There is something faintly absurd about rattling around the largely unspoiled African bush in a rickety, open land rover in search of wild life, when it would be much more convenient and reliable to see the animals at the zoo.
A game drive is an exercise in patience. For 90% of the time all there is to be seen is the grey scrub-like bush and surprisingly lush Mopane trees desperately clinging to life in the red dust. Although no doubt there are plenty of animals magnificently camouflaged just beyond our sight, the odds of seeing something is slight. The area the animals wander in is huge, their number limited and to be in the same place at the same time as something more remarkable than an Impala is unlikely.
And yet somehow, almost always, there is something marvellous to see. And when you do, when you come across a leopard or an elephant, it is an adrenaline fuelled thrill. It occurs to me that this is perhaps what hunters feel, and that perhaps we are modern day hunters, armed only with a Canon and an iPhone, and without the flawed ego that requires the kill. The big five – named that way for being the hardest animals to hunt – remain in our sights because they are elusive and majestic to see. When we find one of these marvellous African animals moving freely we are breathless with excitement and nerves, awed by their beauty and power.
We are spoilt here, in this beautiful parcel of land grand-hearted people strive with difficulty to maintain against the tide of human self-interest. Here where the efforts of the passionate have carved out a little piece of Africa that is, almost, as it once was. Here on the border of the Kruger, where they do battle with poachers, we rattle about in our dusty land-rover desperate for a glimpse of a rhino before they are wiped out completely.
And that is what game drives are about, for me. Appreciating the importance of these creatures in their natural surroundings. Looking into an elephant’s eyes, or being pinned to your seat by the steely glint of a lioness and knowing that they have as much a right to this land as human beings do.