Ten Other Animals We Saw at Leopard Hills (Including…Leopards, Natch.)

So many photos. Heads up: I’m no photographer, as you will see from many of these images, but especially, the very last ones. So, with that endorsing caveat, enjoy!

Leopard on safari at Leopard Hills


I believe this was taken on the evening drive on our first night at Leopard Hills. If so, this is Dayone, a 9-year-old male who was out and about marking his territory.


We, of course, saw many elephants during our time at Leopard Hills (especially babies!), but one of my favorites was this young one that walked right up to the lodge deck.


Our suite was near the kitchen and on our way back to our room each night, we walked past the kitchen where a spotted genet lived and hung out in hopes of some kitchen scraps.


Just a typical safari traffic jam.


When we were in Sabi Sands in 2014, we hardly saw any rhinos. Two reasons: it was late summer and everything was still very lush and green, making visibility difficult and second, sadly, poaching had caused the population to dwindle. Thanks to the extraordinary efforts of the Sabi Sands lodges and their teams–we’re talking night vision goggles, helicopters on full moon nights, even hiring private security to sleep out in the bush and keep an eye out for poachers–poaching incidences have been greatly reduced since our last visit and we saw quite a few rhinos this trip, including this fairly shy trio who we kept our distance from.


We did not, however, see as many lions at Sabi Sands as we saw last time. Apparently, the pair of brothers we saw last time have been very aggressive in the intervening years, taking over territories and killing off rivals. Everyone at Sabi Sands is hoping the young ones, including this young male who’s mane is just starting to grow in, will be able to stick around.


Another fairly unusual sighting: a porcupine! We saw one porcupine last time we were here, but only from behind and he was hightailing it away from us. The only photo I have of it is a blur. This one was completely different and weirdly calm. We’re not sure if this guy was hurt or sick or what his deal was, but he didn’t really run away from us at all. We sat there looking at him, looking at us for a good long while. Such an odd animal and an odd sighting.


Definitely one of my favorites: We went on a walking safari (aka: learning all about animal poop) with Stefan one afternoon and this family of warthogs followed us the whole time we were out. We’d stop. They’d stop. We’d walk. They’d walk. They were very curious about us.


Giraffes are my absolute favorite. I love them. I have way more photos of giraffes than any other animal. They’re so peaceful and beautiful and they have no real enemies. But, I had never seen them drinking water, which is an exercise fraught with difficulty for these guys, the tallest animals in the bush. This was at the watering hole right near the lodge.

Sad side story: the same day I took this photo, an adult female giraffe–none of these guys–ran into an utility wire that was hanging far too low after a herd of elephants had rammed the utility pole and the utility company had not yet come out to fix it. The giraffe died immediately and Duncan, GM at Leopard Hills, arranged to have the giraffe carcass dragged to the riverbed so the other animals could eat it, which, I understand, while heartbreaking to me, is actually the right thing to do. Later that night, on our night drive, we drove over to check it out and they hyenas were eating her. It was very upsetting and I couldn’t even look, but I could hear it in all its’ gruesome glory and it really bothered me. Luckily, my super-excellent, sensitive travel-partner-for-life, XFE urged our guide Hugo to call it a night and head back to the lodge.

If that carnage of my favorite animal had been my last memory of Leopard Hills, I would not be feeling very warm and fuzzy about the whole safari at Sabi Sands experience.




The next morning, we got up early to drive ourselves back to Johannesburg. Along the way to Newington Gate, XFE saw TWO honey badgers standing right next to the side of the road. My side of the road! Of course, everything was packed away, including my camera.

After confirming that yes, those were honey badgers, and holy crap, they’re just standing there looking at us, and screaming, “ohmygod, honey badgers, honey badgers, honey badgers, shit, there are honey badgers, and they’re looking at us, what do I do, where’s my camera or phone, crap!!!,” I finally dug around in my backpack, yanked out my camera and took about 4-5  “Blair-Witch”-meets-Loch-Ness-Monster quality pictures through my closed car window. Honestly, I must have been delirious and panicked because some of the pictures aren’t even pointing at the termite mound they were slowly retreating into.

