South African road trip (Part I – Cape Town to Port Elizabeth)

Serval

In February 2009 I had the good fortune of  visiting South Africa for a month long road trip. First part of the trip we spent visiting various wildlife management facilities (the work part) and the second part – in Kruger National Park (the fun part). Though considering that in Africa wildlife is abundant in practically any part of the country, the work part could hardly have been  considered as ‘strictly business’.

 

Day 1 – Cape Town

We arrived in Cape Town in early afternoon and went to explore the Waterfront area – eager to submerge ourselves into the new environment. The dryness of African heat was a welcome relief from the tropical moisture of Thailand.

Cape Town harbor is a busy tourist development, however some wildlife, characteristic of waterfront areas is still there. We potted a few Herring Gulls, Red-winged Starlings & Cape Cormorants. The walk around the harbor turned up a small colony of Cape Fur Seals.

South African fur seals

South African fur seals

Day 2 – Table Mountain

Table Mountain National Park is located on the outskirts of Cape Town with the Mountain itself towering over much of the city’s landscape. The flat top of the mountain can be reached via a cable car or on foot. The mountain top contains a very unique and extremely diverse fynbos ecosystem. However, Table Mountain is a major tourist destination that receives a large number of visitors, which  makes wildlife scarce and hard to find.

The main feature of Table Mountain is the 3 kilometer -wide plateau framed by steep cliffs. This level plateau is what gives Table Mountain its name. As we walked around the top of the mountain, the landscape kept bringing to mind scenes from ‘The Lord of the Rings’ either because I watched it just before we left or because parts of New Zealand look very similar to what I was looking at.  All we managed to spot was two species of lizards: a prehistoric looking Black Girdled Lizard and Southern Rock Agama, as well as a few Olive-breasted Sunbirds.

Southern rock agama

Southern rock agama

Day 3 – Cheetah Outreach

The first wildlife management facility we visited was Cheetah Outreach, that’s located on the Spier Wine Estate about an hour drive from Cape Town. It concentrates primarily on public education and to do so this facility regularly receives cheetah cubs from De Wildt center for hand-raising and subsequent interactions with the public. I took the chance of fulfilling one of my long-time dreams – to hear a cheetah purr and to feel the sound traveling through its throat and reverberating in its chest.

Cheetahs were not the only residents in the center. Malaika – a 6-month old female caracal was sharing an enclosure with two young jackals next to the Cheetah complex. This exquisitely beautiful cat with fur as soft as goose down was completely relaxed and happy to share her shaded enclosure with us for quite a while.

In terms of free-ranging wildlife, the lush green estate grounds around the Cheetah center are home to dozens of  Tree Squirrels.

Malaika the caracal

Malaika the caracal

Young Cheetah

Day 4 – Cape of Good Hope National Park & Boulders Beach

Situated at the junction of two of the earth’s most contrasting water masses – the cold Benguela current on the West Coast and the warm Agulhas current on the East Coast, the Cape of Good Hope is popularly perceived as the meeting point of the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans. Geographically, however, the Indian Ocean joins the Atlantic Ocean at Cape Agulhas. But who’s counting?

Cormorant riding the high winds

Cormorant riding the high winds

The cliffs of Cape Point is a great place to watch Cape Cormorants as they take off from the cliffs into gale-force winds to catch fish in the ocean and return to the nest. I managed to locate one of the nests, though it came at cost of almost tumbling down the cliff – so photography was out of the question.

Other wildlife that we spotted there was: a Four-striped Mouse, Eland  (a very unusual view of a few animals grazing on fynbos with the ocean in the background), Chama baboons, Ostrich and a Cape Gull.

Table Mountain National ParkSouthern Rock AgamaCape of Good HopeSouth African penguinSouth African penguinTree squirrel

From Cape of Good Hope we drove to Boulders Beach, which is home to a large protected colony of South African Penguins. Unfortunately, the beach is quite heavily developed and to watch the penguins we had to walk along the wooden bridges constructed on the beach. The sense of a natural setting was sadly lacking. Though considering that the beach is located on the outskirts of one of Africa’s biggest cities, the National Parks department did a good job of protecting the colony.

It was just as windy at the beach as it was at the Cape. The mighty gusts of wind threw the sand around with surprising ferocity. The penguins took it in their stride, keeping their eyes shut and staying low to the ground, probably to avoid being blown away.

South African penguins

Day 6 – Garden route: George to Knysna ~ Monkey Land, Birds of Eden, Tenikwa

We started the day by visiting Monkey Land and the Birds of Eden. These two spectacular places are built following the same concept: large area of land is fenced off and the animals roam freely in the natural forest inside, without any enclosures.

Knysna Turaco

Knysna Turaco

Monkey Land housed a wide variety of primates including Squirrel monkeys, Black howler monkey Capuchin monkeys and a few familiar Asian species. But the species I really wanted to see were the lemurs. And after a bit of searching we found a group of adorable Ring-tailed lemurs and a few Black and white ruffed lemurs.  Lemurs are perhaps the most beautiful members of the primate family and they behave in the same cheeky way as most other smaller primates.

Black and white ruffed lemur

Black and white ruffed lemur

Ring-tailed lemur

Ring-tailed lemur

Another interesting resident at thesanctuary was Johny the gibbon. An exotic visitor from the Asian continent Johny was rescued from a life in a small cage as somebody’s pet. And since he grew up in a cage without an opportunity to climb, Johny didn’t know that gibbons spend most of their lives up in the canopy, practically never coming down to the ground. So he was happy to spend his day lying around on his back on the forest floor, despite being surrounded by hundreds of tall trees.

As we spent most of the time inside animal sanctuaries the only wildlife we saw outside was a Sunbird at Tenikwa, a Toad in the forest at Tenikwa when we took a couple of cheetahs for a walk, a Sparrow and a beautiful male Pin-tailed Whydah displaying in the garden of our guest house at Knysna.

Johny the gibbonYellow bishopYoung cheetahCapuschin monkeyPin-tailed WhydahSquirrel monkey

Next stop was a wild cat sanctuary – Tenikwa. This small facility houses all of the smaller cats of Southern Africa: Cheetah, Serval, Caracal, African Wild Cat and Black Footed Cat and presents a good chance to see them up close in a naturalistic setting. The guided walk takes visitors inside all the cat enclosures and if the cats are in a chatty mood, there is a good chance to interact with them.

Black-footed cat

Serval

Cheetah cubs

Cheetah cubs

More images in South Africa gallery

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