THE CARNIVAL OF THE ANIMALS

The Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns is possibly among the most popular means of introducing young people to classical music and to the different instruments that make up an orchestra. The other is that wonderful symphonic fairy-tale for children, Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. At the end of May this year, the Grahamstown Music Society devoted the first half of their concert to a transcription by Werner Thomas-Mifune for cello and piano of The Carnival of the Animals. Parents were invited to bring their children and “nobody will take offence if they leave at interval!”

I cannot show you all of the animals, but will introduce you to a few – with a South African twist.

The Royal March of the Lion

Instead of hens and roosters you can see a Red-necked Spurfowl

Donkeys will stand in for the Wild Asses

Tortoises abound

I will have to skip the kangaroos and the aquarium, but a Zebra will step in for the Characters with Long Ears

Skip the cuckoo for now and come to an aviary

Of pianists I have no pictures, so perhaps some Bagpipers will do

The fossils will be represented by a skeleton

Alas, I have no swan so will show you a Yellow-billed Stork instead!

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LURE OF LIONS

LURE OF LIONS

What is it about the anticipation of sighting a lion in the wild that excites visitors to game reserves? We spent ten days in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park several years ago without coming across a lion, in spite of regularly following trails of clear pug marks along the dusty roads.

Almost every vehicle we passed in any direction halted us with the question “Lions?” on the lips of their drivers. The overseas visitors with us were also desperate to see a ‘King of the Beasts’ and, practically on the final day of our stay, had to make do with a glimpse of an ear or a shoulder – all that was visible through the thick scrub some distance from the road.

Even this tiny bit of a lion in the African scenery served to satisfy the cravings of many of the visitors, some of whom had travelled thousands of kilometres, who now craned their necks and strained their eyes while passing on excited messages about any movement sighted.

Don’t get me wrong: having kept a close watch out for lions while driving through the Mountain Zebra National Park in August, we too were pleased to come across a single paw print in the soft sand – at least this was tangible evidence of their presence in the Park.

lionprint

The introduction of lions into the Addo Elephant National Park brought some of that ‘wilderness magic’ within easier reach of the thousands of local and foreign visitors who flock to this Park every year.

At first they were very elusive – one can still count oneself fortunate to see them. They appear to be more widely dispersed now though, so the chances of spotting a lion appears to be ‘fairer’ as visitors explore the different roads that wind through the Park.

Driving a high clearance vehicle helps – as does a sharp eye. We drove right past a lion once while driving our car and would have missed it altogether had not a fellow visitor, almost looking down at us from his large 4 x 4, alerted us to it.

The rising cost of fuel notwithstanding, we realised there is no point in visiting game areas without the height advantage of our 4 x 4. This was especially valuable during last year’s trip to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. During that visit we were fortunate enough to see lions every day throughout our two-week visit: sleeping off a meal on a sandy river bank; striding across the dry river bed in front of us; roaring fiercely next to the perimeter fence of our camp site; or bringing down a wildebeest in clouds of dust. These lions were all active and very interesting to observe.

   lionkill

Does one ever become sated with seeing lions? Probably not, but when we came across lions in the Addo Elephant National Park some weeks after our return, we enjoyed seeing them and moved on with the feeling we ought to let others have a turn as we had already been so privileged.

We have since come across lions in this Park and continue to enjoy their presence. They tend to become a highlight of a visit without meaning to! Possibly the most exciting view was when we saw two lions walking towards Rooidam early one morning. We followed them slowly as they changed direction ahead of us: one continued down a track and out of sight while the other headed for the dam, affording us a wonderful view of him lapping up the water before he too disappeared over the dam wall.

lionwalking  lionrooidam

That the lure of the lion is strong was clearly illustrated this weekend when we sighted a lion sitting with his back to the road in the pouring rain.

wetlion

It didn’t move; there wasn’t much to see of it either and yet vehicles waited in long queues, parked at various angles, jostled for space, inched forward or waited stationary for hours as their occupants feasted their eyes on and pointed their cameras towards this ‘mighty’ beast.

