I'm sorry about the sporadic posts! The internet here is not the best and time is limited, so it's difficult to get posts up; however, I finally finished this one!
We woke up at 5:30 and left shortly after to go to the Elephant Whispers. The Elephant Whisperers is an organization that has African elephants, rescued from various situations, and trains them using positive reinforcement. Their mission is to use elephants as an education tool. We were all speechless just seeing the elephants, but we were even more shocked when they stepped down and the trainers hopped on their 6 elephants! From there they showed us just how smart elephants are. They can remember around 80 commands and know exactly what their trainers are asking of them. Things got really exciting when they allowed us to brush and touch the elephant. It’s so amazing to me that such a large creature can be so gentle and calm for us. They began to explain all of the parts of the elephant and as they did so, allowed us to feel them. We got to touch their ears and the bottom of their spongy, shock-absorbing feet. We even got to feed them! After a whole lesson on elephants and being entertained by their tricks, they popped a shocking question, “Are y’all ready to ride them?” I thought that they must be joking, but soon we were led out to an arena and trails where we mounted the elephants and rode through the woods. I can’t remember the name of ours, but Rebecca and I hopped on it and as it stood up I swear I thought I was going to slip off the back! We walked through the trail; it was kind of like riding a horse, but with a different texture, much higher up, and the fact that it was an actual elephant! If I were to ever ride a dragon, I imagine it would be kind of like riding an elephant.
We returned to the hotel, ate a big breakfast, and then packed up our things so that we could depart for Motebetsi. Motebetsi is by far the coolest place we have stayed at yet. It is located in Kruger Park, a giant reserve consisting of millions of acres that was set aside to preserve the wild life. The lodge is surrounded by a electric trip wire to try and keep wild animals out; however, how well this works I do not know. African artifacts decorate everything and there are metal lizards with lights behind them on the wall. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner and the staff cooks delicious, homemade meals. For lunch they served salad, lots of break, spaghetti, and an ice cream dessert covered in a fruit sauce. They have well water, so it’s nice to finally be able to drink water and have ice in my drink!
Our first safari began after lunch at 3:30. The bush is not what I had expected. Unlike the Lion King, it consists of lots of brush and bushes that create a woodsy environment for the animals who live there. In the distance, a panel of blue mountains line the horizon. The sky is always cloudless, allowing constant rays to beat down from the African sun. The safari vehicles drive around paths and search for inhabitants of this strange bush land. The brush itself looks vicious. Many types of plants have large thorns or look poisoness. To survive here the animals must be vigilant, have a system to fight or flight from threats, and have luck on their side. Today we spotted several things and learned many facts about them.
Field notes from this afternoon:
Field notes from this afternoon:
1. Birchel Zebras: A herd of 8 zebras casually grazing—7 adults and one baby.
· Babies nurse for up to a year.
· They are too wild to be written despite efforts by many.
· Their mane is usually erect; however, when sick, it droops to one side.
2. Savannah Giraffes: 2 giraffes—one male and one female.
· A hardened mouth and dexterous tongue allows them to eat from the Acacia tree—a bushy tree with thick long thorns about 2 inches in length.
· Male giraffes are larger and have bigger horns than females. Their horns also have less hair on them due to fights with other giraffes.
· One had a lump on its neck that was caused by a parasite.
3. Warthog: one that quickly ran away
· Also called a “pumba” in Africa
· Lives in ground holes that could have initially been created by aardvarks digging for termites.
4. Hippos—2 that were in the water (only heads were visible)
· One of the big 5 (consists of lions, buffalo, hippos, elephants, and lepards)
· Stay in water during the day then at night roam about 10-15 km from the water
· Large prides of lions are their only natural predators.
· They can hold their breath for up to 5 minutes.
· Walk on the bottom of the river/lake bed
· Kill more people than any other large mammal in south Africa because they are very protective over their young.
· Predomitaly vegetarian, but in rare cases will nibble on carcasses.
5. Red Billed Buffalo Weaver:
· Type of bird
· One of the “little 5” and shares its name with the buffalo in the big 5.
6. Dab Chick:
· Type of duck
7. Yellow Billed Horn bull:
· Type of bird
8. Red Billed Wood Hooper:
· Type of bird
· Type of antelope
· Male has the biggest horns of any African antelope
· Very big; brown with white stripes
· Thinner, red tail
· Sounds an alarm call when it sees a lion or predator
11. Lion—2 females lions had apparently waited by the fence for about 6 months trying to find a way to get to the male on the other side. Unfortunately, the private game reserve who owns the land the male lion is on does not wish to take down the fence.
· Lions’ social structure consists of one male and several related females. Once an adult male is forced out of the group, he becomes solitary. There, he waits until he is big enough and strong enough to challenge an alpha male.
In the midst of spotting animals, when the sun begins to set, our group stopped for “sun downers.” The trackers serve food and drinks, and together we are able to take a moment to marvel at the beautiful sunset before heading out again to shine for more animals in the dark.
When we headed back to the lodge, dinner was already prepared. They serve it around a giant fire with all of the tables in a semi circle. It was delicious. When night falls, the sounds of hyenas and lions echo through the grounds. It’s kind of nerve-wracking, but made me realize, “Whoa, I really am in Africa!”