Beyond the Big Five



Until just a few months ago, a safari seemed like a dream deferred. It was the thing to do when I turned 60.


When we happened upon the inexpensive Emirates flight to South Africa, suddenly a safari seemed immanent–and it was affordable, too. I would soon find out that one does not need to “go on a safari,” as if with some organized group in a jeep. You can rent a car and do it all yourself. The national park system in South Africa makes it very easy to do so, and there are lots of ways one can independently organize a trip, as I like to do. You can stay in any type of lodging you like from camping and self-catering cottage to luxury bush resort. It is safe, easy, and affordable. We visited several different national parks, each with unique beauty and ecosystem.

baby hippo

One of the things I wanted to see most was a mom and baby giraffe and I got my wish, more than once.

We saw some creatures we did not know existed, such as the Bush Baby. It’s not a pygmy marmoset  but it is similar. It is one of the smallest primates in the world. Only nocturnal, bush babies are one of the cutest creatures I have ever seen. Now this was something that would have been hard to see on our own. We spent 4 nights in Toro Yaka and they knew how to spot and lure the bush babies with fruit. It was very hard to get a photo. They move fast, and we did not use a flash. We only depended on our host’s flashlight skills.

Bush Baby

We found that one can easily self-drive through the parks, offering maximum time and independence.

Kruger National Park was the best for wildlife. You barely had to try, there were so many animals. The Saint Lucia NP near Durban was equally as yielding of flora and fauna and has a spectacular beach to boot. All in all, Saint Lucia might have been my favorite place for wildlife viewing because I like the ecosystem there in general. The first African animal I saw in the wild was this zebra. It was completely unexpected, as we had no idea there were zebras in the St. Lucia wetlands area. I will never forget this moment.

There are opportunities to see wildlife outside of the national parks, too. Whales can be seen off of the southern Cape–especially the town of Hermanus in November (peak whale season).

Southern Right Whale
African Penguins with babies

Did you know there were penguins in South Africa? I didn’t–I thought they were only in Antarctica. So these colonies were a treat to see. The one at Betty’s Bay was very nice and natural. The more popular place to visit is Boulder Beach. Boulder Beach is pretty but the penguin sanctuary is touristy.

mature African Penguin

Baboons are common throughout South Africa, they almost seem ordinary.

Baboon mom and baby–very common to see baboon

In Cape Town is the gorgeous Kirstenbosch Gardens. We were lucky enough to be there when the baby spotted eagle owl left the nest and sat on the ground letting people watch and take pictures of him.

baby spotted eagle owl–huge baby (already almost the size of mom but with only down feathers)

I was lucky enough to catch him mid-yawn, and it looks like he is screaming at me. But he wasn’t. Mom looked like she wanted to scream at me for getting close to baby, but she was cool. I got some great photos of the mom.

I also got a picture of a tiny little owl, which was about the size of a man’s hand. He did not seem to mind people, either.

We saw all the “big five” (lion, leopard, elephant, cape buffalo, and rhino). The “big five” designation is a pointless classification, but it offers a sort of “check list” when looking for animals. The only one of the five that I could not photo was leopard, because we only saw him briefly, he was in shade, and far away. What’s even more amazing is all the other animals we saw, too–lots of hippos, at least five different types of antelope, and many many beautiful birds including ibises and sunbirds.

Cape Buffalo–saw a lot of these, always in herds

Black rhino–very rare, but we saw several. Always alone. 

Even for non-nature lovers, animals are a highlight of South Africa. I’m going to miss them, just like I am going to miss a lot of things about this country.

ostrich in the wild–they always appear curious and look right at you.

I am also aware that there is too little being done about poaching, rhinos especially. They are really incredible creatures. When you see one, it is like staring back into time. They and ostriches seem like the prehistoric creatures or living fossils.

I think it is atrocious that some tourists want to stay on one of the lame game ranches that buy the “big five” just so tourists can come and shoot them as trophies. There is actually a market for that kind of tourism. I call it small penis tourism, because it says a lot about the character of those consumers.
If anyone wants some tips on safari or anything else related to traveling in South Africa please let me know and I will try to help.

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