Heat, dust and the ‘Big Four’: unlikely lessons from the Pilanesberg

“The Go ‘way birds do not feed on ticks and have nothing to do with the game; you find them where there is no game, and it always seemed to me that it is not concern for the game at all, but simply a combination of vulgar curiosity, disagreeableness and bad manners, that makes them interfere as they do.”

Jock of the Bushveld by Percy Fitzpatrick

dangerous animalsIn some strange supernatural way,  the ‘bush’ ‘calls’ to me. I’m not sure that this is a concept anyone but South Africans can truly understand. When I’ve been away for some time I begin to have dreams of giggling hyena and hooting owls – both by day and at night. My heart grows a little achey and a restless feeling mounts in my spirit. It beckons ruthlessly, and eventually I must answer.

It was with this longing that Hubby and I made our way to Tshukudu lodge in the Pilanesberg Game Reserve, north west of Johannesburg. Once there, the bush has a delightful way of cutting one off from the rest of the world. Not only was there little to no wifi signal and no TV (the way I like it), but to get a mobile phone signal one needed to lean over the corner of the veranda and do ‘the Lion King’ with your phone, our game ranger, Tshukudu 2, explained.

Tshukudu 2, as it turned out, was a fountain of interesting information and entertainment.

African elephantDid you know?
The male elephant can ejaculate up to 17 litres of seamen in one go. The female elephant can choose to keep or discard this gift and can hold off her oestrous cycle for sometimes up to 5 years if it’s not a good time to fall pregnant.

The male elephant’s testicles are internal. rock hyrax

They are situated on his back, near his kidneys. The elephant’s only living relative is the dassie or rock hyrax whose testicles are also internal – this time, in his tummy area. At the risk of bordering on the obscene, I will stop there …

You now have some interesting new trivia for your next cocktail party.

tshukudu facts

Though I have been going to the game reserve all my life, there is always something new to learn, or something I’ve forgotten. The sunsets, the calls, the smells, the baked earth, all come rushing back to me. This time, not only did I learn about the wild, but about myself. As we kept our ‘eyes peeled’ and ‘spotted’, I realised that I still use the childish names for animals, that I’ve used since I first learned to speak: ‘zebbies’, ‘guinneas’, ‘ellies’, ‘gerries’, ‘hippies’, ‘crocs’, ‘vildies’, ‘warties’. When we were children, my father used to make us keep a journal of the birds and animals we had spotted each day in the reserve.

I was hooked even then.

As we drove along a dusty, deserted, corrugated track in search of buffalo on our last day, which we did not find, hence ‘the big four’ (but we went anyway, much to the dismay of Tshukudu 1 and Kubu 7):

Tshukudu 2: “The only animals that will charge the vehicle are rhino, elephant and hippo.”
Me to Hubby: “And you thought that hippies were just squishy!”
Tshukudu 2: “Oh, they are squishy (potatoes on legs) – but it will be ‘death by squishy’ if you get too close.”

My final lesson was a bit of a revelation really. I’ve always lamented the fact that, unless I’m ill or jet lagged, I’ve never been able to have afternoon naps like everyone else I know. It turns out that I’m diurnal. I am active during the day and sleep at night. Animals with the opposite schedule are said to be nocturnal, which means they’re active at night and sleep in the daytime. Hubby is crepuscular. Such animals are alert and active at dawn and dusk.

The result: grumpy, sleepy wife vs Hubby who wants to chat and cuddle far too early in the morning! I’m not a very nice person until I’ve had that first cup of tea.

P.s. What are you: diurnal, nocturnal or crepuscular?

P.p.s. Tshukudu 1 & 2 and Kubu 7 are the code names (bush radio) for the friendly, hospitable, entertaining and knowledgable Shaun, Jarryd and Lizzie – our favourites.
P.p.p.s. We even witnessed a kill!




9 thoughts on “Heat, dust and the ‘Big Four’: unlikely lessons from the Pilanesberg

  1. Love the bush too!! Daniel has decided he wants to be a game ranger so i am sure there will be lots of future trips to game reserves!! Did you see my photos on FB of our trip in Dec to Hluhluwe. I REALLY want to do Kruger!!!!!


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