After last year's visit to South Africa I knew that it was only a matter of time where a return visit was necessary. The sightings, scents, people, and overall effect Africa has over you leaves you wanting more and more. For this reason, we had to go back!
While at Siyafunda we were able to take part in an elephant relocation process where we targeted specific herds (keeping them all together), darted them (via a collection of veterinarians, specialists, and a skilled helicopter pilot), loaded the herd individually into trucks, and relocated them to a reserve that is in need of more elephants. The fluidity of the process was remarkable. After the herd was located and darted we all moved in. During this process professionals monitored each elephants physiological state and kept the large animals sedated to ensure a safe transfer. This is the reason organizations, like Siyafunda, are so vitally important. An overpopulated reserve with too many elephants can sometimes lead to the animals being killed. In order to prevent this from happening local organizations band together, with their own money, and come up with options, like relocation, as an alternative.
In addition to the elephant relocation project we were able to successfully track down, on foot, a pair of rhinos. The experience was amazing. Using telemetry technology, we were able to park our vehicle in the general vicinity and walk through the bushveld learning about all methods of tracking and being able to apply that recent knowledge, literally, in the field. All of our other days were spent taking in the amazing scenery while witnessing amazing sightings each day. The nights at Siyafunda are spent preparing dinner, eating, cleaning up, and preparing for the next early morning game drive.
This year, we decided to spend a great majority of our time in Kruger National Park (KNP). A short stay at Siyafunda gave us this intimate experience that welcomed us back to Africa appropriately and now it was time for some self-driven game drives through the amazing Kruger National Park. KNP, South Africa's first and largest game reserve, has over 20 rest camps as well as private safari lodges. Visitors pay a small fee to enter the park and are free to rent a bungalow, tent, etc. or you can leave the park before closing and stay in a neighboring community.
Originally, we had planned to arrive in Hoedspruit (HDS) and enter the park via the Orpen gate, like last year. Due to a delay in our incoming flight from JFK, NYC, we were rerouted. And it was a blessing in disguise. After discussing our options at Johannesburg Airport, we took a flight into Phalaborwa (PHW) instead of Hoedspruit.
PHW was a gorgeous, small airport, steps away from the Phalaborwa Gate, of KNP. Since our flight was delayed we missed the time we needed to arrive to be able to enter the park, so we booked a hotel room at the Royal Game Guest House just outside the Phalaborwa Gate.
From the moment we entered through Phalaborwa we were amazed. Post-trip we learned an amazing story about a young leopard, named Tsira, that we got to spend some time with. After we posted her picture we learned of a group that specifically identifies leopards of KNP for conservation purposes. We learned that this leopard, Tsira, and her brother, had lost (they don't know if she left or was killed) their mother at a young age. Shortly there after her brother was gone and she was left to fend for herself. She did very well for herself and even had a kill during our sighting. Due to her lack of fear of cars and people, she was later darted, transported deep into the bushveld, and had her ear tagged for identification purposes. She has since returned to Phalaborwa.
We had left this sighting feeling very lucky. Not often do you enter the gate and get greeted with such an experience. After about 15 minutes of driving we noticed a local pulled over looking deep into the bush. We stopped behind him to see what he was looking at. It was hard to see anything and he pulled off. Not two minutes later, a pair of mating lions repositioned themselves and came up closer to the road.
Perfect way to start the trip.
We stayed at the Olifants camp, which is a little less than two hours away from our entrance gate. Due to our unique entrance occurrences the trip took us five hours. We then spent the rest of the day looking for Wild Dogs in between Olifants and Letaba. Due to the overwhelming report of these animals we woke up early the next morning and drove to Crocodile Bridge. This resulted in an entire day of driving without much time to spare, not recommended. Visiting Crocodile Bridge would be best done with at least a night stayover on that side of the park. During this drive you are left amazed. It seems as if you go from one world to another every two to three hours. Endless greenery with mountainous terrain to think bushveld with limited visibility.
The next day we got up early again in order to catch a glimpse of the resident Hyenas that we saw each morning and late as the gates were getting ready to close. We were greeted by an owl sitting in the street and plenty of elephants and a jackal as we made our way to Satara for breakfast and fuel. We headed back towards our camp area to take our time looking around and settling in. We noticed, what seemed to be a lone lion resting off a side road so we decided to make our way up and around to get a little closer. We came around a turn and landed straight into the middle of the Ngotso pride gathering for a walk up the tar road.
Every trip to Kruger changes you. The experiences you have, the sightings you see, and the presence of greatness is a blatant reason why it is so important to protect these crucial species. Greed, selfishness, and corruption are causing an epidemic (ivory, rhino horn, lion bone, etc.). It is important to stay away from places that exploit our natural resources for their own profit. Petting zoos and animal interaction facilities are generally not conservation. They are dangerous and need to be avoided. Do your research before traveling to these parts of the world. It is important to be a part of the solution and not be tricked into supporting the wrong side.