I’d like to welcome you fine Sir or Madam to this literary game drive or how non-locals refer to it:“safari”. My name is Samantha and I will be your driver for this journey. Together we shall explore the wilds of Southern Africa from the comfort of your home, looking at the large and frightening to the small and necessary. Please do not hesitate to ask questions and feel free to share your own experiences.
Before we begin, there are just a few rules to follow in order to achieve the ultimate game experience. Please keep your hands and feet within the virtual vehicle at all times and please do not stand. The animals see us as one large and very loud but familiar occupant of this wonderful reserve if we remain seated. However, if one shouts or suddenly stands, we become threatening and the animals will flee (this includes colleagues working close by who may not take lightly to sudden movements).
We start this virtual game drive at 4:30 am South African time. It is summer, but the early morning air is cool on your skin. You are tired because you are on holiday and nothing is more jarring than having to wake up before the sun rises while on vacation. But you are excited. You climb aboard the glorified “bakkie” or “ute” which has had its roof removed and benches attached to provide the optimal view when cruising through the bush.
This is the ideal time to spot game as they will be at their most active and more likely to be seen closer to the roads as the air is cooler and sound travels further. You may well be aware that South Africa can reach harsh temperatures during the summer of around 30 degrees celsius. This heat is incredibly draining on an animal if they are active during peak temperatures thus they will stray away from open plains and conserve energy.There is more rainfall during the summer months which breaks up the intense heat and allows animals to travel further throughout the reserve. Winter (May- September) in the Pilanesberg is known as the “dry season” as there is very little rain during this time, reducing foliage (shrubs, trees) and resulting in animals concentrating around large bodies of water. This means that the time of year heavily influences where animals will be in the park and can alter where game drives will take place.
The goal of most game drives is too spot the “Big Five”, a term which was coined by big game trophy hunters, incorporating animals that are particularly difficult to hunt and the degree of danger involved, rather than the size of the animal. Which explains why it doesn’t include a hippopotamus or cheetah even though they are the coolest animals in the bush. The term has been adopted as an effective marketing campaign for wild life reserves throughout Africa, enticing tourists to spot these particular animals. The big five includes African lion (Panthera leo), African rhinoceros (Black: Diceros bicornis , White: Ceratotherium simum) , cape buffalo (Syncerus caffer), African leopard (Panthera pardus pardus) and the African elephant (Loxodonta Africana).
The most elusive of the Big Five is the African Leopard. This is because Leopards are solitary animals and mainly hang out in trees and therefore difficult to spot, so it is unlikely that we will come across one during our drive. As we continue forward we will be looking out for the members of the Big Five in order to achieve the most authentic African game drive experience however, I’ll be pointing out other crucial individuals that occupy this ecosystem….
Wait something has been spotted!
Can anyone guess whose booty this belongs too?
All will be revealed on Friday!
For more information on the Big Five and the use of the term in ecotourism:
- Jeffrey Skibins, Robert Powell, Jeffrey Hallo. (2016) Lucky 13: conservation implications of broadening “Big 5” flagship species recognition in East Africa. Journal of Sustainable Tourism 24:7, pages 1024-1040.
- Peter A. Lindsey, R. Alexander, M.G.L. Mills, S. Romañach, and R. Woodroffe. Wildlife Viewing Preferences of Visitors to Protected Areas in South Africa: Implications for the Role of Ecotourism in Conservation.Journal Of Ecotourism Vol. 6 , Iss. 1,2007