This is no zoo!
A red South African sun sets in the distance, and the lion eyes our vehicle with a sort of bored bemusement. Everyone hastily snaps pictures and whispers excitedly as the lion yawns, bearing teeth that would surely lead to an observer’s demise, were it not for the safety of the Land Rover. Our group of college students is at the end of a whirlwind day on the Schotia safari game drive, and the pictures speak volumes about the uniquely african adventure we will never forget.
A bit of background
I found myself in South Africa with a group of students from my university who had decided to study abroad for a semester. We were based out of Port Elizabeth, so the Schotia safari was an opportunity that was hard to pass up. The full day game drive was made up of a morning drive through Addo Elephant National Park, then an afternoon and evening in Schotia's private game reserve. This day of adventure and wild animals was one of the most memorable excursions of the entire semester abroad, and I think the pictures that follow will make it clear why!
Addo Elephant Park
We arrived mid-morning at Addo, excited for our first African game drive! During the first hour, we saw precisely zero elephants. To be fair, we did observe ostriches, dung beetles (a very critical part of the ecosystem there), warthogs, and a few tortises. Our guide was fantastic, and had great facts and information about everything that we saw. However, its called Addo ELEPHANT National Park for a reason, so we continued driving deeper into the park, in search of the main attraction.
And wouldn't you know it, we finally got our first glimpse of an elephant. HE was standing deep in the trees and bushes, leaving us with only brief sightings of his head and trunk. Since he was quite content to stay deep in the bush, we moved on, more excited than ever.
Shortly after our first sighting, we struck elephant sighting gold!
We were parked several car-lengths away from the water, and were careful not to encroach on the mother elephants with their babies. They largely ignored the onlookers and were very much at ease in their natural surroundings (more on how a zoo will never be the same later). We spent a great deal of time parked, and just watched them interact. Eventually the herd moved on, and so did we.
In addition to this amazing encounter, we also had the privelege of seeing meerkats (see the lookout at the top?), and another herd of elephants...
..and that was Addo. I would be remiss if I did not also say that the lush green scenery stretching as far as the eye could see was an incredible backdrop for these wonderful animals. I'm sure we did not see even a fraction that the park had to offer, but it was a wonderful start to our safari adventure!
With Addo behind us, we had a quick lunch and then headed to Schotia's private game preserve for the rest of the day. We had no idea that we were in for a totally different experience! At Addo, the park roads are paved and smooth, and you must stay on the road with your vehicle at all times. Trasportation at Schotia was a well equipped Range Rover (or similar off-roading vehicle) that followed a well worn dirt path for most of the drive, but the opportunity to deviate from the path was taken when it was advantageous for viewing the wildlife.
At Schotia, we saw a variety of antelope, zebras, and giraffes during the first part of our afternoon excursion through their preserve.
On the second half of the afternoon game drive, right before we headed back for dinner we saw...wait for it...lions!! Real lions, roaming free, right next to our vehicle. Words can't adequately describe the mix of fear and exhilaration that came with being so close to these huge cats.
We left the lions in the distance, with the sun setting over the African wilderness we had just immersed ourselves in. We headed back to Schotia's main camp where dinner and drinks were waiting for us. The savory meal and excited conversations were the perfect exclamation point on an incredible day in South Africa.
Zoos, ruined forever
As you might expect, after a real African safari, going to a zoo with animals in confined areas behind glass, bars, and fences is a lackluster experience. However, if this is the price that must be paid for the experience of seeing free roaming lions, elephants, giraffes, and zerbras, I hope it is one that you, too, will pay gladly.