JETSETTER

On safari in Kruger 

Enjoy the perfect combo of wildlife and luxury at the Singita Lebombo Lodge in South Africa’s Kruger National Park 

A Singita guide and tracker with their trusty Land Rover 

June 2019

Some people think it gets scary during a full moon with werewolves or strange behaviour, but for some animals in South Africa’s Kruger National Park, they know it is scary with each new moon. 

Kruger is Africa’s biggest game reserve, where the wildlife roam free and where predator and prey maintain the balance of nature much better than Theresa May handled the conflicting aims of Brexiters and Remainers. 

At nearly 30 times bigger than Singapore, Kruger is immense at 19,500 square km. Think a slightly bigger Johor state, but stretched so that it is a vertical strip about 360 km long and 65 km wide. 

Virtually every animal in Africa is found here – the giraffe, hippopotamus, zebra, crocodile, wildebeest and monkey, including all manner of antelope, not to mention smaller critters such as squirrel, hare and snake, plus birds of every size and colour. 

They provide a diverse and colourful array of fauna but just like birders don’t crouch in a hide for hours to snap a photo of a plain old pigeon or mynah, people travel to Kruger to see a very special collection of creatures called the Big Five: lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant and buffalo. 

A male leopard feeding on an impala

The Big Five

Going on safari with a guide and tracker will allow you to catch these famous five animals – visually of course, not literally.  And if your guides are as seasoned and astute as those from the Singita Lebombo Lodge, it’ll be a cinch. 

Singita Lebombo is a luxury lodge with 15 hillside bungalows designed like a sea eagle’s nest, located on a 150 square km leased concession, somewhere in the middle of the nature reserve in the province of Mpumalanga. 

Within this vast expanse, Singita guests enjoy exclusive access to the lodge’s private savannah grasslands, rivers, waterholes and mountain ranges, as well as the public areas bordering it. 

The rolling tracts of land may look calm and peaceful but they are home to wild and potentially dangerous animals. With Singita guide Brian Rode and tracker Evidence Nkuna however, guests need not worry, even when sitting in a rather exposed open-top Land Rover. 

A lioness strolling by after a big meal

Super skills

Brian is an ex-Special Forces soldier who once survived six weeks of jungle training, naked and with only a knife and some string, while being hunted by sadistic instructors. He has since acquired an encyclopedic knowledge of fauna and flora. 

Evidence is from a nearby Mpumalanga village. Perched precariously over the front bumper of the Land Rover in his tracker’s seat to scour the ground for animal tracks, he is not only fearless but has an Eskimo’s ability to withstand the freezing morning temperatures. 

Common between both men is that they must have eaten a lot of carrots when they were young. 

Either that or they’re wearing telephoto contact lenses. Because they can spot a bird in a tree or an animal under it nearly 500 metres away while travelling at 25 kmh, when everyone else barely sees a shadowy patch of blur. 

They also notice paw prints in the sand, and identify them –  for example, a leopard or lion (either male or female), elephant or even a porcupine (because of the way it swished its tail behind it). 

They can also recognise the animals from their droppings. 

None of the human kind was detected over three days of safari, although Singita’s anti-poaching patrol found the shoe prints of some poachers who had sneaked in the night before. 

A white rhinoceros and her male calf

Full moon madness

Because of the voracious demand for rhino horn, poaching is a sad and very painful problem. 

South Africa’s border with Mozambique is about 5 km from Singita Lebombo and it is most dangerous for the rhinoceros once every 29 days because impoverished villagers cross into Kruger at night to hunt them by the light of the full moon. 

The poachers usually travel in gangs of three – one with a rifle, another with a machete, and the last to carry provisions for up to 5 or 6 days. 

And since they are lousy shots, any hapless rhino they chance upon is unlikely to be a clean kill. So either the poor animal escapes badly injured, or is still alive when the poachers hack its horns off. 

The poachers only target the rhino, not any of the other Big 5 or wildlife, because its horn is so valuable – a kilogram can fetch US$60,000. 

But the rhino’s decimation is terribly tragic because of two indisputable facts: 

  • Its horn is made of keratin, the same protein as our fingernails, and does not cure rheumatism or cancer, whatever an ignorant  Asian politician might have once said.
  • The rhino is an incredibly gentle creature and doesn’t bother anyone; it’s like a giant puppy compared to the bad-tempered hippo or aggressive buffalo.  

Its sweet disposition is clearly manifested at a watering hole,  which a mother rhino and her male calf are visiting. 

Relying on info provided by the other Singita teams over encrypted radio transmissions, Brian and Evidence had followed their trail before homing in on their final position.

Here, Brian expertly demonstrates how best to get up close and personal with a large animal in order to admire it and snap a couple of photos. It’s not about passively tailing it but anticipating its next move. 

So he manoeuvres the Land Rover into the perfect spot ahead of the pair, not only positioning them at the ideal angle with optimum light, but also setting up the possibility of them walking next to the vehicle. 

And amble alongside the Land Rover the White Rhino mother and her son eventually do – the most beautiful pair of the square-lipped species you will ever see in Kruger. 

So many species in Kruger, like this zebra

Tourism and preservation  

Over the next few days, the rest of the Big 5 and other large game also come traipsing by, sometimes unnervingly close. 

Because Brian aims for maximum proximity, there many other memorable in-your-face moments. 

Like the lioness strolling just a couple of metres away (on a full stomach, thankfully), a lion and his pride of 6 females lolling lazily in the shade on a hot afternoon, a herd of huge elephants with their cute baby jumbos crossing the vehicle track while leaving equally huge piles of dung, and of course, two separate leopards – one male and one female – methodically devouring their respective impalas, both on the ground and in a tree. 

One fortuitous moment was the eye-popping spectacle of the agile 80 kg male leopard bounding vertically up a 6-metre tree with the 40-kg carcass in its powerful jaws as the whooping of some hungry hyenas gets louder. 

But more impressive than the beautiful wildlife, and the trackers’ admirable skills and dedication, is Singita’s commendable conservation efforts. 

All of the hospitality group’s properties in Africa fund its wildlife preservation efforts. 

Singita founder and owner Luke Bailes is a passionate environmentalist who actively fights poaching by supporting wildlife rangers and patrols, both physically and financially. 

In a world where man is the biggest threat to the nature, one man is making a difference.  

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