But in the above picture, you can sort of make them out. No? Here:


I drew a circle around them. Now here’s the closeup:


See that white stripe right there? And to the right, that dark spot half obscured by a tree?

OK, you’ll just have to believe me. Those were two honey badgers! You know what, it’s fine if you don’t believe me, because just like honey badgers, I don’t give a shit. It was seriously amazing and I couldn’t stop talking about it the rest of the day. The rest of the trip even.

This was a very big deal. It’s fairly unusual to see honey badgers. They’re pretty solitary (it’s really unusual to see two together) and they don’t hang around too often for pictures. They’ve got places to be and cobra ass to kick. Actually, after digging around, I can’t even tell if they’re endangered or not: this site says “nah, not doing great, but not endangered” while this one says “there are only 1,000 left,” which seems pretty damn endangered to me. All I know is that Duncan, who’s lived in Sabi Sands for more than 20 years, said he’s never seen one and our guide Stefan-WHO RIDES IN AN OPEN VEHICLE ALL DAY LOOKING FOR ANIMALS–said he’s only seen one once.

In fact, these were the second and third honey badgers we saw during our stay at Leopard Hills. I spotted one from a pretty good distance moving pretty purposefully through the bush a few days earlier when we were out on a drive with Stefan. My first thought was, “huh, I didn’t know they had skunks in Africa. Hey, that’s a pretty big skunk, let me ask….HONEY BADGER!” We all caught a glimpse of him, but nothing compared to our early morning coffee klatch with the duo on our way out of the park.

Just call us the honey badger whisperers.


Don’t Know How to Convey Your Annoyance Via Text? Go With a PoEmoji

FAKT: I have never used an emoji. I actually don’t even know how to. Are they on my phone somewhere? I am old and decrepit and have no idea. Maybe they’re housed on my Life Alert.

Emoji Life Alert

I recently read that some new emojis are being considered and it got me thinking about which ones I would use, if in fact, I was about 25 years younger and had more than four friends who will actually attempt to text with me.

Also, it got me thinking, “How do I get a spot on that emoji judging panel because I bet the discussions are amazing and intense and just awesomely nerdy.”

One of the PoEmojis that immediately popped into my mind was in fact a taco, and lo and behold, the taco emoji is one of the ones currently being considered for release. Whew. Because I do think I would truly use a taco one. Pretty much anytime my personal-chef-for-life XFE asks me what I want him to make me for dinner, the answers are invariably: tacos and/or ice cream sandwiches. Breakfast, lunch or dinner. Tacos are the perfect food. And ice cream sandwiches are just delicious.

Mmmmm, tacos.

Anyway, without further ado, my contributions to the emoji world, or PoEmojis, if you will.

Soysauced emoji. This one is useful for times you want to tell your friends that you fell and made a spectacle of yourself. (See origination of soysauced here.)

Sample use: “Oh girl. I was walking down the street minding my own business and then wham! <soysauce> I think I recovered pretty well, though.”

Cheese and wine emoji. I’m sure there’s already a wine emoji and probably a cheese emoji, but I really need them to be together. That would be my emoji to indicate that XFE is out of town and single girl debauchery is about to commence.

Sample use: “Hey, sorry you can’t come over for <cheese and wine>. Please be on standby to call Cat Protective Services in case I oversleep and forget to feed the cat.”

Crazy cat lady emoji. Speaking of cats, I know quite a few ladies who could use this one. I would expect to receive this one on birthdays, and especially after a friend fights with her boyfriend.

Sample use: “Hey girl, you better straighten up and act right or you’re going to end up <a crazy cat lady>.”

