Addo Elephant Park
Going on safari! Doesn't that create visions of confrontations with large and powerful animals in endless expanses of African wilderness? Not exactly in today's world, perhaps, but we were excited to be on our way to Addo Elephant National Park in the Eastern Cape of South Africa.
Conrad and Erika from the Orange Elephant Backpacker Lodge had picked us up in Port Elizabeth and after a ride through a rolling country of pygmy forest interspersed with grassland, we had arrived at their lodge, dumped our stuff in a nice room, and eaten some lunch.
Sunset Game Drive - Day 1
Ryan introduced himself and we were off. We passed through the sturdy 'Game Gate' and were now 'inside' with the critters, and spent the next two hours exploring the park, driving slowly, stopping often with the engine off to just observe the animals in the nearby vicinity.
Before long we spotted our first kudu, lying on a low rise, very dignified with his long spiral horns.
We continued along the road in the golden afternoon light, amazed by the verdant green density of the pygmy forest.
In the distance Ryan pointed out many large round orange objects in the greenery - elephants! They have an orangy color from the mud in the water holes that they wallow in. This made them pretty easy to spot against the green background.
Soon we were beside these elephants, a large group of perhaps fifteen including young males and moms with very small babies, some very young, perhaps a year or less, and nursing, according to Ryan. The rest were all tearing up grass or branches with their trunks and putting this yummy stuff into their mouths.
Elephants were by far the most prevalent animals we saw and somehow we never tired of seeing more. They were often right beside the road or even in the road, walking along or grazing, Many came within a few meters of the truck, but seemed little bothered by our presence. Ryan told us they eat about 17 hours a day! We just sat and watched, fascinated to be so close and to see these great beasts just going about their daily lives.
During our drive, we also encountered:
Many zebras, usually grazing on grass, and only slightly disturbed by our presence.
Many Warthogs, usually in family groups with one or two young. We were pleased to learn that they drop to their knees to graze.
Cape Buffalo, a herd of perhaps 25, including 4-5 young, one of which was a soft tan color. We watched them grazing and then bounding across the road ahead of us, wary but not overly concerned with our presence.
Red Hardebeest - a really large antelope
Egyptian geese, flying overhead at Orange Elephant Backpackers
Caracol, a small cat. We saw one near the truck, and a mom and two babies ahead on the road. Ryan commented that he rarely sees them, so we were fortunate.
Many birds (cape weaver, black headed heron, black winged stilt, to name a few)
Two Lions (see highlights below)
The Highlights of the Drive
Mooza, the grand patriarch elephant of the Park
All Day Game Drive - Day 2
Passing the Park entrance and then the Game Gate, we spent the whole day exploring the park, first in the northern area and later in the southern area. Again we drove slowly, all of us on the lookout for birds and animals. Initially we passed many more zebras, looking plump and fit, all enjoying a grassy breakfast, and showing little concern with our presence. A little further on, we began to see elephants, as their great grey and orangy brown shapes stood out in the green brush (about 2- 3 meters high) that grew everywhere.
We stopped by a number of water holes that were created by the park to help the animals in the dry times. Some were surrounded by elephants, the little ones enjoying a playful splash, and all enjoying a hearty drink. In case you wondered, they definitely do suck up water with their trunks and squirt it into their mouths. It was fun to watch the little ones try over and over, as they were still learning how to work their trunks.
Mid-day we stopped at Jack's Picnic Ground, an enclosure with a tall fence designed to keep animals out, and one of only two places we were allowed out of the car. A couple of smaller critters had made it through the fence (a guinea hen and a leopard tortoise).
In the afternoon, we visited the southern section of the park. Throughout the day we were constantly seeing many of the animals we saw yesterday, (elephants, kudus, zebras, warthogs, and buffalo), as well as a few new ones:
Blackbacked Jackels and a Yellow Mongoose
A Dung Beetle, now endangered and given the 'right of way' on the roads
Pale Chanting Goshawk (grey, with white multi-colored wings)
More birds, and More Lions, but much nearer (see highlights below)
Highlights of the day
Spotting two female lions
Being Confronted by an Elephant
Being Confronted by a Cape Buffalo
Smelling an Elephant Carcass
Elephant March to the Water Hole
Before long they were finished drinking and, lead by the dominant female, trotted off, crossing the road in front of us. We enjoyed watching one of the babies stopping for a drink of mother's milk.
Through our encounters with the critters of Addo we were able to connect with the natural world in new and amazing ways. To be so near these creatures with whom we share the planet as they live relatively normal lives - predator and prey - we felt connected to them all as fellow animals. The joy of seeing them stirred deep emotions within us that we'll long remember!
We have also posted a Flickr album of many of these pictures and a few more.
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