Traveling to the Aquila private game reserve, less than a two-hour drive from Cape Town, was one of the highlights of our trip so far. Aquila consists of 7,500 hectors of land and is comprised of 28 different species. Offering traditional game drives, as well as tours on horseback or tours on segways, Aquila is a major tourist attraction. It is considered one of the top 10 day trip destinations in South Africa, as well as one of the world’s 21 favorite things to do in Cape Town.
Aquila features the Big 5, which are rhinos, elephants, lions, buffalos, and leopards. We were fortunate enough to see all five of these animals during our tour. They are called the Big 5 because they are the most sought after animals. It is also rumored that they are the Big 5 category because they are the most dangerous animals. The start of our two-hour jeep tour was very eventful being that a buffalo was not so keen on our presence on his turf. The buffalo proceeded to run into our jeep and ram at it repeatedly. But don’t worry, we were able to get away unharmed, but very excited as to what else the tour had in store for us. After the buffalo incident, we drove to a large group of zebras. Seeing them up close gave us the opportunity to really observe their behavior towards one another, as well as towards other animals. There were baby zebras among them, so it was interesting to see how a mother and baby interacted. At one point, the zebras migrated towards a watering hole where two rhinos were drinking. The zebras didn’t seem threatened by the rhinos at all, which was surprising to me.
As our drive continued, we saw more and more animals including springboks and ostriches. Ostriches seem to be a very unpleasant animal and I remembered a story that was told to us earlier in our trip. One of our guides told us that ostriches are extremely dangerous and can slice open your skin with their middle toenail. Remembering that story made me hesitant to see this particular animal.
One of my favorite animals we saw was the elephant. We were lucky enough to see two up close to our jeep bathing in the mud. It was a truly spectacular sight! I took a lot of pictures of them, however, it really is not the same as seeing them so close that you can see all of the detail of their skin and the mud being spewed on them by their trunk. The elephants also seem to be a very peaceful animal. As we were driving along, we witnessed an altercation between a rhino and an elephant. The rhino would not let the elephant pass and started to ram into it. Eventually, the elephant walked away although it is much larger than the rhino.
After the face-off, we proceeded to the closed-off section where the lions were kept separately. We were only able to see one female lion, but it took awhile to lure her out of her cool and shady spot. After a little while, she came right up to our jeep and it was so incredible to see the “queen” of the jungle so closely. It turns out that the air releasing from the tires was the reason she approached our jeep, but regardless, we were able to take great pictures.
Our final stop was to the rescue center, where there were lions, leopards, and crocodiles. These animals were saved from “easy hunting”. Easy hunting is where animals were put in boxes and visitors could come and shoot the animals. They were then able to bring the animals home with them. Easy hunting, as well as poaching, is very prevalent in South
Poaching has been made illegal, but the Big 5 are still greatly pursued. Rhino poaching has especially become a huge problem. Although 20-25% of rhinos are privately owned, such as the ones at Aquila, the poaching problem has escalated since 2008. To help with prevention, the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) created a huge amount of publicity and support in the fight against rhino poaching. In addition, “Saving Private Rhino” was created by the Aquila Game Reserve as an initiative to protect the future conservation of Africa’s rhino and wildlife heritage. The main reason behind Aquila’s involvement is because in August of 2011, three of their rhinos were attacked by poachers, leaving only one survivor.
Visiting the Aquila Game Reserve was a very exciting and unforgettable experience. The concept of a game reserve is something unique to the South African culture and community. It gives the tour guides a sense of pride when speaking about the Big 5, as well as other animals home to South Africa. It also greatly contributes to the tourism that is apparent in Cape Town. Aquila Game Reserve shows the commitment in preserving the animals. With its ability to protect animals, it helps to reduce the human and animal conflict.
Unresolved question: Does creating an artificial habitat, such as Aquila’s, affect an animal’s natural growth and development in a negative way?