Big 5 Safari at Kapama Game Reserve

“What animal is everyone looking forward to seeing the most?”
“Lion!”, someone yelled. “Cheetah!”, called out someone else. As our guide made his way around our group I realised I  was so excited about sitting in an actual safari vehicle that I’d forgotten about the prospect of seeing wild animals up close.
Eventually our guide makes his way to me. “How about you?” he asks.
“I’d like to see a giraffe.” I blurt out.
“Giraffes are pretty common at Kapama, anything else you’d like to see?”, he asks.
“This is my first game drive so I’d be happy with anything really.” I reply.
“Well this is a big five park, so hopefully we’ll see some of those guys first”, he replies and then we’re off and on our way towards the reserve entrance.

Giraffe, Kapama Reserve, South Africa

As soon as we roll through the first gate, I look to my left and there’s a giraffe.

“There’s your giraffe!” The guide calls out to me. “I guess you can go home now. Shall we turn the vehicle around?” He jokes. I couldn’t believe it. It was huge and beautiful and about half a metre from our vehicle.  Dammit, I thought, totally should have said a rhino.

To the left of my amazing giraffe, were two casually grazing zebra and a handful of skittery impala.  Apparently zebra and impala are a dime a dozen around here, so I was glad I didn’t pick those guys as my “must-see” animal (s). The later (impala) are also known for the black M on their behinds. They’re so prolific (and easy for cats to catch), the rangers refer to them as the McDonald’s of the savannah. No joke.

After I’d recovered from the excitement of my first animal encounter I settled back into my seat and flicked through the safari guidebook being handed around our vehicle. It listed a bunch of different animals I’d never even considered I might spot on safari –  including a hippo, some pumba (warthog) and loads of snakes, as well as the big five.

The Big Five

Apparently the term was coined by actual game-hunters to describe the five most difficult animals to hunt on foot in Africa (and the degree of danger involved). The list includes the African elephant, black rhinoceros, Cape buffalo, African lion and African leopard. Obviously the only shooting I’d be doing was with my camera lens and to be perfectly honest, the only animal on that list that sounded like it might be interested in a photo was the buffalo*. Listening to other safari members tales of their big five encounters it quickly became apparent that spotting anything on safari is a win and some animals (rhino and leopards in particular) are hardly ever seen.

The Hippo Encounter

“It’s so cute!” I exclaimed as we rolled closer to a wallowing hippo. According to our guide, hippopotamus are one of the most aggressive African animals, attacking humans on boats and land, often without provocation. Apparently they kill more people every year than any other animal. He advised never to get between a hippo and it’s baby or a hippo and the water.

Hippo, Kapama Reserve, South Africa
I’ve never seen a hippo do that before…

Okey dokey I thought, hippos are not so cute. Whilst watching this particular one play in the muddy water it decided to bare its teeth and launch out of the water. By far one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen and completely unexpected. We opted not to stick around in case it decided we looked worthy of attacking and moved to another watering hole for a couple of sunset drinks.

As darkness falls, the nocturnal animals of the bush come out – or that’s what’s supposed to happen. On this particular drive it appeared that the darker it got the fewer animals we saw. We started to make our way back towards the main gate when something caught the guides eye and we pulled over for a closer look.

DSC06597Less than a couple of metres from the vehicle and nestled underneath some bushes were two lionesses and their cubs enjoying an early dinner. They seemed completely at ease in our presence and we were so close to them we could hear the cubs crunching on the bones – like a scene straight out of a wildlife documentary.

Wanna Hunt for the Big 5 at Kapama?
Kapama is composed of over 13,000 hectares of wilderness, adjacent to the northern Drakensberg mountains and the Kruger National Park. Within the park are over 40 different mammal species and some 350 bird varieties so there are plenty of opportunities for wildlife spotting.

My sunset safari drive at Kapama Game Reserve was included as part of a 2 night/3 day safari tour with Themba Day Tours and Safaris. More details about the tour inclusions and costs can be found here.

* Apparently buffalo are also reported to kill more people in Africa than any other animal.

UPDATE: After two days in the Kruger I managed to spot 3 of the Big Five. The leopard and rhino will have to keep for next time.

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