In the bush

We should have known that the safari gods were with us today when we rolled up an incline and there on a rock, sunning herself as though to casually demonstrate her magnificence to the world, was a leopard. In our modified land rover, we watched her hunt, sleek and powerful, for 40 minutes.

It was a sighting we might not have enjoyed for days, yet it was just the first of the afternoon. This is why people come on safari in Africa.

We’re at Kirkman’s Kamp, a lodge in the Sabi Sand area next to Kruger National Park in eastern South Africa. Kirkman’s is one of several private reserves that provide additional territory for wildlife in this area, the fences between the national park and the private reserves having been taken down. Lions, leopards, rhinos, hippos, elephants, giraffes and many other creatures roam here, and we had excellent sightings today.

It was an auspicious start to the week. For the next three days our schedule will be up at 5:30 am and off in our land rovers by 6:15. Each vehicle has three rows of seats in addition to the driver and the passenger next to him or her. As a photo workshop we’ve arranged for one photographer per row, a serious luxury compared with the eight or nine folks jammed into other vehicles. (Occasionally, it’s good to be a photographer.) Also in the top row is a spotter, who works with the driver to find and follow animals. After the morning drive of three hours or so we’ll return for breakfast and then some image reviews and seminar sessions. Lunch comes mid-afternoon followed by the evening game drive starting at 3:00. The drives end in the dark, with a spotlight helping us catch sight of nocturnal creatures such as the mongoose, bush babies and civets before they scurry away.

Our leopard sighting was followed by an encounter with two female lions and a cub. Earlier in the day, we were told, the females had been frantically searching for a lost second cub – apparently they were unsuccessful.

Two male lions were sleeping in the sand a mile or so back from the where we saw the females, their bellies clearly full from a recent feeding. Evening was starting to move in when four rhinos (two females, a baby and a big bull) crossed our path. As darkness fell, we headed back to camp, our spotter using a light to point out nocturnal critters before they scurried away.

Eric SchochComment