If you’re looking for big game sightings in a malaria-free area, head to Addo Elephant National Park. You’ll discover far more than you expect. By Scott Ramsay
Lions were reintroduced into Addo from the Kgalagadi, after being exterminated over a hundred years ago. Although it’s difficult to see them in the main game viewing area where most of the public visit, the private River Bend Lodge concession has three resident lions – two brothers and a sister – that are often seen and are habituated to the game viewing vehicles, making for predictably good photography. When I photographed them, we were no more than 10m away from the lions.
After two centuries of hunting, Addo’s elephants were reduced to just a handful when the park was proclaimed in 1931. Because all the big tuskers had been shot, very few of Addo’s elephants had tusks at all, and most of the cows had no tusks. The park then introduced several bulls from Kruger National Park, and today their offspring are showing signs of bigger tusks.
I was fortunate to be taken by Addo’s marine rangers to Bird Island, which is a small marine protected area offshore of the park’s coastal Woody Cape section. It couldn’t be more different to the traditional Addo scenery! The island is about 8km out to sea, and there are about 150,000 Cape gannets nesting and breeding on the island. It’s the largest colony of this species in the world, and one of just a few left, making it a critical conservation area for this endangered species. The noise of the squawking birds is deafening, and they sound like out-of-tune geese, yet they are actually very beautiful birds, as well as incredibly tough; they can fly for thousands of kilometres in search of food, then dive up to 10m deep to pluck fish out the sea.
The largest African penguin colony in the region is at nearby St Croix island, Bird Island is also home to a few of these endangered birds. It’s depressing to think that these harmless creatures are on the edge of extinction, purely because of man’s overfishing and destruction of the penguin’s habitat. And it’s why places like Addo – and marine protected areas – are so critical.
The Gorah Loop road in the north-east of the main section of Addo has a lot of open grassland, making it a great area to see grazers like Cape buffalo. I watched a herd of about a hundred buffalo cross the plain slowly, coming towards me. A cohort of cattle egrets were prancing in between the buffalo’s footsteps, gobbling up any insects that were disturbed. Addo’s buffalo are some of the last disease free buffalos in the wild in Africa.
Scott Ramsay is the creative force behind a Year in the Wild, a year-long journey to South Africa’s wildest places.