What do you do when a 10-tonne African elephant, touted to be the world’s largest and heaviest land animal, suddenly decides to cross the road just in front of your vehicle?
Of course, you let it go first – after all, it is the safari and they have the right of way – but what happens when you drive past him and he decides to give chase? Should you speed off and get as far away as possible?
The answer is obvious: Elephants are very social animals. Seldom do they attack humans unless they are provoked. This was what we learnt from the guidebook on Kruger National Park in South Africa.
But then, as we were driving on the African safari, we noticed a herd of elephants. Just as we stopped our car to watch them from a distance, a bull also decided to turn around and looked at us as if it was ready to charge.
We were sure our vehicle would be easily overturned with just one push from the bull. If the bull had decided to attack, the headlines would have read: “Malaysian couple in elephant stampede on African safari.” Whether we would have survived the stampede is anyone’s guess.
Elephants are territorial animals and the bull is the one who would protect its herd from any form of danger. In the animal kingdom, it is important that you do not provoke the dominant male.
Such was the real-life experience of animals and their behaviours that you can never learn in the classroom. It was an invaluable lesson.
That’s why we always enjoyed visiting the Kruger National Park during long weekends when we were living and working in Mozambique back in 2007. Crossing over to South Africa was a great getaway for both of us.
For me, as a photography enthusiast, it was fun to capture the animal antics using a zoom lens and a digital camera which allowed me to take tonnes of pictures. Let me share a few anecdotes.
We saw a car with some young men stopping by the road just to look at a gecko. On zoom lens, it just looked unperturbed as I was telling my wife, “Look, those guys are offering the female gecko a ride!”
My wife asked, “How do you know it’s a female gecko?” I replied: “Because it looked pretty sexy after it changed its clothes!” I was referring to the gecko camouflaging itself to a new environment.
Another interesting sight: a flock of African guinea fowl congregating together. We learnt that these birds love to stay together and they can get very upset if they are separated. I used to have a picture of them singing away, which reminded me of the American musical-sitcom from the 70s, The Patridge Family, which is sadly lost now.
Some images captured of the vervet monkeys were equally interesting. One particular picture showed the baby monkey being taught to do gymnastics at an early age and another one showing the mother patting the little baby monkey for being a good boy (or girl).
This is truly a great lesson for most Asian families who prefer to hide their affections towards their young ones. Isn’t this a great lesson?
The other animals such as the giraffe, the zebras, wild boar and the antelopes would have to risk being preyed upon as they migrate from one place to another but this baboon was spotted hitching a ride. I wonder if it managed to hitch a ride but we were not that daring to allow the baboon into the car.
Within Kruger National Park itself, there are 21 different types of antelopes, and we only managed to capture images of the more common ones such as the waterbuck, bushbuck, the nyala and the impala.
Even harder to spot were the other four of the African Big Five game animals. We never spotted any leopards during our numerous visits, but they probably saw us from the tree tops.
But thankfully, we managed to spot a pair of lions on the rocks and another pair having their afternoon naps in between the tall grass. We also spotted some Cape buffaloes but there was one near accident encounter with a big herd of them.
As the day gets dark by about 6pm, I remember driving on one of the roads to get to the exit of Kruger Park. There were no streetlights. It was dark. Just then, I noticed some movements.
To my horror, as I managed to bring the car to a screeching stop, it was an entire herd of buffaloes crossing the road! My wife was pregnant then, and I wonder what would have happened if I had hit the buffaloes.
We had another encounter with the rhinoceros but I have to mention that this experience was in another safari in Swaziland that we had visited. There were four of us Malaysians in the car. As we stopped by to take photographs of the few rhinoceros, suddenly a bull came charging at us.
Should we just press the pedal and try to speed away or did we just have to stay calm? As I was the driver, I had to make quick decision. Thankfully, we remained calm, and the rhinoceros decided that we were harmless; so it turned around to join the herd while we backed off slowly.
Plan Your Trip
In a safari like this, there was always adrenaline pumped into the bloodstream. One cannot make the wrong move but to date, thankfully, there have been no major attacks by the animals. Of course, when we were in certain zones where we were warned of the presence of lions, we were not allowed to even wind the windows down.
The whole safari experience of being able to just see the animals in the wild is something that I have always treasured all my life.
If you are now thinking of making a trip to Kruger National Park, you should plan your trip to include a brief stay in Cape Town in South Africa as well. You can skip Johannesburg but Cape Town is a beautiful place that you would not want to miss.
Johannesburg is said to be unsafe to visit, but Cape Town is a lot safer. That is something that you need to know about South Africa. When we hired a car to drive around in Johannesburg, we were told not to ask any strangers for directions unless it was a police personnel or if it was someone working at the petrol station.
In Johannesburg, when we had to ask for a certain location from a police officer, she even told us: “Sir, never ever ask any stranger or wind down your windows.” Cape Town is a lot safer for tourists but then, always avoid the dark alleys and watch out for any bad hats when you are walking alone. It is always best to have a bigger group of people together.
While Cape Town is on the West coast, Kruger National Park is located on the East side of South Africa at the border of Mozambique. As South Africa is big, you may have to take a flight or it may take several days to travel on the road.