South Africa 2011: Kruger National Park Photo Report 1 – “The Big Five”
Following on from our brilliant time exploring Cape Town and its beautiful surroundings, we hopped a plane to Johannesburg, picked up our soon-to-be-abused rental car (a miniscule VW Polo we nicknamed “Egbert”) and headed west-northwest towards the Kruger National Park. What attracted us to Kruger was not only its reputation as a game-spotters paradise or its size (think Wales), but primarily we liked the sound of a self-drive safari. Yes, that’s right, instead of having to squeeze into a ruggedized Land Rover with ten random fat tourists, we were free to explore the park and get up close to the animals as we saw fit. As a photographer this is a blessing. Of course, next time I would have chosen a slightly bigger / higher car, but I still preferred it to being subject to the whims of over-excitable children (“LOOK! AN IMPALA!” for the 80th time) or, worse…. birders. 🙂
“THE BIG FIVE”
Ever since Victorian times, there have been five animals in Southern Africa which have been known by this collective moniker. This is not because these are the five biggest species around – no, it’s because, back in Victorian times, these were the five animals most likely to turn around and make a run at you if you missed them with your first shot. We managed to see four of the Big Five, only missing out on seeing leopards, who are very elusive at the best of times, but in the 35-42C heat we experienced (early November) the leopards were well-nigh invisible. But we had many, many consolation prizes…
As mentioned above, the daytime heat, even in early morning / late afternoon, was pretty staggering – so the lions we saw were generally interested in one thing only: sitting around and panting. This had plus points and minus points. The minus point was the obvious lack of “action” shots. The plus point was that, once you worked your way through the scrum of cars angling for a look, it was generally safe to stick your lens out the window from a distance of down to 10 feet / 3m and shoot away without fear of losing a limb. So, out of a wide variety of sitting-around-and-panting shots I have chosen these three:
I have to be frank here and say that, despite their fearsome Victorian reputation, I did not find the African Buffalo to be particularly captivating. I suppose they must suffer a lot for this, as many people can name four out of the Big Five and then stall when trying to remember the poor old buffalo…
One of the first encounters we had with a rhinoceros was at close range, as it was ambling along the side of the road, grazing on the fresh green grass to be found there. We were one of only a couple of vehicles and for a time we were able to almost idle alongside it and snap away. It might have been the heat, but almost every time we saw the rhinos I did not feel the slightest hint of threat. It was great as well to get up close to a creature that has essentially not changed for millions of years. Our only regret was that we only saw white rhinos, not the much rarer black rhino.
Elephants were byt far the most numerous of the Big Five we encountered, which was lucky as we were so enamoured of them. They are the real deal, by turns majestic, powerful, slightly menacing, and – would you believe it – playful. Once we got over our initial nervousness of how to manoever around the big bulls (in short: do what they want and be ready to run like hell) we really got to enjoy just sitting and watching these giants do their thing, which is primarily running ravage over the countryside, leaving a trail of shredded, snapped and denuded trees in their wake. And you haven’t lived till you’ve been in the middle of a herd of 30-40 elephants as they cross the road in front of and behind your car…
We were very happy to see quite a few instances of play-fighting by the younger elephants, usually in and around the water. On our last day, when three separate herds totalling over 70 animals had shown up at a watering hole below our picnic spot, we watched amused as the elephants played tug-of-war with their trunks, splashed about in the mud, and in one instance, even cheekily mock-charged a pod of hippos hanging out nearby.
More Shots from my Big Five collection may be seen here.
Next installation of photos from Kruger will be…. birds. After that I will move onto some other critters we encountered on our safari. Stay tuned!