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Africa 2000;
South Africa Parks

and north to Swaziland

Zebras in Hluhluwe NP, South Africa

Heading North

After the conference we took our rental car and drove north to visit a few of S.A.'s great game parks. Driving in South Africa was a bit wierd at first, wrong side of the road and all. Figuring out where to drive turned out to be relatively easy. Shifting with my left hand was a different story and worst was everytime I wanted to signal a turn I switched on the windshield wipers (think about it).

Hluhluwe, pronounced shush-louie for some reason, was our first park and in our first hour there we saw 4 of the so-called big five - lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino - missing leopard. Its a very nice park with a pretty high density of game so our 2 days there were pretty interesting. Gary Player's brother started a rhino program here responsible for the restablishment of rhino in large numbers here and throughout southern africa.

elephant in Hluhluwe NP Then to Swaziland, a tiny country squeezed between South Africa and Mozambique. Mkaya game preserve was a splurge. They pick you up at the road and drive you into the park and we had 3 game drives. The guides are pretty aggressive about getting close to the animals and we approached buffalo (maybe the most dangerous) and rhino fairly closely on foot and had a nice walk by a hippo pool ... later we learnt that the rhino here are more like cows than rhino since they were raised here and are very familiar and comfortable with people.

Our conversation with an unemployed teenager here was sobering. Prefacing every statement with 'some people say', you knew this translated to 'i believe' - that condoms cause aids, or the virus came from the U.S. We also knew that anything to the contrary that we told him was simply not accepted. This is more the norm than not. Myths, tribal beliefs and customs and kid talk become reality and it will be difficult to change these realities.

Impala in Hluhluwe NP Mlilwane, also in Swaziland, has much less game and no predators and we were able to rent mountain bikes for a nice ride around the park. And it was fun to watch the warthogs that came round our huts in the evening and early morning, mingling with the impala. At night we watched a local dance group and tried to sneak up on dozing impala.

Then Kruger, the gem of South Africa's park system. It is huge and we spent most of our time in a tiny corner of the park. While you can find any animal here the game density isn't high and you can spend hours seeing relatively little but then boom - events come quick. We took an evening ride that was like that; very little for an hour and a half and then, it seemed, an endless progression of neat sightings. First the obvious, elephant, buffalo, giraffe, zebra - and then the not so obvious - jackal, hyena, cervet, servals, one after the other like actors on cue.

And then there were the aggressive little Vervet monkeys who tried to steal a bag of apples from Janet. Janet grabbed them back, sacrificing one in the process. Those cute little Vervets do have nasty teeth!

On our last day at Krueger we had the episode with the Leopard, the Hyena and the dear departed Impala. Here's the story.

Once there was a Leopard ... a big Leopard. The Leopard was hungry and so, when a careless Impala ventured too near, the Leopard grabbed him even though it was just after noon and the Leopard normally liked to sleep all day. The Leopard hunkered down, by the side of a road, and started to chew.

Meanwhile Harold and Janet were about 1/4 mile down the road visiting some vervet monkeys in a tree. All of a sudden all the monkeys picked up and left; maybe H&J had been out in the bush for too long.

So they drove down the road where they saw 2 cars stopped. A famous hunter said "cars stopped in the middle of the road means action" and so they stopped and there was the Leopard (completing the big 5, by the way).

The Leopard was not totally at ease with his Impala; he kept looking around, glancing at a nearby tree, circling, wondering what to do - then chewing some more.

All of a sudden a hyena appeared from the bush. A big Hyena. She circled the growling Leopard and took a grab at the Impala. The Leopard did no like that and all of a sudden there was a little battle!! Growls and nastiness ensued.

Well that was quite a thing ... the hyena backed off but continued to circle and then attacked again. This time, after a brief scuffle the Leopard slunk off. He was bigger than the hyena but had had enough. He appeared uninjured but was breathing very hard ... he sat in the grass nearby and watched.

We watched too. The hyena actually came off worse in the fight with an ear almost torn off. After awhile Leopard tried to move back in but the hyena said no way and Leopard slunk off and appeared to leave the stage. The hyena munched on and on breaking bones easily. Finally the hyena grabbed the carcass and dragged it thru a conduit under the road.

The Leopard came back. He munched on some of the food the hyena had left behind and then went to follow the hyena who suddenly appeared on the other side of the road, in a stream, with his carcass.

The Leopard circled and sat and waited while the hyena ate more. Soon the Leopard went downstream out of sight and we could hear him drinking. Then he was gone. Then the hyena stopped eating and started to think ... what should she do ... she stood in the pool for 5 minutes thinking ... then he went on the trail where the Leopard went ... and stood there thinking. Then she left.

So H&J and the other cars waiting talked to each other and soon we left. We went off to visit with a troop of Baboon. That was pretty neat!! Maybe 30 of them with lots of babies. then we found a safe area to do some things that come up if you sit in a car for hours watching a Leopard and a Hyena eat an Impala.

Then H&J headed back to the Imp carcass. There they saw a bunch of cars and figured something was up. It was! Leopard was up a tree. And so was the Impala carcass!! He had come back, in the hour we were gone, and dragged the carcass up the tree, as Leopards are wont to do. And we missed it!! Patience is a virtue when watching game adn that would have been a treat.

When we drove up Leopard jumped off the tree with a big bone and contentedly hunkered down to munch. He was pleased.

After a few minutes he sauntered off. Then the hyena returned! The hyena, it should be mentioned had had an ear ripped badly by the Leopard and it bled profusely but now she was clean. Hyena probably had young and probably had gone off to regurgitate some goodies for her cubs and now was back for a 2nd helping.

But she knew what would happen and thats why she paused so long before leaving - and probably dragging the carcass into the pool was her attempt to hide it. When she saw what had happened she had an expression on her face that said 'oh shit' and she just grabbed the remaining bone and took off again.

And some people had a great treat on a nite ride that nite but H&J had to leave the park. But not before coming upon a pride of lion eating a Buffalo - and when they purred the ground shook. But that was an anticlimax.

Hard to believe that earlier in the day H&J thought it so neat to see a Hammerhead bird swoop down, catch a frog, pound him senseless for 5 minutes before, gulp, eating him in a single swallow! But that was after 2 hours of seeing almost nothing and before the story of the Leopard, the Hyena and the dearly departed Impala unfolded.

That evening we visited some great folks who live right outside the park and we spent the next day driving the beautiful country of the Blyde River Canyon before heading back to Johannesburg for an early flight to Uganda. It was nice to return our rental car without having either causing significant property destruction or killing anyone.