Monday, 26 September 2011

Rippons Safari day 3 - hiding hippos and rampaging elephants

Our summer vacation in 4 parts
Safari day 1
Safari day 2

For day three’s morning drive our numbers returned to 7 as Peter and Rachel had packed the pink slippers and slunk away during the night (see day 2 if you are confused). We spent the morning searching for hippos, which turned out to be a bit of a fruitless task…There were murmurings that someone had seen an otter but it was probably just the splash from an over enthusiastic fish. Every ripple in the river was greeted with silent anticipation.

I managed to fill the time focusing on various nameless birds. Carl from wildlifetours and education*, my font of all feathery knowledge , has very kindly attempted to put me out of my misery (and no doubt his own personal suffering at my misguided attempts to name the copious winged friends that litter the South African plains) by sending me a book on South African birds – I think you will agree a very kind and thoughtful gesture, if potentially rather embarrassing when I get my future bird names wrong.  We did see the usual suspects but, alas, no sign of the elusive hippo. 

* Carl will you never learn - as Teach and Mrs B have, so painfuly over the years - That I am beyond educating. Three trips with you should have hinted at my non-stick approach to learning...

Once we were back at the lodge and had finished breakfast, Mrs B was busy sunning herself and I was sorting through photos when Jan gave a cry – there was something in the lake below Rippons Lodge.  The shout soon went up – it was a hippo – I scrambled across the room, like a second world war fighter pilot and grabbed The Beast.  Fortunately the 300mm lens and 2X converter were on .  Far below there was indeed a hippo – but The Beast was refusing to take any pictures – in my haste I had not put the CF card back into The Beast and was thus firing blanks… I dashed back to the room, grabbed the cards and took the opportunity to pick up the monopod (which up to this point had been a rather heavy and obsolete piece of equipment, whose sole contribution thus far had been to take my case’s weight perilously close to going over my luggage limit). 

I was relieved to see that the hippo was still paddling about the lake – partly because it meant I could take some photos  and partly because if I could see it, it meant that it was not sneaking up behind me about to crush me to death.  Far from being the fat comic creatures dancing about in pink Tutus, as Disney cartoons would have us believe, the hippo is considered by the majority of wildlife experts to be the most dangerous animal in Africa (if you exclude man, the mosquitos and a waking Mrs B).  This is because it has notched up way more kills than the much feared lion. OK, crocodiles can probably run them close but at the end of the day when did fashion week last feature a Hippopotamus shoe and belt  combination?  Let’s face it if you can wear it then it becomes a little less scary.

Considering the Hippo is a vehement vegetarian (but then again so was Hitler – sorry Karen but it’s true) it is surprising to learn that it does not just rely on the ‘crush them to death’ or ‘hold them under water’ technique but will happily chomp down on its victims with its huge canine teeth and sharp incisors.  I’m not sure if it makes a lot of difference to your last moments on earth knowing that the hippo is going to spit rather than swallow you….. 

The reason why the hippo is so dangerous is because it is so territorial (I guess a bit like us English when we were busy building our empire).  This, when combined with extreme aggression**, unpredictability and a lack of fear of humans***  makes for a very bad neighbour. (Shed wars might have had a very different outcome if the neighbours had turned out to be Mr & Mrs Hippo and their son Derek). The majority of human deaths occur when the victim either gets between a hippo and its own designated water supply or between a mother and her calf. Although I suspect there might have been the odd hippopotamus lover who got crushed to death when the object of their desire rolled over in bed. All very embarrassing for the family left behind and, I suspect, not often reported… “Yeah, my son got crushed to death by his hippo lover.”    

** I know The Beast can get a bit snappy if you get between him and his intended target but the most he is likely to do is take an out of focus picture of you. 

*** Hippos learned a long time ago that those pesky crocodiles make much better handbags and so, rather than get depressed about it, have decided to use it to their advantage….

Despite their generous proportions (no way am I calling them fat - they already sound mean enough as it is) they are actually quite fast runners, reaching up to 25mph in short bursts on land. Yet in water, where they spend much of their lives, they are surprisingly poor swimmers - about as buoyant as Natalie Wood. (How ironic that someone named Natalie should fail to float.) Hippos prefer to walk along the bottom of rivers and lakes, surfacing every few minutes to take a breath.  They can even do this when they are asleep apparently, so perhaps my Natalie Wood comment was a little unkind…on the hippo…

