Game Spotting

We’ve often overheard visitors commenting that they had just spent a fruitless day driving around the Park and had seen very little. Like many things in life there are tricks to game spotting. Here are a few tips to help you spot those wily animals that insist on standing in the thickets!

Weather plays an important part as if it is winter and a cold wet wind is blowing, game animals tend to take shelter in the thickets. There is very little you can do about that. Do your game spotting from dawn to about 10.00 – 11.00. Take breakfast with you and enjoy it at one of the many picnic sites. At about 11.00 go back to the resort and have lunch, a snooze, or a refreshing swim, and then go out again at about 15.00. During the heat of the day the animals head for the cooler, shady thickets and are once more very difficult to spot.

llustration 1: Young Nile crocodile basking - Hluhluwe River

llustration 1: Young Nile crocodile basking – Hluhluwe River

The photo above illustrates another point. Have a sense of where you are likely to spot certain animals. We spotted this 1.5 metre fellow because we stopped on the causeway crossing the Hluhluwe River below Hilltop Resort – and there it was!

We’ve commented elsewhere about the speed limit in all Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife protected area being 40 km/hour. Travel at any speed over that and your chances of spotting any animals diminishes rapidly. It’s all to do with how our brains react to speed – and how our eyes are trained to see things.

Many years ago we were assisting with training Technikon students to scuba dive, and took them up to do their first open sea dives at Sodwana Bay. After the first dive the instructor asked them what they had seen. Blank looks all round. “Ah,” he said. ”I’m not surprised. It was your first dive and your focus was on your breathing and keeping up with the group and all manner of technical things.” He went on to encourage the students to train themselves not only to look – but to see. The feedback on the remaining dives showed that as the students’ confidence improved they took more of an interest in what they were looking at. They were no longer zooming across the reef looking at everything but seeing nothing.

It’s the same when you go game spotting in a game reserve – look with eyes that see. At speeds over 40 km/hour your eyes are simply skimming across the outer edge of the thickets. You are looking but not seeing. Travelling more slowly gives the eyes time to penetrate beyond the outer edge and into the thickets – and you don’t kick up nearly as much dust…

And – again risking being told we are preaching to the converted – try to train your eyes to look into or through the bush. Our natural inclination is to look AT the bush but in so doing our focus is, naturally, on the front of the thicket. Try a little experiment. Take your binoculars and focus them on a patch of bush. Get them focussed the best you can. Then slowly turn the focus knob so that the focus moves away from you. You will suddenly be seeing leaves and twigs inside the bush in sharp focus. You are now looking INTO the bush and, if you continue to shift the focus knob you will eventually be seeing beyond it. Now practice doing this with the naked eyes. Easy peasy! And, believe us, that is often where you will have your best sightings – BEHIND a bush or inside a thicket. The other trick is to watch for a flicking of an ear, or the swish of tail. These often reveal a concealed animal standing dead still and watching you to see whether it should bolt or carry on browsing.

llustration 2: Lions in iMfolozi

llustration 2: Lions in iMfolozi

The photo above is not a brilliant one but a slight movement of one of the lions drew our attention, and in the absence of a fancy camera with a powerful lens we used a cellphone camera focused through one side of a pair of binoculars. It makes a good telephoto system!

So – enjoy your visit and we hope that our tips result in some really exciting experiences.

1 reply
  1. Frank and Sue Hulley
    Frank and Sue Hulley says:

    Thank you for the tips.
    Often it is a good idea just park and sit on one spot and the game eventually comes to you.

    Reply

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