Safari, Uncategorized

The Big 4 – part II

On our first game drive we saw elephants and a lion. Here we continue on our safari quest to spot the Big 5 (or in our case the Big 4).

Game Drive 2:

Guide: “What would you like to try to see today?”

Us:       “A leopard please.”

We set off with high spirits, very much hoping to spot one.


Identifying a Mystery Animal Trail

En route to leopard territory our guide stopped and pointed out a curvy trail through the sand. “What do you think made this kind of trail kids?” she quizzed. I bit my tongue, desperate to shout out the correct answer. “Er, a rhino?” said one of the children. “Try again”, said the guide. I’m now bursting to shout out “it’s a snake track, ha ha, it’s so obvious, can’t you see it’s a snake shaped trail made by a snake. Easy peasy.”.

“Is it an elephant?” asked one of the children. “Doh” I thought to myself.

“Yes, that’s right, well done” said the guide. “The elephant sometimes drags its trunk along the ground leaving this kind of wavy mark”. I nodded enthusiastically as if I had known the answer all along and said nothing.

Red-Crested Korhaan, Drama Queen of the Bush

A bird called from the undergrowth. Our guide pulled over and explained in her best hushed-but-authoritative-David-Attenborough-tone that a male red-crested korhaan was calling for a mate.

“I’m going to mimic her call. If he likes it you’ll see him.”

She clapped out a rhythm. We waited. Nothing happened.

She clapped again and suddenly the bird shot up, rocket like, from the bush and at the top of his ascent let himself plunge theatrically towards the ground in a mock faint, flapping out of his fall at the last possible moment. It was an impressive show, but sadly for him there was no romance in the offering on this occasion.

Continuing on we saw plenty more; bee eaters, shrikes and other birds, lizards and medium sized mammals.

Hot on the Leopards Trail

Guide:           “Ooh, did you smell that? A sort of popcorn scent? That’s                          leopard pee.”

Excitement levels rose.

Guide:           “Look, leopard tracks….and in that tree, remains of a leopard kill.”

Back and forth we wove along the riverbank, at one point u-turning dramatically towards bird and impala alarm calls.

Leopard pee, leopard tracks, leopard kill remains and alarm calls…but no leopards.

Elephant Poo and Dung Beetles

Instead we had a perfect view of a lone giraffe.  We met another herd of elephants, including a genetically tusk-less one.

Tuskless elephant, Marataba.

The kids were fascinated by a heap of elephant dung crawling with two types of dung beetle. We saw countless of these beetles whizzing noisily through the air.

Two types of dung beetles at Marataba, South Africa.

A few landed in the truck and our hair and against our cheeks with a buzz and a thunk.

I THINK our guide said that there were in well in excess of 100 elephants in the game reserve. To keep the maths simple I’m going to stick with 100…

…According to various sources, including the wonderfully named book How much poo does an elephant do?, an average elephant produces around 20kg of the dung PER DAY. For 100 elephants, that’s around 2000kg of elephant poo daily, at least 60,000kg per month.

All I can say is, all hail the humble dung beetle. Harmless, fascinating and good at sorting sh*t out.

Dung Beetle rolling dung ball

So at the end of two game drives, our Big 5 sightings tally remained at 2. Nevertheless, surrounded by the stunning Waterberg Mountains with the bush buzzing with life and a brilliantly informative and passionate guide, we were all having a most marvelous time. We also had 2 more game drives to go. Find out whether we saw a leopard here.

Update – November 2016:  I was hugely taken with the dung beetle and have since written a post about why expat partners are similar to dung beetles.  You can read the post HERE.

4 thoughts on “The Big 4 – part II”

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