Exploring South Africa With the Bug Man

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.”

Meet the dung beettle

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? Join the conversation at the My Itchy Travel Feet page on Facebook or send us an email to ask a question or share your experience.

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.

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