5 AM on a bright day; Daniel – the safari ranger was all set to take 4 of us (mix of Indians and Europeans) for a game drive, deep inside the Kruger National Park. First time on an African safari, our fingers were crossed in hopes of spotting the famous Big 5 – Lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, Leopard, and Rhinoceros.
Few minutes into it, a herd of elephants crossed our way. My European companions were quite elated to see so many elephants and the fact that we had spotted one of the Big5 immediately was also a reason to cheer. Although having grown up in India I was used to such sights but I found these elephants a tad different –bigger in size, heavier in weight and with huge ears! They say that you can tell the origin of the elephant by looking at his ears – African elephant is said to have ears in the shape of the African continent.
We traced our way through dense forests, uneven roads and river bridges. Baboons, monkeys, reptiles, jackals and other small animals were a regular sight on the way. Further down, we saw heaps of Impala – the African antelope. Kruger Park is said to have tens of thousands of Impalas. By now we had already finished half of our safari and were getting anxious for not having seen any exciting species. Daniel was constantly talking on his satellite phone with fellow drivers to trace the location of Big 5.
While we were traversing our way in our giant jeep through a narrow lane, suddenly we saw a pride of lions on the road walking toward us. These were not 1 or 2 or 5 – it was a pride of 10 lions right in front of us about 10 feet from our jeep. This was a lifetime moment! I had only seen lions in movies or probably in zoo but seeing lions only 10 feet away on the road was indeed a completely different experience; it had mixed emotions – delighted and scared. And guess what! Daniel told us that the lions walk in a group on the road when they are in search of food!! =:-O
There were female lions and there were cubs. The male lion I learnt is a lonely soul, who prefers staying alone mostly until he takes over another pride by driving out its resident male. Every year he finds a new female lion and gives birth to more cubs and defends the pride from other males, before a younger, stronger male drives him out in turn. I was told that it is the female lion that protects and feeds the cubs – this reminded me that humans are actually derived from animals!
The moment these lions tried to surpass our jeep, Daniel would again drive and park us close to them. The reason that these forest kings did not attack us was because they view the entire vehicle as one large animal and if not desperate, lions avoid attacking something which is much bigger than them physically. That’s why the only instruction we were given when we started our safari was not to move within the jeep.
We had now spent almost 40 minutes looking, walking and talking with the lions. The lions were probably our lucky charm because after this we managed to see all the big animals – Rhino, Cape buffalo, Giraffe, Hyena, Zebra, and many more. The only one we missed was the leopard. They say that you got to be really lucky to spot a leopard at Kruger because of its agility and camouflage abilities. I got back to my hotel by 7:30 AM and all I could do was to thank Daniel again and again.
I went for a second game drive the same day evening along with new companions and we spotted the same group of lions. This time they were not on the road but were resting under a tree, deep inside the forest. Daniel spotted them following the prints of their paws. We drove and parked our jeep next to them, gazing dreamily at these creatures.
A morning walk and an afternoon nap with 10 lions – all in a day. My trip to Kruger couldn’t have been more memorable.
A trip to South Africa or Africa in general is incomplete without a Safari. There are many options for safari in South Africa but Kruger Park being the largest in SA, definitely gives the best of the wild life experience.
Practical Information: The main airport of Kruger is Nelspruit which is a few hours away. A closer airport is Hoedspruit which has direct flights from Johannesburg. The key thing that you should care for is your safari guide because he is the one who can transform your safari experience.