Kruger Diary: Satara Camp, Day 4

I was in South Africa’s Kruger National Park on a self-drive safari in early October, 2018 and kept a real-time diary, of which this is the third post documenting my experiences.  See the first and second posts here. Previous posts have detailed how I flew to Johannesburg from Raleigh, and then from Jo’burg to Skukuza Airport.

DAY 4 (October 3, 2018) – SATARA & ORPEN CAMPS – MORNING GAME DRIVE

Cell service at Satara failed, halting email. On my drive this morning, I came to Orpen Camp, which has cell service in order to receive and send email.

Big change in the weather this morning.  Temperature plunged 30 degrees to 66° F. with a stiff wind. I’m the only one not wearing a jacket.

Cooler, yes, but dry as a bone. A park ranger told me yesterday this dry season has been the longest and driest in many years. Most of the rivers are without water, just hot sand. Thus no hippos or crocs to be seen yet.

I was at the gate by 505am today but still 5th in line. Gates opened promptly at 530, and I wheeled around the first four vehicles because they chose to poke along at 30 KPH. I maintained 50 KPH, the max speed, and soon came across the best sighting yet: two cheetahs, probably siblings, crossing the road.

Cheetahs are few in the Kruger, a few hundred at most, and I’ve rarely seen them in the past. This was an exciting moment. I shut off the engine and watched the animals lope off slowly to the east. They appeared healthy and well-fed.

Just a kilometer away I caught a momma and juvenile Ground Hornbill pecking at something dead, smushed in the middle of the road

Heading into the gravel road that leads to the Timbavati reservoir and beyond to Orpen Camp, I saw perhaps 60-70 giraffes scattered throughout, no more than 5 together at any one place. Many were in the road, causing me to brake several times to avoid them as I came around a curve (even though I was moving at less than 20 MPH).

Altogether I covered 21 miles on dirt/gravel roads this morning (not counting distances traveled on the main paved roads). With multiple stops to enjoy watching the wildlife, that took just under two hours.

Stopped briefly to photograph a dead tree full of vultures having a rest. I love scenes like that one. It is so “Africa”!

Just before reaching the main road to Orpen, I saw Cape Buffalo for the first time this trip, about 30 milling around.

Sadly, now on day 4, I still haven’t seen a warthog.  I usually see many every day. Perhaps the pigs are vacationing in Mozambique.

DAY 4 (October 3, 2018) – SATARA – AFTERNOON GAME DRIVE

The Toyota Avanza (rented from Avis at Skukuza) looks tiny and hideous from the outside, but it is fun to drive and doesn’t feel small on the inside, not even sitting in the back seat. Even better, it offers great visibility all round, essential for game drives.

I love a stick shoft anyway, and this little SUV is impressively tight and nimble. Also has phenomenal turning radius, which is a big help on narrow dirt roads with thorn bushes protruding both sides. Sometimes the best way ahead is to turn around and go around thorns that can rake the paint off.

A young boy elephant charged the car as I passed. Young ellie bulls do that when male hormones kick in. This one gave out a wicked trumpet blast, shook its head furiously, and launched a bold mock charge as I approached.

Not wanting to offend the creature’s sensibilities, I stopped and reversed. Then waited. After all, respect must be given when owed, and this is elephant country. And even a young elephant is a big beast capable of inflicting serious damage upon my Avanza.

Satisfied that I’d been properly driven off, the little guy turned its back to the car and went back to foraging. I engaged first gear and inched forward. Just when I thought I was in the clear, the elephant charged after the car a second time.

A little later, a zebra came very close to the car. That’s unusual behavior. The normal zebra response to a vehicle is to move away quickly. That’s why most zebra photos are of the animal’s ass-end as it gallops off.

Zebras have massive hip muscles, and the species is easily capable of breaking a lion’s jaw or leg with a fierce defensive kick.

Impalas were loitering in the background. Zebra, impala, kudu, wildebeest, warthog, and waterbuck often hang around together, the better to watch out for each other. Lots of eyes ready to sound the alarm for approaching lions, cheetah, hyena, or leopards.

Finally I saw a warthog, but the sneaky rascal bolted before I could get close. I caught its image through the windshield as the pig followed standard warthog protocol when fleeing: Run like hell for a good bit, then stop abruptly, turn quickly and reconnoiter before running like hell again.

It was another great day of game viewing. The cooler temps persisted throughout the day, helped along by steady winds and a mostly cloudy sky. Knowing the animals would be active earlier when overcast, I set out this afternoon at 200p for a four hour drive that covered 70 miles. Here’s a list of species seen, most in large aggregate numbers:

Elephants, kudu, impala, waterbuck, warthog, cheetah, wildebeest, zebra, baboon, vervet monkey (1st sighting this trip of the little demons), steenbok, and giraffe. Plus something low and dark in color of medium size that shot across the road too far away to identify and disappeared into the tall grass.

And of course the usual variety of resident birds, including several species of francolin, several species of vulture, several species of doves, lots of hornbills, many glossy starlings, another kori bustard, a black-bellied bustard, and a red-crested korhaan.

Tomorrow morning I’m going to try to get to the gate early enough to be first in line.

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