The art of the game drive

2009-11-06 00:00

SAFFERS love stalking wild animals. Going on game drives through our bountiful national parks and nature reserves is as South African as the braai and the Vuvuzela. Many a local youngster has had a formative experience while patiently scanning endless stretches of bush for signs of wildlife from the backseat of his or her parents’ car.

Even those of us who have absolutely no affinity for the bush lifestyle feel obliged to go through the ritual. Like my wife Sam’s family, for instance. They do game drives even though they’re the least wildlife literate people I’ve ever met. Yes, of course they’ll recognise the obvious species — elephants, lions, leopards and Land Rovers, that sort of thing — but they honestly couldn’t tell a kudu from a waterbuck.

Kudu or waterbuck? LBJ!

Ever the resourceful bunch, my in-law clan simplified matters by inventing what professional systematisers of stuff would refer to as a bucket term: the LBJ or The Little Brown Job. As far as I can ascertain, just about any animate object not readily identifiable qualifies as an LBJ, including anything from a dassie and a duiker to a gemsbok, as well as a vast variety of birds, insects and reptiles.

If you’re a game drive virgin, you might be tempted to adopt the concept of the LBJ yourself, but I’d suggest you simply invest in one of the many handy field guides to Southern African animals instead. You’re guaranteed to have a more rewarding and, dare I say, educational experience.

Come prepared

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve returned from a game drive shivering with cold. Remember that early morning, sunset and night drives can get rather chilly, even in summer, so always take a warm top and a windbreaker.

Most wildlife tours will last for several hours, so be sure to take along every­thing you need: binoculars, sun cream, a hat, a camera, sunglasses, snacks and something to drink.

Go topless

Once you’ve experienced a wildlife safari in an open-backed game- drive vehicle, anything else will feel like a cheap imitation. In comparison, looking at wild animals from behind the windshield of an ordinary car is barely a step up from watching the Discovery Channel.

The boys agree: going topless is best.

So whenever you have the opportunity, do your beastie-spotting from a topless, dedicated game-drive truck.

Choose your company

I once had the mind-numbing misfortune of going on a game drive in a combi full of birding enthusiasts. After what felt like an eternity of squinting through tiny binoculars at fuzzy LBJs hiding in bushes near the horizon, I was just about ready to throw myself to the pride of lions we came across right by the roadside, but which my birdie companions passed over without so much as a glance because we still hadn’t found the elusive lilac-chinned garbler or some such creature. I have nothing against birders per se, but if you’re not one yourself, make sure you don’t get stranded among a flock of them without someone who shares your own interests.

The Zen of nature drives

A couple of years ago, I had a revelation that changed my approach to game viewing forever. After many dozens of game drives under the belt I had the nagging feeling that I wasn’t quite doing it right. The exciting moments were too often separated by dreadfully long and boring stretches during which nothing memorable seemed to happen.

Then it came to me: it’s not about the Big Five. It’s not even about the animals.

It’s not about the animals, It’s about being there

Wilderness safaris are about immersing yourself in nature. All of it, not just the few bits that are conventionally considered to be special. If you’re only on a game drive to spot a cheetah in the act of pulling down an antelope after a dramatic high- speed pursuit across the savannah, you’re bound to be disappointed every time. If, on the other hand, you can take pleasure in the supposedly unremarkable things — the anthills and the scenic koppies, the butterflies and the red dust in your nostrils — you’re sure to come away a richer person.

— News

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