The place was Kruger National Park, South Africa, and the plan was a five-day safari with two days of driving, three days of hiking, and plenty of extra batteries for picture taking. We began with Africa's second most dangerous animal--the hippopotamus. But don't worry; we were far away from the hippos. We had come across a ranger who gave us permission to exit our vehicle and sit on the rocks with the hippo pools at a safe but enjoyable distance. They snapped their jaws while we just snapped pictures. This guy was being a good hippo and posing nicely--I call him Humphrey. (Africa's most dangerous animal is the mosquito, by the way.)
Hyenas get kind of a bad rap—they are certainly less majestic-looking than lions, but they are actually very helpful to the environment. There are a lot of animals in the park, and all animals die eventually, but you really don’t see many skeletons or remains because of the clean-up crew: the scavengers, least selective of these being the hyena. They will eat anything, and their powerful jaws give them the ability to crack bones, after which the bones decay more quickly.
On our night drive, we expected to see some other nocturnal hunters, and we armed ourselves with jackets and cameras and arrived at the vehicle early to get good seats. In Kruger, there are camps with restrooms, as well as other designated areas where it's okay to leave your vehicle. Everywhere else, you must stay in the car at all times to avoid a potential hazard. This being said, forty-five minutes into our three hour drive, the most likely intoxicated folks in the back felt the need to harass the driver about their inexplicably full bladders. The entire drive was full of these complaints until the driver had to pull over. One man said: "I'll give twenty rand to the first person to find a toilet!" which was followed by another man saying: "I'll give a hundred to whoever knocks that guy out." After all that, all we saw were common duikers.The next day, we were glad to be starting our hike through the wilderness. It was time for some serious safari. We met our group at around three in the afternoon, climbed into a big safari jeep and set off for the bush. Our guides’ names were Moses and Rangana, and they had been working in the park for ten and twelve years. We enjoyed a meal cooked by the camp chef, Johann, then sat around a fire and listened to Moses’ and Rangana’s stories and advice on what to do if an animal charged. We went to bed early, and at five a.m. we woke up to the sound of Johann knocking on our doors. It was time to begin our adventure. We were being driven to the bush where we would continue on foot, and soon after we left the camp, what did we see in the middle of the road but a cheetah. As you may remember, cheetahs are even fewer in the park than the endangered wild dogs, and they prefer open areas in the central part of the park, as opposed to the lightly wooded south. Needless to say, Caleb’s fervent wish to see the fastest land animal didn’t look like it would be fulfilled, but here was a cheetah who stared at us for some minutes before slowly walking out of sight.
The hike consisted of a morning walk and an evening walk, the morning walk being five hours long, with a very pleasant break for snacks in the middle. The first animals we saw on foot were white rhinos, which are apparently less aggressive than black rhinos. Moses told us that they have a saying in his culture: “If you even think about a black rhino, climb a tree.” Our guides told us how to differentiate between black and white rhinos by their appearance, behavior, footprints, and, of course, their dung.
From a distance, you can tell a white rhino from a black rhino if they are running away from predators, Rangana said. The white rhinos would run behind the babies, since they prefer open areas and therefore must protect the young ones from behind. Black rhinos run in front of the babies because they prefer wooded areas and therefore must clear the way so that the little ones can get through. “It’s like black and white people,” Rangana explained, “we carry our children on our backs, and you push them in front in a pram (stroller).”
Moses and Rangana spotted everything from elephants so far away they looked like small rocks to tiny holes in the ground, and they could tell by the shape and size what created them. They also told us about different plants, such as the lipstick bush, which gives a red hue to the lips if you chew the roots.