Khamai reptile park, stroking a cheetah and meeting a tame hippo

Today was pretty exciting as we were heading out for our first weekend staying off the reserve. We left at around 7:30am for the Khamai Reptile Park in Hoedspruit. Here the main attractions were snakes, spiders and scorpions. One of the guys laid down and had a big tarantula-type spider put on his face! He hardly even flinched! Then we all sat around an arena, where one of the staff showed us different varieties of snake. I was pretty happy that I managed to identify a boomslang. Apparently of all the snakes, the puff adder is the most dangerous. I know one of the rangers at Kwa Madwala was bitten by one and ended up in hospital for 2-3 days. After the snake presentation we wandered around seeing the other reptiles the park had, including a crocodile. Some people decided to pose with a snake wrapped around their shoulders. Once we had finished the guys decided it would be fun to feed the ostrich, then put the empty food bag on its head. It’s fair to say the poor ostrich freaked out. On the way to the toilet, we said hello to some others from our group, and were replied to by a parrot in a tree saying ‘hello’. We certainly didn’t expect that, and found it hilarious!

Someone posing with a snake. Image not my own.

After lunch, we headed off to put our things in a treehouse at Jessica the Hippo where we would be staying the evening. Then we were off to the Moholoholo wildlife rehabilitation centre. The guy there gave us a talk about how the centre was trying to use the fact these animals were injured to educate the general public. That seems like a pretty good idea to me. We got to stroke a cheetah, which was one of two brothers. It’s fur was almost as soft as a normal cat, which I hadn’t expected. There were also a lion and lioness, wild dogs, servals, bateleurs, hornbill, hyaenas, leopard and a martial eagle which was huge. We got to go in a cage with the vultures and see a honey badger, that was always escaping according to them.

One of the cheetahs you can stroke at Moholoholo wildlife rehabilitation centre. Image not my own.

We then returned to the treehouse along a rather bumpy road. Dinner was butternut squash, potatoes, pork chops and sausages. Whilst we were all chatting downstairs after dinner, Jessica the hippo, a real tame hippo, appeared with her owners. We got to pat her on the cheek and feed her rice. She was amazing and very placid, and her owners were very drunk. We learned she had been in 66 documentaries and her 67th was going to be on Sunday. She weighs half a tonne and is only half grown. They rescued her when she was only 6 hours old and was washed up by their house. One of the documentaries she has been in is Deadly 60 with Steve Backshall!

Steve Backshall with Jessica the hippo. Image from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases

Later that evening, a few of us girls were settling down for the night and heard a bug flying around our room. It turned out to be massive, so we called two of the guys in, who tried and failed to kill it with a shoe. Then they decided to both sleep in the spare single bed in our room, which must have been nice and cosy! Then one of them fell out the bed and landed on my crisps. It made a hilarious noise and they were lovely and crushed in the morning, but not absolutely powderised. One of them got bored and sloped off back downstairs. Later on we heard the bug again and it landed on another girl’s sleeping bag and we all screamed, but managed to get it out of the room. It was quite an eventful night and had been a wonderful day learning about, seeing and touching wild animals.

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