I spent most of the time before the next drive waiting for the hippo to do something interesting like open its jaws or even pirouette across the lake after all, they must practice sometimes…. damn you Disney and your raising of people’s expectations but even though he did nothing but drift around, it was still an incredible privilege to watch.
For our final drive we had a new Ranger – as Francis had left to go on his vacation – so up stepped Chris, freshly returned from his honeymoon and raring to go. We were also joined by yet another couple on their honeymoon.  I introduced myself and excitedly took them over to see the hippo before we left for the drive (in case they did not get the opportunity to see one again). They seemed so underwhelmed with it, I could not understand why they had bothered to come on Safari at all. I did see a young girl sitting in the front of another lodge’s truck, playing on a handheld computer (no doubt some animal reality game), while all around her she was missing fabulous and truly real animals in their natural habitat…                                                                                                                                  
Chris was another excellent Ranger.  He had a slightly more laid back approach than Francis but you had a feeling that he was switched on all the same and he certainly knew his stuff.  Once again, we got to see the usual suspects and had spent some time trying to track down a pride of lions – no luck.  Things got a bit more exciting as we attempted to return to the lodge.  We came across a lone male elephant, in the middle of the road, who was determined that we were not going to get pass. The standoff lasted quite some time and after a couple of failed attempts to drive him back off the track and into the bush, he started to charge at the truck – Chris put it in reverse and quickly retreated. There was a definite sense of unease amongst the party,  although I was way too busy snapping to get into a panic.

 A second truck arrived and Chris and the driver discussed options:

Second driver – we could try a bribe?
Me – Did you say bride or bribe?  ‘Cos we have a selection of recent brides on board that we could sacrifice….

In the end the decision was taken not to sacrifice any of the brides (a bit disappointing as I have a feeling that would have made for some interesting photographs) and a different route around the jumbo road block was found.

Sad as we were to leave Rippons, we had the excitement of a 3am start to look forward to – Mrs B was particularly delighted with that one.  So I had better close this week before the BlackLOG becomes XXX rated…

Just the details of the drives and this weeks photo's to come 

Animals seen and our companions on day 3:
Frances - Ranger
Steve and Jan
Peter and Rachel

Morning Drive
Cape Clawless Otter (possible, or it might have been a fish)
Red Hartebeest

At Rippons Lodge

Evening Drive
Chris - Ranger
Steve and Jan
Andy  and Rachel
Honeymoon couple No. 3 (Can’t remember their names)

Elephant (nut job)
Burchell’s Zebra
Photo finish
All photo's taken by The Beast - except 2,  one of which was taken by Mrs B and Mega Mini Beast - and the other by Mini Beast.

I'm afraid that since Beer for the Shower said in last week’s comments 

And your captions here with the photos were great. Not sure if
you're familiar with Gary Larson, but these could have been live-
action shots of his Far Side cartoons.” 

I’ve not been able to live up to the tag. So you can blame them for the poor showing this week.

1 of 2

After the argument Orville Wright went solo.
The closest I can get is a Hyliota (possibly a southern or
yellow bellied ) but the beak is might be a relative

Why don't the bastards wear name tags.??
2 of 2

Forcing Wilbur Wright to branch
out in a different direction.
Part mouse, part bird

Special powers, the ability to squeak at high altitude
was hardly proving a winner with the ladies ….

Proof that the super hero market 
was pretty much tapped out
The lesser yellow eyed speckled Jim

Only serves to demonstrates that, as I feared,
having a Southern African bird book was going
to lead me to embarrassment in the birding world
rather than identification glory…

Sorry  Carl, even with
all the wonderful illustrations I’m still struggling to
identify the little feathered visitors….  

The closest I can get is a Black-Facesd Babbler 
The last known photo of Natalie wood....
Harvey got really upset when he lost his favourite
rubber ducky and the resulting 5 day killing
spree did not end until he discovered it wedged
between his bum cheeks…
Daphne was embarrassed when her
discreet little parp took out three
ducks and a low flying helicopter….

The power of The Beast - if you look in the
centre  of the lake, the small dot is the hippo
shown in the previous pictures but taken with
a 50mm lens, rather than with the 600mm...

Yes I can assure you the air up here is very fresh..
"The Impala don’t have a particular hierarchy
and so when they make a run for it there is no
particular order - fastest and strongest first."

"Sounds a bit like trying to
board  a RyanAir flight"

Gweneth Impala 
" I think you will find we
paid for priority boarding."

A slightly concerned Mrs B gets a bit too
close for comfort...Those elephant muffins
can be rather  intimidating….
I know what you're thinking.

"Did he fire six shots or only five?"

Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind
of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 trunk,
the most powerful trunk in the world, and would blow
your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one

"Do I feel lucky? "

"Well, do ya, punk?"

Following a short trial Dumbo was convicted
of impersonating a doctor, after attempting
to use his trunk as a stethoscope….
The Gordon Brown smile not only cost Walter his
seat in the House of Commons but also his life...
(you might need to go back to last weeks picture
for this to make any sense....)

Chris – Does anyone know what that monotonous calling sound is?
Me – Isn’t it Brian? (The Rippons Lodge manager)
Jumbo cursed Uri Gella and wished  he
would stick to the spoon bending....
What makes an elephant charge?

