The story of the Zookeeper from Wisconsin who followed her heart into the African bush hots up right here in Week 4. Amy and her peers head off on foot in search of Africa’s Big 5 and other dangerous game species – all part of her 8 week FGASA Field Guide Training Course.
Week 4: The adventure of a lifetime continues and “Dangerous game week” did not disappoint. I managed to cut my feet up pretty badly and possibly broke a toe but there was no way I was going to miss walking for 9 hours a day in the bush in search of the Big 5.
We woke up at 5am as we did most days for coffee and breakfast and headed out in the Land Rover until we found tracks from the elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion or leopard.
Pines, our dedicated teacher, guide and friend took us out daily on our walks, educating us and keeping us safe.
We immediately found and followed tracks from two white rhinos. The hot sun beat down on us as we remained quiet in a single file line while following the spoor. To our surprise we walked into a black rhino. The wind was in our favor so we grouped together hiding behind a bush and slowly backed off undetected.
We continued in our pursuit and found the mom and calf white rhinos we observed earlier resting peacefully in the grass. We decided to have an early lunch that we packed earlier that morning after pushing the Land Rover out of a ditch that Didi managed to get stuck in. While the repair man fixed the broken diesel line we ate and took a quick nap before heading back out for an encounter.
Sometimes silence can be louder than any siren and that’s when it happened. The bush was dead quiet until we heard a branch break and a snort right before a black rhino came charging out at us. Holding my ground in that moment was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done but a moment I’ll never forget. He came within 15 meters of us before running off to the side of us; a typical warning charge from a black rhino. My heart was pounding out of my chest as I learned the true potential of adrenaline and we backed off.
During the next day of dangerous game we followed lion tracks all while vervet monkeys, blue wildebeest and giraffe ran, walked and stood by us. It was a quiet morning until we headed back to the vehicle for lunch. We didn’t notice right away but there was a herd of over 50 buffalo right behind the Land Rover. A good reminder to never get complacent in the bush. We slowly and quietly made our way along the tree line. The wind was once again in our favor which worked out to our benefit being in the presence of one of the most dangerous and unpredictable animals in Africa. It was unnerving when a male walked right by us but he too was luckily unaware of our presence as he walked right passed us. The herd continued to the water and we safely made it to the vehicle.
Later that day we found the third animal we have been in search of. After following their dung, broken trees, branches and tracks we watched 3 bull elephants eating peacefully. The next morning and last day of dangerous game I woke up to heavy breathing, water splashing and chewing. After getting the nerve to leave my tent I saw that it was from a buffalo. Most likely the same one who has been making frequent visits to our camp.
So far we’ve been lucky enough to see three out of the Big 5 but we really wanted to see the lions that we heard roaring that morning. We passed up on fresh elephant dung and tracks in our pursuit. It was a gamble but we took our chances. We drove a ways before parking and using our senses and wind direction and followed lion tracks to two lions.
The female watched our every move as the male remained calmly laying in the grass as we slowly and quietly walked by. When a lion stares at you it stares into your soul. What I learned from the animals was patience. What I learned from the bush was respect. And what I learned from South Africa is that this is where I am meant to be.
Stay tuned for the rest in the series of Amy’s blog. For now, the students head off on break week between course phases – time to relax and recharge before tackling the big Phase 2!