Elder And Sister Richard and Sharon Porter's Mission Site
Remembering Madikwe - Part 2Date: September 10, 2011
Companion: The other Missionary Porter, of course
Our Experiences with the Big 5
(I numbered the pictures)
The Madikwe Game Reserve (our camp was basically in the middle of the entire reserve) is sometimes referred to as the Big5 Game Reserve. In fact, much of what you can buy as a souvenir from South Africa is associated with the Big 5.
Big 5? What is the Big 5?
This is a term coined by early white hunters in South Africa. They determined which animals belonged to the Big 5 according to the difficulty in hunting them, and the degree of danger involved, rather than according to their size. The official Big 5 animals are the lion, elephant, cape buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros. We white hunters today claim these either as a prize seen, or a prize caught - on camera. One of our fellow-travelers on safari said he remembers which the Big 5 are by the phrase Ring (the) BELL Rhino, Buffalo, Elephant, Lion, and Leopard
Our Experiences with the Big 5 (continued)
We first came on a really large rhino all by himself. We say large because it was bigger than we remember from our vast rhino zoo experiences. In fact, our guide confirmed that this is true because the zoos purposely keep their rhinos smaller less dangerous we suppose. The rhino was headed somewhere, and our guide knew where, so we got there before he did. We came to a spot where 6 rhinos were already gathered, licking the ground. Sounds rather distasteful, but the ground there was actually concentrated with salt, so it was a giant salt lick for rhinos. As we watched, there was obviously a licking order among the 6. We saw one drive off another one or two, who quickly retreated, while he (4 females and 2 males) went to the apparently-favored part of the lick.
About that time, our earlier-sited big rhino came in, and without any overt move on his part, all 6 of those already there simply backed away and made room for him wherever he wanted. He was obviously at least the king of the rhino salt lick, even if he couldnt be the king of beasts. We watched and shot pix for a few more minutes, and then moved out as other safaris were coming in to see. NOTE: When one guide spots something of interest to others, he immediately radios the info to all others on safari. They quickly arrange an order of arrival, and eventually most get to see what the first group saw.
As we moved out, and before others had showed up, we drove past the king. The 4 females formed a protective guard in front of him: they put themselves rump-to-rump, and turned in a slow circle, watching us away ready, it seemed, to charge us from any direction we might choose in order to keep Big Boy safe. (I think I see now some advantage at least to plural marriage. Just kidding, SharonJ)
The Rhino: Game CAUGHT
The Cape Buffalo
We had seen nothing of the cape buffalo on the first day, but on the second our guide got a call of a sighting, and we headed off to see them. (We do have pictures of the cape buffalo, taken on our earlier safari last December, but wanted to see them on this Big 5 Reserve)
Cape Buffalo? What is a Cape Buffalo?
First, dont think of the American Bison. Youll be way off. If you want to, you may think of the water buffalo of Asia. They look much the same, but the Asian water buffalo has often been domesticated, and you can see farmers working with them in their rice paddies and grain fields. The Asian and African buffalo are distantly related, if at all.
The cape buffalo we assume it is called cape because it is found almost exclusively in southern Africa, which is known as the cape area of Africa is the largest species of the African buffalo. It is NOT domesticated and has a nasty disposition. It is thought of as being of a ferocious nature. In fact, it has no real predators, except humans and even then they have a reinforced skull bones that resist bullets aimed there. Lions can and do bring down a cape buffalo but only in the plural. While lions and other cats will hunt alone and bring down a young buffalo, they hunt only in a group when going after the adult buffalo.
The Cape Buffalo (continued)
On safari in the bush, you are almost always on some kind of trail (think tire tracks in tall grass), and sometimes even on cleared, if only dirt and very full of pot holes, roads. We were on one of the trails when we spotted the buffalo. A decent sized group, but most of them had already crossed over the trail, and were going off onto the deeper bush. Not to be daunted by this, our guide simply turned completely into the bush and began herding them back to a point where others could see them again. In at least one way this was the funnest part of the safaris. There we were, running over small trees, bouncing so hard there was little chance of any picture, turning this way and that. This, we thought, is what safari in the bush is all about! The 6 of us did more laughing and hanging on than talking or taking pictures though we did get some, thanks to Sharons great willingness to risk life and limb to get a shot.
The Cape Buffalo: Game CAUGHT
We have, of course, many pictures of elephants taken in Thailand and other parts of Asia, and on our December safari here in Africa. We have even ridden an elephant. But this is Big 5 territory. Leave here empty-pictured? No way.
Elephants we had seen on many places, often from a distance. But we had a couple of special encounters that we will share here. One came on one of the night safaris, when our guide spotted off in the distance a small herd moving through the bush towards the water hole where we had been waiting. Sharon got some really nice nights shots. It was not yet completely dark, and as they all moved to a small peninsula, we could see their reflection in the water as they drank. The photos can never match reality, but theyll give you a great feel of what we saw live.
