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In Search of the Big Five: A Skyful of Birds and One Smelly Cat!

by Jane McLellan

Kruger National Park in South Africa is a great place to see scores of incredible, native animals. I did about three game drives in total, and then when I knew what I was doing, hired a car and went on a self-drive safari. It was easy to get around and I saw some amazing animals, including four of the Big Five. The leopard is still on my list to find, but is rarely seen compared to the others. I spotted groups of rhinos, elephants, giraffes, buffalos and eagles, and you get so close to them, it’s just brilliant (if a little nerve-wracking at times!) I took hundreds and hundred of great photos.

On my first visit to South Africa I travelled with my best friend, George.  We treated ourselves by staying a few nights in quite fancy accommodation, at the Buhala Game Lodge. It’s just fifteen minutes from Malelane Gate, which is the southern part of Kruger. For the rest of our stay we roughed it in tents and campsites. It’s safe to say that the experiences were very, very different, but both were equally fantastic!

We did a couple of guided game drives before sunset getting up at 5am to meet our driver. The park looked amazing at sunrise and, as we visited in November, the landscape was dramatically diverse. There were areas of bushes, trees, lush woodland and then rocks, arid earth and dried up riverbeds. On our first game drive, we saw three of the ‘Big Five’ – Rhino, Elephant and Buffalo and saw baby ones too, which were so cute. There were a couple of big old rhinos fighting which made a fascinating show and I was amazed by the number of birds that we saw– the sky was filled! George is into her birds, so we kept stopping when we saw them and checked what species they were from our little wildlife guide. I admit, I even became interested, especially because of the sheer size of some of them. We saw beautiful, majestic eagles and circling vultures – I’ve never seen talons so big!

After a couple of guided game drives, George and I felt confident to drive ourselves around Kruger National Park. Within minutes of arriving we were greeted by five gorgeous female giraffes. We had to remember that although these animals may LOOK friendly, they are actually dangerous, and we had to stay firmly safe in our vehicle. A few minutes later, I looked out of my window and had to do a double take. A huge animal was lying down in the middle of the road. I drove forward slowly and soon realised that it was a lion, a very big, very smelly lion.  I couldn’t believe that it was sunbathing right in front of our car. After that, I could tick Number Four off of my Big Five list!

One of my favourite game drives was when we met up with some friends and went on an organised night drive. We hung out of the jeep, giant torches in hand, and searched across the dusky landscape. It was an exciting feeling not knowing what kind of creatures we would see in the dark and we were not disappointed. We spotted rhinos, giraffes, elephants, lions, hippos, and the real treat was when we came across a lioness and her three little cubs. That night we slept in our tent to the sounds of lions roaring, a very scary but very special end to an extraordinary night.

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