Sunday, August 31, 2008

All creatures great and small

We interrupt this journey to Cape Town ..... to bring you another short trip!

It was Mr Farty's birthday yesterday and we decided to treat him to a picnic at one of his favourite places, the Addo Elephant Park.

the birthday boy

It is only 70 km from here, so perfect for a day trip, or even, as in our case, a half day, because we had to wait for our son-in-law J to get home from work. K and I (supervised by young Ethan, who did the quality control) made chicken and avo tortilla wraps, and sweetcorn fritters. Due to many ... well let's just call them "baking malfunctions" that I have suffered over the years, we have a sort of unwritten agreement that K will handle any baking that is required for special occasions. She has become so good at substituting ingredients that she can now produce a gluten free, dairy free, cholesteral free carrot cake that still feels and tastes as good as the real macoy! Mr Farty went off and bought the fruit juices and spring waters, and when J got home, we were ready to roll. We all piled into Thandi, who was bought for just such occasions, and headed for the Park.

One thing we found to be a delicate balance was explaining to Ethan how dangerous the big game can be, while at the same time wanting him to enjoy them and not be scared of them. Just after we drove through the gate, we encountered a large lone buffalo bull. As you can see he is clearly having a bad hair day, and looks lonely, comical and docile. To Ethan, he looked like any number of friendly cows he has already met. So he wanted to yell out the window, and was surprised when we were all shushing him! The reality is that the docile looking animal right next to the car is one of the meanest tempered and most unpredictable of the African big game. (In fact, when we went camping at Mana Pools in Zimbabwe a few years ago, a woman had been killed by a buffalo there the previous week. And Ann, who ran the Kariba Breezes Hotel on the shores of Lake Kariba, and from whom we used to rent boats to go across to Sanyati, was also killed by a buffalo.) But we didn't want to freak him out, so we explained how wild animals don't like noise etc. Later this week, K will explain to him all about how wild they are, even if they don't look it!

The great thing about a place like Addo, for us, is that it is not just about the big 5 (elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard) although all are found in the park. We can derive as much joy from watching the antics of the birds and dung beetles as we can from the big guys. Yesterday really was a sort of "all creatures great and small" day.

We started off at the picnic site overlooking a large waterhole, which was unusually dry, and did not have the usual large crowd of animals hanging around it. As we unwrapped the lunch, the trees were suddenly all aflutter with a variety of birds, who are clearly used to being fed and were remarkably tame. If they hadn't all been so cute and colourful, it might have felt a bit like something out of the Hitchcock/Du Maurier movie!!!

Cape Weavers, Spotted back weavers, Cape Glossy starling and fork tailed drongo
Despite the very large quantity of enormous elephant droppings on the road ( a fact that delighted Ethan, who is at that age where toilet humour can double him up!) we did not see a single dung beetle. This was very disappointing, as they are fascinating creatures and I was dying to see Ethan's reaction to a creature who eats poo and rolls it into balls!

But we did see the old lone Buffalo, and a large Jackal, who was off on a mission of his own and didn't wait around to pose for Max! We also came across Red Hartebees, warthogs and a distant group of Eland.

We also saw numerous kudu of all ages (in fact they are getting really common in the park, it gets to the point where you hardly blink as you come across another group.)

But of course, Addo is all about the big boys, and at first we were surprised how few we were seeing. Just the odd lone bull lurking behind a bush,

and one drinking from the outlet pipe of the spring that feeds the Domkrag Dam.

(Domkrag literally means "dumb strength" and was named after a famous HUGE leopard tortoise who lived in the park many years ago. The word also means 'jack' in Afrikkans, and this tortoise had a peculiar habit of walking in behind cars and lifting them up with enormous strength. Domkrag came to a sad end when he fell into an aardvark hole and couldn't get himself out. His shell is still on display in the reception foyer.)
But then a huge group approached the waterhole as we were leaving, and things got pretty exciting.

Again, it is hard to see them when docile like this, and realise that they can be very dangerous. Fortunately Addo elephants are much less aggressive than their Zimbabwean counterparts, especially the ones in the Zambezi Valley. Anyone who grew up in Zim either knows someone who has been charged or has been charged themselves, (as have both Max and I) and has the greatest respect for these giants of the bush. The most lethal are the mommies with small babies, you do NOT want to mess with these ladies!

We found ourselves hemmed in by cars in front of and behind us, bush to the left, and a large group of mommies and babies walking along the road next to us. We literally held our breath as one momma looked right at us with a beady eye and flapping ears, as her baby came up behind her. My window was wide open, and I couldn't close it because the noise and movement might have made her feel threatened, so we just sat and hoped that Ethan wouldn't choose that moment to tell us again that elephants are "velly plitty" .... little guy still has a hard time getting his tongue around 'r's! Luckily he didn't, and they strolled gently past.... whew.

Next week we will resume our Capetown trip, and see a different kind of African beauty.


Shirley Goodwin said...

Oh I love reading your blog, Suzi, so many interesting photos!

dot said...

What a trip that was! I would have been scared to breathe. lol.
So the husband was proving how brave he was by posing by that sign? The scenery behind him is gorgeous. Thanks for the tour!

Ali Honey said...

Tell Max thanks - I did enjoy his Birthday outing.
As always fabulous photos, what about the colour on the front of that Weaver bird, as it caught the light.

Firefly said...

Wow. You guys got to see a good veriety of game during your visit. Addo truely is the best place in the world to see wild African elephants up close.

Katney said...

Oh, how lovely! It is certainly true that large animals, no matter how docile, can be dangerous jsut because of their size. And getting between mom and child--no way! That is a caution we emphasize around our national park bears as well.

Sheila said...

Fantastic photos Suze. The first pic of the elephant really brings home how huge they are.
It must be wonderful to see them up close and personal like that, even if it is a scary at times..!
Belated best wishes to Mr.Farty.

Janet said...

Those are some amazing photos!! I can't imagine seeing that much wildlife....roaming freely and not caged in a zoo.