My Itchy Travel Feet | The Baby Boomer's Guide To Travel

Exploring South Africa With the Bug Man

2011/08/04by Donna Hull

Lions, elephants, zebra and antelope — lots of varieties of antelope — is this what you expect to see on a photo safari in South Africa? It was certainly the scenario that Alan and I had in mind when we traveled on a boomer adventure to Madikwe Hills Private Game Lodge in South Africa’s northwest corner near Botswana. As our photos attest, animal sightings kept us busy clicking the camera shutter. Coming away with an education in bugs was an unexpected bonus thanks to the Bug Man.

Insect lecture on a South African wildlife safari

The beginning of our insect lecture

Halfway through the morning game drive, guide Jaco screeched the Range Rover to a halt. Had he spotted something spectacular like a leopard? I really wanted to see a leopard.

Jaco had managed to begin our day with a roaring start, pardon the pun, when he found a pride of lions lounging by a watering hole. Camera lenses zoomed in on a male lion who arched his back before letting out a mighty roar that was almost palpable. In the meantime, mama lion chased after two playful cubs cavorting at the water’s edge. We were in boomer photographer’s heaven.

Later, Jaco stopped at a hillside where an elderly male elephant roamed alone. The grassy terrain was the equivalent of an elephant’s retirement home, albeit an almost empty one. One lonely resident, who happened to have a bedraggled ear, kept company with himself. Did this prove that elephants really do separate themselves from the herd when it’s time to pass on? Had he come here to die in the Madikwe equivalent of an elephant’s graveyard? He looked so lonely.

As Jaco started the vehicle’s motor to return to the lodge in time for breakfast, I whispered to Alan, “A leopard sighting would make my day.”

 

Meeting a dung beetle at Madikwe Game Reserve in South Africa

Meet the dung beetle.

“There, look there,” Jaco said, pointing to the dusty road on the other side of the vehicle.

I squinted, hoping to see a leopard sitting regally in a tree. One who would have the decency to sit still long enough for Alan to capture a close-up with that big telephoto lens that he had lugged all the way from Arizona to the wilds of South Africa.

Jaco jumped out of the Range Rover as only a twenty-something can do, bent close to the ground and picked up a bug—a BIG BUG.

“This is a dung beetle,” Jaco said, with more reverence than one would think an insect deserves. “He’s nature’s disposal system.”

The dung beetle crawled up and down Jaco’s strong arm for the next 30 minutes while he lectured on the insect’s importance. It turns out that our guide is in the final phase of obtaining a graduate degree in entomology, in other words, a real bug expert. After listening to his impassioned explanation, I too understood the vital role the dung beetle plays in refurbishing the earth. Without them what would we do? There is no giant popper scooper to take care of the piles of scat and dung that wild animals leave behind. But the lowly dung beetle slowly churns it back into the earth cleaning up the mess in the process.

“Would you like to hold it?” Jaco asked.

He had no takers.

Jaco teaches us about termites. Did you know that they invented air conditioning?

Next, Jaco teaches us about termites. Did you know that they invented air conditioning?

The next morning, Jaco drove to the river where we watched a group of hippos. They rested in a circle submerged except for eyes, foreheads and the pink tips of ears, their massive bodies hidden by the murky water. Suddenly, one hippo interrupted the peacefulness with a yawn that revealed a mighty set of teeth which partly explained why hippos kill more humans than any other animal in Africa. Their remarkable speed makes up the other half of this deadly equation.

Driving back to the lodge for breakfast, Jaco stopped by one of the many termite hills that populated the landscape and another insect lecture ensued. Did you know that termites invented air conditioning?

Thinking about planning an African safari? Check out all the information on our complete Safari Page as well as our collection of South African Wildlife Photos, both great resources for active boomer travels in Africa!

Have you been on safari? Post a comment to share your most unusual animal viewing experience. On my next boomer adventure, I want to see that leopard.

You can keep up with Jaco’s ranger adventures at  Madikwe Hills Private Game Lodge blog, which also includes his wonderful photography. His latest entry is a video of a lion roaring until exhaustion sends him to the ground.


A boomer travel and lifestyle authority who is exploring the world one activity at a time. Besides writing and publishing My Itchy Travel Feet, she also writes about boomer travel for My Well-Being Powered by Humana, Make It Missoula and is the author of My Itchy Travel Feet: Breathtaking Adventure Vacation Ideas.

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Barbara Weibel August 4, 2011 at 6:54 am

Most people go to Africa to see the Big Five. You got to see the Little Five. How funny. I would have loved this on my safari.
Barbara Weibel recently posted..Idyllic Koh Mak Island, ThailandMy Profile

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
August 5, 2011 at 7:00 pm

Jaco’s enthusiasm for bugs added a fun dimension to the safari. He was also quite knowledgeable about the plants and animals too.

