Game driving

Sunday, February 28
On our very first game drive (Friday afternoon/evening), we saw three of the Big Five (lion, elephant, and rhino). We saw the fourth at lunch yesterday, but it was a sad experience, rather than a thrilling one.

Meals here take place in an open-sided wooden pavilion that houses a polished wood table.that can accommodate 16 in a pinch. We had finished our tuna/pasta salad and Greek salads and were chatting with June (the owner), when some movement in the trees nearby caught my eye. A moment later, an enormous animal emerged from the thicket. It was one of the two old male Cape Buffalos who’ve been frequenting the camp – the injured one. June says he first showed up about two months ago, and something appeared to be wrong with one of his eyes. Although that seemed to clear up, he also somehow hurt his right front leg, and when he appeared yesterday, it looked broken. He would put a little weight on it, then stumble, and try to walk on just the three remaining legs. That’s not easy, when you weigh close to a ton.

He moved into a patch of trees perhaps 200 yards away from us and lowered his head to drink from a puddle there. We, in turn, silently moved outside to stare at him in wonder. Next to him, an ordinary fighting bull would look like some kind of a miniature breed. His horns were fearsome enough to rip someone apart by accident, say if he merely shook his head too close to anyone in Gahis vicinity. It was obvious we needed to keep our distance from him, but equally obvious that he would probably die soon. No animal so grievously injured could survive for long in the wild.

June appeared to be as anguished as I felt, at the sight of his suffering. She commented that if a car had hit him and accidentally broken his leg, the Madikwe park administration would order him euthanized. But since he had broken it naturally, their policy was to refrain from intervening in any way. Mandy from Joburg shook her head and curtly approved. “It’s nature,” she said.

This is the second visit to Mosetlha for Mandy and her jovial husband Rene, but they’ve done innumerable game drives in other places (including Kruger). Rene, who was born and educated in Zurich but immigrated to South Africa 26 years ago, hates actual on-the-ground camping. (His parents apparently dragged him and his siblings off to European campgrounds almost every weekend of his childhood.) But he and Mandy have a reverence for everything about the African bush – from the smell of the air to the antics of its smallest insect inhabitants.

Like them, I love it here because Mosetlha gives us the access to nature provided by camping but spares us all of the unpleasantness. Our beds are as padded and inviting as my bed at home. At night we let down the mosquito nets, which protect us more from any worry about potential nocturnal bedmates than actual ones. (The anopheles mosquito, which carries malaria, doesn’t live in this province of South Africa.)

We have plastic chamber pots for use after bedtime (since a trip to the composting toilet might lead to an unwanted encounter with an animal). But when I have used the toilet during daylight hours, I’ve never smelled the normal odors that I associate with such installations. Even though there’s no running water, Chris (a civil engineer by training) has installed a marvelous system for providing us with hot showers. (This involves filling a bucket with water from a portable tank, pouring it into a little wood-burning “donkey stove” that instantly raises the temperature to near boiling, mixing that with enough cold water to make the temperature just right, pouring all that into a bucket in one of the shower stalls, raising it by ropes, and then controlling its egress through a shower head by means of a little hand valve.)

The electrified fence that discourages elephants from entering the camp is solar-powered. The refrigerators that cool our beers and bottled water runs (somehow) on kerosene, and kerosene fuels the lanterns that softly illuminate everything here after dark. It’s all so ingenious, the infrastructure alone could be a tourist attraction. But the daily spectacle of the park’s non-human inhabitants takes center stage in that department.

As for the injured buffalo, he was gone from sight this morning. But June says he and his able-bodied buddy aren’t far. I’d like to see them again before we depart for our return to Johannesburg, now less than 24 hours from now.

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