On safari in South Africa
Can you imagine the smell of elephant dung? I mean actually having the elephant dung put under your nose to smell it? I don’t have to imagine because I smelled it on my first safari. It smelled a lot like horse poop and I learned that is because horses and elephants eat similar foods. Even though it smells like horse poop, it sure is a lot bigger!
My family and I just got back from going on our first safari. We went to Sambona Wildlife Reserve and is about three-and-a-half hours from where we live. The Reserve was created in 2002 to restore the wildlife and environment slowly back to how it was before the first white settlers came to South Africa.
The first white settlers came to the area about 300 years ago. They came to use the land to raise sheep, goats and cattle. The animals overgrazed the area and the vegetation couldn’t keep up because it was so dry. The wildlife that had lived in the area moved away from their natural habitat because of the farmers and ran to the mountains or they migrated north.
The first white settlers changed the landscape completely. Not only did the natural wildlife move away but the farming didn’t work because the area is not good for farming sheep, goats and cattle. I saw some of the damage the farming caused. There are large holes in the ground that was caused by erosion because the plant roots that held the soil together were gone due to the overgrazing.
Sambona Wildlife Reserve is in the Karoo Desert and Karoo means “the hard, dry place.” I understand why it was named the Karoo because when you go on game drives there are huge clouds of dust that get kicked up by the jeep; after the drives we were covered in dirt. There are also many, many mountains in the area. We drove up and down the mountains and valleys bouncing up and down in the jeep. On one of the climbs up the hill, we were told that we were going on “the roller coaster.” It was like climbing up the first roller coaster hill because you couldn’t see what was ahead. It was cool.
I went on four game drives led by a ranger that lasted between three and four hours each. Our ranger’s name was Surhita. She helped us find lots of animals and taught us about the landscape, how to find game by tracking it and interesting facts about the animals and their behaviors. One of my favorite moments on the game drives was when we found two cheetah brothers eating a baby springbok under a tree. They were on alert while they were eating, watching us and looking for other animals like jackals and lions that might come and steal their food. The brothers had blood all over the faces. They growled at one another when they were fighting over the good pieces of meat. I didn’t see this but Surhita told us that the brothers will groom each other and clean up the blood off each other’s faces when they are done eating.
I also saw three white lions and I didn’t even know white lions existed. I heard baboons screaming when two tawny lions were near and walking towards them. I could see the baboons running along the mountainside looking for shelter. One of the tawny lions stopped walking and began roaring over and over again. The sound of his roar echoed off the mountains. Even Surhita thought that was incredible. She told us not everyone gets to hear a lion roar. We felt very lucky!
My first safari taught me that it takes a lot of patience to find the animals. You have to really keep a watchful eye on your surroundings because the animals can be right there but you can miss them because they are so well camouflaged. Sometimes you are lucky and see animals after animals, but other times you can drive long periods of time without seeing anything. I am looking forward to the next time we go on safari and I hope we have a ranger as great as Surhita.
Audrey Ray is a fifth-grader at Bay Middle School, currently living abroad in South Africa.