Animals at Safari West

Morning was gorgeous and I had high hopes for a spectacular day.

*UPDATE!!** Eesha the southern white rhinoceros, listed as “near threatened,” is actually pregnant, and that explains her sleepiness in the photos here.*

I woke up feeling awful. I think I had consumed two gallons of champagne the night before, then accidentally turned on my electric blanket in the night and was DYING of heat for a couple hours till I figured out how to turn off the blanket in the dark, and then had to wait for the heat to dispel. But worst of all were the flamingoes. Flamingoes, apparently, never sleep. They sound much like ducks, and Safari West has about 100 flamingoes. So imagine 100 ducks outside your bedroom that never shut up. They’d squawk and cackle at each other in bursts of sound and slowly mellow out and just when it seemed like they would quiet down, one of them would say, “And another thing!” and it would set them all to squawking at full volume once more. I had earplugs in (thank goodness!) but the noise came right through anyway. All. Night. Long.

After promising one of the ladies the night before that I always get up early, I woke to see that most of the tent was empty and my companions had already dressed and left (and made their beds). I walked around in a haze and a headache and got myself dressed, splashed water on my face, and tried to bring the world into focus. In the mirror I looked pale and twenty years older.

When I stepped out the door onto the deck, I knew it would be alright. The view across the valley was gorgeous (photo above). Blue skies, and sun barely rising across the wildlife park. I was so, so excited to go see the animals. I grabbed my camera and walked down the hill in search of coffee. I decided to take my time and take some photos before I met the other ladies, in order to give my head a chance to clear up more.

Helmeted Guineafowl near our tents.
Dama Gazelles
Red junglefowl. They look exactly like Bantam chickens to me.

I even swung by the flamingoes’ pen, to curse at them. They were even noisier as the sun rose than they had been in the night. I asked if they ever sleep; they were too busy talking and didn’t hear my question. (I posted the image above on facebook and a friend asked if they are called Lesser Flamingoes because they only have one leg. Ha!)

At the breakfast table, birthday girl and her man being good sports and wearing their animal hats.

Before we arrived, one of Margaret’s friends looked at the weather forecast and decided we would all be cold (she was right), so she planned a secret surprise for Margaret and asked us all to buy silly animal hats. She bought hats for Allen and Margaret so they wouldn’t be left out. That way, if it rained or if there wasn’t enough time for us all to fix our hair in the morning, it wouldn’t matter. So every one of us wore an animal hat. Mine was a penguin.

Animal hats at breakfast.

After we ate, we went outside and the weather had gone the exact opposite of what it was when I walked down the hill. Completely grey and overcast and POURING rain. We met with our tour guide and I cannot remember her name but she was wonderful! She was newly graduated with an advanced degree and a huge fan of frogs and fungi, and knew some fascinating information about the flora and fauna of the place. She said there would be a Jeep tour in re-purposed old WWII military vehicles, and a walking tour. Which one did we want to do first? We decided that the longer we spent in the rain, the more miserable we would be, and decided to do the walking part first, assuming that sitting in a Jeep would be the best option for when we were all wet and cold.

Safari West handed out very cute rain covers and umbrellas, and off we went to see the caged animals that are near the entrance of the park.
DeBrazza’s Monkey

We tromped over to the giraffe barn, where all the giraffes were inside because they do not like the cold. I could see they also do not like being trapped inside the barn, and a couple of them paced back and forth incessantly, which was hard to watch.

Because of the rain – it was really coming down onto us – most of the animals were hiding inside their warm, dry homes, and we didn’t see many of them. I don’t blame them. Because of the rain, I tried and failed to take many more animal photos. All except the giraffes were behind screens too, which made an even tougher photography challenge. I was getting soaked, the rain continued to pour, my glasses were wet and fogged, and I pretty much could hardly see anything. Then it was time for the Jeeps!

All of us fit into one Jeep, under a canvas roof, which did help keep half of the rain off, but the sideways rain still came in. Luckily, Safari West also handed out wool blankets.

Like I said earlier, our tour guide was wonderful and her enthusiasm constantly kept our minds off the wretched weather, and tuned back into the animals. Safari West is specifically an African wildlife park, so the animals are mostly native to the African continent. In this park, animals that get along with each other are penned in gigantic sections that are only accessed by park Jeeps driven by park employees. There is no other way to get up close. We were not allowed to leave the Jeeps.

This was what we looked like: a solitary Jeep following a muddy road through a beautiful landscape, keeping an eye out for animals. When we spotted something, we would tell our guide, and she would stop for photos and tell us about the animal we were looking at.
This was my view most of the tour, from the back of the Jeep. Our guide (wearing the orange jacket) would park so that the animals were behind her, then turn around and face us. It made sense: we could look at her face while she talked, and see the incredible animals behind her. Problem was, I was constantly shooting between plastic rain shells and fuzzy animal hats. ha ha!
The most interesting part of the Watusi story was this mix breed on the left. His dad ran away from a nearby farm during the wildfires a few years ago and wandered alone until he found this Watusi herd. Safari West and the Watusi herd looked after the black bull until his owner was tracked down. Not too much later, it was discovered that one of the Watusi females was pregnant. And now there is a single midnight-black Watusi. ha ha!
Before we left the Watusis, our guide said, “Wait for me while I go find out if that is a mushroom.” and she ran off across the hillside. This photo is her yelling back, “It’s a rock!”

