We met Bernie, our ranger for the week, at 06h00 for our first game drive, what they call our photo safari adventures. Six of us climbed into the back of the Toyota Land Cruiser open safari car, bundled up in blankets, and zoomed off down the dirt road from the lodge to the preserve. At 39 degrees F and 40mph speed, it was a chilly ride. The sun came up just as we went through the guard gate.
Rhinos: our first sighting of the day was “somewhere in Africa, in an undisclosed location” where rhinos munched along the bank. With hippos in the water and warthogs and nyala nearby, this peaceful scene looked straight out of a Smithsonian Natural History diorama.
It has been a very dry winter, with only 60mm of rain this year. Last time it rained in Zambia was April 5. The preserve is supporting the animals by putting out hay to supplement the natural foraging, but these feeding stations make it easier for poachers. The rhinos are each protected by armed guards, hidden nearby. If a poacher is seen, the guards try to arrest him before he can shoot, to learn about his confederates. Otherwise a gun battle with AK47 assault rifles could happen. One of the rhinos at the preserve was shot in the leg, breaking some bones. The staff put a cast on it, but it is still favoring that foot and seems to be struggling. We were not told what happened to the poacher.
The biggest rhino was an old female. She uses her long narrow horn to protect her young. They recently found a dead young rhino, but do not know how it died. The rhino’s wrinkly skin is 3″ thick so it is difficult to tell if it was shot or had died from natural causes. There are only white rhinos in the park, none of the rarer black rhinos.
Cheetah: our second major sighting was a beautiful male cheetah, strolling down the center of the track. It obligingly posed for us, marked a tree or two, then gracefully disappeared into the bush. This is the only cheetah in the park; they are on the 8-year waiting list for a female. Their previous cat was bitten in the face by a snake and died. Without enough cheetahs or other top predators, the impala population gets out of control.
Giraffe: the graceful giraffe looks curious and sweet with its long eyelashes and inquisitive ears. We saw three walking along, munching on the tops of acacia trees. The older the giraffe, the darker the spots. Male giraffes have bald tops on their horns but females have hair.
Wildebeast: when God finished making all the animals, He took all the leftover parts and put them together to make the wildebeast. The horns of a buffalo, the neck of a goat, the mane of a zebra, and the body of an antelope: the wildebeast is a curious ruminant.