They say Africa is not a place, it is a feeling. As we sit here on the pristine banks of the Sand River, a place riddled with some of the best wildlife on the continent, it is hard not to embrace the ‘feeling of Africa’. What is meant by this? What is it about this special place that often moves visitors to tears…
We are well into summer now and seasonal changes have taken place throughout MalaMala Game Reserve. Dust and dryness are converted into a palette of every green you can think of. For me, summer is undeniably the best season to be in the bushveld. Young impala lambs bound through the lush vegetation amongst kudus and nyala. Zebras and giraffes contrast so beautifully against the natural greenery of developing senegalia and combretum trees. Butterflies and bees pollinate furiously and, in general, abundance is the order of the day. It is possible to count over 150 bird species within a 24-hour period. We witness incredible behaviour around each corner and indulge in Amarulas and Gin and Tonics whilst marveling at the dramatic sunsets only summer can offer. All things big and small join forces to create a natural phenomenon that has been preserved for our benefit. A symphony of frogs and other insects replace our usual musical tastes and whooping hyenas keep our spirits alive at night.
How do you explain this experience to somebody who has never been to Africa? How could you possibly explain how, as a matriarch elephant feeds right next to you, she emits vocalizes a low rumbling sound that shakes you from within. Is it possible to capture, in still photography or video, the light falling through a riverine forest onto a pride of lions, the smell of a pack of wild dogs or the excitement of following the tracks of an animal, freshly made in damp soil after rain? They say we should envy the person who has not yet been to Africa for they have so much to look forward to. I couldn’t agree more.
The summer months, often adorned with thunderstorms, create an array of weather patterns for us to enjoy. We wake up to magnificent sunrises as birds busily establish themselves for their morning activities with a truly spectacular array of songs. Blue skies will later give way to cumulus cloud buildups and most likely an hour or two of rain. It has been hot and sunny for a week and precipitation is inevitable. This pattern is to be embraced, it is the very life force that sustains the wildlife that we hold so dearly. The river slowly fills, tortoises and terrapins alike can be seen scrambling ceremoniously from puddle to puddle. Dry sand gives way to wallows as the animals fluctuate from clean to muddy and back again.
The abundance of water and vegetation is matched in behavioural opportunities. Herbivores disperse gratefully as resources reach their peak and predators travel further to hunt them. It may take time to track and find these incredible beasts but using the interim wisely can be most advantageous. Spend some time watching dragonflies display over a waterhole and you will not need to watch science fiction. Engulf yourself in the world of dung beetles or the intelligence of termite alates forming a new colony. It is the chance to ask questions, to examine in greater detail the inner workings of our natural environment. A chance that many have never had and others will never have again. ‘’Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better”, said Albert Einstein. He had unlocked the magic that lies in front of us as we bundle onto our Land Rovers drive after drive.
So no, it may not be possible to explain the full complexities of a summer safari. We are unable to bottle the smells or capture the sounds of the African bushveld. We are hard pressed to find adjectives that do justice to ‘the feeling’. A feeling installed in our hearts from sharing a world we were once an intimate and small part of, a world that we are now desperately trying to protect. I hope you take with you this feeling. Let it carry you home and stay with you until the next time your feet touch down on MalaMala Game Reserve.