Updated: 11/11/2011 17:15 | By Simon Busch, editor, MSN Travel

A safari gone wild in South Africa

Simon Busch dwells on, well, not quite the beauty of nature in Kruger national park


Lioness in Kruger national park (© Gavriel Jecan Stone-Getty)

Wild life... a lioness in Kruger national park

I can't decide whether the warthog should be taken as proof of the existence or rather the non-existence of God. The warthog is about 10 times uglier than the ugliest kid at school but at least the ugliest kid at school usually had a name like Rosie or Clement, whereas the warthog is called... a warthog. Even its name - combining two unambiguously ugly entities - is possibly the ugliest name of all.

If God did invent the warthog, you'd think he or she would have to be not so much cruel as downright sadistic. But, on the other hand, maybe he or she was just thrifty. As that undecided name indicates, the warthog is not so much an animal as an assemblage. For a start, it's hairless and naked, but not naked in that, "Oh, I wanted to see you naked" way. Its skin is grey and scaly and slightly distended, as if borrowed - or more likely stolen - from something else; its tusks look got secondhand, and then stuck on the wrong way, from a boar; it sports an unpleasant, thin little ginger mohican down its back like that worn by a suburban stadium-rock enthusiast circa 1981 - and what are those matching carbuncles doing poking from each side of its already grossly chunky face, except to make it look even more repulsive?

The warthog is, you can't help thinking, the kind of beast that only its mother could love - but no! Not only its mother. Warthogs love each other! Those slack mohicans flapping, their greasy little tails twirling excitedly, pairs of the animals gambol and prance in the African dust. In their courtship, in their dance of love, he and she warthog seem to be saying, "I can imagine no more beautiful creature on Earth than you." And they probably can't.

A warthog (© Nico Conradie-Flickr-Getty)

Aptly named: a warthog

Lodge life
Unabashedly the warthogs flirted before me as I lounged in the golden light of dusk on the veranda of my chalet at the Rhino Post Safari Lodge. I liked the lodge, although there was a potential reasons not to. That reasons was that the lodge was a privatised chunk of Kruger national park, in South Africa, a huge and formerly all-public domain.

Thirsty then as now for revenue, Kruger, a decade or so ago, to considerable public disquiet, carved out a handful of concessions in its remoter reaches to sell to the highest bidder. Well, not quite the highest bidder. Whoever won had to abide by strict environmental conditions in whatever they built on the land, and Rhino Post has abided rather beautifully. A mere handful of chalets made from stone, thatch and wood branch off a rough walkway snaking through the bush. Inside, vast double beds draped in white cotton look out over the wilderness through a sliding glass wall.

Indeed, so well is Rhino Post integrated into its surroundings that it must be one of the few accommodations in the world where you risk getting your head bitten off by a leopard as you walk to your room. The walkway is truly open to the wild, you see, and curious and sometimes decidedly carnivorous creatures are sometimes spotted there - which is why the lodge insists on a guide accompanying you to your door at night. Nikki, the elegant blond Rhino Post manager, had a very close encounter with one of the beautiful cats one evening. It crept forward and sniffed her toes before - she having, crucially, not met its eyes - it crept away again into the darkening scrub fringing the property.

Leopard in Kruger national park (© Kim Wolhuter-Gallo Images-Getty)

Curious cat... a leopard in Kruger

Kid-free
Those curious cats also mean children are not allowed on the safaris that depart from the camp and so are rarely seen at the lodge (a welcome restriction to some). Predators apparently find kids irresistibly interesting - and irresistible in another sense, too. You are continually reminded here, that is to say, that you are not only a guest but also prey, which has its disadvantages in that you are unable to leave the confines of the camp or its various satellites alone for fear of returning only as some wild beast's burp.

Instead, you are taken on driving and walking safaris through the concession. Driving, you rock along rough tracks in a Jeep, until your guide, someone like Colin, only in his 20s but already soaked in bush lore, pulls to a halt and commands you to squint at an animal that would surely prefer to remain camouflaged and to your eyes for a long time still is. The first sighting of a rhino is a terrible thrill: great grey tanks that they are that, tank-like - and unlike most of the animals in the park - don't seem to care whether you see them or not. Perhaps they should: rhinos are being poached at an estimated rate of one a day in South Africa for the obscenely stupid trade in traditional Chinese impotence cures. Sought, too, to fashion knives for the ceremonial daggers that in Yemen have been passed down from father to son for centuries, the horns fetch $60,000 (£38,000) each on the black market,.

Porky ballerinas
Unlike the model-T Ford, the rarest of the rhinos is the black variety, and we were lucky enough to spot one on our far more visceral walking safari. Departing from Plains Camp - one of Rhino Post's offshoots, a collection of sprawling tents in the veld done out in immaculate colonial style - our guides, James and Bernard, cradling great, blunderbuss-like .325 rifles, had first brought us close to a trio of now run-of-the-mill white rhinos. We crouched behind a bush, whispering, fearful they would charge. They didn't; instead, they followed us as we moved on, peeking, exactly as we had, from behind bushes before - porky-ballerina-like, in Nikki's so-apt description - tip-toeing to the next clump.

Black- Rhino (© Gerry Ellis-Digital Vision-Getty)

The elusive black rhino


Then (could it be?) Bernard spotted signs of one of their elusive black cousins. We had to scramble across a boulder-littered gully before we saw him. And he was asleep. Very asleep. First ensuring our flight path was clear, Bernard began tapping on a log to wake the creature before, upping gear, he started throwing sticks in its general direction and then - why not? - actually at it. That roused him; its head rising from the bush like the turret of a nuclear submarine and then, slowly, proprietorially, swivelling around to determine precisely what in its domain was deigning to disturb it.

