Memories from an African gap year

27th October 2014   •  By Ulrica Vilen-Letts

Ulrica Vilen-Letts shares photos from her gap year in southern Africa during her studies as a professional safari guide. Whilst there Ulrica studied at four camps, Selati, Karongwe, Mashatu and Makuleke.

Related post – Photo blog of a gap year safari guide

1. Resident nyala lamb

Nyala lamb in the camp at Selati

© Ulrica Vilen-Letts

This picture was taken in Selati camp where we had a few resident Nyalas. As this year course was the first time I had been to Africa I was amazed by all the animals including the antelopes. I fell a little bit in love with the young Nyala that trotted around camp regularly with its mother and a few other females.

2. Sunset on Selati

The setting sun after a long day studying at Selati Private Game Reserve

© Ulrica Vilen-Letts

Taken from a viewpoint overlooking the “Knuckles” of Selati. It was a long evening drive and a bit on the chilly side but it was worth it for the amazing sunset (and sundowners).

3. A once in a lifetime experience

Cheetah mother with cubs at Karongwe

© Ulrica Vilen-Letts

This was one of my most memorable experiences. The morning drive was proving uneventful until we heard a sighting over the radio. We waited until the other vehicle left the sighting. We watched from the vehicle as a mother cheetah dragged a duiker carcass around. As she and her cubs became more relaxed we ventured out of the vehicle and sat a mere 10-15 metres away from her whilst they ate their brunch. We sat with them for two hours watching as they devoured the whole carcass. They then began to play and groom each other. A once in a lifetime experience.

4. The nonchalant lioness was a real treat for me

Lioness walking along the riverbed at Karongwe

© Ulrica Vilen-Letts

Our instructor Massi surprised us by taking us north of the river at Karongwe. I’d seen glimpses of lions at Selati but I could never really see them because it was either dark or there were trees in the way. So this lioness out in the open during the day was a real treat for me. I counted it as my first real sighting of a lioness. I was shocked by how nonchalant she was about the vehicle and us humans, she didn’t even look at us, she just carried on trudging down the river bed.

The elephant is one of the Big Five. To find out the other four animals that make up the Big Five please check out our article: 25 astonishing facts about Africa’s Big 5

5. Elephant’s galore on the Mashatu reserve in Botswana

Just a few of the many Elephants at Mashatu

© Ulrica Vilen-Letts

After living in fenced reserves for three months I was sure that was as good as it got. But no, now we went to Botswana’s Tuli Block which was more open. On the drive from the border post to the camp we bumped into the biggest herd of elephants I had ever seen. There must have been over 100, I was mind blown. By the time I got my camera out, there were only a few left and this picture is of those few.

6. The airstrip could always be counted on for lots of animal activity

Baboons cross the airstrip at Makuleke

© Ulrica Vilen-Letts

Taken at one of my favourite spots at Makuleke, the airstrip. The reason I love this place so much is because every time you visit, there is plenty of wildlife to see. This time it happened to be a troop of Chacma Baboons taking a stroll to the other side.

7. A young bull elephant which we accidentally startled

A startled bull elephant at Makuleke

© Ulrica Vilen-Letts

Taken in the last month of my stay in South Africa. We were back at Makuleke camp for advanced birding, which was not 100% my thing. Instead I decided to take lots of pictures instead. We saw hundreds of Elephants during this stay at Makuleke. This was one of my favourite pictures I took of this certain Elephant. If I remember correctly, he was a young bull who we accidentally startled as he was grazing. He flapped his ears a little and threw a bit of dust before turning and walking back into the bush.

8. The bushman paintings at Makuleke

Rock art paintings being pointed out, Makuleke

© Ulrica Vilen-Letts

James had been working at Makuleke for his placement. During which he discovered a lot more about the reserve. He decided to take us to a new spot with some very old rock art. The surrounding area was gorgeous with a large leaf rock fig atop the rock where the rock art was. I could just imagine the Bushmen and their families drawing these images.

Get involved

Interested in doing a safari course yourself? Then visit the Courses and Events page where there are many to choose from. Courses range in length from one week to the eleven month professional safari guide course which Ulrica completed.

Read more about Ulrica’s once in a lifetime experience with the family of cheetahs.