Often safaris are spent mostly in a game viewing vehicle where the safari guides are rushing you from one big hairy animal to the next so that the guests can “tick off” animals and see the big 5 within the shortest time possible. And it’s easy to get lured into this Ferrari safari mentality as the guide because there is some stress on you to find these animals for your eager guests. They have now seen everything in the bush but have they experienced it?
One of the best add-ons to the safari experience is time spent in a hide. And the good news is you don’t have to be a photographer to enjoy it! All you have to be, is in the right mood… and often having hot water, coffee, maybe a book as well as your trusty binoculars is all you need to set the mood to relax and wait. Who knows what will show up? This is what I call a “slow safari” because after all, you are on holiday so it’s time to slow down and just let it unfold.
I’ve had both extreme sides of luck for spending time in a hide and seen all sorts of different animals ranging all the way from the small things such as bats, toads and small normally hard to spot birds, to the big hairy’s such as wild dogs, leopards and plenty of elephants...
And this is the best time to pick your guides brain…find out what he/she knows about the less obvious smaller things, or go into detail about what you are interested in.
One particularly crazy time spent in a hide, I was with a good friend of mine out for a morning of intense birding, trying to see how many species we could get in a single drive. We decided to stop by a nearby hide and try our luck there. We managed to get a couple of extra species and after about 1hr30min we were joined by a group of fellow safari folk. They invited us for a coffee and soon found out we are safari guides so they asked us many questions about the birds around us.
Another hour or so passed and we figured it was time to head home, when suddenly we heard a leopard doing its typical rasping call from the river bed down below! With a confused look on our faces my friend and I looked at each other both wondering why this leopard was calling at now almost mid day. We told everyone what was happening and that we needed to be extra quiet. Impala’s started to alarm call which confirmed our suspicion of it being what we thought it was. A few seconds later we saw it pop its head over the bank, all of us too excited to take a picture or too nervous of making a sound. We watched as this leopard then changed direction and quickly climbed a large tree close by. Confused again we looked at each other…. Then, out from beside the hide, extremely silent, 3 big bull elephants came for a drink.
We watched for maybe 20 minutes as these huge elephants drank within meters of us not knowing that behind them was a leopard patiently waiting her turn for a drink. We couldn’t believe our luck!! Within about 20 seconds it went from identifying little brown birds to jaw dropping excitement - the kind where you are afraid breathing is making too much noise!
As the elephants filled their tanks with the fresh water they moved off and finally the leopard had enough room to safely come down the tree (the moment we were all waiting for). We watched her come down the tree and again confusing us by not even stopping to drink? She walked around the waterhole marking her territory as she went, but more frequently than usual. We both then agreed that she was most likely coming into estrus and was trying to attract the dominant resident male by leaving her scent and also by her vocalisation during the day.
It just goes to show that you never know what to expect, and as luck has it, the time you aren’t looking for the big hairy things is exactly when they appear out of thin air!