I must admit that I was disappointed when I learned that there are no giraffes or lions running wild in downtown Cape Town or Johannesburg. At most, one sees a few stray baboons wandering the streets and trying to steal wallets, watches, and other shiny objects from gullible tourists. To see real wildlife– lions, giraffes, and tigers (yes, tigers), oh my!- one must venture outside the cities of South Africa.
During my recent trip to Johannesburg, I stayed for a few days on the Rhino and Lion Park Nature Reserve. As the name suggests, the reserve’s largest animals are rhinos and lions. The reserve also contains wild dogs, cheetahs, tigers (imported from Asia), ostriches, zebras, all kinds of buck, warthogs, and various other smaller animals.
The reserve is located about an hour outside of Joburg. I was staying just outside the city anyway, so after less than an hour’s drive I was able to have a taste of wilderness and wildlife.While I hope to take more time in the future to visit some of the larger, more remote wilderness areas in South Africa, this little park was a delightful weekend get-away.The animals at the Rhino and Lion Park are fenced into various, large enclosures, but they are wild enough. The predators are fenced off in a separate area from the main part of the reserve, so you can drive and walk around without having to worry too much about your safety. Of course, you still don’t want to approach a wild zebra or buck or rhino or even, as I learned, an ostrich.
Ostriches can be surprisingly aggressive although, honestly, they don’t seem very bright. Apparently, if you lie flat on the ground and don’t move an aggressive ostrich will become confused and won’t be able to see you. I learned this from the movie “The Gods Must Be Crazy 2,” but my South African friends confirmed that it is true. I wasn’t quite brave enough to try it out by taunting an ostrich. Maybe next time. Or better yet, I’ll make my South African friends taunt the ostrich and show me first. My South African friends have certainly tricked me before with their tales about wild animals. My one friend had me convinced that dassies (a small, harmless, guinea pig-like animal) were vicious killers. I guess he meant in the Monty Python small, fluffy, white rabbit sense.
Anyway, while I traveling around the reserve, I learned another cool piece of information about ostriches (this one confirmed both by a game ranger and by wikipedia): female ostriches are gray while male ostriches are jet black. This is because females sit on the eggs during the day while males sit on the eggs at night. Isn’t evolution cool? And aren’t female ostriches cool for giving the males night duty?
Here are a few great photos from my trip to the Rhino and Lion Park: