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Hluhluwe: Finding the "Big Five" Beasts of Africa

The leopard slowly creeps along the riverbank through the tall swamp grass, stopping every few feet and lifting its head to check for the scent of prey. I watch it through binoculars and suddenly my heart skips a beat as it turns its head and stares directly at me!

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OK, so we didn't get a picture of the leopard, but here's one of me looking at the leopard!
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Fortunately, Abeja and I are on the other side of the river, out of the leopard's reach and we will not be lunch today. Even this fierce leopard will not dare to cross the Hluhluwe river's crocodile-filled waters. To prove this fact, a log in the middle of the river begins to slither and head in our direction. This log is in fact a ten-foot-long crocodile, and it is much more dangerous to us than the distant leopard. We sneak away quietly and watch with excited fascination as the crocodile silently swims by.

Hungry, Hungry Hippos

Almost no animal in Africa dares to take on an adult hippopotamus, not even the crocodile or the lion (but they have been known to attack baby hippos). Although hippos are not meat-eaters, you're human flesh will not keep you out of danger! Check out these fun but frightening facts:

A load of lard: These beasts can weigh up to 2 tons (that's over 4000 pounds!).
Look out for your life!: Hippos are said to kill more humans than any other African mammal.
Speed Demons: Hippos can outrun humans on land.
Nightcrawlers: Be very afraid after dark. This is when they wander for food and bump into unsuspecting victims.

On the other side of the river, the leopard stops suddenly, perking up its ears, and from out of the water pops the huge head of the most dangerous animal in all of Africa -- the hippopotamus! We are giggling and giddy at having just seen all these rare and beautiful creatures within a few moments, but this is dangerous! Did you know that hippos kill more people than any other animal in Africa? They especially enjoy unsuspecting tourists. It's easy to be fooled by their cute, chubby faces and their massive bodies, and get too close.

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Here, at the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve, the animals keep their distance -- they are used to the thousands of visitors that come every week.

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Here a zebra, there a zebra, everywhere a zebra zebra
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Hluhluwe is the only game park in South Africa where all the "Big Five" can be found. The "Big Five" are: elephant, buffalo, rhinoceros, lion and leopard. These animals were named the "Big Five" because they were considered the most difficult and dangerous mammals to hunt. Although hunting them with guns has been banned, they are still as eagerly hunted by sightseers and photographers. Abeja and I were very lucky on our day-trip into the reserve to have seen three of the five.

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We saw about a dozen white rhino, a leopard, and lots of buffalo, as well as four or five giraffes, a hungry crocodile, hundreds of antelope and a wide variety of exotic birds and strange plants. Unfortunately, most of these animals were too far away to get good pictures, or maybe we were lucky - like I said, these critters are dangerous. But you will have to take my word for it, we really did see them!

While I felt a bit guilty for invading this very special place in a car, I am nevertheless grateful for the opportunity to have seen so many incredible things in one day. By the end of the trip, I really felt like I was in Africa and I think I'm really going to like it here.

Shawn
 

Monica - Capturing the Celebration of the Century!

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