“Stop! STOP!!! STOOOOOOOOP!!!!!!! Hyenas, mother and cub, 8 o’ clock!”

You never forget your first safari sighting. Neither will my nine tour companions, as my shrill, robbery-victim falsetto threatens to shatter every pane of glass in our spotting vehicle. That the animals have not scarpered across the border into Angola is a minor miracle in itself, but I am beaming with pride at being the first to identify this particular beast. And more than a little surprised at my evident excitement.

Of all the activities and sights that the African continent will showcase to me over the coming months, going on safari to view the local fauna in its natural habitat was the one that aroused the least enthusiasm in me. Other than a mild and unashamedly semi-narcissistic obsession with penguins (my own incarnation in the natural world), the most enjoyment I have derived from the animal kingdom has been in a very specific context: medium rare, seared on both sides and on my dinner plate.

The first hour of our first game drive in Etosha NP does little to alter my opinion: whilst the gamboling springbok and oryx entertain initially, I soon lose interest and focus instead on the scenery unfolding before me. The incredibly vast and flat landscape of savanna woodlands is a joy to behold, a spectacular African panorama framed by the biggest expanse of never-ending sky I have ever seen. This is the Africa I have come to discover, the polar opposite of my urban environment of the last eighteen years.

My reverie is interrupted by a shout coming from the front of our truck. Animals ahoy! A magnificent tower of giraffes is munching on thorn trees not 50 metres from us, a mesmerizing sight as their necks rise and fall in blissful metronomic feeding. We have hardly moved on when a dazzle of zebras comes into view, their indecent flaunting of their instruments of procreation impressing the women and depressing the men; wildebeest, hartebeest and jackals soon follow, as does a mighty rhinoceros. Suddenly I can no longer see the sky for all the animals that are now surrounding us. And then my time comes.


My hyenas – Ian and Derek

With the hyenas safely under my belt and the pressure on me relieved, I grab the animal spotting sheet and enjoy both the bumpy ride and a crash course in zoology. Another rhino sighting divides the group: is it really white or has its black cousin simply been rolling in the dusty clay? Ostrich, helmeted guineafowl, pale chanting goshawk and black-faced impala are ticked off the list in quick succession, and with great gusto. There are three boxes that I hope remain unchecked, however: the black mamba, Angolan cobra and zebra snake are kindly invited to stay unsighted.

With a fantastic braai dinner at our evening campsite accompanied by a fortunate night sighting of a thirsty rhino drinking at a floodlit watering hole, we go to bed tired and elated. The following morning, we dive straight back into the animal world and it is towards the tail end of our sunrise game drive that the final piece of the puzzle is slotted in. The German girls get the spotting glory this time, but the ecstasy and relief are shared by all we see our first lions. A beautiful pride of four males and females, doing what lions do best in the summer sun: absolutely nothing at all. Never has such sheer laziness been so beautiful.

With the rhinoceros, giraffe, and lion highs behind us, we allow the final game drive to wean us off our animal addiction and prepare us for the rest of Namibia. In a nice touch of appreciation, a white rhino crosses the road in front of us only two miles from the exit gate. We stop to admire its formidable frame amble languidly from one side to the other before leaving Etosha. Only two of the Big Five may have been sighted on this, my first safari; but with the Serengeti and Masai Mara ahead of me and my appetite for animals having been extended to the living variety, it simply means that I have unfinished business to conclude.

♫ If you’re thinkin’ of being my baby, it don’t matter if you’re black or white ♫

Lazy lions

… s’up girls?

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