We were pleased that we had the same guide throughout our stay at Governor’s Camp and it was an added bonus that the four of us had him to ourselves. Each of our Safaris was totally different and Governor’s, different to most other camps, manages to fit three in to a day (one early morning before breakfast, post breakfast up to lunch and then mid afternoon to sunset).
This morning Safari was destined to be something special......
We’d seen four of the Big Five (Lion, Buffalo, Elephant, Leopard and Rhino) on previous outings and we, semi jokingly said to our guide that we just needed to see the Leopard to complete the set. He nodded solemnly and indicated that he’d "try his best" but animals didn’t just present themselves on request. We nodded that we’d understood but weren’t really sure that he’d got her sense of humour.
The term "big five" goes back to the time when affluent hunters went in search of big game and it is really a reference to the difficulty in hunting these large animals. The "big five" were notoriously dangerous when cornered and could inflict serious damage to the hunting party even after they’d been shot. Of course nowadays we’re hunting with our cameras but the rule still applies and safari guides are especially careful in not surprising the animals or intruding too much into their personal space. Naturally that attitude goes for most animals and we were impressed as to how respectful the guides were towards the animal’s welfare.
Off we set, saluting to the smiling guard at the entrance to the camp. He had perhaps the most boring job around but every time we passed the gatehouse he would open up the gate, stand to attention, give us the broadest of smiles and then smartly salute us. In recognition of him we would smile back and give him a cheery wave and a salute. He seemed to appreciate the attention.
As we left the camp in the scrub land close by we spotted the bright bulbous eyes of the Dik-Dik and as we edged tentatively forward I realised it wasn’t one Dik-Dik but two. They momentarily appeared to be frozen and then they scampered off further into the dense undergrowth.
We hadn’t moved far before we saw a group of elephants in the distance and one who seemed a little more inquisitive getting a little closer to the van. Our guide must have felt that this was a little unusual as he decided to start moving and later explained that he thought that this young male, whose ears with fanned out, had become detached from the herd and we were directly on his path back to join them. Better safe than sorry we thought as we paused to watch the fantastic antics of the gazelles as they raced across our path. The power of the hind legs of this lean animal are almost magical to watch as it jumps high into the air and speeds off kicking its rear legs behind it. The turn of speed was amazing and its antics a pleasure to photograph.
There was a crackle on the radio and soon our guide was in an animated discussion with another guide. He looked back and gave us a broad smile. "We’re off in search of a Leopard" he explained "but we need to get there quick. So hang on to your seats because it could be a bumpy ride. Is that OK?" Well of course it was as this would be our first sighting of a Leopard and the 2nd of today’s attempt to see all big five in one trip.
He wasn’t exaggerating when he’d said that the journey would be bumpy but despite being thrown around the jeep and feeling the bumps all through our bodies we were determined not to complain. The journey was certainly exhilarating and when we saw a couple of other jeeps we guessed we were getting close.
Wow, there in front of us prowling through a clump of bushes was a magnificent lone leopard. There was a hush around as all the three jeeps had turned off their engines and the captive tourists were agog. There was a ripple of disappointment when the leopard disappeared, but our guide, ever quick off the mark started up the engine and circle around the bushes to another spot. We were the only 5 people there when the leopard walked past the front of our jeep, paused and then headed back off into the undergrowth. We were chuffed and yet our guide wasn’t finished yet and our guide again headed off and amazingly had yet again anticipated the leopard’s route. This time we weren’t on our own, but we weren’t too upset as we’d shared an exclusive moment with this beautiful creature only minutes before. Once again it disappeared and once again our guide started the motor and headed off to the anticipated route. This time we weren’t so lucky – we’d lost the trail. It didn’t matter we’d seen and spent some time with an animal that is said to be really difficult to see. We felt real special.
Our guide was on a roll as he sped off once again claiming that he’d see the tail of a lion. I was sceptical, thinking that he was just trying to keep us interested. We drove for a fair distance seeing no animals close up and then we stopped and our guide looked and smiled. "Over there" he said "there’s a group of lions. They look really lean and must need a kill." I could see nothing. But then again some of the grasses seemed to be moving and then, as if by magic, a group of six lions were walking towards us. I started to fire off a few frames and then paused. Our guide had said that they needed a kill and here we were "tinned food" right in their path. They wandered up right to the side of the jeep and then formed a circle as if they were discussing a strategy before walking on past us. We could now understand what our guide had meant by "lean". We would have said skinny! "They’ll be OK when they’ve eaten" we were told "and I know that they’ll make a good kill tonight. They really need it!"
That was number three out of the big five and we were now beginning to think that the big 5 might be a possibility. We were on the move again and closely passed a striped fox with its large erect ears – he didn’t even give us a second glance but were excited to see another new species. There was a crackle of the radio and after another exchange of words our guide once again "hit the gas". We were rocked and rolled in the jeep as we "hung on for grim death" but it was soon to be worth our pain as there, in the distance was the clear unmistaken profile on a rhino, That’s number 4 chalked up and now we knew for certain that our guide was intent on showing us the big five.
We had a clear view of this horned beast and perfectly understood when our guide turned off his engine a fair distance away from the weighty beast. Weighing in at well over 3000 kg we could just imagine what damaged this animal could reek if it reached its top speed of 40 miles per hour. Speculation over we had now chalked up number 4 and noticed our guide smiling happily to himself. He headed back in the direction of the camp only pausing to look at a family of hyenas and a frisky group of warthog before stopping next to some lazy buffalos. They seemed to be really relaxed and so were we. The big 5 in one morning and we hadn’t even had breakfast!
What would the rest of the day hold for us? Surely this drive could never be topped....