Life Goes On in South Africa's Bush

A lioness nurses her cubs in Kruger National Park. Photography: John McCutcheon

Pam and Kerry Harrell and John and I had the good fortune to travel to Kruger National Park, South Africa, for a two week photography safari.  We were in absolute agreement that no matter the species nothing is cuter than a baby whatever.  

Perhaps we wouldn’t have thought that we’d find a baby white rhino darling, but we filled the car with ooohhhs and aaahhhs.  We chanced upon two adult rhinos and a baby munching around a bushy sort of tree.  One of the adults quickly disappeared into the bush.  Even with mama rhino trying to encourage her offspring to keep himself behind the camouflage of the tree, he was more interested in planting himself solidly in our view. 

He was just as interested in seeing us as we were in seeing him.  I’ve read that rhino eyesight is poor, so maybe hearing the constant clicking of our cameras piqued his curiosity.  Mama worked her way behind the tree several times hoping, of course, that Junior would follow.  He did.  But soon he emerged for another beady eyed stare in our direction.

We made a stop at Sunset, an enormous watering hole, on our way to Satara, a large campsite located somewhat in the center of Kruger.  We were astounded at the large herds of impala, buffalo, wildebeest, hippos, zebra, and crocs that peacefully sipped or wallowed in the waters.  A very young hippo lay in the water with its mom, his head resting on the side of her face.  Again so sweet and worth another carload of ooohhhing and ahhhhing

But the truth is the hippo is the most dangerous animal in Africa.  They look slow and kind of stupid, but on land they are so fast they can easily outrun a man.  With four- to five-inch incisors that sharpen upon each other every time they close their mouths, the hippo can inflict deadly bites on its victim, killing more humans than any other animal in all of Africa.

Along the Sabie River one afternoon, we watched a herd of twenty-five plus giraffes along the banks.  Never have we seen so many giraffes together at one time.  Truly an unforgettable sight.  While the adult herd stood watch, their necks gracefully and gently swaying, we zeroed in on a young one with its legs splayed drinking along the shore.   Just the effort it takes to bend down to the position to drink is a pleasure to behold.  

Mother elephants are not to be messed with. The whole herd is cautious of its young.  As babies are corralled inside the herd for traveling, I don’t know how the babies keep from being kicked.  Even crossing the road is a task taken with supreme care.  No young are permitted to traverse without mama guards leading the herd and another following at the end of the group.  It was a challenge to photograph a baby as shielding masked our trying to discern a baby from all the adult legs.

As we moved through the park every day, we noticed that buffalo and wildebeest practice the same caution.  Even baby zebras and all the different kinds of antelope have this same herd instinct to protect their young.  With predators often looking for a chance to pick off the young or the weak, survival is dicey at best.

John and I were in Kruger almost two years ago where I had an experience with a young lioness.  (I wrote about her in one of my earlier blogs.)   When we got a chance a couple of weeks ago to examine photographs intently, there a young mother lay stretched out in the sand.  A tiny cub head barely visible nursing at her side.  I’ve often wondered what has happened to my young lioness since the two years we were there. I’ve manufactured a story that she is now the young mother in our recent photographs calmly nursing her young. 

I have no way of knowing if my thoughts are anything more than my hopeful imaginings, but it gives me satisfaction to think that this is the same lioness, now with her young cub and on her way to successfully fulfilling her destiny.  I wish them well.

Spring is the time for breeding and birthing.   We wonder how many of the pregnant lions, hyenas, warthogs, zebras, antelope and elephants have now given birth.  The struggles, the instincts, the millions of years that have led to the results of survival of the fittest are more than apparent here in this enormous reserve. 

Life goes on.  And God set it all in motion to do so.

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