The heavy concentration of vehicles at that spot was evident throughout the day, suggesting that the lion had not strayed much.

Seeing lions brings smiles to the faces of tourists. This was the opinion expressed by the security guard when we left the Park at the end of the day. “Everybody is smiling today”, he observed cheerfully as he checked our day pass. “When there are lions the people are happy”. He flashed a broad smile as if that made him happy too.

WIDE-EYED IN ADDO

WIDE-EYED IN ADDO

Last weekend the family gathered at the Addo Elephant National Park for a combination of celebrations. With two vehicles and plenty of drivers available, there were ample opportunities for game drives. Three of our party also went horse-riding, an experience they all recommend is worth repeating.

Instead of our usual style of camping, we ensconced ourselves in the Forest Cabins this time. These are very comfortable wooden structures discreetly hidden from their neighbours by thick hedges of Spekboom and other indigenous bush.

Driving out as soon as the gates open at half past six in the morning was the order of the day. While it is still too dark then to take photographs, there is a sense of wonder in seeing a herd of dawn-coloured Eland walk across the road to disappear into the veld despite their size.

As the sky lightens, it becomes easier to see the herds of Zebra, Kudu and Hartebeest dotted all over the Park. In our quest to see somethign ‘different’ we found that Warthogs have an uncanny ability to ‘disguise’ themselves as all sorts of creatures from a distance – even in broad daylight!

We enjoyed seeing Buffalo breathing out clouds of steam as the sun rose; Black-backed Jackals walking purposefully across the veld; Yellow Mongooses scurrying across the road; and – of course – the majestic Elephants this Park was created to protect.

Everyone returned from their drives with tales and pictures of what they had seen. Two of our party photographed a Caracal right next to the road. The rest of us were briefly envious until, on our last morning, we saw an enormous Lion making its way down a slope, crossing the road in front of us and striding along the valley below. We watched until it disappeared from sight then drove on towards Rooidam in the hope it would emerge there.

It didn’t, but another did (we later learned these two are brothers): walking with a slight limp, this Lion walked intently towards the edge of the dam and then dipped out of sight. By reversing slightly, we were able to watch it lap the water thirstily and then disappear over the dam wall. There was great excitement all round and a shared feeling that this was a satisfying ending to what had been a wonderful weekend.

The aloes are in bloom at this time of the year and brighten up the wintery landscape. Other blooms include the vygies and pelargoniums. I noticed that the canary creepers there are still creating splashes of yellow, whereas the flowers in our garden have been reduced to puff balls that scatter in the wind.

Aloe

An outing such as this is not necessarily ideal for bird watching, although I was able to spot a surprising number of birds while the attention of others was focused on something else.A highlight was seeing a Secretary Bird preening itself on top of a low bush. Even the animal watchers enjoyed this. It was good to spot a Southern Black Korhaan in the grass and several Pied Avocets on the edges of the waterholes we stopped at.

secretary bird

I opted out of some drives to observe birds from the comfort of the Forest Cabin balcony. My patience was rewarded with close-up views of Cape Robin, Sombre Bulbul, Boubou Shrike, Cape Weaver and even a Bar-throated Apalis that made its way through the hedge at eye-level.

Birds I noted over the weekend were:

Anteating Chat
Barthroated Apalis
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blackheaded Heron
Blacksmith Plover
Bokmakierie
Boubou Shrike
Cape Robin
Cape Sparrow
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Egyptian Goose
Fiscal Flycatcher
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Grey Heron
Hadeda Ibis
Hoopoe
Karoo Scrub Robin
Laughing Dove
Little Grebe
Moorhen
Olive Thrush
Ostrich
Pale Chanting Goshawk
Pied Avocet
Pied Crow
Pied Starling
Redeyed Dove
Rednecked Spurfowl
Redwinged Starling
Rock Kestrel
Secretary Bird
Sombre Bulbul
South African Shelduck
Southern Black Korhaan
Speckled Mousebird
Streakyheaded Canary
Threebanded Plover
Village Weaver