12 exhausted and excited students led by two lecturers touched down at OR Tambo at 10pm on Friday night where they were met by Marc Holcroft and myself. A short trip to Sunrock Guest House followed where we spent the next two nights.
Saturday was a day trip to the Pretoria Zoo where we were met by our guide Leavy Tau. Having Leavy was a huge bonus as the staff at the zoo had organized for us to go behind the scenes and to see areas that the general public can’t access. “I would hate to come to Africa and spend a day at the zoo” was a remark made by my wife Sue. For a general tourist this remark is very valid however a lot of these students work in various zoos in the UK so a comparison between their zoos and ours was the motivation behind the visit.
Our first ‘special treat’ was the feeding of the Nile crocodile juveniles followed by a guided tour through the reptile section. This was followed by a visit to the aquarium where we were shown the quarantine area and the other fish tanks not seen by the general public, ending up on top of the shark tank. A sign that amused us all was located at the entrance of the shark tank platform that says that if you cannot swim you must wear the life jacket provided – floating around the tank with ragged-tooth sharks below wouldn’t be my idea of fun and a quick drowning may be the preferable option?
From the aquarium we went to the zoos kitchen where the food is prepared for the various animals. Cleanliness is obviously a priority and all the staff is required to wear hair-nets. Fresh food fitting for human consumption was very evident and is kept in huge, spotlessly clean cold rooms until needed. Some of the animals are even fed popcorn and a state of the art popcorn maker was located in the kitchen. The hay-bale storage shed was the envy of many as their sheds are dark, dingy and leak while this one was dry, light and rainproof.
After lunch we were off to see the four gorillas that are cared for by a man who obviously loves his charges. Being a very hot day he called them into the enclosed area where they sleep at night but before doing this he had put out their food which comprised of a assortment of fruit and bottles of fresh water placed in sacks and hung on their ‘jungle gyms’. While the gorillas tucked into their food we were given a very informative talk about these young animals and who was in charge of the group etc. (Gorillas are clearly far more intelligent than baboons as while we were in the Kruger I watched a baboon pinch a ½ bottle of juice off the table. This he ran away with, unscrewed the lid, licked the juice from the lid and dropped the rest of the juice on the floor).
The students were then given ‘free-time’ to wonder around looking at the animals of their choice and Marc and I did the same. The two animals that intrigued me the most were the Kodiak bear and the fur seals. The Kodiak looked so human in the way he was slouched up against the rocks in his enclosure half-heartedly watching the visitors amble by. Some of the fur seals on the other hand were quite active swimming around their ponds showing off to the visitors while two of them lay half in the water on their backs with their heads submerged.
The next day was spent mostly traveling to Moholoholo where we stayed at their Mt View camp. Their latest addition – a swimming pool – was a great hit with the students and the weather was ideal for swimming. We spent the next four nights at Moholoholo with the first day being spent at the rehab center where Oscar performed to his usual high standards. The highlight for me, and most of the students and lecturers, was spending time with two baby lion cubs. By now all the students and lecturers knew that lions are not my favorite animals to see in a game reserve as I find them boring and somewhat uninteresting, well my ‘cover’ was blown and I was labeled as a ‘big softy’ as I was first to plonk myself on the floor with the two cubs on my lap. Lion cubs are very cute with their spotty fur and oversized paws. Other highlights at the Center were the baby black rhino, the three young ambassador cheetahs and the two week old giraffe with huge brown pool-like eyes.
Brian Jones took us to see the three very wild leopards and explained the problems that he is having getting permits to transport and release these animals even though he has a reserve to send them to.
The following day was kick-started by an early morning bush walk, breakfast then off to Khamai Reptile Center. The students always enjoy it here as the presentations are well done and very informative. Unfortunately no necropsies could be done as Donald had nothing to ‘operate’ on. One thing that had changed on this visit was that only one person was allowed to hold the spider. Ann tried to make the fairest choice by numbering all the students and I picked a number, but lo-and-behold, the student I picked didn’t want to hold it so she nominated someone else. It was quite disappointing as I had told the students that they could all hold the spider if they so desired.
That afternoon was free time for the students followed by dinner and a night drive which was somewhat unproductive however we broke into their free time to take them to the boma where nine buffalo were being housed prior to translocation.
Day six was a trip along the panoramic route to God’s Window, Lisbon Falls, Burkes Luck Potholes and Three Rondavels. Marc was a real wealth of information about the area including the rock formations and compositions, rivers names, lizard’s names and history. A number of us are interested in herpetology and these areas produced some amazing lizards that included the Yellow-throated Plated Lizard, Flat Lizards Platysaurus spp., Crag Lizards etc.
At the crack of dawn we bid farewell to Moholoholo and headed for the Kruger National Park in two open vehicles heading to Skukuza via Satara where we had lunch. Arriving early at Satara we decided on a game drive around the Satara area which is typically very productive with general game and we were not disappointed. The sighting board at Satara had two separate lion sightings along a particular road but we failed to see them which was to be expected as the grass was extremely long. We did however see lots of elephant, buffalo and plains game species and Marc and his group nearly saw a leopard! Two excellent sightings worth mentioning were a juvenile Bateleur Eagle bathing in a puddle in the rocks and a male Klipspringer standing guard over his territory.
The bungalows were home for two nights as when the bookings were made there were no tents available. Liz and Henry Venter once again fed us very well and one of the highlights of having meals at their home was travelling past a hyaena den full of pups of various ages.
Another highlight was the evening game drive done by the Kruger Park staff. (The staff at Kirklees had decided not to visit one of the rehab centers in the Hoedspruit area and to rather do this drive). A very good choice as during the drive they saw leopard, rhino and lion.
From Skukuza we travelled down to Pretoriuskop for our last two nights, again being well fed by the Venter’s who travelled down to care for us. At Pretoriuskop the group was divided up and taken on two early morning game walks which, by all accounts, was very well received.
Monday the 18th saw us leaving the Park at 2pm for the long trek back to Johannesburg. To me it was a great trip with great people, great weather and many humorous incidents throughout. Ann and Charlotte cared for the group very well and the students and lecturers were a pleasure to host. Marc Holcroft was great to guide with and I look forward to the next trip. The only down side to the trip was the extremely long grass where a herd of elephants could hide two steps off the road.
Nigel Anderson – Guide at African Insight