The Great Lure Of Africa’s Game On A Kilimanjaro Safari Tour
The great lure of Africa’s game is a threshold of the unknown situated on a diverse, vast land surprising every foreigner irrespective of media portrayals.
Most imagine it’s all about the Big Five. Even for us that frequent the wild, it’s much more than the majestic and even awsome Big Five although they command magnifcent presence: The Elephant, Lion, Leopard, Buffalo and Rhinocerous (Rhino). It’s about the entire family genres and their fascinating
and intermingling habits culminating into a fiesto of varied activity, lending mankind each day a unique glimpse into an eco system entirely theirs.
Having lived in Africa all my life and working for a Kilimanjaro safari tour company, I have – and still do have many personal experiences of this. More importantly, most of my work practices have also enabled my living very close to – and amongst the great nature unique to Africa.
I feel privileged experiencing this and would love to show you all what it’s like – or at least some of the best for a start.
My favourite African animal: Baboon
For ease of reference, let’s just say, “baboons”. These mischevious and versatile creatures have the world’s best advantage in Africa!
They witness what most humans never can. The amazing culture of the elephant – and amazing it is! My accounts of the elephant kingdom run parallel with documented history – they are extremely human-like. A mother doing creche duty was desperate as the youngest fell to the ground, tired and thirsty. One by one, none of the members gave up. Patiently, they urged and urged – it was over a five-hour process. The baboons moved just a little closer, their anxiety for the baby elephant prevalent. Females shared baby caring duties with unusually quiet dedication. Males watched from the trees. Even to my weary eyes and relief, the baby elephant finally started to rise. The baboons pitched a language of their own demonstrating an atmosphere of positivity. It was awsome to experience as the tempo rised until baby elephant was strong enough to take a step or two.
The baboons went out to play, orchestrating both relief and their own return of mischief. Babies and mothers ran races and circles – a sight to see! If one has any emotion, one can’t help but feel what they do! As we drove along, so they employed their fine art of branch-swinging, grabbing their lunch en route. Watching these creatures not only revealed fruits, fauna and flora one doesn’t normally note – but also the awareness of more looming ahead from whichever angle was next. Akin to the elephants and other animals, their passion for their young was the most prevalent feature. Keenly tuned, I was aware of sudden hyped noises and then a respectful silence by the baboons as I arrived at a scene of lions. Mothers were dedicated in their quiet and mutual handling of the babies whilst the males guardedly watched the “King of the Jungle”. And his wives who were lazy in confidence, yet obedient.
In central Kruger National Park where conditions are stony and dry, a lioness hunted dogedly on. It was evident she had a litter stashed somewhere. She covered miles undaunted and so did a small clan of baboons – their curiosity quiet but amazing and what would they glean out of it? As with all our African animals, specifically the Big Five in this case which was my focus for the time being, they are undaunted in procreation and sustaining their babies at all costs. The action was too sudden and fast – basically done with before I could aim a camera lens. She’d made her kill and headed back with a speed. It was exciting! Magic! And the baboons screamed in what I hoped was celebration. They missed nothing. In fact to successfully get to the action of any great African animal, all one has to do is monitor the baboons although in this case the ugly vultures circling above are often a leading and faster method of tracing the great lions out to feed – or merely relaxing days after a feed. The change in the behaviour of the baboons was and is significant as opposed to their shouts of concern for the baby elephant.
Early one morning, a more stunning photo of a leopard and it’s kill in a tree, I couldn’t have wished for. She was in gestation and guarded and I wasn’t going to disturb this majestic animal with too many photos – as it was, I had to use extensive flashing and buffering to avoid a colour mis-balance. Again, the baboons were there in awe. They love meat! Mostly because humans deviated from the rules by feeding them. Mother leopard was cautious and pulled her kill up and down as if to move on. The baboons backed off. Trailed on the side of the road for a mile or two, the mothers continued their creche activities. One mother passed to another – but not without humane contact ensuring the baby was fine with the next mother. I distracted from the leopard totally when something along the line of baboons seemed odd. A mother walking slowly and sitting often. Drawing closer, she was still nurturing a baby that had very obviously recently died. Her agony was obvious and albeit she was alone in form, from a remote distance, many baboons were sitting anxiously and intensely.
It is this kind of love and humane demonstrativity so obvious that makes Africa’s animals unique. One doesn’t have to drive far, get through adverse weather conditions – just take a drive in one day, not in haste, to witness this awsome set of relationships and the pecking order – a vital aspect even by human standards.