Next we were stopped on our route for an obstinate Zebra who refused to budge. “It’s their home,” our guide told us. “I don’t like to be pushy because we are the ones invading their space.” We waited a while to see if the old boy would move, but he never did, and we backed up and took a different road instead.

Male in the foreground, female in the background.

We saw some Wildebeest up close and personal.

The Wildebeest were really jumping around and running back and forth. I think they were mad at some Zebras who had commandeered a wooden shelter and were not letting the Wildebeest come in from the rain with them.
This Southern White Rhinoceros female had zero interest in hanging out in the mud and rain.
To us, it seemed almost like she was depressed about the rain. I hear ya, sister!! * We found out later that she is pregnant ❤ How exciting.
The male White Rhino was fine with sinking up to his ankles in mud, however. And, it looks like he had been laying in the mud, too.
The Wood Ducks barely noticed the weather, and just let it roll off their backs.
It was constantly beautiful as we drove around the hillsides on our multi-hour tour.

We spent a lot of time with the Cape Buffalo. We stopped to look at them, and they chose that moment to come down off the hill and cross the road in front of us. The whole herd had nearly finished crossing, when they decided we might be a threat, and changed their minds and as a group, turned around and headed back up the hill. We waited a long time while all this was going on, and I was able to get lots of great shots.

We cheered the rays of sunshine, but it didn’t last long. It just gave the earth time to heat up and send some evaporated water into the sky, which formed new rain clouds. Soon enough, we were under a deluge once more. The canvas roof was totally saturated and dripping onto Margaret who sat directly in the middle, under the lowest bulge of the canvas. My fingers were so cold I couldn’t operate the buttons on my camera any longer. I took off my gloves and put my hands into my armpits till they thawed enough to work.

A Gemsbok was hanging out with the Cape Buffalo.
He is beautiful and he knows it, so he struck a pose.
Thank you sir.
The Scimitar-Horned Oryx were hard to photograph because they were up close against the mesh fencing that my camera struggled to focus through. But wait– how many legs does she have?
Aha! Her baby tries to decide what to make of us.
I got a nice shot of the male in focus, though.
Greater Kudu licks raindrops from the fence.

We passed through our last gate and as we sat in the Jeep, our wonderful guide told us a few last things and answered questions. The sun finally decided to come out for real. To our left was a Greater Kudu, licking a fence near us. There were a couple of animals we had not seen and our guide offered us a choice: head back in and try to find them in a different location, or go back to the main building and get warm. We chose warmth.

We survived!! That’s me in the back seat, clasping frozen hands in a penguin hat.

As the sun came out, we packed up all our gear and the company Jeeps showed up for us to load them and head back down the hill to our cars. This was a one-of-a-kind birthday party and I can say from experience that it does not matter the weather; Safari West is going to be one amazing place to visit if you can ever make it happen.

9 thoughts on “Animals at Safari West

  1. I’m not sure I should be reading this while I am pondering going out into the rain. 🙂 I hope the night before was worth the morning after. Your trigger finger was working well and your hand steady for these excellent pictures.

    1. Totally worth it! Possibly the best thing about digital cameras is that I no longer need to worry about wasting film. I just snap snap snap and if I’m lucky, there will be a good one in there. I owe all these photos to Margaret and Allen, for inviting us and making it all happen. What a great experience and I’m so grateful.

  2. Worth every drop … both of rain and champagne! What a wonderful weekend. I love the photos … so many new-to-me creatures. Ibis and crames and purple hens, oh my. Safari West, huh? On the list!

    1. Oh yes, the purple swamphen. I had to look for some time to figure out what that one was. Another thing about photography challenges that makes it like a game: identifying your bird! I’ve seen the Ibis in Chile before, where they live wild and a group of them in the trees sound like really old women laughing together – the best sound! It kept cracking us up, Margaret and me, when we heard them. Safari West offers tours throughout the day for anyone who shows up, and the option to stay overnight in a tent is additional. I feel so fortunate that Margaret and Allen made this happen for us.

  3. I laughed about the flamingos and your discussion with them, Crystal. I can almost hear you scolding them. Too much Champaign, a hot electric blanket and squawking flamingos— a night you will remember, I’m sure. As for the rain, ouch. At least you got some sense of the wildlife, and photos. Yay for digital cameras! –Curt

    1. I’m always happy when I get a laugh out of someone, Curt. 🙂 I’ll remember that night for a very long time, you are right. The rain and cold were challenging, but as I said to Bonnie Rae, sometimes that’s part of the fun of being an amateur photographer – conquering the obstacles!

      1. I suspect that conquering the obstacles is even more challenging for a pro. Imagine sitting out in the cold and rain for hours to get the desired photo of a squawky flamingo. LOL.

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