We decided to do a pyjama run, but woke a while before our alarm went off. It was humid and even if it was very early in the morning, the heat felt like sticky candyfloss. We dress quickly and get going. It is still dark when we drive through the gates. We take the 4k’s road in the hope that we might just find the lioness and her lover where we left off yesterday late.
As we cross the bridge, we see that the ribcage was dragged nearer to the road. It can only be the hyenas. As we near the place where we found the lioness the previous day, we start scanning the area with eager eyes, but no luck. Not far from the spot where the elephants were browsing, we find a hyena. A lot of the animals are lying down in grass, most probably because of the dew cooling it somewhat. The clever hyena was looking out for such an opportunity, but the Zebra were quick on their feet and cleared out minutes before the hyena arrived.
A few meters from the Hippo Pools turn-off, we spot a Rhino and this time it’s a good prospect for photos.
On the H4-2 to Crocodile Bridge, we see a lone Ellie bull, Wildebeest and more Impi’s. We travel back on the H4-2 and take the H5. It is a new road which we haven’t travelled before. Not much in terms of animal sightings, but beautiful flora and fantastic displays by the Lilacbreasted Rollers. On the S108, we find quite a large herd of Zebra and slowly amble along the road until we link with the S25 again.
Once back at our bungalow, we start to make a mother of a brekkie, and watch the passing parade of birds from our patio as we nibble on fresh mango and aromatic sweet litchis.
As if to ensure that it was properly seen, the Redchested Cuckoo once again made it visible to us on the branches of the shrubs in front of the bungalow. Can anyone explain why they do these things when your camera is busy charging or your hands full of mango? We recounted our morning’s sightings and agreed that we had a good day so far. After breakfast, we decide to take an early siesta, and before our heads hit the pillows, we were in a deep slumber.
At 13:00 I was awakened by trumpeting! I rushed outside and saw that a small herd of about eight ellies were browsing in the riverbed. With them, a small, very cute and very playful baby ellie. They trumpeted again, and a bewildered Felis came running out of the bedroom. We grabbed the camera and started clicking away. The group’s matriarch was busy digging gorah’s with her front legs. The surface water could not have been too deep under the sand, as she quickly started to pull water into her trunk and sprayed herself with the cool wetness. The poor baby ellie and a sister a little bit bigger than she, really struggled to get a turn – firstly, the youngest still had to find out exactly what a trunk was for, and the bigger one was pushed away by the older elephants who seemed to say, adults first and then children. After a while the oldest baby wizened up and laid down on the cool,wet sand next to the pools of water – it also seemed that by lying down, the water was more accessible for it’s short trunk. And all the smallest cutie did, was to play, get in the way and eventually tried to push little sister up so that she could play with her…
At 15:00 we left camp and travelled the 18k’s – Felis also needed cigarettes thus we headed for Afsaal. It was 36 degrees on the car’s thermometer. I showed Felis Blinkwater, where I tried to park a Landrover Discovery underneath a sicklebush (of 80cm) a few years ago when sis-stir and I were surrounded by a herd of young Ellie bulls who were having their mid-day drink at the dam. I was actually amazed at how much the flora had grown since the last time I had travelled the 18k’s. But today there were no Ellies in sight. We started to talk about wild dogs and about a re-settlement near Shingwedzi I had read about. In general we were exchanging information about these incredible animals. Felis had never seen them in Kruger and before we left for our trip, she said that it was all she wanted on her wish-list.
The weather had suddenly turned, and the wind was blowing quite hard. Big, fat raindrops started beating down and around us, lightening strobes came out of dark clouds. The temperature fell to 26 degrees, and although the rain was pelting down, we opened our windows slightly to smell the fragrance of summer rain. We turned into the S114 and the rain eased up a little. I stopped to check the distances on the map and my peripheral vision picked up movement on my side of the car.
A WILD DOG!
That feeling when you want to scream, hyperventilate and jump just rushed in. I calmly said to Felis – “Camera”. But the dog was in a hurry and three very quick snaps later, it disappeared into the dense bush. We both sat in stunned silence and looked at each other with huge eyes. We were so elated, even if the sighting was for less than a minute. Felis’s wish was granted!
Thus we drove on looking out all the time, knowing that Wild dogs aren’t solitary, but realizing that they move about with such speed, we were incredibly lucky to see it. As we travelled downhill, I noticed Zebras crossing the road – they were actually running…and they were chasing something! Soon enough, we could see clearly how the Zebras were chasing a WILD DOG! They ran across the road and stopped in the open veld – the Wild dog ran away in the same direction, but a bit lower to the Zebras. And there we found them – huddled together in the rain. 11 in total. Imagine our faces and our surprise!
