my fellow passengers had their plastic bags taken from them as they went through customs on arrival at the airport). When we saw work crews on the highway, they had just as many women in the crew as men. Finally, recall from a previous posting about Umuganda, the national day of cleaning that all citizens participate in. The irony is that this place was so "dark" just 18 years ago but is now a happy, vibrant "light" in the heart of Africa. Go Rwanda!

A final look at the volcano's west of our lodge. Th rugged one on the right is located entirely within the boundary of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and is called Mikeno.

A white-backed raven at our lodge. They are about 20% larger than our common raven.

But they behave the same way....

Flight monitor on our jet while flying to South Africa. I am sitting in Row 1 and have a great view out the port side of the jet.

Today we flew into summer! Great thunderheads billowed around us over Zambia.

This was taken with a very wide angle lens and the anvil head on this boomer was well above the jet. We circled around this huge storm.

I'm fairly sure this is the Luangwa River in Zambia's Eastern Province

Ah, summer!

After arrival in Nilspritz, South Africa, we took a 20 minute charter flight to Sabi Sand Reserve and took an afternoon game drive

A small elephant herd checks out our Land Rover. That is the spotter sitting in a special seat near the headlights. He looks for animal tracks in the road and other game.

A baby elephant

Impala chased from the bush

And stopping to look at us

Sunset in the southern hemisphere. We were out until well after dark and saw the Southern Cross and Magellanic Clouds in the night sky.

The Sand River flooded huge on January 19 of this year

At fhe end of the game drive, it's time for a Gin and Tonic!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Gorilla's in the Mist and Sun

What a fantastic day with the gorilla's! Have a look.

There has been a lot of rain here recently - it is the start of the rainy season. But we had a view of this East African Rift volcanoes.

Our lodge has a listing of the volcano's above the gorilla's heads. I was to walk to the Gahinga volcano to see the Kwitonda group.

The entrance to the national park. The current entrance fee to see the gorilla's is $500. June 1 it goes to $750.

We met Oliver our guide, (holding the clip board)

A view of the Gahinga volcano

Beginning the trek up to the park boundary

A few people opted to be carried up to the gorilla's for an extra fee of $200 each

They said that the ride was quite comfortable and they were definitely faster than the walkers

Sabyinyo volcano, likely hasn't erupted in a long time as much erosion is shown to be affecting its crest

My first photo of a gorilla as we approached the group - it's there in the right background

Of course we got much closer

This is silverback number 2. Silverbacks are males older than 12 years who have dominance over the group. Only number 1 gets to mate with the females and he will attack other males who try.

I used a long lens on many shots but it wasn't necessary all the time

When we first arrived the group was feeding after 13 hours sleeping in the nest

They fed for about 30 minutes while we were there. Trackers stay with each group 24 hours to prevent poaching and to tell the guides where to bring visitors.

It was awesome to say the least

Self portrait with a gorilla. A lot of wildlife will flee human approach but these groups are habituated to humans and mingle with them freely. We are supposed to stay 7 meters away but gorilla's have no rules and often walk right up to us.

The Kwitonda group has 24 individuals and will likely splinter into another group soon as there are 4 silverbacks within it

There are many babies in this group and one was only 3 days old

A big silverback

One of guests photographing the scene

He finally had enough to eat and was ready to play

So he rolled over, closed his eyes and scratched his face

Then he seemed to play hide and seek behind this bush

The little ones were very playful

Very human in some respects

Emily and Gerald photographing a gorilla

They pulled down huge branches while feeding - leave no trace they are not!

A pensive moment contemplating the visitors



The group resting after a meal

Looks fierce but this juvenile was just playing with another

A fantastic day!