Kruger National Park in South Africa: The art of hand-feeding a hippopotamus is written by Jacob Gowland Jørgensen
Safari with a teenager - can you do it?
We had been talking about it for several years. About going on safari with my youngest, who is very interested in animals and has a greater knowledge of animals than most. Because safari is a really great experience if you are interested in nature.
I myself have tried safaris in such different African countries as Uganda, Tanzania og Namibia, and now it was to be with the younger man, who had meanwhile become a teenager.
It had to be both a place that I had not visited and which I also thought was a good place for someone who had not been on safari before. A beginner in safari experiences.
The choice fell on the Kruger National Park in north-eastern South Africa, just over 300 km from Johannesburg, and not least I found via the good Danish travel agency Rickshaw Travels an opportunity to get a Danish-speaking guide who was specialized in the area and who could make a trip for us, where junior could follow.
So we took Danish Rich Wagner on safari in the Kruger National Park itself and in the area beyond, Greater Kruger, and even had a city experience in Johannesburg on the way home.
Richi does a lot of safaris in Botswana, and lives in Kruger himself, and therefore knows the area like the back of his hand, so we felt in good hands. And this particular trip offered so many unexpected and wild experiences that it lived up to our expectations to such an extent - both for the teenager and the father.
Løve Love – middle of the road in Kruger National Park
We have driven from the asphalt road and down a small dirt road in the big orange land cruiser.
The sun is peeking out, and here in February in the South African summer we can enjoy warm air over the national park. And then we see them: A "mating couple" in the form of two lions lying and cuddling in the middle of the road. A male and a female, in the process of ensuring the survival of the lion population.
They are a few meters from us. The female suddenly sits up with a jerk and looks at us intently. With beating heart and finger on the window button, we watch her saunter past, while the male lion faithfully follows. The guide says that they mate 1-2 times an hour for up to 3 days, and then they go their separate ways. There are also examples of there being two males and one lioness!
They lay down right behind the car, in the little shade there is. They clearly don't care that we are there. The only sound is the click of the camera and off to a deep hum from the male.
We carefully turn the car around, look ahead and roll away. A few seconds later, a rhinoceros runs across the road 20 meters further on, and the rather rare animal is also munching behind a tree when we get there. The impressive white rhino is standing right here, and there are just the four of us – 3 of us. Two-legged and one four-legged, which with a fighting weight of around 2 kilos and a nice horn is superior to the rest of us.
Wow. And we have only just started our safari.
The honey badger who is not to be trifled with
We have arrived at Satara Rest Camp, approximately in the middle of the national park. Our cabin is ready and it is located among quite a few other forms of accommodation, from guesthouse to camping.
There are a number of different camps around the nearly 20.000 km2 national park, which corresponds to half of Denmark or the whole of Israel.
Together with the Greater Kruger area of 1.800 km2 outside the national park, and a few other national parks bordering it, the whole nature reserve is a really big area where, despite the popularity of the park, there is still plenty of space.
My biggest concern before the trip had been that it would be a "Knuthenborg experience", where we would be queuing for relatively few animals on flat plains. I now like Knuthenborg, but that was not why we had traveled all the way to South Africa.
The guide Richi said that as long as you stay away from weekends during the school summer holidays – the South African one that is – there is generally good space, although of course there are some cars around. But it can also be an advantage, as you can help each other find the animals, as when we were beckoned to by an elderly couple who excitedly told us that there were "wild dogs" at the vulture a little further down the road . And there it was. And then we also learned that a "wild dog" is not the same as a hyena, and that they are the park's most skilled hunters.
Kruger National Park is far from Knuthenborg. We had driven through beautiful, hilly landscapes cut by rivers and with red rocks all around. This was the real deal. And now we were in the camp, which was well fenced in to keep animals out. Besides the honey badger, of course… it doesn't care.
The sharp-toothed badger is the largest animal in the marten family, and its teeth can go through a turtle shell! It can also defend itself well against curious lions. It eats beehives when it wants to snack, and doesn't care about the bees…
It has become somewhat of a mythical animal for me, because I have heard about it in many places, but never seen it. But there it stood, approx. 10 kilo, 60-70 cm long honey badger – 2 meters from me, climbing up onto the outdoor kitchen that was part of the cabin. It deftly opened the cupboards and when there was nothing it slipped away through a small hole in the fence.
Herd of animals in Kruger National Park
In the following days we crossed most of the central and southern part of the park. There were more cars coming south, but also fewer animals, so we turned the land cruiser north.
Junior was allowed to choose the road, and it was the small dirt roads that were chosen, and it was a wise move, because before we left the park we found large herds of giraffes, zebras and finally also elephants.
We had just met a territorial and slightly irritable male elephant, who gave us the opportunity to test the reverse gear for 300 meters, and then we drove forward a little, and there went a large herd of at least 35 elephants, including with cubs.
They filled it all up and we waited patiently enjoying the sight, looking in the rearview mirror to see if more were coming. It did, but the last ones managed to avoid us, so full of fascination with this huge animal we drove on and out. And yes, elephants can actually list, because their feet are so cleverly arranged that they can sneak around!
Another surprise was the many birds of prey, from eagles to vultures. There were many, and they were beautiful. The small screaming blue birds and other charming feather-bearers also added color to the experience.
