Morning and evening drives in Balule Private Reserve – Kruger National Park

The Kruger National Park is where you unwind and relax. Toro Yaka is blissful and relaxed. The lodge is nestled in the bush with no fences for wild animals to roam the grounds. We have been told to be careful and not wander off. Lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas and a host of other wild animals could be lurking. There is an active pride of 6 lions operating in the area. They will probably sense fear as a weakness and behave accordingly.

The dinner last night was quite perfect. After the long day yesterday, we had restful sleep and were ready for two rides in the bush. Everyone who visits Kruger has one goal; to see the big-5 animals >> Buffalo, Elephant, Leopard, Lion, and Rhino. I have no such aspirations. I’ll be happy as long as I see gorgeous birds like the lilac-breasted roller posing for me in perfect sunlight. They have a few exotic bee-eaters and whydahs that would be very rewarding to see. The icing on the cake would be to see a saddle-billed stork!

Morning Drive: We were up at 5AM to get ready for the 5:30AM drive. As I stepped outside, I saw something feeding on the bird feeders; it was a bush baby that hopped away into the thatched roof. Bush babies are nocturnal but shy. They are primates (monkey family) with large eyes and are very cute.

We started the drive and almost immediately spotted zebra, impala, waterbuck, kudu and a few other antelopes. Michael was at the wheel this morning and we had no tracker. He showed us where rhino had stopped to mark the territory. Immediately after, we saw lion tracks going in all directions. We drove a bit further and there they were; a pride of 6 lions. Apparently, there were 9 in this pride, but they had dwindled down to 6. The pride was lead by 2 females and had 2 sub-adult males and 2 sub-adult females. The males were clearly larger than the other cats. We saw the family split apart momentarily and then get back together and greet each-other as if it had been weeks. Lion bonds are strong and they show affection readily by snuggling and licking each other. They put on a show for us that lasted a good hour!

After we said goodbye to the lion family, we went deeper in to the bush looking for signs of other animals. We saw that a range rover had stopped observing a black rhino. Jackpot! Black rhinos are rare and elusive. They have been poached almost to extinction (their status is “critically threatened”) and are strictly controlled by the World Wildlife Fund. Black rhinos are temperamental and somewhat unpredictable. The one we saw was more intent on eating with loud chomps rather than paying attention to us. He ambled away at his leisure eventually.

We drove on and chanced upon a large male giraffe. He was gently walking as he chomped on the green foliage sometimes using his tongue to scrape off all the leaves on a thorny branch. Their tongues must be made of leather.

On our morning ride return, we saw a few more antelopes and it left me exhilarated for the rest of the afternoon.

Afternoon Drive: It was warm at 4:30PM when we started the drive. We were barely stopping for the abundant species and soon chanced upon a large heard of buffalo. They stared at us with their steely eyes as if they could look into our souls. They are large beasts but look quite benign. They are far from benign though.

The highlight of the day came when we chanced upon Ezulwini. He is one of the oldest elephants in Balule and has a easy disposition. Michael stopped the car about 30 feet from him as he destroyed a couple of bushes to get to its tender shoots. He inched his way towards us and eventually passed within 2 feet of me. Yes, 2 feet! I have heard that it is unnerving for some people but I was grateful that he trusted us; he trusted me!!

On our way back, we saw a brilliant lilac-breatted roller in the full evening sun. Wow! It;’s a common bird around here but what a bird.

Tomorrow, we repeat today with a host of new adventures in wildlife. I feel at home here.

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