SCENES FROM NATIONAL PARKS

South Africa is blessed with several national parks. It takes time and travelling long distances to visit even some of them, yet none disappoint. Today I will feature scenes from a few of them. The Addo Elephant National Park is not very far from where we live and so, every now and then, we go there for a day visit. Given its name, visitors naturally expect to see elephants there:

It is also a good place for birding, where one might be fortunate to see raptors such as this Jackal Buzzard:

The Mountain Zebra National Park is also easily accessible to us and is the perfect place to spend a few days. Visitors here would obviously expect to see mountain zebras:

However, one might also be fortunate to spot a cheetah lying in the yellow grass:

There are red hartebeest in the Karoo National Park – which makes a good stopping point between where we live and Cape Town:

One can also enjoy seeing ostriches striding along the open veld:

The world famous Kruger National Park is several day’s journey from here and hosts an enormous variety of plants, birds, insects and animals. When we consider the alarming rate at which rhinos are killed in this country, we cannot help but feel privileged to see them from close quarters here:

The name on every visitor’s lips is ‘lion’. Mention the word and people speed up and jostle for space to see even the tip of the tail of one. Equally exciting to see though are leopards:

The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is the furthest away from us and – despite its remote location – is such a popular destination that one has to book accommodation about a year ahead. This is an incredible place for seeing lions:

It is also a marvellous place for seeing the very beautiful crimson-breasted shrike:

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ANIMALS EATING

Warthogs are omnivores whose diet includes roots, berries, bark, bulbs, grass and a variety of plants. Their rounded cartilage snout is hardened on the upper side so that it can act as a kind of shovel to dig up bulbs from under the ground – as this one is doing:

Elephants on the other hand often break branches in order to gain access to the leaves, roots and nutrients in the tree:

Although kudu are well known as browsers, they also eat a variety of fruit, pods, forbs and creepers as well as succulents such as spekboom and aloes. This one is taking advantage of the many forbs that have grown after a long period without rain:

Red Hartebeest are predominantly grazers. While they usually prefer medium-height grass, they also tuck into the fresh re-growth of grass growing after rain:

Like the warthogs, bushpigs are omnivorous. Apart from insects and carrion, they also eat fruit, roots, bulbs and forbs:

We tend to think of zebras being predominantly grazers, yet they also include shrubs, bark, twigs, leaves and herbs in their diet:

ELEPHANTS UP CLOSE

A distinct advantage of visiting the Addo Elephant National Park is that one can enjoy close encounters with the elephants there. Of course one has to be careful and remain vigilant: they are wild animals after all. Here are four examples of the fascination I find in seeing elephants up close. The first shows a fine set of tusks on an elephant next to the road:

The plant on the right hand side of his trunk is Spekboom (Portulacaria afra), a favourite food of the elephants.

This elephant had just emerged from a mud bath when it walked across the road:

Elephants frequently either have mud baths or splash mud over themselves to protect their skin from insect bites.

Of course it is essential to drink water regularly – even the tiniest trunks get to master this important task:

These elephants were at the Hapoor Waterhole – a favourite meeting place for elephants in the national park.

Lastly, elephants eating: