Mountain Zebra Park
With the Western Cape behind us, we travelled into the Eastern Cape to the Mountain Zebra National Park. Mountain Zebras were once on the brink of extinction, but with a concerted conservation effort from the authorities, numbers have increased to safer levels. The park landscape varies from open savannah grasslands to craggy hills with deep valleys and has several looping routes that you can drive along. We were also lucky to see a myriad of other birds and wildlife.
Seeing the Mountain Zebra again in larger numbers alongside the Black Wildebeest was a first for me, and I managed to get some decent shots of the “Gnu” clowning around. The looped drives take around 3-4 hours per drive and fit in perfectly with the warm morning and evening light.
My favourite encounter was with a female Cheetah and her six cubs, which walked along on top of the escarpment, overlooking the plains below. She showed the patience of a saint as her six cubs played around and lagged behind in the morning sun. She showed great tolerance to the two humans in the car who followed her slowly along the elevated narrow road for about ninety minutes. The fact that the park has no Lion or Spotted Hyena means that a very healthy cheetah population thrive as the top predator. I did catch a fleeting glimpse of another caracal that was being mobbed by two Cape Crows. Once again not a single decent photo of this cat. My day will come no doubt.
South African Parks
As with self-driving other South Africa’s National Parks, you can get around perfectly without a 4×4. Many of the routes are tarred, and the dust roads are more often than not, well graded. The height advantage of a 4×4 is a big positive in the dense bush as you can see over the top to distant animals. This can also count against you as much of the wildlife is lower than the window level of a 4×4. You then tend to shoot down on subjects that get nearer the vehicle.
On one of the days, we were about to head out for an afternoon drive when I noticed that we had a puncture. I managed to a white three-inch Acacia thorn out of the side wall of the tyre. Changing the tyre, we took the risk of heading out without a spare. Karma was not without her sense of humour and at the remotest point from the camp, in a small valley (no mobile phone signal) the spare type gave up its life to the Karmic Gods. Luckily, another car passed and promised to notify the camp authorities. Fifteen minutes later a park ranger arrived and took us, along with the dodgy spare, to the workshops to repair it.
So, with the sun was setting, we got to have a quick night drive with a very knowledgeable head-ranger. He also spotted the smaller Brown Hyena scavenging near the road, which was another first for me.
Mountain Zebra is a great little park in a remote and hot area of South Africa. If you get a chance, you must include it in your itinerary.
Cape Mountain Zebra, Black Wildebeest, Black Rhino, Springbok, Cheetah, Eland, Red Hartebeest, Gemsbok, Caracal, Brown hyena, Black-backed Jackal, Mountain Reedbuck, Grey Rhebok, yellow Mongoose and the ever present ground squirrel.
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