After finishing up eating chocolates in Zurich, we boarded our Swiss airlines flight for the 10.5 hour journey south to Johannesburg, South Africa.
This would be the start of a two week trip in the region, with the first leg being 4 days in South Africa at the Madikwe Reserve along the border between Botswana and South Africa. For those looking for the super-quick geography version, here ya go:
Arriving into the Bush
After our large aircraft ditched us in Johannesburg, we made our way across the airfield to board a small little prop plane that would take us to a grass strip over 90 minutes away.
Like many of their lodges, this place was crazy nice – with individual villas strewn about the bush. We even had our own plunge pool! (Strangely, the Swimsense Watch doesn’t have a setting for ‘1 meter long pool’, so I couldn’t quite use it then).
And many of the common areas were well decorated – especially where we ate dinner the first night outdoors under the stars.
Finding Simba and Friends
Over the course of our time in Madikwe, we spent countless hours driving around in search of all sorts of animals. As is normally the case, you head out for the day with usually a rough plan of where you’re going or what you’re trying to see, and then along the way you check out all sorts of other things.
For example, there are plenty of Elephant to see in the park – which tend to find you, more than you finding them. The number of times elephants jumped out of the bush and onto the dirt roads right in front of us was rather astounding.
Then there was the Rhino’s. This particular area had pretty high numbers of them, so we were always finding them.
Of course, everyone is always looking for lion’s, and we were fortunate enough to spot our first ones at night – as they roared into the night sky across the plains:
And then we found our second set during daylight, as they demonstrated their trademark laziness.
The Girl’s favorite however is the giraffes, which tower above the brush – making them easy to spot from miles away.
Of course, with all this animal seeing, you took the occasional break to down a drink or three…along with some home made jerky. The jerky was awesome.
Then of course, there’s the never ending parade of herd animals such as impala, buffalos, wildebeests, kudu’s, and zebras and the like. All good times!
Crap rolling down hill, up hill, and down the road
I’m always amazed at the new things that I get to see each time I come to Africa. And perhaps one of the more amazing things I saw this week was a rolling ball of crap. Rhino crap to be exact. And without any gravitational assistance at all.
This act of amazement would be courtesy of the Dung Beetle – aka – the Tumblebug. This little beetle goes and finds a warm pile of fresh Rhino dung and burrows around a bit.
Once it finds a good starter chunk, it maneuvers it away from the larger pile of crap and begins it’s journey, rolling it like building a snowman…except…with crap.
From there, it simply rolls along across the dirt. In most of the cases we saw, it used some of the single or double-track roadways to make his little ball larger.
And, because it’s soooo much cooler to see in action – here’s a short video clip of it I took:
Yes…it’s a rolling ball of crap.
King of the Wrong Jungle
Within the park’s boundaries there happens to be a boatload of lions. And while in many cases lions are great – in this particular reserve’s case, there isn’t enough other edible wildlife to realistically support over 110 lions feasting…and breeding. So, in order to maintain balance in the universe, they’re relocating some of the lions to other areas of the country where the lion population is out of balance in the other direction.
We were pretty lucky to be able to sit in one morning when they were ‘packaging up’ the two male lions and getting them ready for transit. Because &Beyond is considered a leader in wildlife conservation, the group actually worked in conjunction with the park officials this morning – so we got to tag along. It was pretty cool.
The lions had already spent time in a separated off area about the size of 8-10 football fields. They were fed using a cable drop system that would magically drop full carcasses out of the sky, thus ensuring they didn’t associate humans with food. Though, they may start starring at the blue sky waiting for food to fall…
By time we had arrived they had just finished tranquilizing them, and were taking some blood samples for DNA.
They also were also cleaning up some minor scraps and scratches to ensure they didn’t get infected. After which, they fitted a collar which would be used for the first few months in their new locations to validate they were adapting just fine, after which, it would be removed.
Eventually, they got the two lions up on the back of some flatbed trucks and headed just outside the fenced area to load them up in what would otherwise look like horse-carrying trailers.
It was fairly surprising in that as they moved the lions from the flatbed truck to the trailer, one of the males let out a bit of a roar and moved – startling the guys moving him by hand.
No worries though, they got Simba all set inside the trailers and ready to roll for his 13 hour road trip.
Tall Man Down
As The Lion King accurately depicts, the circle of life is in full force here. On our second to last day, a elderly giraffe died not too far from a watering hole. In this particular case, he wasn’t attacked, but merely died ‘peacefully’.
Of course, like watching any Indy Car race – we were ready for the crash…err…the feast! Knowing that the giraffe would eventually attract predators large and small we routinely checked back on him – both during daylight and at night.
That first night we initially saw some spotted hyenas:
Though, by the next morning, that expanded to include the somewhat rare brown hyena (left):
Not to be outdone by it’s larger friends, the little jackal made itself known and grabbed some breakfast as well.
But perhaps the real winner here was the flies. These crazy things swarmed like nothing I’ve ever seen before:
Unfortunately, we had to leave before the lions and other predators could get in on the feast – but we’re told the giraffe dinner should last about a week.
So with that, we’re off for some 5 hour journey by one car, two planes and a jeep, further north.
First we had to wait for a few of our friends to move off the roadway and let us pass. Some 15 minute later…they waved goodbye and so did we.