I have been fortunate to visit a number of small private farms with family and friends and one such small private farm lies just outside of Vaalwater and has no Big 5 animals. The true beauty in this farm is the small, often overlooked animals as well as some of the rarer species that inhabit it. Without the predatory pressure of big cats, these smaller, rarer species thrive and we have had wonderful sightings of these animals over the years.

Back in June of 2016, we had a long weekend away to this farm and sightings we could never have even imagined. The weekend started off on a high note with a Thursday afternoon bumble where we caught sight of an unusual tail walking away from us. After a quick look through the binoculars, we realised it was an aardvark going about its business, enjoying the winter’s early afternoon sunshine. There is nothing quite like an afternoon aardvark sighting to get the weekend started. It eventually dropped down into its burrow where we left it for the afternoon. We decided to head back to the area just before sunset and managed to get another view of the aardvark as it went around foraging. Two aardvarks in an afternoon would rank up there with a lot of people’s best experiences with nature. It should rank there as mine but little did I know that the most incredible experience that I have had was yet to come.

As the sun started to dip, we decided to head back to the house for some drinks and dinner. After getting back to the house, with the sun having just dipped below the horizon, my dad walked out to the plain just beyond the small grove of trees that surrounds the house. I joined him a short while after and he motioned me over to where he was standing and said he could see an animal moving across the plain but in the fading light he was struggling to make out exactly what it was. Fortunately, I had my binoculars with me and could make out that it was another aardvark that had started its nightly foraging. For the next 10 minutes, my dad and I watched as this aardvark scratched around and foraged along the plain about 20 meters from us, completely undisturbed by our presence. Eventually, as the darkness enveloped the plain, the aardvark slipped off into some thick bush and we lost sight of it.

This single sighting stands out in my mind as the most incredible experience I have had with nature for a few reasons. To be on foot in the presence of an undisturbed aardvark is truly incredible but what really makes this experience so special was that I got to experience it with my dad without any cameras or spotlights distracting us from the moment. We ended up with two more aardvark sightings for the weekend which is a testament to the conservation value these reserves hold.

Written by Declan Porter (First Prize Winner of The LiC Writing Competition)

*picture from Declan’s Instagram (@declan__porter)

Thank you to everyone who entered our competition! The winners have been chosen & contacted, the second-place winners’ stories will be posted this week on 8 September & 10 September.