A new appreciation for the Big 5

By 11:07

Everyone knows I do not like the outdoors. That’s why even I was surprised at how excited I was during the game drive I went on this weekend. It really gave me a new appreciation of the Big 5.
We took our time and armed with a tracker, we were off to find the lions in their massive enclosure. The longer we spent finding the lions meant the less time we had to look at the other animals on the reserve. I suppose it’s worth looking for the lions as everyone wants to see the king of the jungle on a game. The ranger explained that the lions on the reserve are wild and not hand reared like the ones at the lion parks I’ve been to. The 4 lions have 1000 hectares of an enclosed area to run around, catch their own prey and laze about all day. I hate hearing about animals kept in captivity but this certainly doesn’t feel like captivity. The lions could be set out in the true wild and be able to fend for themselves.  
Eventually we spotted the lions about 20 metres away from us. The ranger took us closer to get a better view. I didn’t realise that “closer” meant a terrifying three metres away from the three lions basking in the sun. I have been in close proximity to lions in a lion park before but it always feels safer knowing that hand reared lions are comfortable with people around. These lions are truly wild and it was overwhelming to know that although they were lazing about, their senses are still so sharp that they could respond and attack us within seconds if we posed a danger to them. It was by far the best game drive I’ve been on knowing that the lions weren’t just kept in captivity being fed daily but they were in their natural habitat with their hunting skills still intact.
After leaving the lion enclosure, we drove through a herd of African Cape buffalo. Scary looking animals that are known to have killed more people in Africa than the rest of the Big 5 combined! A female buffalo came right up to game drive vehicle to sneak a cute peek at us whilst the baby buffalos just ran along with the herd. The male buffalos watched us intently and I was far too scared to even take a pic of them. The animals don’t just charge at humans for no apparent reason unless they pose a threat to the heard however as these buffalos age, their eyesight and hearing weakens so the old buffalos are extremely dangerous as they are easily scared and attack to protect themselves from danger. With an old buffalo in the herd and one of the male buffalos looking me in the eye, I felt scared even in the game drive vehicle.
My favourite part of the game drive was the drinks break where we could get out of the vehicle and stretch our legs...right alongside a herd of rhinoceros. The experience was truly marvellous and realising that I was standing next to critically endangered animals was overwhelming. They looked like a bunch of inquisitive animals, gossiping amongst each other about us before approaching us to see what was going on. They have excellent hearing but really bad eyesight which is why they curiously approach the sounds that they hear. They were such playful, innocent animals so harmless that we could walk amongst them. I didn’t really care much for rhino poaching but after seeing these social creatures, I can’t help but utterly detest the cruel crime of hunt an animal as easy to befriend as this one. Interestingly enough, rhino horns are made of keratin – the same substance as our fingernails. Keratin hasn’t been proven to have any medicinal qualities and still the rhino horn value is high enough to bribe veterinarians and experienced trackers to hunt these animals down.
The game drive didn’t cover the African elephants because the game lodge had a separate elephant experience but their watering hole was just metres away from the lodge we stayed in. It was wonderful to have lunch and spot two elephants walking along the boundary. The pool was at the boundary just over a high bank but that didn’t stop one of the elephants playfully stretching into the pool area and actually sucking in some chlorine water through its trunk for a drink. The elephant eventually found its own watering hole and stopped for a drink before moving along with his pal. Such massive creatures yet still so playful.  
The only Big 5 animal I was disappointed that I wasn't able to see was the leopard. Due to their nocturnal nature, leopards are very difficult to spot during the day. Although they rarely kill humans, I don’t think I’m brave enough to want to drive out in the middle of the night just to see a leopard in its natural habitat. 
This game drive gave me a new appreciation for the Big 5 – the five most difficult animals to hunt in Africa on foot. With other tourists on the game drive, I really feel lucky that these animals are practically on my doorstep for us to look at in awe. It’s also incredibly heartbreaking to know that these animals are endangered many of which are kept from extinction because they are kept in captivity by humans. I cannot imagine now why anyone would want to hunt these animals – be it for sport or for money. Perhaps game drives like this need to be more easily accessible for people to understand these animals so that we can give them a louder voice against atrocities like poaching of endangered animals.   

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