The Zebras were looking at the dogs, but not moving. We sat with them for a half hour before I noticed a car approaching at the back. I signalled them and they signalled me. HUH? They stopped and a minute later, a LION walked around their vehicle.
OK! Felis, pinch me, I need to wake up now! I turned the car to go tell the people about the dogs, and then noticed another FOUR lions heading towards where the dogs were lying down. We slowly drove back to the dogs, and by that time, they were up and agitated – they must have smelled the lions. It was just us – the dog watchers and the other car – the lion watchers…amazing stuff! As we were watching the dogs, and the now very nervous Zebras, a huge elephant bull appeared behind the striped ones. As if on cue, the dogs were still stretching the one minute and the next they were running across the road, looking in the direction of the lions. Within seconds, the veld swallowed them and the whole sighting seemed surreal.
I looked at my watch and calculated – a half hour to spare to get to Afsaal on time. The lions were flopping down on the side of the road. I decided to take my chances – Felis without a ciggy – eish….We turned off at the H2-2 and guess who were waiting for us a kilometre further? We followed the dogs for at least 4 kilometre and witnessed how they readied for a kill. After they chased the Impala into the bush, we sat there shaking with exhilaration. It’s one thing to put something on your wish list, but we were being spoiled rotten by Mother Nature. Happy Birthday Felis!
Leaving the place where the Wild Dogs had disappeared into the veld, we slowly drove on with huge smiles. Two cars parked on the side of the road waved us dowm and said there was a leopard. LEOPARD! Thus we told them about the dogs and they left, leaving us for a while with the leopard, who left all of a sudden in a huge hurry. We were convinced that it must have gotten wind of the Wild Dogs.
Then it was Afsaal, which is another story – but alas, this day was so crammed with good stuff, that all I will say is that Felis got cigarettes and a man called Japie must still be shaking his head about the two crazy females that nearly knocked down his shop door.
By now, I was getting a slight bit worried that should we linger too long at any more sightings, we could be in danger of breaking the “curfew”. But, as we drive around the bend where the leopard was, guess who are lying all over the road? And it was one of those inconceivable moments in my life where I stopped and the animals somehow surrounded my car. One Wild Dog walked past my open window, stopped and stared at me. It felt like the longest time, me, Wild Dog, human, animal, spirit. I sat there transfixed in the eternity of eyes that spoke to me the language of life. I felt Felis’s hand find mine and holding it.
Back on the S114, we find the lions where we had left them. The Zebras cleared out and the Ellie too. We find the people who told us about the leopard and tell them that the dogs are back on the road. They rush off and once again, we have the lions to ourselves.
Time…and then the 18k’s still ahead. We leave the lions with a heavy heart and turn into the Biyamiti road. “Mum, we did a big 4 today – we still need buffies for a 5” Felis says. We both smile – the sighting of Wild Dogs was too much of a highlight for us to really worry about the big 5 today, but as we drive around a bend, there they are – their black pelts turning into a reddish copper in the glowing late afternoon sun.
1 Kilometre to go and 8 minutes to spare on the 18k, is abruptly ended. It reminded me of the olden days with seven single records, where the needle slipped and it made this very fatalistic sound. Well we were surrounded – three juvenile bulls in the front and when I reversed to see if I can park a RAV4 under a sickle bush (90 centimetres), I realized that a cow and her calf were crossing the road at my rear. Felis and I sat there with big eyes and shaking hands. I watched how the eight minutes started to tick by and how the guard at the gate will tell me that he heard the story many times before. The three ellies just turned their backs on the road to browse on a fresh tree, when they heard a whoosh! (that was us) and turned to see what it was. By that time we safely drove through the gates and a laughing ranger at the gate asked whether the Ellies kept us…!!! (Ha ha)
It was an incredible day – we both sat down and drank a stiff Jack Daniels with shaking hands and legs like jelly. We both burst out laughing with sheer relief at our close call. Soon darkness descended – our fire glowed cheerfully against the backdrop of night. We stared the stars so close-by, one felt the urge to touch them…and then the unmistakable sound of elephant tummy rumble…followed by a loud warning trumpet that shook the trees. It was answered by the king himself in an earth tearing roar that silenced the whole riverbed – even the frogs. And so between our neighbours in the riverbed the evening continued, a trumpet, a roar and as we sipped our Amarula on ice, we sighed.