Reflections on life on safari, from Safari for Real guide and author Lex Hes
One of the first questions many people ask when thinking about visiting southern Africa on safari is: “when is the best time to visit?” The general answer to this question from most travel agents is that the best time to visit is towards the end of the dry season.
There are a number of reasons for this: visibility can be better, because most of the deciduous trees haven’t yet grown back their leaves and the grass is still be short and dry; most of the waterholes have dried up and there are greater concentrations of animals around the more permanent ones; there is little or no chance of rain which could interfere with your daily activities, and there are very few insects around.
The dry and dusty environment and the large herds of animals combine to make classic African scenes.
But a visit to Africa in the wet season opens up a whole new world of beauty and diversity which you don’t get in the dry season.
With the rain comes an amazing explosion of life! Within hours of the first spectacular lightning-split thunderstorms dropping their loads of rain, depressions fill with water and there is an ear-splitting cacophony of sound as thousand of frogs come out from hibernation and begin their mating calls in earnest. A night-time walk around the edges of these little ponds reveals frogs of incredible variety and colour.
Termite mounds burst into life, as little tunnels are opened up and millions of flying termites, the breeding alates, fly out like tiny fairies on gossamer wings to be gobbled up by frogs and toads and lizards and insectivorous birds, and mongooses and even hyenas and humans.
By the time the rains come, the migrant birds from Europe, Asia and North Africa have arrived in southern Africa. There are cuckoos, bee-eaters, kingfishers, steppe and lesser-spotted eagles among many others. The intra-African migrants have started breeding, so there is birdsong everywhere as they go about courting. With careful observation it won’t be long before you start finding the well-hidden nests of numerous bird species.
Within days of the first rains, the landscape starts changing colour: the grass starts turning green and the bare trees quickly start getting covered in green shoots of new leaves.
Pretty little wild flowers of all shapes and sizes and colours, from tiny lobelias and commelinas to huge brunsvigias and boophanes, pop out all over the place.
Insects, which up to now have been lying dormant through the dry months, come out in droves to continue their lifecycles. Dung beetles appear as from nowhere and start their busy little lives collecting dung, finding mates and rolling balls away to be buried as food for young beetle larvae.
This is also a time of new life for many of the larger mammals, in particular impala, wildebeest and warthog who all give birth to their young in the early weeks of the rainy season. There are many oohs and aahs from visitors as they watch these tiny new-born animals tottering around on unsteady feet.
The green landscape, together with the magnificent cumulus clouds, make for beautiful photographic opportunities.
Predators, of course, are always present and this is an opportunity to see the tawny coats of the lions and the spotted patterns of the cheetahs and leopards contrasting beautifully with the lush green grass.
So… don’t only look at Africa in the dry season. There is in fact so much more to see in the wet season, and it is incredibly beautiful as well. You won’t ever forget scenes such as an elephant in late afternoon sunlight grazing fresh green grass with the backdrop of a massive black cumulus cloud and a double rainbow spreading across the landscape.
Lex Hes is a renowned photographer, author, naturalist and guide, and is a director-guide of Safari for Real www.safariforreal.com
Image copyright Lex Hes