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Officially opened to the public in 1927, South Africa’s Kruger National Park is the oldest and largest game reserve in the world.  Its 6.2 million acres play home to more than 500 species of birds and 147 kinds of mammals, among them 31,000 wildebeests, 23,000 zebras and 7,000 giraffes.  The park also has large numbers of what’s known in game reserves as the “Big Five”: black rhinos, cape buffalo, elephants, leopards and lions.
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On our trip to Kruger, we saw two of the Big Five, the elephants and the buffalo, but the only cat we saw was one with a capital C–Catherine, one of my best friends from law school.  Cat’s now a student at the South Africa Wildlife College, which is located right outside Kruger’s Orpen Gate.  (Definitely not a bad way to take a break from the law for a little while…)

Cat, Derek and I took a night drive through the park one evening.  After we climbed aboard a huge jeep that was decked out with high-powered spotlights, our guide drove us around the park at a speed slow enough for us to spot animals that are often nowhere to be seen during the daylight hours.  One of our favorite sightings was a baby hyena, who was so deceptively cuddly-looking that I wanted to give him a squeeze.
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Derek and I also took a self-guided daytime drive through the park.  Over the course of seven amazing hours (all of which were spent in the safety of the VW Polo–to get out of your car outside of the designated safe areas in Kruger is to risk your life), we saw everything from hippos lazing in the mud to a parade of elephants bound for a watering hole to warthogs who looked almost too ridiculous to be real.
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One of my favorite moments, however, came early in our drive.  Maybe 30 feet in the distance, we spotted a pair of giraffes grazing on the treetops.  They were the first giraffes I’d ever seen outside of the confines of the zoo, and I have to say, it was almost a religious experience.  I’m completely amazed that creatures like them and creatures like us can inhabit the same earth.

Our quest for the big cats will continue.  In a way, though, it’s almost a good thing that we haven’t seen them yet.  Three weeks from now, we’re going on a Tanzanian safari with some of our best friends from Nashville, and I’m sure we’ll see lions, leopards and cheetahs aplenty.  For now, though, the anticipation is half the fun.