Then it locked on to us and, at that very same second, began its run. We scampered away along our pre-arranged path back down the gully - the rhino would have had difficulty following - but, for the first time, I had felt real danger. I was very clearly just something pre-squashed to this thing.

Ample gift
Slightly less magisterial about the rhino, however, is its fondness for communicating using dung. There was much talk of dung on on our walk. Rhinos are very hierarchical in their toilet. We kept passing great, messy rhino middens, messy partly because only the dominant male is allowed to deposit in their centre, while the females and submissive males must do so all around. The rhinos then all merrily tread in their dung before distributing it about their territory. Lucky for some: we spotted a yellow-billed flying banana bird, as they are called, pecking a veritable muesli bowl of nuts and seeds from one rhino's ample gift to the earth.

Nothing in Kruger, it is clear, is wasted. Visitors might as well check any animal romanticism at the gate. One sight in particular bore out Bernard's philosophy about our fellow beasts, namely, that he didn't want to be one. "I sleep under a blanket at night, and I like it!" he said. "These animals are too afraid to sleep for more than a few minutes at a time, most of them, and if they're injured or old or sick, there's no nursing home for them - they'll die of starvation. Even lions are hungry half the time - it's hard to chase an impala!"

Guards, Kruger national park (© Simon Busch)

James and Bernard lead a group back from a safari

Bone dry
We had spotted it glowing from the grass beside the track as we hurtled along in the jeep: a buffalo skeleton. We approached cautiously - hyenas could still be around - but there was no need: it was clinically clean. And here, I was told, was how the animal had got like that, in probably under a month. First, the lions that had likely brought it down would have gorged on its liver, heart and lungs - disdaining the foul stomach and intestines, which they'd pull out and leave aside. These were a gift to the warthogs - them again - who have predictably revolting tastes. Joining them would be the hyenas, scuttling forth when the lions had had their fill or even chasing the big cats off if there were enough of the devilish-looking creatures. Hyenas love bones, especially cracking them open and licking out the marrow.

Next, vultures, spotting their chance, would dive down and with their powerful talons scrape off the remaining flesh clinging to tricky parts of the buffalo such as its ears, feet and eyesockets. Then, upon the now very threadbare frame would alight flies, from whose eggs, in turn, lava would subsist upon the suppurating remains of the brain and spinal cord. And when the maggots become flies, they in turn, of course, would be eaten by lizards, leaving what was once a buffalo a strangely beautiful bleached white sculpture lying in the grass.

Nature not so much red in tooth and claw as bone dry.

Read more articles by Simon Busch on MSN Travel

TRAVEL FACTS
Simon travelled to South Africa with the help of South African Tourism (information/brochure line - 0870 155 0044) and South African Airways (0871 722 1111).

South African Airways has three daily direct overnight flights from London Heathrow to Johannesburg or Cape Town and from there on to more domestic and regional destinations than any other carrier. Visit South Africa between 1 November and 7 December 2011 and you can fly from £617 in economy class.

Rates at Rhino Post Safari Lodge start at £460 for two people sharing and at £495 at Plains Camp.

5Comments
13/10/2011 06:49
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You dumb fool, people named the warthog, 'the warthog', not God. And you eat this pig like all the other pigs, and as for ugly people have pigs and piglets as pets so they cant be ugly, as you are trying to point out. Oh they dont eat faeces or are a bisexual animal as the naked, pink pigs that all of you eat. They are vegaterians and they may eat the occisional insect. But most people like to eat the nasty bisexual, tape worm infested, faeces eating pink pig. Enjoy have a nice day  
13/10/2011 12:02
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Like all African countries that have wild life and gain a large revenue from the parks Government officials are corrupt and encourage the whole sale slaughter for money..

It won't be long before they are wiped out and again they will be holding there begging bowls out for financial help.... After working in Africa for many years i now say that they should be left alone because all it does is encourage corruptionand explotation on a grand scale..... Look at the opulant villas goverment officials own in Kenya and it has the largest slums in the world just outside the capital?????

13/10/2011 07:21
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yeah,you too,remy.actually we are horribly decadent in the west but you've been bad too,remy. 
14/11/2011 21:17
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SA is a beautiful country and the game reserves are second to none. I stayed on a private reserve just outside the Kruger and went in every day. Where else in the world would you find a giraffe wandering across the road or a warthog asleep under your driveway.We had a family of warthogs visit us in our back garden while we were in the splash pool. It is a fascinating place to go. I would urge everyone to visit there at least once. I like a previous post felt safer there than i do in London. 
I also agree with not giving them aid. It doesn't help it just makes the corrupt officials richer. If we really wanted to help then all we should be doing is showing the Africans how to help themselves and then let them get on with it.
13/10/2011 09:10
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Fantastic to reed about my holiday destination my wife and I are going for 6weeks over christmas, we have friends who live near durban we love it there and have been many times. There are several private game parks in SA were animals are still hunted with a rifle and animals are bread for that reason, you pays your money and you get what you want the meat is normally given to poor families like bull fighting , we have not taken part in either. if you like shooping  cape town, wine the wine route, beautiful gardens and parks the garden route, wild life parks are many go and enjoy. Safetey we feel more threatened in london with its pick pockets and muggers. Go and see the ugly old wart hog at home its great
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