A Day of Animals at Pilanesberg National Park, South Africa

How did I spend my 4th of July this year? Well, looking for wildlife. About 2 hours from Pretoria is a game park called Pilanesberg. It is a small game park, but is teeming with wildlife.

Photo by the Pilanesberg Map

The map of the park

Our day in the park was extremely long departing at 4 am and not returning until almost 8 pm at night, but the time spent there was worth it. I had yet to see a rhino in the wild and in Pilanesberg I got to see 16! That’s right 16. It was a very good day. As the sun rose we saw our first animal. A jackal ran out into the road and kept right on running in front of our car.

Jackal in the road

First animal sighting, a jackal on the road

Next came a string of blue wildebeests wandering up over the hill.

Strolling wildebeests

The string of wildebeests

And the day just kept getting more amazing… We spotted an impala with some blood on him probably because he got into a fight with another impala. My photo isn’t spectacular, but you get the gist of the bloody impala.

An impala with blood on him

An impala with some blood on him

Kudus appeared and a huge buck crossed the road with his impressive horns.

Lady Kudus checking us out

Lady kudus checking us out

A male kudu chomping a tree

The male kudu chomping on a tree

Giraffes came out and we got to see them both near and far.

A giraffe

Our first giraffe

Giraffes steering clear of the Lioness

These two giraffes were steering clear of the lioness. Good thing, as later in the photos we will see another giraffe who wasn’t so lucky.

A huge highlight of my day was getting to see white rhinos in the wild. Rhinos had eluded me during my weekend long trip to Kruger and I had huge hopes that I would spy rhinos in Pilanesberg. Then we turned a corner and right next to the road was a mama and baby rhino eating. I squealed out loud in my excitement and my entire car laughed at me. Rhinos are just so amazing and so endangered. Getting to see them so close was truly incredible.

Momma and Baby Rhinos

My first rhino sighting was a mama and baby right by the side of the road.

A wee baby rhino

Close up of the wee baby rhino

Another huge highlight of the day was spotting a lioness in the tall grass. At first, she was super far away and we could barely make her out. Then she came really close by and even crossed the road. It was so cool. Although numerous cars also had it figured out that she was going to cross the road so everyone was driving like a mad person to get the best view.

The lioness hiding in the grass

The lioness stalking through the grass.

Can you find the lioness?

The lioness almost completely blends into the landscape.

We found a group of zebras chilling pretty close to the road, which was also neat! I even captured one zebra in the midst of a hee haw moment.

Zebra Close UP

Zebras roadside.

Hee haw says the zebra

Hee haw says the zebra

Handsome zebra

A handsome youngish zebra

Later we hit up a watering hole where we came across more blue wildebeests as well as some hungry hippos.

Wildebeests waterside

Blue wildebeests by the watering hole

Hungry hungry hippo

A very hungry hippo

Hippos by the water

Even more hippos

At one point we came across a giraffe carcass that demonstrated the circle of life very clearly. We imagine a lion got to the poor giraffe and all that remained now was dried up bones with some skin. I can’t even imagine how many lions a huge ass giraffe could feed, but I was glad that I didn’t witness the lion taking down the giraffe. Giraffes are so sweet and gentle seeming. I understand a lion’s gotta eat, but I don’t need to watch.

Giraffe carcas, something big got him

One unlucky giraffe did not escape a predator’s clutches.

At our pee break and water stop, we found a blue wildebeest, a hippo, and a vervet monkey.

The Americans with a hippo and a wildebeest in the background

Photos with a hippo and a wildebeest at the rest stop

Vervet monkey on the roof

A cheeky monkey on the restaurant roof.

Following our break, things got really interesting. We first encountered a baboon troop crossing the road with babies on backs. Then we watched a baboon lick the sap out of a tree right next to the car. We were so close we could see its huge sharp teeth.

Troop of baboons crossing the road

The troop of baboons crossing the road.

Baboon eating the sap of the tree

This male baboon feasted on the tree sap and showed us his huge pointy teeth.

All day long we kept saying what we wanted to see and thus far we had only seen elephants from far away. We kept requesting of the universe to provide us with closer views of ellies. Apparently, we were going to get what we asked for because we turned a corner and all of a sudden we encountered a large herd of elephants.

