In my opinion, everyone’s first visit to South Africa should include a wildlife experience to see “zoo animals” in their natural habitats. For ours, we chose to visit Kirkman’s Kamp in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, adjacent to Kruger National Park. We flew from Cape Town to Kruger-Mpamalanga airport then drove two hours to the camp. Our driver told us a lot about the region, especially the farming that goes on. From the moment we arrived at Kirkman’s, we were in the lap of luxury.
We had four game drives during our two-night stay. Our ranger, Rikus, and our tracker, Richard, were very good. The first drive took place on the afternoon of our arrival. We saw elephant, a pair of rare saddle-billed storks, and a female leopard who passed right along our vehicle. The ranger knew she had made a kill the day before, but we weren’t able to locate it on this drive. There was a magnificent sunset, which we viewed from a picnic stop on the banks of a dried river (more on that later), and then a night drive to view the nocturnal species.
Dinner in the Boma was entertaining and delicious. One guest celebrated a birthday, and the staff brought out a cake for her, to her surprise, before delighting us all with song and dance.
We saw the effects of drought in greater detail on the second day. This area’s rainy season has been very light on the rain. Fire risk was high and the Sand river, which runs through Kirkman’s Kamp, is dry, the lowest it’s been in years. We saw elephants dig through the sandy river bed, and thankfully they did find water.
As our drives continued, we saw more animals that we expected. There were several types of antelope (impala, nyala, kudu, bushbuck, waterbuck, duiker), baboons, vervet monkeys, buffalo, elephants, giraffes, hippo, leopards, lions, white rhinos, and warthogs, among others. The one animal we wanted to see but didn’t was zebra. They aren’t seen as much in Sabi Sand as they once were.
We did have an excellent and thrilling rhino sighting. An adult male stood five meters from our open-air vehicle, chewing a log to presumably eat the termite mud inside. We stopped the vehicle and watched him for several minutes. Rikus told us about the horrible poaching situation and the likelihood of rhino extinction in several years. Looking an animal in the face as you hear about its imminent demise as a species a pretty impactful moment. The girls all listened very carefully at this, and we learned the poaching is done to collect the rhino horns, which are prized more than gold. As we drove off, the rhino followed. We stopped at the river bank again and saw a group of adult female rhinos walking along with at least one adult male and some young rhinos. The log-chewing male made his way down to them, then shooed the babies away as he protected his territory from the usurping adult male. Eventually, the group of rhino made their way back up to our side of the river bank and the tussle between the males began again, just a few meters from our vehicle. It was definitely too close for our comfort and Rikus drove us out of there before these massive animals got any closer.
One of the elephants we saw - an adult female - had a short trunk. We learned that it had been caught in a snare, which amputated it. She healed on her own, but because of her injury she has been ostracized from the herd. The rangers suspect that it is because of her loud breathing. She has a calf, though, and the pair of them were sighted frequently. We decided that baby elephants are probably the cutest big animals on Earth.
The giraffe sighting on our first morning drive was also spectacular. It seemed to me that we just turned a corner and - wow - there they were. We watched them eat from acacia trees, despite the massive thorns on the branches. As we drove on, we came upon a group of young giraffe playing with each other. Their awkward skipping and running after each other in circles was fun to watch, and according to our ranger, it was rare.
The king of the jungle also made an impressive appearance. Reports of a male lion entering the property came over the radio. Rikus skillfully drove off trail to spot him, taking us up and down steep (ish) riverbanks and through some brush (watch the thorns) to follow the majestic lion. His majesty took a ding about two weeks ago, though, when a giraffe kicked one of his fangs nearly out of his mouth. As the lion walked past us, you could see how little he seemed to care about his dangling fang. He was still king.
Two nights is not much time for a safari experience, and we certainly lucked out by seeing as much as we did. Our stay at Kirkman’s Kamp was one of the highest highlights of this round-the-world trip, and we’re all thinking about when and where we’ll take our next safari. As Theo said on one of our game drives, “I could do this every year!”