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Monday, April 19, 2010

Glenn’s Big Day

On the eve of Glenn’s Birthday we pulled into Umkhuze National Park to check out the animals and spend the night. We were instructed as to where to camp, nodding politely, as the ranger rattled off the list of park rules. It was 4:30, the park gate closed at 6:30. Cool, we would have 2 hours of prime feeding time before dark. Since this is a relatively unknown, small park at the end of a long gravel road, it appeared that we were the only visitors.

Not more than a few feet beyond the guard post we came across a vast meadow filled with kudu, grey duikers (deer and antelope kin), impalas, zebra, warthogs and wildebeests. Well, two hours turned into three or maybe four. It was well after dark and we were getting really tired. Since we were miles from the official campground, we thought it would be dangerous for us (and the animals) if we continued driving [insert sarcasm here], so we turned down a gravel road to find an unofficial camp. We set our alarm for 5:30 and bedded down.

By 6:00am we were packed and ready to roll. We’ve been told that the animals are most active in the early mornings and just before dark; since we had seen hundreds of animals the night before we were looking forward to seeing the early birdies. We were just minutes away from camp when we saw our first rhino. I can’t distinguish between the two rhino species, so we’ll call it a blackie, as the white rhino’s are quite rare, although they are in the park as well. Glenn was driving and seemed to be on a mission that morning. He wanted to see a leopard hunting for its breakfast. For those of you who grew up watching Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, you know the scenario he was envisioning. We had been driving for about 20 minutes and hadn’t seen much, which is unusual for this park. I thought maybe we should slow down a bit; driving at this speed, I figured we weren’t going to see anything but blurry specks in the woods. Just then we rounded a corner and came to an intersection. We were stopped in the road consulting our map as to which way to go when Glenn said, “hey, what is that in the road up ahead?” 

“Umm, a Big kitty.”

Afraid that we would startle it if we moved closer, we just watched from a distance. Of course I had just taken the zoom lens off of the camera that morning. I knew it would be pointless to try and get a photo from this distance, so we just watched this gorgeous leopard warm itself in the morning sun. What an amazing sight. We’ve met locals who have never even seen a leopard…most people don’t. Slowly, we began to drive closer. I was frantically digging out the zoom lens, hoping to get a shot, but not wanting to miss this wonderful moment. But this leopard wasn’t in a hurry; it slowly got up, looked around and sauntered off into the tall grass. WOW. What a fantastic birthday present! I was hoping we’d be lucky enough to get a glimpse of one of these majestic cats, never mind the opportunity to actually watch them for a few minutes. Yeah. My first African kitty is a leopard!

You would think that it would be hard top seeing a sleeping leopard in the road, but I must admit, I liked seeing the giraffes even more. I have never seen giraffes in the wild until this morning, and I guess it has been so long since I have visited a zoo, I was completely gobsmacked by just how huge these incredible creatures are. I was caught off guard, as I didn't see them from a distance. I was looking out the driver’s side window at a big group of impalas, when I turned to look out my window, I think I yelled something profane, because not  10’ from my window stood the largest animal I have ever seen, a humongous male giraffe. I was in love. I have never seen anything so majestic. He was so, so beautiful.

Since that first day, we’ve seen tons of giraffes, but I remain awestruck. They have a gentle inquisitiveness about them and when you are standing among them they envelope you; it is the most incredible experience.

It has been a week since I wrote the above post. We must admit, that we have since properly identified our ‘leopard’ as a cheetah. Oops. Either way it was an incredibly gorgeous kitty. Just a few days later, we stumbled upon three cheetahs feasting on a freshly captured impala. We watched them for at least an hour; it was magical to see them so close. I’ll post photos. The animals up here in Zululand are fabulous.

Big love and kisses,

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for sharing and sparking my imagination. I can close my eyes and almost see it!