Well there’s the cost of living,
 it’s not like food grows on trees…..

Hardly the charge of the light brigade the
 Battle of Balaclava might have ended very
differently if Hannibal had been in command..

Elephant Yoga

The downward facing dog, I've finally
found someone less flexible than me....
The Beast and I, promoting responsible hunting

We say - "Hunt with a camera not with a gun..."

Tune in next week as we conclude our holiday with a relaxing week in Mauritius


Monday, 19 September 2011

Rippons Safari day 2 – Termites, slippers and little sleep

Our summer vacation
Safari day 1

The second day once again dawned nice and early.  An enthusiastic Mrs B leapt from her bed to greet a brand new day – or, to be honest, the Mrs B equivalent: her eyelids fluttered slightly and a feint whisper broke the silence, like the death rattle of an elderly relative uttering their final words.


A quick boil of the kettle, a leisurely dunk of a bag and a splash of milk and Mrs B’s liquid  defibrillator soon got to work and by the second mouthful most of her vital systems were coming back-on-line..

Bleary red eyes glared at me across the room – "who’s suggestion was this?".....…she uttered

Me – "I would say it was a joint decision"

Mrs B - "zzzz"

This was a vital moment, if Mrs B slipped back into her comatose state now it might well be lunch time before signs of life returned – Mars missions would have more chance of proof of life than a second or even third phase sleeping Mrs B…

As it was a little prodding and the mention of all the fabulous animals awaiting our viewing pleasure and Mrs B was heading for stage 2 recovery….

Mrs B - “I’m a sleepaholic and it had been 15 minutes since my last meaningful nap….”

We reached the truck to find Stephen and Jan (a couple who had got in after the first evening game drive) sitting in the middle seats and Rachel and Peter the Irish honeymoon couple at the back – The coveted front row seats had been left for us – The Beast seems to earn me a privileged place, as if I’m a professional photographer as opposed to a strictly amateur snapper with his own considerable weight in camera equipment …  We protested: but not too loudly.

We set off on our 40 minute drive, to the main part of the reserve, in almost total darkness only for a loud  shout from the back –

Peter – “I think I saw something – it might have been a cheetah”

I was thinking – Honeymoon, Irish groom, reasonably priced alcohol in the Rippon’s bar – he was still hung-over from last night…

Frances slammed on the brakes and we juddered to a holt – he selected reverse and we were soon careering backwards at high speed up a fairly steep dusty track…

Peter – "keep going!  It was much further back"

I was still thinking “That must have been some session – it will be leprechauns later” (It’s OK, my Mum’s Irish so I’m officially allowed to make comments like that) 

Peter – "Just a bit further, there over by that fence…"

Sure enough it was a Cheetah – and a living breathing one at that

I silently took back what I had been thinking and can honestly say I was impressed that Peter, from the back seat of the vehicle, being bounced around in almost total darkness had spotted this wonderful creature – Now, being picky, I feel Peter could have waited until it was a bit lighter before spotting a member of the Big Five (not the official version of the Big Five African wild animals but my unofficial, totally illegal and made up on no sound basis whatsoever, other than I want them in my big five version of African wild animals I most want to photograph)

I have a problem with the official big five – not all of them mind – but certainly one of them.

There was some discussion on what made the big five the big five and the initial answer from Ranger Frances was that it is the most dangerous animals.  OK, so….

Lion – tick no problems with that, king of the beast and all that , he has earned his place
Leopard –  beautiful creatures and as we all know it’s the beautiful ones that get you every time - Tick
Rhino –    With those huge horns you always feel they could do a bit of damage – a bristly tick
Elephant – Despite their reputation for being docile – I know they can turn nasty – Large tick

It’s the fifth one that I have the real problem with

Buffalo -  I can’t have what is basically a cow with overgrown horns and a coat that almost any English football manager in the 1970’s would crave, in My Big Five.   I have standards - they might be low - but I do have them….it’s not like I have anything against buffalo, I’m sure when push comes to shove they are a very wild and dangerous creature,  It’s just that, like I said, I can’t face having a cow in my top five. A big fat cross….

“Francis”, I piped up, “If it’s the 5 most dangerous animals, why is there no place for the Hippo?”
I read somewhere that they were one of the most dangerous animals in Africa and responsible for more deaths than most of the other dangerous animals put together…

Francis refined the reasoning behind the list and said it was the five most dangerous animals for man to hunt – and as hippos mainly stayed in the water, drowning anything in sight, they tended not to be hunted by man, because it was such a bugger to drag them out of the water…

As it happens we saw 2 ½ out of the Big 5 – Lion, Elephant and white Rhino (but not the black Rhino – thus the half)

I have selected a Big Five on the animals I most wanted to see

Rhino (both black and white – ½ each)

I have discounted Elephants and Giraffes on a technicality – they are almost impossible not to see…. The same goes for Blue Whale but based more on that they are so big you probably won’t recognise them scampering across the African savannah…

So what would your Big Five be….?  By the way you are free to select buffalo.  It is after all your choice,  just don’t expect me to respect you in the morning…

It turns out that Peter’s cheetah spot was very fortuitous as that was the last we saw of them….

