Thursday, November 27, 2014

South Africa Trip, Day 13: Double Big Cat Day!

Kimberly Writes: After three fabulous days, we said a fond farewell to Punda Maria and headed south for Olifants Camp. Since this was the longest driving distance between any two stops of the trip, the drive south today was supposed to be simply getting from Point A to Point B. But Kruger had other things in mind! 

First came the lions.

We spotted an adult male standing over a freshly killed buffalo, 

looking every bit like a scene from Wild Kingdom. 

We hadn't been watching for more than a few minutes when he abruptly left the carcass and started walking towards us! He walked right past our car, across the road, and into a little grove of trees near the edge of the road, where the rest of the pride - two females and another male - were resting in the shade.

All were panting heavily, not from the heat (today was much cooler), but from having full bellies, an interesting tidbit we learned earlier in the trip. Here are two of the three females in this pride. In prides where both sexes are present, the females kill proportionately more than the males. However, single males and male groups do kill their own prey.

When an adult male lion with blood smeared all over its face looks you straight
 in the eye from less than 20 feet away, you are reminded of your place in this world in a powerful way! After about an hour, we reluctantly tore ourselves away in order to make it to the next camp before the gate closed. But our adventures were far from over! 

Earlier in the trip, we were fortunate enough to watch three cheetahs lounging in the grass, a fair distance from the road. We felt very blessed to see these wonderful animals, as there are less than 300 cheetahs in all of Kruger, and we felt certain that we would see no more after that fateful encounter. 

We were wrong!

The three cheetahs we found today were VERY close to the road, lying in 
the shade of a cluster of small trees. (can you find all three?!?!) We watched for
 nearly two hours as they rested, tossed and turned, and bathed themselves – 
behavior not unlike that of our (indoor) house cats back home.

Once you've looked into the eyes of a wild cheetah, the world seems like a 

better place, richer, fuller, more interesting, and much-much more wild!

We would have been thrilled simply to watch them resting, but after nearly 

two hours, one of them suddenly got to its feet and walked right past us. 

The other two soon followed.

They crossed the road in front of us and made their way deep into the bush. 

We watched until the white tips of their tails vanished into the brush. 
Once they were gone, we sat for several minutes in complete silence, 
reveling in the magic of the experience.

When the wildlife is as accessible as it is here, you are lulled into this sense of peace and tranquility. Today's encounter with this lion was a powerful reminder of the fact that this is real. These are wild animals, and every day is a matter of life -- and of death. We are but fortunate observers, offered a glimpse into a world that we can scarcely even imagine - even in our wildest dreams.

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