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Leigh
Twitter:
August 4, 2011 at 6:59 am

I have actually been on three safaris – a short one in Botswana which I loved though the highlight was a male elephant hanging around my hut for over an hour. My husband and I went to Namibia years ago in the dry season so the animals tend to converge at the watering holes. Loved, loved that trip. I have also done the Serengeti – but not during the migration – which in hindsight is the only time I’d want to go now. Although it was interesting, I found that there was too much time in a 4 wheel drive vehicle looking for animals for my liking.
Totally got into the birds on the safaris – and I think learning about insects would be equally fascinating.
Leigh recently posted..Travel Photos: The Gardens of Villa Melzi in Bellagio, ItalyMy Profile

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
August 5, 2011 at 6:59 pm

Wow, Leigh! Three safaris! Bugs, animals, birds, plants – we found everything about our South African safari to be fascinating.

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Raymond August 4, 2011 at 7:15 am

I went to Kruger National Park in South Africa a few years ago, and saw a traffic jam — of water buffalo! Hundreds of them took about 20 minutes to cross the road…
Raymond recently posted..Travel Photo of the Week — Sunset, Koh Phangan, ThailandMy Profile

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Janett Brown August 4, 2011 at 12:24 pm

I am going to plan to visit South Africa one time. I am really envious of the fun you guys had there. :p

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
August 5, 2011 at 6:59 pm

Janett, it’s at the top of our most favorite trips. We would love to go back. Unfortunately, it’s an expensive trip and there are so many other places in the world yet to see.

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Living Large August 6, 2011 at 9:31 am

I’ve never been on a safari, but one that involves shooting a lot of animals, with a camera, sounds like the one for me!

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
August 6, 2011 at 4:44 pm

Safaris are a lesson in animal behavior whether you are taking photos are not. In fact, I recommend putting down the camera every so often to just watch and listen.

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NoPotCoooking
Twitter:
August 6, 2011 at 9:39 am

Sounds like it was quite a trip, dung beetle aside!

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
August 6, 2011 at 4:43 pm

It was an inspiring trip. If a safari doesn’t inspire people to care about our environment, I don’t know what will.

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Alexandra August 7, 2011 at 9:14 am

Unable to travel due to B&B duties, I do enjoy the exotic excursions this blog takes me on. Thanks!
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Donna Hull
Twitter:
August 8, 2011 at 10:25 am

I’m happy that you can travel vicariously through us, Alexandra.

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Jennifer Margulis August 8, 2011 at 9:44 am

What a cool window into a safari. I would have been fascinated, despite missing the leopard…

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
August 8, 2011 at 10:26 am

Jennifer, it was fascinating and we learned so much. Guess I’ll just have to go back to see that leopard.

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merr August 8, 2011 at 1:06 pm

What adventures…but like Alexandra mentioned, you take us on a journey during every post!

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
August 8, 2011 at 7:36 pm

Thanks! It’s fun taking readers on our adventures.

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Sheryl August 8, 2011 at 6:21 pm

Would love to go on a safari some time, and was really hoping you’d spot that leopard! Maybe next time??

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
August 8, 2011 at 7:37 pm

Yes, Sheryl, there will be a next time. And I WILL see that leopard.

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Jane Boursaw
Twitter:
August 8, 2011 at 9:18 pm

I think I’d stick with the Big Five. Dung Beetles hold no appeal for me. :-)
Jane Boursaw recently posted..Five Cool Things: Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, The Hunger Games, Brett Ratner, Planet of the Apes, Longshot MagMy Profile

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Melanie
Twitter:
August 10, 2011 at 12:45 pm

No takers? I would have gone for it. Beetles are groovy!
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Heather on her travels
Twitter:
August 12, 2011 at 1:32 pm

I love that your guide was as facinated by dung beetles as all the big game – these small details bring the trip alive while you’re waiting for your next leopard spotting
Heather on her travels recently posted..My daughter’s community project in the mountains of NepalMy Profile

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
August 13, 2011 at 1:54 pm

Our guide made the entire safari a learning experience. We loved his enthusiasm and passion.

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MyKidsEatSquid August 15, 2011 at 11:19 am

I haven’t been on safari–sounds like a wonderful experience, esp. with Jaco as your guide.

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
August 15, 2011 at 2:56 pm

Jaco was great!

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Mark H August 15, 2011 at 2:17 pm

Jaco sounds an excellent guide – enthusiasm for all things African and not just the large majestic animals. I suspect you’ll remember more about the humble dung beetle than anything mentioned on elephants or giraffes…
Mark H recently posted..Ruta de Las Siete Lagos (Bariloche, Argentina)My Profile

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
August 15, 2011 at 2:54 pm

You are right, Mark. It’s a memory that I’ll never forget.

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Griffon December 26, 2012 at 12:05 am

Just read this and wanted to say that i also went on a safari, but it was at the Shamwari game reserve and Jaco was our guide. He truly made it an experience i will never forget!

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
December 28, 2012 at 7:51 am

Jaco was your guide? Isn’t he amazing?

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
August 5, 2011 at 6:57 pm

Ha-ha! We didin’t count.

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