Other highlights of the second day
Mrs B vs the termite mound.  Mrs B had mentioned to Frances that she was fascinated by termites.  Their high rise (although not to a giraffe) mounds can be seen littering the plains.  Francis explained that the queen can be found 5 metres underground (in a strange symmetry with those giraffes, whose heads can often be found 5 metres above the ground) – to keep her safe from aardvarks and other hive raiders such as Francis, who stopped the truck and did his best aardvark impression breaking into the side of a mound* to demonstrate the interior and bringing a whole heap of activity to the surface….soldiers to defend and workers to repair, I’m pretty sure there were some bureaucrats in there as well, sitting around with tiny little clipboards doing nothing except drink tea and fill in endless time and motion studies…

* I told him his name would be mud with the termite community

The similarities between termite life and a bee colony were startling, with the different roles for each Bee/Ant being decided by what they are fed – so creating workers, soldiers and the queen itself…Even down to the honeycomb interior design

Never underestimate the importance of having the right footwear on safari
During the afternoon game drive I noticed that Rachel (half of the Irish honeymoon couple) had not got out of the truck to visit Mrs B’s termite demolition site. Since  Jan had not got out either I assumed it was a fear of termites ….It was only when we stopped at sunset for drinks – which was enough to lure Rachel out of the truck, that I noticed Rachel’s footwear…. Pink fluffy slippers, surely the way forward for any self respecting Safari adventurer…

When I enquired Rachel informed me that it was better than the socks and flip flops she had worn on the previous two drives – Despite all of our assumptions about South Africa being permanently hot, dawn and dusk were pretty cold, especially when you are travelling at some speed in an open truck….


Further enquiries revealed that Rachael was not some kind of Safari footwear nutter but had been forced down the route of “necessity is the mother of invention” when she had lost one of her bags which happened to have her shoes in, except the flip flops on her feet and the special edition pink fluffy Safari slippers which were in another bag….
Animals seen and our companions on day 2:
Francis - Ranger
Steve and Jan
Peter and Rachel

Morning Drive
White rhinoceros
Black wildebeest

At Rippons Lodge
Various birds

Evening Drive
Steve and Jan
Peter and Rachel
We were joined halfway through by a second Honeymoon couple Andy and Rachel No. 2

White Rhinoceros
Burchell’s Zebra
I had planned to cover the second and third day’s drives this week but since day two has already taken up enough of your time and I know some of you have lives to lead,  I’ll leave you with day two photo finish and pick up day three next week….

Photo finish
All pictures this week courtasy of The Beast
Thank you to Carl Chapman from for providing the bird information

Morning drive - day 2

"Was that Usain Bolt I passed back there?
I thought he was supposed to be a sprinter..."
"What do you mean I'm not one of the big 5?"
Just for Static, a Vervet Monkey

Even though we didn't see any on the second
day, Static was horrified when I failed to
publish a picture last week.

If you click on the picture and then rapidly 
close and then open your PC screen 
you get a sort of pop up effect...  
Francis -
The mirror image of a perfect Ranger
Barry, was mortified when he managed to
stall his Rhino on the start line...
Remote control warthogs have
proved very popular this year.... 
Walter was not convinced that these dry
showers would prove very popular?
"I taught Gordon Brown how to smile...."
 Rippons Lodge - Day 2 

1 of 2
An Eastern Blackheaded Oriole

"Can you guess my favourite hobby?"

2 of 2
"It's flower arranging..."
A female Pin Tailed Whydah

On a wing and a prayer...
Evening drive - day 2
"Of course I wish I could afford the colour licence...."
The termites were devastated to discover that their
moundhold Insurance policy did not cover them
against acts of Francis…
Francis -
"Rachel, I think you should probably stay in the truck
bright pink is a very edible colour this year…..."
The Lions were always pleased to see
a fresh “meals on wheels” delivery....

A male Crowned Hornbill
No I'm not a big fan of Guinness, I'm more
your two pints of larger and a packet of
eyeballs kind of date....

Molly decided she was going to take legal action
against the makers of her anti aging cream, not
because they had exaggerated the anti wrinkle
properties but also because she found out  it
contained extracts of her Great Aunt Enid…

Ethel liked basking in the moonlight...

Not bad for a shot taken in almost
total darkness....

Tune in next week for day three....