A First Encounter
The day started early for me, waking at my ‘normal’ time. It was an opportunity to organise my photographs from the day before and post my blip.
Whereas in the UK dawn is a long affair during this time of year, here the transition from night to day is very short, perhaps only 15 or so minutes from a sky full of stars to sunrise. It was fascinating to watch the wildlife around the lodge become active, mainly birds and squirrels to begin with, but then the roar from the male impalas in rut heralded their presence as they passed in front of the gardens.
Our morning was a relaxed affair, opting out of the morning ride so we could organise ourselves for the days ahead. We were taken out to a high promontory for lunch, before returning for some relaxation and then afternoon tea prior to the afternoon ride.
The first time on a horse for 30 years was ‘interesting’. We rode out for about one and a half hours, the more experienced riders splitting off periodically for a some faster work. I coped with gentle walks through the bush, where we saw our first group of giraffe, wart hogs, impala, and a myriad of different birds. The technique of using a camera on horseback will need to be mastered to make the most of the opportunities, so it may take a little time to take advantage of how close you get to the animals. Even in this short time, having a giraffe tower above you is a humbling experience.
We were honoured to have sundowners at Ant and Tessa Baber’s home, complete with a viewing platform stretching out in to a paddock where the rhinoceros, wart hogs and the horses we’d ridden were tucking in to their food. There was a definite pecking order to who ate first. I’ll leave you to guess who was at the top of the food chain (but I wouldn’t argue with that horn!).
Ant was telling us that he first dreamed of developing his reserve at 12, sitting on one of the ridges above his father’s cattle farm. When he started in 1996 he, his wife and a couple of staff provided the holidays, now on two sites he employs a 100 staff.
They are dedicated to saving the white rhino and have 11 in the reserve. A charity has been set up to support that objective. It was sad to hear that they are still the target of poaching, so a dedicated team watch over them in the reserve area. To read the information on their website is shocking to see the increase in poaching in recent years, from just 13 poached across South Africa in 2007, to 1215 in 2014.
A breeding programme is in place and a new arrival was born a few days ago, but is yet to be seen by anyone, bar a few honoured individuals. The mother has taken it off in to the thick bush during its first few days for its protection.
We returned to a sumptuous meal at the lodge, hosted by Ant, where we heard stories of his life and passion for the preservation of the wildlife of the area.
I've created a small album to provide some other photos from each day on the holiday, so that anyone interested can get a small flavour of the experience. I'd recommend it to anyone; it's already worth the small inconvenience of the travel.