The dawn was leading into the day as I drove through Numbi Gate into Kruger Park. A little way up the road I stopped to listen and to scent the wilderness, from the dewy damp grass to a heady mixture of vegetation. This was one of my favourite parts of the wilderness experience. My thoughts began to wander and in the distant silence I imagined a lion roar echoing across the plains and through the valleys.
The sun was soon spraying through the trees and I decided to move on. I began to notice the colours and patterns of the surroundings. Seasonal shades, in colours of green and brown, smudged on a landscape formed by the seasons played across my mind.
The sharp scent of elephant dung and urine smashed my senses. At this time of the year it was enhanced by the sour-sweet smell of the marula fruits that form a large part of the elephants’ diet. There was a crack of a branch up ahead and as I moved closer I caught sight of the grey flashes of a breeding herd moving slowly away into the thick bush.
Shabeni Hill is one of the most dramatic of the many rocky outcrops in the Kruger Park. It is scenically spectacular and has a variety of vegetation growing on its slopes including aloes and the wonderful Sycamore Fig. From the road you can look out on the vast expanse of this legendary wilderness as it stretches to the distant horizon.
At Shabeni Hill I found a Klipspringer silhouetted against the deep blue of the sky. Its ballerina-like hooves ensure that it is adapted to this rocky environment. A herd of stately Kudu were browsing on the green leaves of the smaller trees and I watched a dung beetle fighting and forcing a ball of dung in which it had laid an egg its larvae to live on when it hatches.
I identified many birds including the beautiful Lilac Breasted Roller and the undertaker-like Marabou Stork. And then the light of the morning passed into the heat. I had lost track of time so caught up was I in the intimate embrace of this magical wilderness area.
I had a great sighting of two white rhino grazing very close to the road and crossed the paths of Zebra, Giraffe, Wildebeest and more Elephant before stopping to stretch my legs on a hill looking out over the African landscape. I tried to gather my thoughts, but my mind was wandering:
'Landscapes of an ancient song still play to the rhythm of the earth and sky, teaching our souls of the link to our past and where we once walked. The trees rise from the wide plains into the season-greyed sky, a sky that has kept watch over the savanna for as long as our memory exists.’
There were a few vultures sitting in some trees a distance off the road. I could not see what they were waiting on but I deduced that there was a kill and, due to the fact that the vultures were waiting patiently in the tree, the predator was still feeding on the carcass. If the carcass had been deserted by the predator then the vultures would be on the ground feeding. A feeling of disappointment at not being able to see the action was replaced by a heightened sense of excitement as I realized that the wilderness was holding something secret from me. I could not just barge in and lay claim to everything. This secret side, the idea of not knowing, excited me.
Afternoon: The shadows were lengthening as I headed on the road toward the park gate. The heat had lost its harshness and the landscape was bathed in a gentle light. I saw many animals including a big male Lion that was not very co-operative. He was lying in the shade of a tree in thick grass and would roll over every now and then providing a sneak view.
As I left the park gate I was content that the Kruger wilderness was so well protected and then I thought of the Land Claims that had been lodged and I was saddened that we as humans could not live in harmony with the rest of the species on earth. We had to control and own.
By Leigh Kemp