March 14, 2011 – Hlane National Wildlife Park, Swaziland
(At the entrance of the game park, there is a large length of what we thought was fence. Turns out, all the wire shown [and much much more that isn’t shown in this picture] is wire that was collected from poachers. The backpacks and clothing items are, in some cases, what remains of some of the poachers. It’s a trophy wall of sorts, made by the workers of the park)
Hlane National Wildlife Park – It’s pronounced s-h-laney, I think. It’s one of those sounds that us American’s can’t seem to wrap our tongues around. Either way, however it’s pronounced, we had an amazing time visiting it!
Not your average Monday, that’s for sure. Although, we did have an early start of breakfast at 6:30 and out on the road by 7:30. (Okay, not really. My roommate and I have consistently been getting up at 5:45 every morning. What can we say, we like our routine!) It was about an hour bus ride out to the Hlane National Wildlife Park. At one point along the way, there was a police patrol set up and we had to get off the bus and be searched. Luckily the police were extremely nice and didn’t dig too deep into your bags. It was an interesting experience though!
So apparently I hadn’t really wrapped my brain around what a game park was, because I’ve been to so many ‘controlled’ animal parks, like zoos. This was basically a huge amount of land fenced off and maintained to keep control over poachers to these animals. The park is 47,000 hectares, which I think it just under 120,000 acres. So A LOT of land. And everything in it is wild and only mildly controlled (being fenced, the lion section has a limited number of sacrificial impala, etc).
In the morning we did a walking tour in an area of the park that was considered ‘small animals’. They broke us into three groups, each group piling into the park vehicles, which were really just massive land rovers with roll bars and a soft top. They drove us to who knows where and dropped us off. To fend for ourselves. Yes, yes, I’m kidding. Our driver was also our guide, so he got out with us. For part of the walk we were on dirt paths, but for the majority of the morning we walking through the actual bush. Some of us even had to pick off some ticks when we it was over. Some of the animals we saw were zebra’s, water monitors (one alive and one very much dead, but it was neat to see the structure), impala, water buffalo, wart hogs, a whole host of birds I can’t even begin to pretend to remember the names of, and my personal favorite, dung beetles. They’re huge, shiny, and roll around in waste. It doesn’t get much better than that does it? ;)
(We did our best to not rub up against any Acacia. Or any plant for that matter. Most all the plants in the area only had survived the animals because they were poisonous or had some physical protection; like thorns.)
We had about 30 minutes for lunch, in which time is poured on us. But that was such a blessing it turned out, because for our driven tour around the big game sections and the lion section, we had overcast skies which made the animals more active. We saw elephants (and the most adorable little baby chonking away on the bush!), rhino’s, more wart hogs (I don’t know why, but I just love wart hogs – maybe it’s all that Lion King watching when I was kid, who doesn’t love Pumba?), a few giraffe, hippo’s, and then we saw their oldest male lion, who was fully mature. We got pretty close but couldn’t see him too great because he was enjoying the shade of a shrub. Our driver actually got out and shook the shrub a little bit, which afforded us some pretty cool angry lion noises (our guide, Maxwell, was pretty awesome. Obviously ;))
We spent about 2 1/2 hours driving around looking at animals. It seemed more like 30 minutes, it went by so fast! But when we got out of that vehicle, our stiff legs let us know, that yes, we DID just spend that much time bouncing around the African bush. It was awesome :)