“There is something about safari life that makes you forget all your sorrows and feel the whole time as if you had drunk half a bottle of champagne—bubbling over with heart-felt gratitude for being alive.” - Isak Dinesen (Out of Africa) in a letter to his sister.
Anybody fortunate to go on an African safari understands how difficult it is to answer the question: If you’ve seen the Big 5 http://www.anoopjudge.com/blog/african-safari-adventure-the-big-5 on your first game drive, why continue with it? The early start, the four-hour game drive in the scorching African sun, the hard seats and the bumping and bouncing around in the dust?
The answer: the essence of a safari is not just about seeing the exotic game (commonly known as the Big 5)—it is also about the dramatic landscapes unique to this continent, it people and its cultures. For those who value being in the great outdoors, there is nothing more magical than a close encounter with the continent’s less famous but equally fascinating wildlife. Let’s look at some of the main characters and what makes them worth watching:
To see a giraffe walking a few feet ahead of your open-air jeep is one of the most rewarding sights an African safari can offer. Giraffes do not walk like most four-footed animals. Giraffes swing both legs on one side of the body forward at the same time. This means: alternatively, one side, then the other. Cloppity, clop, there goes the giraffe on a catwalk!
Did you know that a baby giraffe is the biggest baby in the animal kingdom, bigger than a baby elephant? Baby giraffes have a rather shocking entry into the world—they drop six feet from their mom’s womb down to the ground. That jump starts their heart. Within 15 minutes, most calves are standing and taking their first steps . . . in an hour, they’re walking!
The beautiful Impala, a sub-species of antelope is the most viewed animal in Kruger National Park. It is called the McDonald’s of the bush because the black markings on their backsides resemble the golden arches of the well-known fast food chain. The Impala is a very popular dinner choice for predators such as lion, leopard, cheetah and hyena; a study done at Kruger revealed that two cheetahs in one month had devoured 200 Impalas. The grace of the Impala is legendary, even confirmed by Chevrolet!
The hippo is one of the most recognizable of African animals, however, the controversy rages that it should be counted among one of the Big 5 predators because it is among the most dangerous of all African animals. The hippo is responsible for more human fatalities in Africa than any other large animal. They are herbivorous, consuming only plants (up to 150 lbs. of grass every day.) Despite this, hippos have a fearsome reputation for aggression and are highly territorial, often resorting to violence to protest their patch of river (in the case of male hippos) or to defend their babies (in the case of female hippos.) Hippos will attack both on land and in the water, with several accidents involving a hippo charging a boat or canoe. Hippo stories may make kids laugh, but watch out!
Kudu are part of the antelope group and occupy woodland and forest much over Africa. The greater Kudu, pictured above, are immediately recognizable by their spectacular long horns with many twisting spirals; these horns can be more than 3 feet in a full-grown male. Our guide told us that Kudu have been known to die in the jungle when their horns got caught with each other, and they couldn't untangle themselves. You may not know this but kudu is the meat most eaten in Africa.
There is seldom a more attractive sight on safari that rounding a corner and coming upon a herd of zebras grazing. Zebras live in small, cohesive groups, typically comprising a stallion, a harem of several mares and their young ones. While zebras might look pretty, they can be extremely hostile. Stallions will defend their harems from predators with aggressive kicks from their hind legs. Zebras are perfect animals for the bush. They have a very good sense of sight and smell. Their striped pattern of black and white provides them with camouflage. Conclusion: if you want to be re-born as an animal in the jungle, best to come back as a zebra!
As we leave Africa behind, we spy at an airport curio shop, bull dung enclosed in a glass case with the words, "Bull Shit" stamped on it in white and red lettering. "Oh, golly," says my husband, "somebody's making money from bullshit!"