We hadn’t had the opportunity to see big cats yet on our evening game drive. As the sun was setting, a voice cracked in the radio. A couple of lions have been spotted, announced Bradley. Confirming the location of the sighting, we drove to the spot where the lions were sighted.
Sitting amidst the green grass which provided great camouflage, sat two lions with absolutely no care in the world. They are a pride of seven brothers, said Bradley. Two here, maybe we would get lucky and see the rest too…wishful thinking!
As the last rays of light shone upon us, the lions got up and started moving. Continuously, roaring as they walked, calling out to the rest of the pride.
This young male, stopped in his tracks and looked at us with curious eyes. A personal favorite because of the engaging expression!
We stayed till the lions were completely out of sight and made our way back towards the safari lodge. A welcome sundowner in the ‘bush bar’ courtesy Bradley, was all about the ‘band of brothers’ we just sighted.
While the African wild dogs were enjoying their meal (presumably an impala kill), a suspicious movement away from the pack, caught our attention. Slowly walking out of the bush and revealing itself was a spotted hyena!
Known to scavenge not only on scraps but also to chase away the hunter from its kill, the spotted hyena is quite an unrelenting animal especially when there’s a bunch of them. But here the odds were against the hyena! A single hyena didn’t stand a chance against a pack of wild dogs.
By now the wild dogs were aware of a sly hyena doing the rounds. Two or three dogs kept the hyena at bay while the others went about their meal. Anticipating some action, I kept track of the hyena’s movement. Gathering some courage, the hyena finally moved towards the feeding pack. The moment the hyena crossed the comfort line, a warning was given by the dogs.
Not wanting to risk injuries, the hyena opted for a hasty retreat. If only the hyena had more companions, if only!
I have often been told, Kruger National Park is the best place to see the African Wild Dog (also known as African Painted Dog or African Hunting Dog). Now that I was finally in Kruger for three days, I directed all my questions to our guide, Bradley.
How often do you see Wild Dogs? I asked. We see them maybe once in a week, he replied. But they have not been spotted in recent times, he added. My heart sank, hearing the last few words. More than the Big 5, this was the endangered species I was longing to see.
On a morning game drive, I decided to take the seat next to Bradley. That move would later prove to be a favourable one. We took a new route that morning which went past another camp called Hamilton Tented Camp. As we drove past the camp and down a slope toward a dry river bed, a swift movement on the right side caught my eye.
Wild Dog! The vehicle had barely come to a stop, and as I whipped out the camera and took a few pictures… Poof! The dog was gone.
My joy for that brief moment knew no bounds! I was ecstatic seeing an African Wild Dog. The wild dogs are rarer than the leopard, exclaimed Bradley, as he turned the jeep around. Driving ahead, we spotted a congress of baboon who seemed quite relaxed and unaware that one of the finest hunters in the wild was in the midst.
Leaving the baboons, we must have moved barely a few hundred yards, when we saw three wild dogs standing on the safari track. Not sure if they were a shy pack, I took pictures as we slowly made our way towards them.
One bold individual stood his ground as we got closer. Urging Bradley to stop at a safe distance, I made a portrait of this fine looking specimen. I must admit, I always thought these dogs to be ugly! Now, I take my words back!
We were in for more surprises! There were four more individuals in the pack. They had made a kill nearby. One dog had a piece of meat while another made away with a leg piece. Presumably an impala that had been hunted.
As we were the only vehicle around, the wild dogs got comfortable and one curious dog came sniffing close to my door.
Just when all of us including Bradley were rejoicing one of the best sightings of wild dogs in recent times, we had a a surprise visitor!
The story is for another day! Stay tuned for next week’s post.