Finally we got on the asphalt road again, and there we saw an extremely rare animal, namely the white lion, of which only a few are found in the wild.
It's not an albino lion, just one with white coloring instead of the normal yellow-brown, and the big lion was clearly the alpha male of the area, even though it was old and had injuries.
A wolf, a Frenchman and a Buddha
We drove from the cozy and fairly simple cabins inside the Kruger National Park to a cornucopia of a place.
Hippo Moon Lodge is in every way a unique place, and is close enough to the park that it is also a good practical choice. In addition, the place is an attraction in itself. It is on a 10km2 wild plot with many animals, and in the middle of it all the eccentric owner, a Frenchman with West African ancestry, has built a wild house and a string of small castles!
We stayed in a huge room in the main house, right by the pool and with a view of his zebras and gazelles. And the house itself is - well, almost an art exhibition, of the more creative kind. So when we bathed in the pool, which was cruciform and covered with Buddhas and Krishnas, we could both enjoy nature and the many wild creations.
Together with his 12 dogs and a coyote (!), the owner is a regular part of the anti-poaching group in the area because, as he said: "I'd rather hunt poachers than have them hunt our rhinos".
You can clearly feel a great love for animals at Hippo Moon Lodge, and you can greet the zebra that was rescued as a baby, see rare versions of the safari animals and then of course talk to the coyote Xena, named after the superhero character Xena the warrior Princess.
We became good friends with Xena.
She laid down by the pool when we were there and kept a close eye on us when we walked in the garden. We were told that if she came to us, we could pet it, and she often did. We study her movements, which are both like a dog and yet not at all. The owner said that it also hunted differently than the dogs in the forest when he was out with them all.
I would like to say that it gives quite a lot street credit to be able to tell your friends at school that you have become friends with a wolf, who was obviously not behind a fence. It just lived there. And the price for staying here was not much different than if you had chosen a classic lodge, so it was just a huge experience on top of the hat.
The art of hand-feeding a hippopotamus: Jessica the hippopotamus
As if the animal experiences in the Kruger National Park and at Hippo Moon Lodge were not enough, the last day was to prove to be the icing on the cake. The weather was otherwise unstable, gray and with night rain, but we got off early because we had to visit "Jessica the Hippo"!
Yes, Jessica is so world-famous that apparently more than 100 features and documentary programs have been recorded about her, and therefore there were naturally also signs in good time where her smiling hippopotamus face showed the way.
She was rescued by a local family when she was very small, where she had gotten away from her mother during a huge flood in the area, and ballooned from 16 kilos to the 1700 kilos she weighs today. She therefore also moved in with the family, where she moves freely in the river at the foot of the house, and previously also inside the house, which she has grown too big for today...
Occasionally, Jessica disappears for a while out into the wilderness, which the Greater Kruger largely still is, but we were lucky because she was there. We were allowed to give her the famous South African rooibos tea and potato slices, which we hand-fed her simply by placing the slices between her teeth in the terrifying flesh and tooth orgy that unfolds when a hippo is hungry.
Hippos are definitely not in the category of cozy animals, and all fishermen in Africa have great respect for the giant animal, which can weigh up to 4 tons and whose bite is the strongest of any land animal. It is approximately twice as powerful as a lion's... On the other hand, the teeth can be over a meter long!
But Jessica was gentle as a lamb, and so was her adopted little brother, and it turns out that hippopotamus hair on the mule is pretty soft.
Greater Kruger: Blyde River Canyon
We drove from Jessica The Hippo to one of the world's largest canyons, the Blyde River Canyon in Mpumalanga, quite close to the national park.
It is a beautiful and green area, and we went out with other visitors on a nice boat trip where we could see all the wild rock formations and where the cheerful local guide was good at spotting birds and sharing stories.
Afterwards we saw the dam which was used to make a water reservoir for the whole area, but unfortunately not to make electricity because there were occasional problems with lack of electricity in the local area, so a new source would be useful.
On the way up again, we saw the last animal experience of the trip. A so-called Neck lobe chameleon had strayed onto the asphalt road, and our guide resolutely stopped the car, grabbed the little cousin so it wouldn't end up like a flat pancake under the next car, and put it on his arm as it was transported to the edge of the forest.
The chameleon had primarily dark brown markings, but as it decided to climb up the arm and onto the head of our guide, it changed to light green – and back again, in less than 1 minute.
It crawls quite slowly, like a chameleon, and besides the color it also has the wildest eyes.
They can see in most directions, and the eyes work independently of each other, so while it quietly climbed up from the guide's arm, it looked focused at me on the opposite side - but mostly with one eye!
Junior was also allowed to hold it and put it out at the edge of the forest, and we are now officially fans of the whimsical little animal that I have previously only encountered Madagascar.
Taking a teenager on safari to the Kruger National Park
The trip was a hit.
And the trip was also quite different from what we had imagined, but that's how good trips are: You can plan everything you want from home, but when you're away you have to deal with reality, seek out the possibilities and let yourself be excited by what you have now meetings, instead of focusing on what you thought before you left.
So you can definitely take an animal-loving teenager to Kruger National Park, absolutely. And there are so many options throughout the Greater Kruger area that, with the help of an expert, it is possible to find places and experiences that can suit most people, and choose a time when there is plenty of space on the surrounding roads.
Good trip to Kruger National Park. Good safari in South Africa.
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