South Africa Diaries: Day 6

I am very excited about today. Thaba Tholo is a mountainous reserve which means there isn't as much species richness as there is on the plains. This is great in a way that it allows us to walk around on foot in the reserve relatively safely, with the only real threats being leopards and baboons, however I'm in South Africa so I'd obviously quite like to see some lions, elephants, crocodiles, and maybe even a cheetah or two! Luckily (and the reason why I am so excited) today is the day that we finally get to go on our three-day trip-within-a-trip to Kruger National Park!

We woke up and headed straight to Kruger, stopping on the way at a Spar shop in Lydenburg to get some snacks. It was quite nice to be travelling through a South African town, as it was the first time we had really been able to see the cultural side of the country. We got to the Phalaborwa gate of Kruger around lunchtime and had lunch outside, before heading into the reserve. The rest of the day was spent on a game drive around Kruger National Park as we headed to our camp for the night. It was absolutely incredible - I have never seen such a vast array of wildlife in my life, it really was a dream come true for me!

Within the first hour we had spotted our first elephant (which I managed to just about get a photo with). This was pretty special because it was the first elephant that I have ever seen in the wild, and also the first animal on the big 5 that we had seen. It got so close to our minibus that had we reached out of our windows we could have touched it (probably not a good idea though). You really can't appreciate the magnificent size of an elephant until you get right up close!

We also spotted (bare with me, this might be quite a long list) Nile crocodiles, tree squirrels, African spoonbills, hippopotamuses, pied kingfishers, helmeted guinea fowl, steenbok, saddle-billed stork, an African fish eagle, squacco herons, a leopard tortoises, bateleurs, grey rheboks, African buffalo, a baobab tree, Swainson's spurfowl, red-billed hornbills, vervet monkeys, dwarf mongooses, and a mother spotted hyaena and her two cubs (amongst many, many other species).

We got to Letaba camp at 6:01, one minute late. Luckily the gates were still open or we would have had to pay a fine (all gates in the park shut at 6pm so the rangers can go out and hunt down the poachers). We were assigned our huts, which were such a nice luxury compared to the tents we have been staying in. They had proper beds, showers, flushing toilets and everything!

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Species Of The Day: Southern Ground Hornbill

The southern ground hornbill is a turkey-sized bird with a feather-less, bright red face and throat. Juveniles (like the one pictured above) have pale yellow colouration instead of the red. It travels in small family groups by walking on tiptoes and very rarely taking flight. Its loud early morning ‘oomph, oomph’ call is so deep that it often gets mistaken as a lion call!

The southern ground hornbill switched from a least concerned status to a vulnerable status on the IUCN Red List in 2010, mostly due to the fact that habitat destruction has caused a rapid population decline, particularly in South Africa. They are so vulnerable that visitors to Kruger are asked to report any sightings along with age and location. Although it is difficult to predict future declines of such a long-lived species, it is predicted to be 30-49% over the next 94 years. They inhabit the thornveld of open grasslands, broadleaf woodlands and upper grasslands.

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