Day 30, Year 6 Kruger, Day 3-BIG 5 and Much More
Date: Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Weather: Beautiful, Sunny Day
Location: Kruger National Park, South Africa

Today’s highlight was seeing a female leopard first thing in the morning. This rounded our sighting of the BIG 5-buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion, and rhino. We have been told that many people come to Kruger for years and never see a leopard, so we feel very, very lucky. We had planned our day to have the best chance of an early morning leopard sighting, but when we actually saw the leopard walking across the road in front of us, it was almost surreal. She was beautiful and majestic. After seeing the ten sleeping lions yesterday right beside the main road, we couldn’t believe we would be so lucky as to see a leopard on the main road right in front of us. It was just magic. And right behind the leopard came two spotted hyaenas down the road going right by the car and then ducking into the bush behind the leopard. But there is so much more to the Kruger experience than seeing the BIG 5 and we feel like we have been blessed with so many interesting sightings. After seeing the leopard, the adrenaline was running high once again. These cat sightings seem to do that to you. It took us about an hour of driving to settle down. We went back to the spot where we saw our sleeping lions yesterday, but they were gone. We did see some beautiful birds-long-legged crowned lapwings and various kinds of doves. There are Cape Turtle Doves that are gray with a black band on the back of the neck and black eyes and legs and the Red-eyed Doves that look identical but have reddish-orange eyes and legs. We also saw more steenbok which are a small antelope. Then we headed east toward the Lower Sabie River. On the way we watched an elephant strip all the bark off a tree, and then separate the tasty inner bark from the outer bark. It was fascinating, although tremendously destructive to the tree. We watched him strip and eat, strip and eat, and then he moved to a smaller scrub to eat the leaves. When he walked away from the scrub, I declared that this elephant had five legs. We looked more closely and saw that the fifth leg was-well, you can figure that one out. All that we could think was that he must have been super excited by his stripping of the tree. But none of us had ever seen such a sight and we decided we would have to add a five-legged elephant to our Kruger checklist, making it The Big 5 PLUS. Next we watched beautiful male kudus browsing. Kudus are a rather large antelope with vertical wide-spaced, thin white stripes on their sides. The males have magnificent spiraling horns which can be five feet long. When two males locks horns it can sometimes be the death of them both as there is no way they can get unlocked from each other. Not far away we saw female kudus browsing, but we did not see kudu babies. At one water hole we saw a hamerkop. This is a brown water bird with longest black legs and backward-pointing crest. As this bird walks along the crested head goes up and down and looks like the head of a hammer. I’m imagining this is how it got its name. As we neared Lower Sabie Camp we stopped at Sunset Dam and watched the wildlife in the lake formed by the dam. There we saw hippos in and out of the water, a sly crocodile surfacing just enough so that we could see his eyes, lots of weaver birds, and a family of Egyptian geese with momma, papa, and five babies.

We stopped for lunch in the café at Lower Sabie Camp that overlooks the Lower Sabie River. There we got our only look at a Saddle-billed Stork. This is a tall black and white bird with long black legs, a black head, and a long black bill banded with bright red. This bird is listed as Endangered in South Africa so we were pleased to get to see it. After lunch we drove a loop road near Lower Sabie camp and our first sighting was another magnificent bird called the Secretarybird. This is a large black and white bird with very long legs and an orange patch of skin around its eyes. It is easily identified by its striding gait through the grasses.

In the afternoon we made two stops where we could get out of the car. The first was on top of a hill overlooking Mlondozi Dam. We got out of the car here and watched Vervet monkeys and lizards skittering about under the thatch-roofed picnic area. The next stop was at the Nthandanyathi Hide. Here we saw hippos floating in the water and birds. A feisty Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill landed on a branch right above us and observed us while a beautiful little Crested Barbel sat on a branch next to the hornbill. On our way back to Lower Sabie we saw zebra, wildebeest, giraffe, warthog, various types of antelopes, lots of Leopard turtles crossing the road, and as the sun was starting to dip in the sky, a huge hippo walked across the road in front of us and then tried to hide himself behind some straggly bush to play hide and seek with us. No sooner had we ended that game when a big bull elephant came marching down the middle of the road right toward us, flapping his ears and repeatedly raising his trunk high over his head. We were not sure why he was doing this, but it looked threatening to us. So we stopped and then more cars arrived on the scene and stopped, but the elephant kept marching. So we all backed up, and then we backed up some more. The two other cars turned around and left and just about the time we were ready to do the same, the elephant finally left the road and headed down to the river. We were prepared for a full tilt charge, so we were much relieved. But there was never any doubt about who was in charge. A little further on we saw baboon couples sitting on the side of the road with the females picking parasites from the males coat. One couple had a tiny little one who was very curious and put on quite a show for us. Seeing all of these magnificent animals in their natural habitat, doing what they do naturally, is just such a special experience. It was another great day for us in Kruger National Park.

101123 Day 30 South Africa–Kruger Day 3