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  • Writer's pictureStefanie Simonet

The moment you forget to breathe

Updated: Jan 2

2023 is already in full swing and I would like to reminisce about some of my favourite safari moments of 2022. After all, it is such memories that take me straight back to the bush.


Here it goes – my first safari blog for you, dear readers!


“Shhhhhhhhhhhhh … let’s keep quiet, don’t make any hasty movements, and above all, enjoy this moment!” I said as the family approached us slowly but steadily. The adults calm and confident, the babies playful and a bit clumsy. One could hear a pin drop! Tension filled the air and I thought I was able to hear all our hearts beat. This was going to be a great moment – I was sure of it!

There are few animals of the mammal kind that I haven’t seen yet in southern Africa. You would think I get bored seeing zebras, giraffes, lions, or elephants. But honestly, it is the complete opposite … every time my guests see a giraffe for the first time or marvel at the beauty of a zebra, I am just as excited as they are because I get to experience it with them. My heart warms at the sight of them taking hundreds of pictures and their eyes beaming. I never get tired of seeing that look of pure joy on clients’ faces. One can have a thousand sightings of zebras and still love every single second spent in their presence because no moment is the same and they are just absolutely stunning animals and incredibly photogenic.


On my last safari, I visited Pilanesberg National Park, just 2.5 hours drive from Johannesburg. The park is set around an ancient volcano crater and boasts the Big 5 amongst other general game. My clients and I were blessed with incredible sightings and what better way to have them than sharing them with like-minded people.


After spending three days in the park, we decided to do one last morning game drive before returning to the airport in Johannesburg. This turned out to be my last game drive of the year for me as well. The morning started a bit slow (meaning that we didn’t see too many animals) No one was complaining though. After all, a day spent in the bush is better than any day spent in the city (my point of view). We traveled along a gravel road heading toward a location where we saw a family of lions the afternoon before.


By now my clients’ spotting skills were honed in and up for the task. We wanted to find those cats and see what they were up to that morning, after having consumed a full zebra the day before. We were still quite far off that place but already all our eyes were focused on the thick, lush bush in hopes to spot an elusive animal or a critter that we haven’t seen yet. The spirits were high and we all enjoyed being in the outdoors. You know when you can tell something is in the air? Something good is about to happen? …


There, far in the distance were some huge grey boulders, moving from side to side across the gravel road. Elephants! While we did see quite a few bulls on this safari, we only saw a herd the night before and we aimed for the lions thus not spending too much time with them.



They were slowly ambling towards us. I needed to make a decision now. That particular herd had lots of babies with them and I stopped the car next to a bush to gauge their behaviour and determine my next step. Two cars were behind the herd and the herd didn’t seem bothered by their presence. Turns out the cows and the rest of the family were in a very relaxed and quiet mood, perfect for a once-in-a-lifetime moment for my guests. Their interest lay in the bushes next to the road while slowly coming closer. Ohh this was going to be good! I told them to have their windows down, cameras ready, and watch quietly without any hasty movements.



As the first elephant came within 30 meters of the car, I could feel my heart starting to beat faster. I wasn’t scared, I was in absolute awe. Any moment spent with these massive animals is a privilege that one should never take for granted. Always give animals the respect they deserve and stay humble and never forget, elephants ALWAYS have the right of way. I knew that with luck, this herd might pass our vehicle rather than going off the road. I left them enough space to not feel cornered or threatened and turned off the engine to not upset them. If I was unsure of their mood, I would have never let them come close to me nor would I have switched off the car. I would have reversed out of the way and found a spot in an open area with more space or, if the cows seemed nervous and unhappy, avoid the sighting completely by driving away.



These elephants had the best time, the babies were playing, mock-charging, and rolling on the ground while the adults were taking snacks from the bushes here and there as they were slowly approaching our vehicle. I could tell my clients started to get a bit tense and probably a bit nervous. However, one can’t prepare properly for such incredible situations except by making sure to follow the rules. Be quiet, be still, and enjoy this moment to the fullest.



A couple of elephants decided to go off the road and walk past with a bush between us. However, the rest was comfortable enough to walk right past us within touching distance. We could hear their feet touch the soil, their breath leaving their trunks and their stomachs rumbling. I had goosebumps on my toes – this moment was one of the most special during my whole career! I don’t think I was breathing, nor was anyone else in the car. Then this one chap decided to relieve his intestines right behind us and we all had a giggle. The look on my client’s face was what made this so worth it. They were beaming! This morning could not get better …


I had similar encounters before, each of them memorable and leaving me with goosebumps. Watch how close some of these animals decide to come on their own account in my videos.


Don’t try to force such encounters with elephants by yourself. It is vital that you have the knowledge and experience to know how to read and judge an elephant’s behaviour or things could go bad very quickly.


If you would like to experience one or more once-in-a-lifetime moments with me or any other guide at Lerato Adventures, please contact us for more information and let us help you book your dream adventure.


 

Author

Stefanie Simonet
Lerato Adventures – Stefanie Simonet

Stefanie, originally from Switzerland, has been living in South Africa since 2014, where she completed her safari guide training and has since been showing guests from all over the world the wonderful beauty of Southern Africa. She is an enthusiastic nature lover who can spend hours watching elephants feed or spotted hyenas play, making her own observations and behavioural theories. Nothing excites her more than showing like-minded people the small and big wonders of nature and seeing their reactions and emotions.




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