We were enchanted by our experience on the safari. We stayed in the Sabi Sands Reserve, adjacent to the Kruger National Park which is the largest national park in South Africa, covering 7,322 square miles. Sabi Sands was established when 30 separate game reserves converted from hunting lodges into conservation viewing and fenced themselves off from the encroachment of humans but with open access to Kruger for the numerous animals that wonder about. Sabi Sands covers about 200 square miles. One of the 30 lodges is owned by Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Records and Virgin Air fame.
We made twice daily treks out into the bush with our guide and tracker in open aired Land Rovers that had been adapted specifically for game viewing. In addition to seeing the famous Big Five (Lions, Elephants, Leopards, Rhinos and Water Buffalo), so named for being the five most dangerous animals to hunt on foot, we also saw an incredible array of other animals like zebras, giraffes, wart hogs, impalas (even one albino one), hippos, cheetahs, hyenas, baboons, crocodiles and of course monkeys.
We witnessed two kills, one by a young leopard and another by a cheetah. The leopard carried hers up into a large tree, something that a cheetah is not strong enough to do. The leopard took its time in eating its kill, whereas the cheetah ate as quickly as possible. When a couple of hyenas approached, drawn by their acute sense of smell of blood, we quickly saw why as the hyenas quickly robbed her of her remaining meal.
Even though we were in an open vehicle, we had animals approach us within an arms distance. One memorable one was the young male lion that nonchalantly strolled right by our vehicle as though we weren’t even there.
One of the biggest problems that places like the Sabi Sands are facing is the rapidly growing elephant population. The reserve’s resident ecologist, Jonathan, told us, “They are starting to overrun everything. Our annual population showed us with 1,400. The main problem is that elephants eat 5% of their body weight daily which means that the average four ton one eats about 450 pounds of food and drinks about 50 gallons of water each day.
I’d been on several safaris in Kenya before and probably saw more wild animals on those, but was much more impressed with both how our South African hosts took care of us and how they were preserving their wonderful natural habitat. They have a wonderful asset that treated with the care they are showing will grow in value as more people flock to view Africa in the wild.