We began the day with the customary pre-breakfast game drive. The fall air was crisp and I was happy that the stadium-style bench seats on the Land Cruiser were supplied with wool blankets. The rangers bantered among each other (e.g. KG to his fellow ranger: “Friend, you are the best ranger at Sabi Sabi. But I am the greatest.”) as sleepy-eyed but excited guests piled into the vehicles. On board with us was a park official in charge of certifying rangers, and KG was being evaluated that morning, which made him slightly nervous but it added a lot to the game drive because the park official was extremely knowledgeable about wildlife management issues like the elephant culling program and poaching. (The rangers seem to focus more on wildlife behavior and on finding animals, which is of more interest to most guests. Not surprisingly, KG passed with flying colors.
After observing some elephants that were hanging out in a waterhole, our tracker—who sits on an exposed seat over the front bumper looking for tracks and giving off-road driving directions—spotted a leopard sunning himself on a giant termite mound. On the superficial checklist of wildlife viewings, this was my second “Big Five” animal; and leopards are among the more elusive, so it was a good sighting. The leopard occupied the rest of our morning—we followed him for a while after he climbed down from his perch and headed through the scrub brush, leaving a popcorn-smelling pee trail every 100 yards or so to mark his territory.
In the afternoon I managed to convince KG to take us on the longest walking safari of his career. (We were only out there for about four hours and only covered about six miles—he apparently is too accustomed to driving around in his Land Cruiser.) The walking safari is quite different than the game drive: we intentionally stayed away from big animals, focusing instead on the “little things” in the area; and KG had a locked-and-loaded elephant gun on his shoulder the entire time. Among the little things that most intrigued me were the antlions, which build sand pit traps in the hopes of catching an ant that is passing by. I gave more than one ant its death sentence by tossing it into the conical depression. Other points of interest included a giraffe skeleton (the giraffe had been killed near the lodge by a pair of lions) and the copious quantities of wildlife poo from elephants, rhinos, hyenas, emu, springbok, and dozens of others.
The day concluded with another game drive, the highlight of which was a group of four rhinos grazing next to the local runway strip. Before heading back to the lodge we were treated to “sundowners,” which was a great way to finish the evening.