A orange and purple sunrise was a fitting beginning to what turned out to be a hot and wonderful day.
Remind me not to trust Google Maps when it comes to navigating rural areas. A 30 minute drive to Inkwenkwezi Game Reserve became a 1hr 15min adventure through potholes and a washboard road and didn’t get us anywhere close to our destination. A local who gave us corrective directions described our route as “elephantine,” as in ‘meandering through the bush.’ But we arrived and in time not to miss our departure on our game drive at 8:30am. We were so grateful to have picked what became a hot winter day of 83 degrees for our first visit to a game reserve. Even in the coolness of the morning, dipping down to the river beds, the temperature dropped 15 degrees.
So here we are at Inkwenkwezi Game Reserve, 30 minutes east of East London, South Africa. 11,100 acres (4500 hectares)! Animals here have been purchased and introduced, some hand reared, but most still very wild, in the cause of conservation. The adventure was awesome, starting with the roads. A remarkable tribute to my camera, all road pictures were taken from a bumpy, gyrating, moving vehicle as we drove the 4500 acres to view the animals!
The vastness was stunning as the vegetation changed from grassland to subtropical forest to scrub land again.And so the adventure begins. Michael was a happy camper.
This rather tame female ostrich was being very submissive as she greeted us. Ashlee let us feel her very warm body under her feathers.
Of the ‘Big Five,’ (elephants, rhinos, buffalo, giraffes and lions) buffalo were just being introduced, and until they settled down and got over their crazies from being in a new location, the females are held in one boma, with the male next door in another, each completely surrounded by blinder cloth. Apparently they feel more secure if they can’t see outside. We found one peep hole for viewing.
But as we passed to the other side, we were being watched by the big female on the right.
Luckily for me, several zebras were just at the roadside. The female is being watched closely by the male nearby, of course. Our guide, Ashlee, told us that you can tell if a zebra is sick, because his mane will fall. These are very healthy ones. Love the tan background and beautiful pattern. each as unique as our fingerprints to us.
These next ones are for Gavin. They make no sound; they are mute.
Then we passed the Blesbok. If you look closely, you can see what looks like a gore wound just below the eye, but it’s not. They all have it. It’s an exocrine gland for secreting pheromones and other chemicals used for communication – by rubbing against bushes.
And now for the amazing encounter.We were between two padlocked gates where Ashlee got out to retrieve a gun locked in a safe! Just as a precaution, and this is why.We were warned not to stand up or make sudden moves in the Rover, because the lions watch the wheels, the moving parts and barely notice us until we move. The pride consists of 11 lions, one white male, Tau, four females (Nala, 50% white) and their offspring, ranging in age from about 2 years to 8 months. Basically we watched (I could have sat there forever; they are so magnificent to be with), and it was only after reviewing the photos sequentially that the story appeared. This is how it went.
As we approached, the male and 4 adult females were on the left and the young ones were on the right. We parked between them.
One of the females was directly in front of us watching us the whole time. After a few minutes, the little ones became a bit apprehensive, as one of the youngins walked over to big brother and said, “you go first.”After a good yawn, he considered it, and finally got up and walked with blazey very close passed us to the other side where the adults were. So now it was the other’s turn, so he went for a cuddle and reassurance and headed out apprehensively. In fact, he made a big circle around us to end up safely on the other side, while all eyes were on him. Another adult female came in closer.It’s amazing what happens to one’s body when these powerful animals start to walk in your direction! But all was well, and the little one made it and resumed his regal behavior.Then, it was the other’s turn, under the ever watchful eyes. He seemed quite confident. And then yet another appeared whom I hadn’t even seen before then. Once they were all sorted out, we moved around to the other side to say hello to Tau, the king of the pride. And there’s junior safely behind the king and queen. He followed us with his nose and perceiving no danger, went back to his nap and we moved on.
All that deserved a break on the other side of the locked gates. The other one with us is Berglind, from Iceland, who is volunteering with SAVE (South African Volunteer Experience) in Cape Town working with 3 and 4 year olds. Her group was staying near by.These barbs handled the space between the gate and the poles. Ashlee told us that if we needed to go to the toilet, there were plenty of bushes.
Then we were on to yet another gated enclosure some distance away. In fact, we drove on the main road for a few kms to get to this next gate. This next one’s for Gavin also.
This big boy is 18 years old and part of the program to educate people about these incredible animals. While I’d love to recount all that we learned, it would be too much. In a nutshell, we learned about their amazing trunk used like an arm with a hand for picking up small things, what happens if they loose it; about their 4 sets of teeth and their tusks (elephants are left or right handed just like people. You’ll notice that one tusk is worn more than the other); about their ears and the secretion gland in back of their eye; and about the ability of their back feet to detect sound and specifically sound vibrations from other elephants from miles away. Extraordinary creatures. We got to feed them and feel their thick, hairy, prickly, hide.
The ear opening is in front of the flap. We gave him instructions and fed him if he obeyed. Mine was to shake his head, which he did.
He laid down so we could touch him. And the others looked on.They can live into their 80s and can have around 14 offspring. They’re remarkable creatures.
A drongo, a hawk, male ostrich, the wildebeests (gnu) and the cheetahs would finish the game drive.
These cheetahs were hand raised and are very used to humans. We petted them just like kitties. Amazing. I was glad to learn from Wikipedia that they are one of the few felids with semi-retractable claws. That’s a good thing when they want to let go of me;>)She was actually purring, which sounded like a growl to me. I asked Ashlee if she would swat me like some cats do when you stop scratching them the way they like. They don’t. The boys playing like kittens. Cheetahs are an endangered species, and this program which allows people to get close to these exquisite animals educates in a very visceral way. These beloved animals will never be ‘the other’ to me.
After an extraordinary day at the reserve, we drove back to East London, the short route, and stopped at our favorite cafe, Sanook, for our favorite Burgers: the Hippy (vegetarian) for me and Peri-Peri Chicken for Michael with 3 beers, $16.
I don’t even remember my head hitting the pillow. What a day.