Experience: My favourite African safari adventures: In the second of our African adventure posts, Cox & Kings’ Louise Stanion talks about some of her most memorable, occasionally shocking, safari experiences…
Up, up and away: Hot air ballooning over Sossusvlei, Namibia
The initial take-off was full of action. Clear and loud instructions were issued from our pilot, a female World Champion balloon flyer from Germany. The 20-strong team laboured hard to keep the balloon grounded whilst we climbed in. Once airborne, we were asked whether we were all feeling OK. But there was no reply: the twelve people standing in the basket had gone completely quiet. Floating over the red Sossusvlei dune fields is an awe-inspiring experience. The group spoke in whispers throughout the flight, taking in the expansive views and the incredible stillness.
Elephants and rainbows: Zambia’s green season
The skies darkened ominously. The leaves on the trees shone brightly against the black backdrop. Stillness in the air preceded a strong gust of wind and the first rumble of thunder. The rainbow, which was weak and broken before, developed into a complete semi-circle of bright colour, similar to a simple rainbow you would see in a children’s drawing book. It was then that the elephants stepped out onto the orange dirt track. The matriarch first, followed by the younger ones. In slow, pre-historic movements they passed under the rainbow’s end and quietly disappeared into the bush beyond.
Cheetah cubs in peril on the Busanga Plains: North Kafue, Zambia
In one of Zambia’s less visited National Parks nothing was happening. The scenery was beautiful, of course – the Busanga Plains is known for its vast mosaic of grassy plains – but there was no sign of our sought-after lion or wandering cheetah. Suddenly a golden cheetah emerged. Five fluffy cubs wobbled in single file behind their mother. Everything was quiet as we followed slowly behind in the vehicle. Suddenly, three lionesses executed a perfectly planned ambush. As one small cub was seized and killed, the others fled into the bush, followed by their snarling, spitting mother. Quiet returned to the bush.
The Silverback’s mighty roar: Gorilla tracking in the Bwindi impenetrable forests, Uganda
We crouched on the ground with our heads bowed. “Act submissively,” our guide whispered. In fact, no ‘act’ was necessary as the silverback, the world’s largest living primate, stood up on his hind legs, pummelled his torso and opened a mouth that my head could fit inside. The roar reverberated through our chests. The guides, familiar with this sort of behaviour, recognised the ‘mock’ nature of the call. Soon enough we all relaxed again as family life resumed. Fluffy black balls with arms and legs flew through the trees, the adult females sat grooming one other and the remainder of the troop set about eating their lunch.
Dramatic predator action: Savute, Botswana
“When you’re in a land rover, you’re like baked beans in a can” our guide, Obi, explained. “As long as you don’t get out, or move about too much, the animals won’t realise there’s food inside.” We had been sitting quietly in our 4 x 4 for nearly an hour and the pack of wild dog had begun to spread out. The dogs were hunting a group of impala positioned just a stone’s throw away from us and Obi was talking us through their tactics. Suddenly there was movement and a jumping impala was reduced to a bloody rib cage in less than 3 minutes. Noisy and dramatic, a wild dog kill is a rare site.