Imagine staring into the African bush [you do stare, waiting, hoping, eyes drying out], the flies irritatingly circle your face, your sweat stings the corners of your eyes. You hear a twig crackle under an unseen animal. You are hoping for an elephant or even maybe a lion or leopard ... but it's only a giraffe.
On game safari’s, there is a sort of hierarchy of animals, like the children’s card game “Top Trumps”, there is the “Big Five” and then there is the rest. The big five are Elephant, Rhinoceros, Buffalo, Lion and Leopard. They are the “big five” because when people hunt animals, these five are the hardest to kill. In a more humane way these animals are still treasured for their photgraphic boasting appeal. At the end of the day you don't hear of anyone in the bar enjoying a "cold one" boasting they took a great picture of a water buck.
But these “less important” animals have a different kind of splendour, they are the ordinary beasts, with all the unnoticed appeal of Cinderella before the ball. With the giraffe there are bound to be impala and zebra, somewhere near. The giraffe is brown blotches and the impala a buff golden brown. One moment they are there and in a blink they are perfectly camouflaged and gone. The zebra, however is black and white, it stands like a monochromatic meat feast advert for any passing predator, why?
Well zebra’s are rarely found on their own. In the perfect environment they will be in a large group called a “dazzle” and put 30 of them together and you can’t tell where one starts or ends, your eyes blur with the competing stripes. This is how they camouflage themselves from the predators, not by blending into the environment but by, literally, dazzling them with visual confusion so no one indivudal can be singled out.
Look very closely and you will be blown away by the fine detail and intricacy of a zebra’s stripes. A black and white Picasso of an ordinary African animal. They are communal creatures, in tune with their natural surroundings, mostly friendly but vicious when attacked. No animal or person wants to be near those teeth or hooves when zebra’s are protecting their young or injured, they are fierce and when cornered will fight off a lion.
Like a human fingerprint, the zebra’s stripes are unique to one animal and when a mother gives birth, she separates herself from the dazzle so the foal will have only her stripes imprinted on it’s eyes for the first time. This is how the foal will recognise it’s mother.
While there is an awe inspiring joy to see a memory [or herd] of elephants tear a gaping hole in the bush and crash past over and through anything that gets in it's way, bushes, trees, cars. Or to watch a leopard stretch while half asleep, well … you hold your breath. These wonderful moments are, quite rightly, photographed and treasured.
The shame is all the other amazing animals are camouflaged into invisibility because they are not the big five. To glimpse a crocodile drop beneath the water makes the hairs on your arms stand up. To stand motionless while a Fish Eagle effortlessly glides across the lake is more magical than staring at a buffalo who can’t be arsed to move because it’s too hot. To watch a warthog and babies run away from you with their little tails sticking up just makes you laugh out loud, you can't help it, it's just so funny.
I stayed in Marloth Park, a small private area which borders the larger and more famous Kruger National Park. The animals in Marloth are more used to humans. This does not make them “tame” they are still wild but they are not so afraid to get closer, especially if an apple is on offer.
However be warned, they are wild, they are not horses in pyjama’s, they are not well mannered and gentle, they will snatch the apple and fingers. Oh and they spook easily, always alert for predators they hear things we don’t. One moment they are edging closer, then their ears prick up, then in a blur of muscle and stripes they bound sideways and go. It happens so quick you find out if you have a cardiac condition.
The apple is gone, hopefully your fingers are still attached and in my case ... a zebra stole my heart.
Kruger National Park
You need a vehicle to get to and move around any game park but in Marloth Park the big predators, lion, leapoard and cheatah are missing so walking is allowed, encouraged even.
BE WARNED. This is Africa and it is the African bush. Water can be scarce, flies and mosquito's are everywhere and this is a malaria area so take proper precautions. The summer sun is brutal and unforgiving so hats, tops and water are essential.
ALSO - elecricity and internet are not gauranteed all the time. Honestly people go into the bush to see animals and then complain they can't get a wifi. Most of the time you can have power, sometimes not, it's Africa not Beverly Hills
ADVICE, if you want constant wifi or cable TV then stay at home. If you want to scratch a warthogs back, then go to Marloth Park.