So many elephants

Elephants on the left side of the car.

Elephants on the other side of the car

Elephants on the right side of the car.

It was absolutely incredible to be surrounded by elephants just playing in the mud. A little guy was actually laid out on the edge of the dried up river while his mother seemed to be telling him stop playing and get down. He just laid on his side toying with her though.

Cute baby ellie lying on the ground

The cute baby elephant playing with his mother on the edge of the dried river bed.

Baby elephant feeding on mama

Another baby elephant feeding off mama.

Elephants getting frisky

So many elephants everywhere and some were getting frisky.

Eventually, we got a bit uneasy because you aren’t supposed to be in the middle of a herd of elephants. We didn’t really have a choice though because the bridge went right through the middle of them. We decided to pass the herd only to encounter another mother and baby blocking the road. We attempted to wait them out but they were just munching and cars were stuck behind us. We decided to motor past and the baby was not happy about it so he put out his ears and even trumpeted at us. It would have been scary if it wasn’t so freaking cute.

Baby elephant trumpeting at our car intrusion

The adorable baby elephant who trumpeted at us and was so “scary”.

While baby ellie was cute, we didn’t want mama ellie to get angry so we rushed by and then all cheered that we had made it past the elephant herd. We cheered prematurely, however, because around the next bend were even more elephants. These guys were totally content to keep eating the trees and we waited off the side of the road for them to venture past. They weren’t budging though. Ultimately, we had no choice but to drive around them, off-road style, just to escape. The joke was on us because as we got past one feeding group we encountered more cars stuck by even more elephants. It seems all of these cars had all ended up in a herd of about 50 elephants and there was no way out except to wait them out. It was actually pretty funny watching all the cars make 10 point turns on the dirt orad in an attempt to out smart the elephants and go a different direction, but with elephants at every turn patience was the only thing you could have. In the end, the elephants moseyed on down the road and we were free to find more animals. In that moment, we all agreed that we had seen enough elephants and wanted other animals.

More elephants in the trees

Seriously, how many elephants can there be? We estimated about 50 because they were around every bend in the road!

Photos of the cars trying to get past all the elephants

The chaos of the cars trying to get out of the elephant herd.

After our elephant encounter, we found more animals including a totally new animal for me, the red hartebeest.

Red Hartebeests

My first sighting of red hartebeests. Check out those cool horns.

Baby hungry hippo

Mama and baby hippo

Warthogs rooting

Mama and baby warthogs

Later in the day came even more rhino encounters. Including a mama and baby who kept running towards us but when they would hear a sound would turn and scamper off. Apparently, rhinos have very bad eye sight but excellent hearing. Their running was incredibly adorable.

Rhino or Chubby Unicorn?

Is this a rhino or a very chubby unicorn?

Rhinos kept scampering to and fro the car

Mama and baby running towards the car.

Huge lazy rhino, 12th of the day

Another big ass rhino just chilling.

We also ended our stay with a stop at a watering hole where we spied some rhinos as we were parking. We knew they were headed to the watering hole for an evening drink, so we ran into the hide (a big wooden structure to mask us from the animals) to watch. Upon our noisy arrival everyone turned to stare. Turns out there were no other animals drinking for them to watch. It happened that the bench closet to where the rhinos were going to appear was open so we took our positions and sure enough within a few minutes the 3 rhinos pranced out to the watering hole. Many people in the hide fled to our end to take photos and I was planted right in the best spot. People seemed incredulous at my luck, but I think it is just because I am rhino whisperer. Also, I knew where to look.

Sunset and rhinos

The end of the day sunset at the watering hole complete with 3 rhinos.

Rhino hydration time

Hydration time for this guy.

More rhinos! at the watering hole

Yum yum, tasty water.

All in all it was a magical day full of so many animals. I am so incredibly happy to have seen the magnificent white rhinos wandering freely and we even spied 4 more rhinos on our way out of the park before 6 pm when the gate closed. Plus, we are so lucky that this incredible park is so close to home. Kruger is quite far, so it awesome that this park is so close.

To see all my photos from Pilanesberg, go here.

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