Wilding with the Wildlife

Today, we went on a game drive. I woke up at 6:45, made myself some avocado on toast, and loaded up at 8:30 to go to Okapuka Ranch and see some wild animals.

The best time to go looking for animals is early in the morning or in the evening just before the sun goes down because they tend to avoid the blazing African heat that swelters in the middle of the day. If you can go just before sunset, you might get the crazy colored sky that colors the savannah and if you’re especially lucky you might get some animals lounging about in front of it. (PS. That’s my dream shot for this trip!)

The first animals we saw coming on to the property were Springbok, cute little antelopes, and the fastest on the planet. They’re the thing that the fastest thing on the planet, the cheetah, hunts. Nothing else could stand a chance of catching a healthy adult one. Once we got to the main lobby of the property, we saw a bunch of yellow birds nesting in the trees and wild horses wandering a pasture. We hopped in an open-air van with stadium-style stacked seating and started our drive. The next animal we encountered was a baby alligator sunning on the rocks. The adults had headed further into the property in search of more water and better hunting grounds. Did you know that alligators are one of the very few species that have experienced almost no evolution since the dinosaurs walked the Earth? This is because they are capable of surviving decades with very few things that can kill them, a digestive system that allows them to survive on one meal for months, and their main predator is disease. On our way to a herd of Eland the second driver for our large group got stuck, he was new to driving the safari vehicles which had a sticky stick shift and I suspect he was hesitating on the gas. Our driver, who had been driving for years, had to turn around and help him start the car repeatedly as he continued to get stuck throughout the rest of the drive. Once we made it to the herd of Eland, about half a dozen antelope that were as tall as a quarter horse with a narrow head and long straight horns twisting from its head. Our guide put out several piles of food for the Eland and they came close to graze. A few warthogs came from over the hill to join and steal a few morsels for themselves. Warthogs have really short necks so they have to kneel to get close enough to the ground to eat but this makes them vulnerable. They had to keep the Eland in their peripheral vision because if they happened to piss one off they needed to be able to escape quickly.

The next stop was the rhinos, we knew we were nearby when we spotted the anti-poaching guard that defends the rhinos 24/7. He sat diligently beneath the shade of a tree taking in the details of his surroundings while armed with a studious rifle. The poaching of rhinos has always been a major problem but thankfully Okapuka has never faced the issue themselves. All the Southern African countries work round the clock to keep anti-poaching efforts at the forefront in order to keep their rhinos and elephants safe. The rhinos had been rolling in the mud so they weren’t as white as their name would suggest, but they also weren’t hot. The gamekeeper put food out for them too and we watched the hierarchical dynamics unfold. One rhino, Lily, went for the food first. She had a horn that was sharp as a knife and I suspected cod easily impale a large mammal. When another rhino approached there was a brief stand-off between Lily and the other rhino which was accompanied by loud grunting noises, the pointing of brutally sharp horns, and the ear-pinning aggression often displayed by horses preparing to duke it out. Lily backed off first and moved around the car in search of more food, bringing herself and her horn uncomfortably close. So close that my fabulous zoom lens, that had allowed me to capture in brilliant detail all of the animals from a very comfortable distance, couldn’t be pulled in close enough to see Lily. At that moment I could’ve reached out and touched a rhinoceros, or a rhinoceros could have impaled me. Thankfully, neither option occurred.

After that close encounter, we moved off to view the critically endangered Giant Sable Antelope of Angola. Okapuka had just over a dozen, but that was considered a lot. They were dark in color with the females being red-brown while the males were a distinctive black. They had straight dark horns that curved backward over their back.

The last thing we saw was the giraffes, though we didn’t get to see them very close. If we got too close they sprinted away, galloping with their long gangly legs and their head bobbing laughably atop their very long necks.

For dinner, we had street food, roast chicken and fat bread with a salad we made for ourselves.

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