Saturday, February 25, 2012

South Africa - Day 13 Wild animals and cobwebs

Up nice and early this morning for the first of our twice daily dose of animal gazing. Not to be caught out again I wisely festooned myself with a full compliment of clothing, which by the end of the drive I couldn't wait to be shot of, not that I became affected with a unhealthy desire to try out safari nudism of course, none of us had had breakfast and I didn't want to be responsible for all that food going to waste. I merely meant that I was looking forward to getting into a t shirt and shorts, once the sun comes up the temperature climbs considerably.

We headed into the East side of the park in our quest for big mammals. First spot of the day though was neither big nor a mammal, it was a giant kingfisher hovering above a pond, OK it was big, as far as king fishers go, but not big as far as hippos go, but it was a beauty, wings moving in a blur as it stared intently at the water below.

After that brief diversion we rounded a bend in the track and immediately came to a halt, it was either that or run headlong into 19ft and 1200kg of pure giraffe, who, it seemed, was in no immediate rush to get out of our way. But after a short while he loped off allowing us to pass unhindered, not that giraffes are especially known for their hindering of course, in fact they are probably more celebrated for their non-hindering abilities. If pushed I’m sure most people would point to the fact that giraffes, as generally docile and quiet beasts, do not excel in the hindering department.

The resemblance is uncanny

In fact if I were to be an animal I think it would probably be a giraffe, I’m tall, laid back, fairly ungainly on my feet with a pervading aura of awkwardness about me, I have a huge purple tongue which I use exclusively for foraging from the tops of trees and am most vulnerable when having to stoop to drink.

Further along the track were a troop of velvet monkeys, a few of the mothers were clutching very young ones to them as they chattered and chirped amongst themselves, all the while watching us with keen interest from their viewpoint in the trees that line the trail.

Keeping with the theme of offspring, we came across a herd of impala with lots of young, some of them apparently only a couple of days old, but all up and bouncing about like no one’s business. After that it was zebra and their young, then some more giraffes with their young, all of them gambolling about the place as if on springs made of fizzy rubber. The same couldn’t be said of the next family we happened across though, I know they can be fast when they want to be, and dangerous, but I’ve never thought of a hippo being especially springy, young or old, and what we saw of them didn’t change my opinion. Lolling around in the water and vociferously grunting every so often was about as dynamic as it got at chez hippo.

Ostrich mother with chick
Zebras, but you knew that
Bison, that most cantankerous of beasts having a go at another jeep 
And here he is giving us the old hard stare, that most feared of animals, bar one....
The one animal that was guaranteed to strike fear into the most sturdy of hearts, also happened to be the one we encountered most often and at closer quarters than any of the parks other inhabitants. Spiders, and lots of them, fell into the vehicle by the bucket load, they build their webs between the trees that line each side of the track overnight, and we then, very unhelpfully as far as the spider was concerned I’m sure, drove right through them, one after the other, clearing a path through the gossamer fibres and in the process dislodging the spiders from their lofty perches.

Never really found out if they were dangerous or not, they looked like they could have it in for you if the fancy took them, I got that impression partly because they were of a certain size, not tarantula proportions or anything, but you know, a certain size, mainly though it was their colouring that I found most arresting, a vibrant mixture of red, white and green. The kind of colouring that says hello, I could so make your day a whole lot worse.

It has to be said though, when they did fall in the back of the jeep in big enough proportions and/or quantities to elicit baleful cries from some of the occupants, our guide did stop and fish them out, but with a sense of resigned duty more then anything else, which made me think there wasn’t much to worry about. But on the other hand, when they fell into the front of the jeep, our guide could suddenly move with a swiftness approaching the speed of light, so keen was he to get them out and away from him. So as I say, not sure either way.

Bull Giraffe looking all mean and moody
And here's a youngster wondering what all the fuss is about
After heading back for a sumptuous breakfast we decided to go out for a walk. There are a few paths that are safe to take in the park, unfortunately for us all of them had now been deemed unsafe, thanks to a couple of hippos who had moved into a nearby pond, thereby closing all the paths that ran near it, except one.

It wasn’t a long walk, but it was good to stretch the legs a bit, hoped we might see some wildlife on the way, not too wild of course just moderately so, but due to the fact the sun was now beating down pretty harshly, I think most of the animals had gone to ground. We saw lots of termite mounds, quite a few of which had been destroyed, as I found out later by aardvarks, but apart from that it was uniformly barren as far as fauna was concerned.

Apart from spiders, again. I must have careened through hundreds of webs as I blundered through the undergrowth looking for more interesting trails to follow, I appeared from one ill conceived expedition dragging a curtain of web behind me like some kind of gothic wedding train. This was proper web, like the sort Spiderman uses, I was finding bits of it in my hair hours later. Got to see the spiders close up and in some detail as well, but they didn’t look any better.

Got some lunch then spent the afternoon in our lodge just lazing about and catching up on a bit reading, which was very agreeable, it was the first considerable length of time we hadn’t been out doing something since we fell asleep on that fateful first day in Cape Town.

Mother and cub from our evening drive
Mother without cub after she'd told him to bugger off so she could have a kip
Family of giraffes taking some evening refreshment
But it was soon time for the evening drive, where we got to see quite a few animals again, doing very similar things, in very similar surroundings. It was still good, don’t get me wrong, but it would have been nice to see something dramatic happen, like a fight or a hunt or something. Made me think about all the amazing wildlife programmes that are on TV, and it just goes to show, you need to do more than an hour of wildlife filming to get an hour of wildlife programming.

And that people, is why I should be working in television, you just can’t learn that innate understanding of the medium. It’s a gift.

A view of the reserve when we got out to stretch our legs a bit

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