Wednesday, April 24, 2009
Being in a national park means that we’re smack in the middle of the wildlife and because our house is close to the river – in many instance – it’s walking right in front of us. The hippos leave the river every night in search of grass to graze on. This typically means they walk right past our house. And they can be dangerous, so we don’t go outside after dark. A few times though, we crept out late at night to watch them pass. If you’re very quiet, you can hear them snuffling through their nostrils as they walk by. And we’re very careful – hippos can run up to 15 mph – and I think we all know I would lose that footrace.
A typical day in the park – I wake up to the monkeys in the trees just outside our bedroom window.
Then I walk with lions through the African bush. Many times, the lions will spot a herd of giraffe in the distance and give chase…but most of the time the giraffe is just leisurely crossing the road in front of me.
Then there are the elephants. They graze right next to the house.
Alex and I were walking back from the baby enclosure one evening and the elephants were on the other side of the road. We all keep a safe distance from each other – though I do try to get as close as I can to take pictures. This time the little one saw us and turned away from her mother – crossed the road and headed straight for us!
My initial reaction was to think “how cute – she’s coming over to see us”. Then we noticed that her mother was coming after her youngster – and straight toward us! Yikes! Who doesn’t know that you don’t get between a mother and a baby? We looked around and there was no where to go – no trees – no house – no place to hide. We slowly stepped off the path and into the grass and stood very, very still. For a nerve-wracking 30 seconds or so, we waited and watched as the baby elephant and her mother got closer. Then suddenly, the mother stopped and trumpeted. The message was clear in any language -“I’m tired of chasing you – turn around and get back here this instant!” The baby turned around immediately and ran back to her mother. All’s well that ends well and I’m still alive. Is this crazy or what? I am so lucky to be so close to these beautiful, wild animals.
We went on our first snare sweep this morning. Snares are put out by the locals in the hopes of finding something that will feed their family for a week – maybe a waterbuck, a buffalo or a warthog – whatever they can catch. But it’s a bad way to go. They connect the snare to a large tree – make a lasso/noose and either lay it on the ground or hang it from the tree. Then the animal walks into the snare – gets entangled – the noose tightens around the neck or the leg – whatever part got caught – and the animal either dies a slow and painful death or worse – is caught and mangled until the local who set the snare comes back and kills it. Unfortunately, the lions can get caught as well, so we do snare sweeps every few days.
The plan is to have 6 – 8 people spread out and walk forward – each of us covering our own terrain. Our instructions were simple. Keep your eye on the person to your right and maintain a distance of 3 meters. Keep your eyes open for snares. Keep your eyes on the ground so you don’t fall. Keep your eyes open for buffalo – they will charge you. It seems that water buffalo are very aggressive and there have been quite a few close calls recently. The warthogs aren’t that nice either – so keep your eyes open for them too. Feeling the need to be proactive, I volunteered the guy with the gun to be my wingman.
So here I am, crashing through the bush and my eyes are WIDE open. I’m trying to keep an eye on the guy with the gun to my right but he’s moving quickly and is soon on the other side of some brush. I’m scanning for buffalo and glancing around for snares when I catch sight of giraffe in the distance and am now not paying any attention to what’s directly in front of me until…. SPIDER!!!!!!!!!!!
BAM! I walk into the biggest spider web I’d ever seen with a big-ass spider in the middle of it. And let me tell you folks – african spiders are nasty, poisonous and HUGE!. Now I’m really tangled in the web – unsure if the spider is actually on me – trying not to freak out and scream and I’m far behind the rest of the group and becoming a little nervous about getting lost. Dammit – where did the guy with the gun go? What a mess. But not over yet…
I started jogging through the brush to catch up with everyone, tripped and fell taking a nice chunk of skin off my left knee. Now I’ve got to sit next to 3 lions for the next hour who get all weird when they smell blood. Snare sweeping is not moving to the top of my list of favorite activities in Lion camp.
Thursday afternoon we took the babies (Temi and Tswana) out for a nice long walk and they entertained us for hours!
We came across some giraffe and it turned into a sort of Mexican stand-off – neither group prepared to give ground to the other. We urged the cubs to give chase but they just looked at us like we were crazy. They stand about 36 inches high and the giraffe were very, very, very big! They stalked them for a while then got bored.
As it turns out, the giraffe aren’t as much fun as playing together.
This afternoon, several of us decided to make it a “sun, fun and pool” day at the nearby hotel. It was a wonderful day of cocktails, swimming, sunning and of course animals 🙂
Next adventure… a 3-day safari in Botswana – woo hoo!!!!