Hwange National Park is a gold mine of elephants, giraffes, zebras, lions, and countless species of antelope and birds. A grass and woodland paradise filled with hundreds of fascinating animals for us to discover. Naturally, the main attraction of Hwange is safari’ing through the savannah in search of these exotic creatures.
I can’t get enough of safaris. It is so much fun to ride around in a roofless land cruiser, the sun beating down on us and the savannah stretching out around us. Cruising around in a safari vehicle is relaxing, energizing, peaceful, and exciting, all at the same time. Even if we saw no animals at all, I would have a great time sticking my head out the top of the car, soaking up some Vitamin D and taking in the scenery. Our afternoon expedition upon our arrival in Hwange was no exception to my love of safaris. The sun shone perfectly hot on my head through a hazy blue sky. The landscape was straw-colored savannah dotted with cool-looking trees. It was the end of the dry season, so the animals were thirsty. Accordingly, we started our exploration at a waterhole and waited for the parched animals to arrive to quench their thirst. Man were there a lot of thirsty animals! The waterhole was an endless show of animals mesmerizing us – giraffes, zebras, sables, ostriches, kudu, and elephants.
The cutest baby elephant – about six months old, according to our guide – didn’t want to get out of the water, and his mother had to keep picking him up with her trunk to get him to follow the rest of the family back home. I thought it was just because he was having so much fun playing in the water, but our guide told us it was because he was sick and dehydrated due to the long dry season. I guess that’s one of the sad realities of nature. On we went to another, bigger and better waterhole. This waterhole was full of tons and tons (weight-wise and number-wise) of elephants swimming, fighting, playing, and trumpeting in between slurps of water.
As we pulled in to park at the waterhole, we came face to face with a ridiculously huge – and angry – elephant. A mere fifteen feet away, he was dragging his front foot on the ground, looking like he was contemplating whether or not he should run us over. I have no idea why he was so mad at us. Usually, the animals either ignore us or hurry away when we get close to them. Our car’s engine was off, so there was no quick getaway if he used his elephant speed to attack us. It was one of the scariest animal encounters we have had. Thankfully, he must have decided we weren’t worth the trouble. After a few stomach-clenching moments, we were relieved to watch him turn around and join the end of his elephant line parading away.
This waterhole was also a treasure trove of animals. There were hippos napping and crocodiles lazing around in the water, kudu and sables wandering through the bush near the waterhole, impalas and zebras nibbling on the dry grass around the waterhole, and giraffes coming in for a longing look at the water trying to decide if it was safe to bend over for a drink.
The highlight of the day (for me at least, as they are my favorite) was when a friendly giraffe peeped his head over a tree then clumsily ambled across the street right in front of us. The low part of the day was spotting a group of vultures feasting on a dead baby elephant. Our guide said the baby probably died from dehydration. It was incredibly sad, but I reminded myself that it is all a natural part of the food chain.
After another gourmet dinner back at camp (I can’t get over the amazingness of our chef Charles), we headed back out for a night safari. We tried to spot the nocturnal animals – honey badgers, bat eared foxes, bushbabies, springhares – with the huge spotlight attached to the front of our land cruiser, but it was not our night. We returned to camp after a few hours having seen only one impala. We didn’t care though, because our group was in a giddy mood and joked around and laughed the whole time. (We were probably causing too much of a ruckus and scared the animals away.) It couldn’t have been more fun even if we had actually seen some animals!
Our time in Hwange was not over. Bright and early the next morning (these 5am mornings sure are hard!), we hopped back into the land cruisers and set out to find some lions eating breakfast. I didn’t realize how heartbreaking it would be to actually watch this in action. A poor giraffe with a broken leg became the breakfast of six lionesses because she couldn’t walk. (An easy morning for these Queens of the Animal Kingdom, who normally do the hunting for the lion family while the males do the “protecting.”)
Lionesses apparently don’t always kill their food before they eat it. This desperate giraffe kept trying to get up, even as the lionesses gnawed on her neck and stomach. It was one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen. Again, I knew that it was just the natural order of things in the animal kingdom, but it was still really difficult to watch, especially because I love giraffes so much. After brunch (not that I’m hungry after the gruesome lion brekkie we just saw), we are heading to Victoria Falls where I will try to get up the nerve to bungee jump!