The dusty safari track seemed never-ending to the naked eye. While it was always the impala crossing from one side of the road to another, it was pleasant surprise to see the tallest animal of the African bush block our path and watch us with curiosity. A minute later, the second one joined and together they crossed the track.
As we moved ahead, we spotted a herd of giraffe on our left. Counting upto five individuals, only two were out in the open. The rest of the herd hidden behind the tall tree and only their heads gave away!
Two individuals however, stood motionless looking across the road. Sensing some predator movement, we scanned the area but it didn’t bear any fruit.
Leaving the herd, we moved ahead and later in the evening came across a tusker enjoying a mud bath. That post is for another day.
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.
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.
I’m reminded of those lines from the famous classic rock number by Whitesnake called Here I go again. The line was apt for this elephant who was the largest Tusker I laid my eyes upon, while in Kruger National Park.
It must have been only a few minutes into the game drive As we came near an open patch of grass, we spotted this tusker coming out of the bushes. It is always a treat to watch elephants walk- the lazy gait, barely any noise, flapping their ears, trunk up in the air sometimes to catch a scent. Slowly, he made his way towards a tree right beside the road.
So close was he to the vehicle, only a camera phone could get the entire elephant in the frame. Quickly switching to a 50mm lens, I managed to shoot a couple of interesting perspectives.
Once he was done munching, the drifter decided to move along. He walked past our vehicle at his own pace, crossed the safari track and walked back into the bushes…probably saying to himself ‘here I go again’!
Shot details: Pic 2&3 shot with Nikon D850 + 50mm 1.8 lens. Pic 1 with Nikon D850 + 200-400 VR.
The jeep stopped and Bradley pointed towards a herd of Impala. They are everywhere, he exclaimed! While everyone else was looking at the impala, my eyes as usual were on the lookout. A slight movement in a bush caught my attention.
“Bradley, I think I saw some movement in the bushes”, I called out. He backed up the jeep to a halt, I pointed in the direction of the movement. A small head popped out and peered at us. Ah! Thats a mongoose! The mongoose came out supporting itself on the branch of a thin tree and posed for a brief moment.
With lovely evening light falling on it, the mongoose looked radiant. What is it doing up a tree, I wondered?
After a brief pose, the mongoose swiftly went up the tree, and as I tried to track it with the camera, I saw band like thing wrapped around the branch. There’s a snake on the tree, I let out a soft cry! Bradley was back in action with this binoculars, it is a Boomslang, a very venomous snake, he said!
No wonder the mongoose was up a tree! It was up for a fight with the Boomslang! The mongoose tried attacking the snake and after a few attempts, gave up and swiftly disembarked the tree. Although it was not possible to capture the action on camera, it was exciting to see this brief encounter of mongoose and snake.
We boarded a 30-seater aircraft from Johannesburg and before one could settle in the plane, the pilot announced our descent onto Skukuza. As I got out out of the plane, I was struck by the beauty of the Skukuza airport.
Designed more like a safari lodge, the beauty of the arrivals section surprised me. Handcrafted lampshades hung from the ceiling and end to end prints of Zebra adorned the walls of counters.
Even the departure lounge was designed like a cafe.
It felt surreal. Unable to contain my excitement and while still standing in awe, like most first-time visitors, I took multiple pictures on phone.
At the exit of the tiny airport, I came across a life size statue of the critically endangered Rhino.
Beautifully sculpted, it occupies prime space at the entrance of the airport and also signifies what the Rhino means to the people of South Africa and especially in Kruger.
After a quick exchange of pleasantries with the driver, we set off to what was going to be home for the next three days i.e. Imbali Safari Lodge. A journey of almost three hours, we were slightly behind schedule as we had landed in Skukuza after half hour delay. We had to make it to camp on time, else, we would miss the evening game drive.
Elephants, hornbills, hundreds of impala and a Cape Buffalo (who only showed his butt) were seen along the road as we drove to Imbali. Half way into the journey, the tired eyes finally shut and I took a much needed nap. The crackle of the radio woke me up. We were finally nearing our lodge. Minutes later we entered the driveway of the reception. Already quarter past four, I quickly chugged the welcome drink, fixed camera and lens, got introduced to my guide; Bradley, two lovely couples (who would also be part of the wonderful experience) and was off for the evening ride.
No sooner had we left the lodge, we were greeted by a huge Tusker and his two companions.
The huge male in the above image came so close to our vehicle, we were literally within touching distance from him.
In the two hours of safari, we saw numerous birds, plenty of impala, a herd of kudu, elephants, mongoose chasing a boomslang snake, a group of southern ground hornbill (highlight of the evening), even had a flat tyre and finally two lions. And this was just the start!
Three days and 6 game drives, stay tuned for the the Kruger series!