Some moments- including all 9 hours of the Planet Earth DVD box set- make my heart swell in overwhelming gratitude to be living here amidst the gorgeous magic of nature. On the days when I’m lucky enough to capture these moments on camera, it seems best to let the pictures speak (mostly) for themselves.
Mostly. It’s still me, after all.
Day #9,478: Kruger National Park, South Africa.
Mr. M & I were out on our sunrise game drive especially early; our guide had a tip that a special guest had been spotted on the local airstrip.
Although we had seen a herd of elephants the day before, this lone male was unbelievably close… and used breakfast as a good excuse to ‘mow’ the airstrip grass. Males generally leave the herd at puberty, so it wasn’t uncommon to see this fella off on his own.
As the sun rose higher, we came across a creature on the other end of the mammalian size spectrum.
One thing I found interesting about the steenbok is that they tend to form monogamous pairs, but live separately and only meet up to mate. It was a good life lesson for our honeymoon: even with the right mate, sometimes you need a little space. :)
The area of Kruger in which we were staying thankfully had a relatively large population of leopards- the park does a fantastic job of securing against poachers.
Leopards are the Renaissance Men of African wildlife: they swim, they climb trees, they’re strong enough to drag their prey up into said trees… they’re pretty much all-around awesome.
Another famous African cat had been proving much more elusive. We had yet to see a lion in the wild… until we happened upon this pair! Why a pair instead of a pride? Such a good question, friends. When lions meet up during mating season, the male will escort his lady away from the pride- they’re a jealous (and presumably, private) bunch- for several days. During this period, they abstain from hunting or eating and focus all energies on mating frequently (up to every 20 minutes! Get it ON!).
As foolish as it sounds to leave the safety of the Jeep with all these magnificent beasts roaming round, all game drives included something of a Seventh Inning Stretch. We’d timidly hop out of the vehicle in a wide-open grassy area, and our ever-thoughtful guide would magically produce warm cups of coffee and rusks (hard, dry, biscuity things that South Africans like to dunk in their morning brew).
Not all the creatures of the South African veldt are quite so photogenic.
Later that evening, we were back in the jeep marveling at nature- and our second leopard of the day.
Mr. M & I were also amazed to learn that the leopards have made use of safari vehicles to aid in their hunting. They follow the relatively noisy vehicles (which mask the sounds and smells of hunting leopard) and jump out to catch unsuspecting prey. The animal kingdom- including us people- are remarkably adaptable.
As we left one friend behind, we drove around the bend and met with a happy and handsome surprise.
We also ended up seeing our only Cape Buffalo of the trip, who was timid to say the least.
Cape Buffalo are noted to be one of the most dangerous animals in Africa. While they are quite unpredictable and should be avoided on foot, I wonder if some of their reputation doesn’t come from big game hunters pursuing them to begin with.
Our final treat of the day came in a pair.
This mom and her seemingly grown cub were sharing a bit of bonding time just before sunset. Mama leopards are quite maternal; cubs are independent at 22 months, and mom will continue to hunt for them as long as necessary.
Sitting, breathing, living next to these creatures in that wild expanse of nature is something of a contract that binds me to the point of tears. A contract to protect and preserve and appreciate. Isn’t the world simply marvelous?
It kind of makes me want to be a bit more marvelous myself.