Chase or be Chased!

It’s 5pm in Kidepo Valley National Park and we head out in the truck from Savannah Lodge for more safari adventures.  Little did we know that it was to be two fast paced hours quite unlike any other game drive I have been on.

We start gently, beautifully, with the sighting of the most stunning European Roller – the brightest turquoise feathers over breast and head, a hint of yellow sunshine just below its beak and rust coloured wings.

If you are not a bird watcher its hard to believe how the birds here completely capture your interest and Uganda is a bird viewing paradise.

We see more feathered friends including a Grey Headed Fiscal – a seemingly small harmless bird that in actual fact gets enjoyment out of pinning birds smaller than itself to the seriously spiky thorns of the acacia bush to kill them for dinner.

And then we meet elephants, first a lone young male who tries to be threatening, charging a little, ears forward and trumpeting.  He stirs me a little but its fun observing his behavior but then a herd of around 10 who seem less than relaxed, particularly when we disturb their evening graze among the sandy Savannah.  There are several mothers and lots of young ones all moving in a line with the Patriach at the back, an interesting looking fellow with slightly wonky tusks; one pointing up, the other down.  He’s not large but he is seriously agitated and immediately steps forward in mock charge, ears forward and trumpets loudly.  The sound reverberates and I realize I have never actually heard an elephant trumpet in the wild; its awesome. 

We stop, engine running, viewing roof open, me taking copious photographs and GoPro footage.  Then the matriarch and the whole family notice us, and all are displeased.  We move on to give them some space and ourselves some safety but they all start to run, led by their fearsome leader, angry by now and highly protective of his family.

He runs fast.

They all run fast.

They don’t stop and we have to drive quickly along the bumpy track.  Thank goodness we are in a truck built for the job.  I am quite scared by this point because they simply don’t stop running.

We then run out of road, forced to drive over seriously bumpy terrain, high grass, acacia bushes, the works.  We pick up speed to create some distance between us and simply keep going.  Amos, driving the truck has himself never seen this kind of behavior before; he is focused, picking his way rapidly but carefully through the landscape and eventually there is enough distance and enough trees and bush between us and them that we can start to slow, head south then back west circling long and slow back to the track to return to camp before dark.

We are both exhilarated and relieved after the experience, chatting excitedly and laughing about it now we feel we can safely do so.  He smiles, now relaxed as I continually look back anxiously to see if they are still following.

The night drive is not yet over though.

On the way back to camp we check on the water hole where, in the morning we had spotted a leopard lolling on the bank.  We want the chance to see it again and as the sun settles over the savannah we circle the boundary, eyes peeled, binos focused, searching, searching.

And then another short chase takes place.  I see fast movement on the left side of the water; the spots and long tail and the unmistakable roar of the leopard dashing through the grass after its antelope prey.

The waterbuck escapes, eventually reappearing and wandering somewhat dangerously back out into the open across the sticky mud and joining two wallowing buffalo.  The moment is brief but thrilling – two leopard sightings in the same day.

Our final smile of the drive comes when in the twilight a fat Pumba (warthog) decides to race us along the road.  He takes the chase seriously and we laugh at his comic movements, dashing this way and that, tail like a TV aerial bolt up right.  He thunders off to the left and the track is empty ahead of us.

The sun has settled now and we are just in time for a late sundowner on the deck of the lodge as the Kenyan mountain silhouettes fade to black.