I always joke that I’m one boyfriend and a caftan away from crazy cat lady status. Actually, I do have a few things in my wardrobe that qualify as caftan-esque, so maybe I’m only one boyfriend away from crazy cat lady.

Real Housewives emoji. I think this one would either be like an eye-rolling emoji or maybe a shocked open-mouthed one. I can’t decide.

Sample use: “So then she said that I was being too dramatic and maybe I should reconsider my position that Texas is the best state, and I was all like, <Real Housewives>. I mean, can you believe her??”

Kim’s butt emoji. This emoji is meant to convey something truly large, perhaps, suspiciously so. Like, maybe, too good to be true? A total fake out.

Sample use: “Well, I thought we were going to get out of having to go to that baby shower, but it turned out it was a total <Kim’s butt> and now I feel like an idiot because we obviously have to go.”

Honey badger emoji. Because I was watching this show the other day on National Geographic (let me tell you….unless you want to watch Sex and the City reruns—on two channels, no less– you are basically screwed on daytime television viewing), and it reinforced once again how badass honey badgers are. I think this emoji would come in handy when you’re trying to tell someone that they best not mess with you or you will open up a whole bag of snake-killing honey badger on them.

honey badger

Sample use: “I got so angry when CVS didn’t have the most recent edition of Us Weekly, I almost went all <honey badger> on the unhelpful and uninterested clerk. Instead, I bought last week’s and read it again. Bye, Felicia.”

Speaking of, I don’t think a “bye, Felicia” emoji would sit in the emoji school yard unused. I see that one as a face with a side eye and a hand up dismissal sort of movement. Like “talk to the hand,” but with side eye.

Bye Felicia

Voodoo Curses, Vuvuzelas, and British Badgers

There is quite the vigorous political debate going on in Britain right now. And it’s on an issue so important that it’s brought together Meatloaf and Dame Judi Dench. (I really would love it if those two kids had a cooking show. I’d totally watch that)

National Geographic reports:

Britain’s Parliament held a four-hour debate in the House of Commons this past Wednesday, and it wasn’t about public spending cuts, the war in Afghanistan, or abortion rights.

It was about badgers.

save the badger

Yep, badgers. Sort of like that honey badger who doesn’t give a shit. Except, honey badgers are in Africa, so this is a different breed.

A badger, for those not acquainted with the species, is a mammal about three feet long with gray fur, a mouthful of sharp teeth, and a black-and-white face striped like a zebra crossing. Meles meles, the European badger, is indigenous to the United Kingdom, lives in an underground labyrinth of tunnels called a sett, and feeds on worms and grubs. There are about 300,000 badgers in England.

300,000 badgers in England!? Holy rodents outbreak! I lived there for seven months on a work exchange program in college and while I saw plenty of rats, I can’t say I ever saw any badgers.

That’s a badger there, on the right. Yep, pretty dang cute.

The badger has been around long enough to have survived two Ice Ages, but if the Conservative-dominated coalition government executes its plan, some 5,000 will not survive two government-led trials that are the prelude to a culling policy that aims to reduce the spread of tuberculosis (known to be carried by badgers) in cattle.

Last year, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) announced its intention to test the “safety, humaneness, and efficacy” of culling by targeting 5,000 badgers in Gloucestershire and Somerset—two infection hotspots.

As the proposed cull drew closer, the controversy widened to include celebrities like Queen guitarist Brian May, who led a protest march in London last Saturday and recorded a song called “Badger Swagger”; the rock star Meatloaf; and actress Dame Judi Dench, who posted a video on YouTube calling for a stop to culling.

Hmmm, I’m starting to see the problem here and I’m afraid the badgers are doomed. You’ve really got to try to get some more younger, high-profile people on this campaign. I love me some Dame Judi, but she’s hardly a Hollywood hottie. What about that Channing Tatum dude? He’s stuck in London filming a movie….let’s get him in on this.

Hey badger, I just want you to know….I’m there for you. Always.

