Lions, Elephants & Hippos, Oh My!

Angela Williams University of Western Cape, South Africa


June 15, 2016

I told myself that I was not going to leave South Africa without seeing "The Big 5." This term refers to the African lion, the African elephant, the Cape buffalo, the African leopard and the White or Black rhinoceros. After I finished final exams at the University of the Western Cape, I researched safari options at the Aquila Private Game Reserve, which is the closest one to Cape Town. On the website, I discovered that they were offering a “Winter Special” for overnight safaris, where one had the opportunity to go on a sunset and sunrise safari with luxury lodging and meals included. After realizing that I had the time and the funds, I booked myself an overnight safari. What an exciting first solo trip in this country!

On my way to Aquila Private Game Reserve, I asked my driver if he knew how much a horseback safari would cost me. He told me that he was not sure, but a few minutes later after a phone call, he asked the front desk about a horseback safari and they gave me a complimentary one the next day. Mind you, I was super excited because I have not gone horseback riding since I was 7 years old.

After welcome drinks, a lunch buffet, and settling into my room, I boarded a safari bus for a 2 to 3 hour tour at the dusky hour of 4pm. In the reserve, I saw zebras, wildebeests, hippos, flamingos, spring box, a white rhino and its baby, elephants, and lions. In the lions' den, we almost were attacked because an American threw one of his gloves into the den and the lions caught his scent, causing them to come extremely close to the vehicle. But I captured great video footage.

For the sunrise safari the next day, we did not get a chance to see any new animals on the reserve like the giraffes. However, we found our way back into the lions' den to retrieve the lost glove and see the lions feast in their natural habitat. Hearing a lion's growl was mind-blowing! At a rescue center on the reserve, I saw cheetahs, crocodiles, and more lions. When this safari was over, I walked over to the horses in order to prepare myself for my horseback safari.

The horse master could read my body language and tell that I was a bit scared, I told him that the last time I rode a horse was when I was 7 on a school trip. After mounting my horse, Shadow, my fear slowly dissipated and we entered into the game reserve with the wild animals. In one glance I could see hippos, wildebeests and mountains, all while riding a horse. I also saw two elephants (my favorite type of animal) in the distance. It was truly a beautiful experience. We were in the reserve on horseback for an hour.

Soon it was time for me to return back to Cape Town, where I shared my experience with my friend, Sage. In retrospect, I realized how inspired I was by nature and animal behavior. I was in awe whenever I saw the length span of a hippo's open mouth, or a baby rhino being fed by its mother, or the way elephants walked at a pace that makes them appear to be floating or hearing the strength of a lion's growl in my body.

If anyone is looking for a private game reserve, I suggest that they go to Aquila. The staff members were very accommodating, especially since I traveled by myself. As a study abroad student, I suggest that you travel by yourself when you get the chance because you set your own agenda. All in all, I could not think of a better way to spend a few days out of my last week in South Africa.

As always, I will leave you with some tips if you desire to have a remarkable safari experience.

  1. Do your research. Some private game reserves may offer specials depending on the season.
  2. Bring appropriate clothing for the weather. The worst thing you can do is underestimate the temperature.
  3. Invest in a portable charger to carry with you in case your phone dies during your safari. My portable charger came in handy when my phone died.
  4. Try to go on a safari with at least one other person. However, if no one is available, don’t be afraid to take this trip alone!