Giant Giraffe

The giraffe is the tallest animal in the world reaching heights of fourteen to seventeen feet.

Have you ever stood next to a professional basketball player? Well neither have I, but I have stood next to some men who were 6’3” to 6’5″ and possibly taller. You can get a crick in your neck talking to one of these tall folks—though many are totally worth it—but can you imagine standing next to one of these giants and looking up?

It was simply amazing to see their height as they walked down the middle of the road past our safari vehicle. And driving through Kruger National Park, it is not uncommon to see the giraffe with his head above the trees snacking on leaves from the top of the branches. A whole lot of food goes down that long neck as they eat up to 64 pounds of tree twigs, grass and fruit a day.

This gentle giant may be a vegetarian, but the lion is not, and one of the big cat’s favorite foods is the giraffe. For this vulnerable beast, his best defense against predators is to sleep for only short periods of time—from ten minutes to two hours a day. (That kind of reminds me of my colicky babies first months of life.) Another way this otherwise docile animal can defend itself is by kicking–and he can really pack a wallop.

As we slowly made our way through the park, we were lucky enough to catch a group of giraffes visiting a watering hole, and it’s funny to watch them drink. Because of their height, they must part their front legs to lower themselves to the water. This little guy didn’t have quite as far to go as his elders.

And look at the hitchhikers on this guy. On first glance I thought there was something wrong with him, but upon closer examination (with the help of my camera’s zoom), I realized those were indeed little birds. I later learned these little winged passengers are called oxpeckers (or tick-birds), and they’re feeding on ticks or other parasites.

This unique and strangely beautiful animal is quite social, and if there is anything better than seeing one giraffe, it’s seeing three or four or even five standing tall above the trees like sentries looking out over their domain.

In each of our trips to South Africa, I have discovered its beauty was beyond my wildest imaginings. Many thanks to Andries and Steffi Van Wijk who have been our guides. Van Wijk Safaris never disappoints!

Let’s look at the last three of the “Big Five” starting with the beautiful leopard.

Next to the lion, the leopard is the biggest of the African cats and perhaps the quietest. You won’t hear him roar. At most this silent creature will give the occasional cough-like call.
The leopard is a solitary animal. Male and female only spend a brief time together when mating, and then the male takes off. The female, of course, then raises the cubs on her own

If you recall, I said in a previous article it takes a bit of luck to actually get to see the lions, even at Kruger National Park. Well, it takes a whole bucket-load of luck or good fortune to actually spot a leopard. They lurk in the bush or rocky kopje (or koppies—small hills) usually hunting in late afternoon or at night.

They stalk or ambush their prey, getting as close as they can, and then, with a burst of amazing speed, pounce on it. They quickly end it, biting its neck and dragging it off. They carry it up to low lying branches in a tree to keep it away from scavengers and dine at their leisure.
We’ll be heading back to South Africa in a few months so wish us luck—maybe we’ll spot one this trip.

But we’re much more likely to spot this big guy–the White Rhino.

The white rhino and the black rhino are close to the same color which is gray. So how can you tell them apart? Take a look at the lip.

    Black Rhino – notice the pointed upper lip

                                                     White or Square-lipped Rhino

1-white-rhino-gc590aThe white rhino is primarily a grazer and not as aggressive as the black rhino, but looking at the horns (which are actually densely packed fibers–not real horns), I don’t believe I’d like to tangle with either of them. And in spite of their stubby little legs and massive bodies, they can run remarkably fast for short distances.
                                                 So don’t get too close!

Now, if you spend any amount of time in South Africa, I’m sure you’ll get to see the African or Cape Buffalo.
buffalo-2529508__340 (2)

But probably not this up close and personal. And not usually all alone. Since they are gregarious, you will more often see them running in herds of hundreds. Their grazing behavior changes the long grass lands into shorter grassy areas for other animals to graze upon.

buffalo-4450318_960_720 pixabay
(Picture courtesy of Pixabay)

So there’s a look at the Big Five, but there is so much more to see in South Africa. So many more animals. So many birds with amazing colors like I’d never seen before. So I’m not finished yet. 
There’s more to come!






The Great Gray Gift

dsc01786-2My last post discussed the lion–the first of the “Big Five”–but now let’s take a look at the BIGGEST of the “Big Five,” the elephant.

The African elephant is an herbivore, feeding on grasses, creepers, herbs, leaves and bark and is the largest living land animal on earth. Bulls reach a shoulder height of up to 13’ while the females are about 8 1/2’. Both male and female have tusks, which erupt when they are 1–3 years old and continue to grow throughout life. 

We can easily differentiate the African elephant from the smaller Asian elephant by its much larger ears which he uses both to cool himself and to get rid of pesky bugs.

Most of us have seen this gigantic beast at the circus or in a zoo, but no matter where you see them, they are usually eating.

I suppose that’s not surprising since they may consume up to 600 pounds of food a day. But for me, having seen them in the circus didn’t begin to compare to seeing them in their own environment—

—especially when they were at play.