Or, maybe we can turn badgers into a hipster mascot and get those folks from that show “Portlandia” to take up the cause. You know, those two actors who say “Put a bird on it,” all the time? Maybe they can do a PSA and say, “Put a badger on it,” or something. (I’ve never seen that “Portlandia” show, but I have heard about it, and apparently, American Express figures we all know who they are since they put the chick from that show in their latest ads. I had to Google her because I had no idea who she was.)


An anti-culling petition has 235,000 signers, and there’s an online threat of a voodoo curse on Environmental Secretary Owen Patterson, a hard-line advocate of the cull. Others have weighed in with tweets, blogs, and letters to the editors of British newspapers. “Cull the politicians instead,” one reader wrote the Daily Mail. On the other side, a farmer’s wife pointed out that “we wouldn’t be having any of this nonsense if this was about culling rats.”

Ah, farmer’s wives are just so practical, aren’t they? You are right, madam, I would not be riled up about some rats. But badgers seem, I don’t know, different. Larger, more cuddly, maybe? What the hell do I know? I’ve never seen one. It would probably eat my face off if I tried to cuddle one.

cull protest
Yeah, this old dude from Queen is not helping the cause.

But seriously, British badger supporters, an online voodoo curse? Is this really the best you got?  What next, a wishing spell? Listen, I’m not advocating violence or anything, but maybe you could step it up a tiny bit. Perhaps collecting badger poo and lighting it on fire on the politicians doorstep, just for example. Or signing the secretary up for some hunting magazines or something.

The controversy is full of biological complexities, colored by politics, and awash in contentious statements. “The policy appears to be little more than a sop to [the] farming sector,” the executive director of the Humane Society International/UK wrote in a piece on the website Badgergate.

Um, it sounds very bad indeed, especially when you add the suffix “-gate” to something, but I have to admit I do not have a clue what a “sop” is. Dangit, where’s my British to American dictionary. I must’ve left it at the nearby sop shop.

If the cull happens—plans are to use marksmen with rifles and shotguns—animal rights activists have announced that they will disrupt culling activity by blowing vuvuzelas, setting off fireworks, and shining lights.

OK, several things here: marksmen! Where does one find marksmen for hire? And what’s the pay for that? Also, so glad we finally found an additional use for all those leftover World Cup vuvuzelas. They’ve just been sitting around, collecting dust. Fireworks might be fun.

Fun fact: baby badgers totally love fireworks. And vuvuzelas.

Exactly where and when will the culls take place? “We don’t comment on security matters,” a DEFRA spokesperson said.

Sure, sure. Quite obviously. I guess we’ll all just have to keep an eye out for sharpshooters, and people carrying vuvuzelas, fireworks and large spotlight equipment.

To learn more about our badger friends, I took a little stroll over to Wikipedia and found this disturbing fact:

In Russia, the consumption of badger meat is still widespread. Shish kebabs made from badger, along with dog meat and pork, are a major source of trichinosis outbreaks in the Altai region of Russia. In Croatia, badger meat is rarely eaten. When it is, it is usually smoked and dried or, less commonly, served in goulash.

Got it. No goulash in Croatia or shish kebabs in Russia. No problem. And no cuddling with sharp-teethed trichinosis carrying badgers. England, I leave you to handle this one on your own.

Maybe you guys should do like the “Game of Thrones.” I don’t watch that show either, but I know people got riled up by some “Red Wedding” episode last week. As far as I can tell from the Interwebs, some really evil dudes invited the good dudes over to their house for a wedding feast and then betrayed them and killed a bunch of them. Sorta like a Trojan Horse situation.

Anyway, maybe the British government should invite a bunch of badgers over for a worm and grub feast and then slice their throats. It sounds exceptionally violent, but apparently made for good TV. Personally, I’d rather see Dame Judi and Meatloaf make Shepherd’s pie, but that’s just me.

brace yourself