Baboons have little interest in the massive Rhino (Rhinocerous). And in a way I can’t blame them. These enormous animals tend to settle within a small radius of plantation and graze and keep to grazing. They’re a sight to see with their eyes almost on their noses, amazinglingly cumbersome bodies, making it difficult sometimes to tell whether the females are in fact with baby inside. Unless angered, both black and white Rhino graze peacefully but highly astutely in their zone. Their only mildly apparent frustration being the huge flies and sometimes the birds who travel and feed off minute creatures on their backs and heads, taking on some irritating and overpowering moves. When a Rhino crosses a road directly in front of one, and one examines the feet – it’s an almighty animal! As with the elephant – the feet tell a lifetime – a much endangered species in Africa!
Particularly the Rhino due to the horn and upper skull considered as an aphrodisiac in various cultures of the world, these beautiful African marvels, often killed just for those parts to be removed. And that is when the baboons arrive at the scene, maintaining a sad, respectful distance. It’s one of those times when many a baboon will be seen pulling it’s hands over it’s eyes or ears as if in defiance and rebellion!
The difference between the Black and the White Rhino: A study not currently to hand would have to be conducted to establish why the names were allocated. The Black Rhino’s primary difference is a more pointed mouth and jaw allowing it to grasp at tougher plants and bushes, whilst the White Rhino’s jaw, particularly the mouth is flat and it grazes on soft grasslands and leaves. There are actually colour variences across both species.
The Buffalo is perhaps one of the most outstanding, yet most secretive African animal. With huge bosses on their heads, often reflecting bitter fights, they graze and the only time one is aware of their alertness, is when they lift their heads to give a one-on-one stare or peep up with the whites of their eyes sometimes showing. When calving, the baboons are again in celebration. I am not sure the buffalo quite feel that way about the baboons – their body language remains almost hostile and yet relaxed. They accumulate and move in massive heards along the same or similar dedicated routes – but also go into hiding very well for not only their individual sizes, but heard sizes at calving times. A heard will easily stamped a perceived threat, like a vehicle with a stripe in bright colours, for to them and elephants, that is the same as the helicopters used for darting them for tagging and monitoring. Ironically, in the Swaziland state of South Africa, many are so tame that a person can touch them and feel their wet noses nudging in to one’s shoulder. A stunning experience!
In Africa, within a day mostly, one has seen all of the Big Five, often with the exception of the leopard who operates with stealth before sunrise or during the night and they’re hard to spot – with their spots! Along the way however, the baboon family continue, with mornings as feeding time and dusk as playtime. And play they do!
The naked beauty of African animals is only revealed in the reality of the accompanying terraine, witnessing all the other significant African animals either grazing, resting under shade in the overtly high mid-day temperatures, bathing in mud or dust, looking worse than before or in amazing territorial manouvres and fights with the youngsters, frisky and playing, obvlious to the stark realities of survival – and survival it is.
The Impala are famous for their horn-butting rituals in the open. The whiplash, deep-sounding cracks are certainly painful in my imagination as they fight for their seasonal females, just as the fat, cheeky Zebra mingle with the “Wildebees” and Warthogs (similar to wild pigs) prefering to be together, providing brilliant viewing as their habits coincide. The bird life, ranging from tiny, colourful wild birds to the predators change across the vast portions of Africa – each within it’s own chosen eco system. An abundance of rivers, but only a few large ones give rise to the Nile Crocodiles, Hippo’s and storking birdlife, most of such birdlife migratory. One’s not to forget the smaller side of life – the famous Dung Beetle rolling a maticulously rounded piece of large animal dropping for endless yards and miles where it will lay it’s eggs to breed. The cautious Chamelion crossing a hot road with both eyes in all directions and oddly, not changing to the colour of the road… Or the Chamelion hanging on a fully decked branch of leaves next to your head – that’s not quite so comfortable at all! Yet, they’re minding their own business and harmless, unlike the Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Buffalo and Rhino who command the most respect.
At sunset, there’s nothing nicer than refreshments on the bank of a river at a camp – or even where there isn’t a river. Lulling slowly into a South African Braai (Barbeque),with the sounds of the Fish Eagles, the busy Weaver birds and of course the Baboons putting their babies to bed with humerous chasing, screaming and an occasional spank. And if one waits up a little longer, the Lion calls in the night! The Elephants can be heard passing by secretively and long before that, the calls of the Hyena, Wild Dog and Jackal can be heard. It’s when darkeness has descended and coals are embers, African Animals take on a sound and unique form challenging heavy eyelids!