Wednesday, July 27, 2011
What A Difference A Day Can Make
Waking up at 6A for our first game drive in Tsavo the skepticism from the night before had not yet worn off. The sunrise over the beautiful landscape began to help, but was not sufficient, we needed to see animals; big animals and specifically big cats if we were to recover completely.
After puttering around seeing a few cool birds (dedicated post coming soon) we finally happened upon a small herd of elephants a bit off in the distance. After snap-snap-snapping a few pictures we sat back down in the van. The driver took off with unusual haste, eventually informing us that someone had spotted a leopard.
For Lisa and I, the leopard has proven to be a very elusive creature. In all of our safaris we’ve yet to see one. When we arrived at the site there were at least 6 other vans full of tourists that were also trying to see the leopard. The leopard was doing his best not to be seen, and in particular not to be photographed by our crew. Unfortunately he succeeded in his objective, although we did catch some quick glimpses as he bounded through the tall grass.
We started to work our way back toward a watering hole that we had passed on our race to see the leopard and were greeted by several shy giraffes and a few zebras to round out our morning drive.
After heading to the main lodge for lunch we got to snap some shots of the beautiful landscaping including our favorite lizard – the agama.
Just as we were leaving the main lodge, a large herd of elephants passed by, only about 100 ft away. They had apparently just had a satisfying mud bath and were on their way to their next engagement. At that point, we had no idea that this close experience with elephants was nothing compared to what was yet to come.
After a brief respite we headed out on our afternoon game drive with one objective – Lions. When you go on safari, the little trucks, in addition to having a pop-up roof also have a radio. This is critical, and allows drivers to alert others to animal sightings. All of the drivers set out for the afternoon drive and scatter across the park in a lion-hunting network. After what felt like 2 hours driving up and down our section of the park we were exasperated. Mad again with our tourist agency, and ready to throw in the towel.
When we crossed over the next ridge we found something unexpected. There was a small herd of elephants off to our left, making their way across the road in front of us to a watering hole in the distance on the right. They were moving much more quickly than we had ever seen for elephants and one of the larger mamas fanned her ears wide and trumpeted loudly. She was clearly telling us to stay out of their way.
As the elephants crossed the road in front of us we were too busy snapping pictures away to look to see what was following them – a pride of eight lions. The elephants had passed the road and it became clear that the lions too were sauntering their way toward the watering hole. The lions passed directly in front of our van including a young male who jumped up on top of one of the park signs. We all got some amazing pictures, and Lisa even got video of the Lion jumping off of the sign in the middle of the road.
Our driver called the other trucks as the lions made their way to the watering hole. The watering hole was a decent bit away from the road and no one had a view like we did when they crossed our path. We had just gotten incredibly lucky.
One of the features of the Salt Lick Lodge is that they provide a watering hole for local animals. On our first night, nothing much happened there and it seemed like a gimmick. When we ate breakfast the next morning, we noticed the near constant parade of zebra, antelopes and baboons that frequented the watering hole. When we returned from our amazing experience with the lions we found a group of elephants at the watering hole. In addition to the view from the lodge, there is a small tunnel that leads to an elephant-proof fortress/elephant butt scratcher that allows viewing from the waters edge.
While we were looking at the elephants from the tunnel, a second group of elephants joined the first at the watering hole. The two males stood aside while everyone else drank from the watering hole. After a few minutes of standing face-to-face there was a series of brief tussles, without a clear winner.
One of the brave younger elephants moved to the watering hole immediately at the base of the elevated lodge for a drink so we changed our vantage point. Lisa and I stood nearly 10 feet away from him as the rest of the herd eventually made their way over and stood there drinking for 30 minutes. It was a magical evening.