The second encounter was by day again by a water hole. There was one lone bull elephant who just kept doing his thing (drinking) when we drove up and parked. But the longer we stayed and watched, the more aware of us he became. He couldnt know what we were, but he knew we were big. NOTE: The animals see only a large object. Only if the folks in the vehicle are moving around a lot do they perceive several objects, and feel more threatened.The next thing we knew, he was spraying the area (not with water from his trunk, but with recycled water from another orifice. This was a clear sign that he felt we were intruding, but we didnt move. Then he began to come slowly toward us to see whether we would back off from his territory. We did not (not that we non-drivers had a choice). He finally turned to a more threatening mode, wrapping his trunk around his tusks to show them off, I assume. Our guide then felt that we had pushed him far enough, and began to drive us. He moved along with us, as if herding us out of his territory. It was a marvelous moment of male domination and territorial power in the bush.
The Elephant: Game CAUGHT
Lions are not all that easy to spot. They tend to move through tall grass, and their blend in that environment is pretty good. But again, we did have a couple of encounters worth mention. One was, in 2 places, seeing a male lion or a male and a female stretched out in the grass, sunning themselves and trying to sleep. We waited long enough to see them raise their heads and look around, but we were parked SO close to them and they didnt even react to our presence. They seemed frankly bored and eager to sleep. There were two brothers and a female moving together (the guides know these animals immediately and well). The female belonged to one of the two, and, in a night-sighting, was stretched out between the female and his brother. In another daytime moment, they were talking with each other from a distance. It is a bit skin-prickling to hear those roars back and forth when everything around is so quiet, except for them.
On our last morning safari, we found a lioness with 2 cubs. She was obviously stalking breakfast either for herself or for them. In whatever way cats communicate it, she told her two cubs to wait where they were, while she hunted. We know this because they suddenly stopped where they were, and just watched her walk off. We watched for a few minutes, while she obviously caught scent of some animals. She froze the pose of I am about to attack, then ran across the road in front of our vehicle, her cubs staying right where she left them. We then saw what she saw: a small heard of impala, and she began the chase. The she saw what we saw: a lone kudu, larger and more meaty than a mere impala.
Impala? Kudu? What is an Impala or a Kudu?
Both are African versions of an antelope. The impala is very plentifully observed, more slight generally in build, and their horns are less impressive than those of a kudu. We have pictures of both from this as well as the previous trip. What we are missing is a good shot of the horns on a large male kudu they are magnificent! But, hey, neither of these is one of the Big 5, so no big deal!
The Lion (continued)
When the lioness spotted the kudu, she must have thought Huh, more meal for the deal, and switched her trajectory towards the kudu. But the kudu had seen her first, and was off into the bush. In the moment of her attention turned, the impala also sensed her, and took off. She could have had one of the impala, but greed got in the way (there had to be a moral in here somewhere, right?). So what was the end of the story? The final deal was no meal.
In the meantime, when the chase ended and mama didnt immediately come back (likely still looking for a shot at kudu or impala-to-go), we went over and parked right in front of the 2 cubs. They stayed right where they were. We got fairly close, with a couple of good pix. Suddenly they both perked up, and stood and looked down the road. Sure enough, several meters away was mom, standing in the middle of the road, waiting for them to join her. They looked at our vehicle, then at her, then at the vehicle again, then one of them started cautiously out of hiding to go through the bush away from us, but toward their mother.
We drove closer to her, but she didnt move she was watching her cubs. We pulled a bit off the road and waited for the cubs to come. Sure enough, they soon emerged from the grass, loping now with their little short-cub legs. They were in sort of a playful mood, and one of them took a swipe at the other just before they arrived to their mother. And then they were all off again into the bush.
The Lion: Game CAUGHT
We have 3 stories about the leopard of South Africa.
Story ONE: One guide/manager who has worked with this bush camp for some 10 years and sighted her first leopard just about 1 month ago.
Story TWO: Elder and Sister Stonehocker (our next-door-neighbors-in-office-space) went to the same bush camp several weeks ago. They saw a leopard sitting upright in an open space just off the road. They stopped, took several shots, moved a bit to get better lighting, and the leopard just sat there, posing. The pictures are National Geographic!
Story THREE: On the last safari of the last day, 5 of the 6 of us in the Land-Rover were chanting Leopard, leopard, leopard. The 6th one was chanting Baboons, baboon, baboon. Go figure. Apparently our chants counteracted each other, as we saw neither baboon nor leopard. Another moral: the strength of unity, the price of not working all together! Oh well. So we missed one of the Big 5. Thats our excuse for going back again next year!
The Leopard: Game NOT CAUGHT, NOT EVEN SEEN
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