Or simply finding relief from the African sun by chillin’ in the cool water.

The African Elephant population has been declining dramatically across the continent. Thank goodness for places like Kruger National Park which protect large herds. Because of these parks’ conservation measures, the Elephant population in South Africa has grown from about 120 in 1920 in 4 locations, to 10,000 at 40 locations to date.  They’re going to stay around, and that’s an amazing gift for which I am thankful.

DSC02157 (2)

That’s two of the Big Five down, and three to go.

To be continued...


A Close Encounter

In 2014 Lee and I made our second trip to South Africa with a side trip to Kruger National Park to see and photograph more spectacular African wildlife. I was excited by the prospect of what we were about to see but had no idea how exhilarating it would become.

Kruger is one of the largest game reserves in Africa and covers an area of 7,523 square miles in the provinces and Limpopo and Mpumalanga. There is a huge variety of animals in Kruger, including the “Big Five”–lion, leopard, elephant, cape buffalo, and rhino–and we were anxious to spot them all.

Detailed Map of Kruger NP

We were driving along with our friends (and guides) Andries and Steffi Van Wyjk when Steffi grabbed her camera and exclaimed, “Lions!” It took a moment before I saw them, but when I did, my jaw dropped and my heart quickened. There in front of us, coming right down the middle of the road, came a line of eleven female lions.

They continued coming until they passed right by our vehicle. They couldn’t have been more than three or four feet from us. Our hearts were hammering and four cameras were clicking furiously as they meandered on by. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have such a close encounter with a pride. This wasn’t the entire pride I’m sure since there were no males with them, but perhaps these ladies were on the hunt. It is the females, after all, who are the hunters.

Later in the day, we finally spotted the king of the jungle. He’d found himself a nice little shady spot for his cat nap, and though he was quite a distance away, it was a thrill to see him. Seeing these magnificent animals at home in their own environment is an honor and a privilege.

Nap Time

So, one of the “Big Five” down and four to go.

To be continued…

South Africa

As my husband, Lee, and I plan our fifth trip to South Africa, I am excitedly looking forward to many new adventures and experiences. I am also reflecting on our previous four visits and how incredible each has been.

The first time we traveled to this mysterious continent, I must admit I was somewhat apprehensive. I didn’t know what to expect, and it was only the reassurance I received from our hosts at Van Wijk Safaris that assuaged my concerns. The sights I saw on the drive from Johannesburg to the lodge near Vaalwater in the Limpopo Province were amazing, but imagine my surprise when we arrived and I first saw where we’d be staying. Not bad, right?

Lodge and pool

It wasn’t long before we were acclimated and ready to explore.


I saw so many animals I’d never seen before or only seen in zoos. Possibly the most memorable adventure of our 2012 visit was the elephant experience. Not only did we learn more than I’d ever known about the world’s largest land animal, but I got to interact with and even take a long ride on one.

With elephant

And then there was our excursion to the Entebeni Game Reserve where we got to see many more animals up close and personal.


As evening fell on the last day of our ten-day excursion , we knew this wouldn’t be our last visit to the captivating South Africa.


Just two years later we embarked on our second adventure with Van Wijk Safaris. But that’s a story for another day.

A Nation Cries


Another senseless massacre

took twenty-six lives last night.

A small town’s peace destroyed  

by the taking of so many lives,

and a nation cries

The news comes into our homes,

and though we’ve heard it before,

we sit in stunned silence and watch,

hearts breaking for all those who mourn,

and a nation cries

Flags fly low and heads are bowed

In memory of all those lost.

We try to forget such madmen’s acts

but can’t forget their terrible cost

So a nation cries…

Note: After hearing of the horrific tragedy in Texas on the news last night, I cried. I knew I was not alone in shedding those tears for all the lives cut short and loved ones left to mourn. This morning as I worked on my editing, my thoughts were repeatedly interrupted by the phrase, ‘and a nation cries.’ I was finally driven to write this as my way of expressing what I was feeling.  May God bless and comfort all those whose lives were torn asunder by one sick soul.

I can’t resist sharing Beverly’s blog about her precocious little fur ball, Jellybean.

Bev Stiffler Smith - Children's Author

Who needs a 130 sheet cross-cut shredder when you have a spunky little puppy that can take care of all your shredding needs?  This white and black model shreds paper of all types; copy paper, newspaper, wrapping paper, tissue paper, tissues (both clean and otherwise), magazines, cardboard, and yes, even the paper label around plastic water bottles.  Leave a tissue behind on the couch?  Leave the newspaper on the chair while you refill your tea?  Walk away from your Ladies Home Journal magazine?  Forget to put your water bottle in the recycling bin?  Never fear, Jellybean the shredder is here!  Moving faster than the community shred truck, Jellybean hones in on the treasure of the moment. Using her front paws to keep the object secure, Jellybean, begins pulling and tearing at her prize.  Pull, tear, spit!  Pull, tear, spit! Pull, tear, spit!  She continues until the object has been obliterated…

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