Rain Brings Wild Dogs to Sabi Sands

We woke up to some much-needed rain in Sabi Sands, South Africa. The area has seen a severe drought this summer — so severe that a local hippo declared Kirkman Kamp’s swimming pool its residence for a week until the staff finally managed to scare it off.

Game drives can go on rain or shine, and a few in our group decided to tough it out. We were eager to see some of the animals that come out in the rain, such as winged termites and the birds that feed on them.

We got in our ponchos and started out on a relaxed game drive. Besides termites and birds such as franklins, brown-headed parrots, a purple roller, and a rather wet and unhappy-looking tawny eagle.

About fifteen minutes into the drive, a kudu leapt across the road in front of us. We didn’t think much of it until several more quickly followed in its path.

“Wild dog!”

I don’t remember who shouted it first – our guide Ally or our tracker Richard — but all our heads spun in the direction from which the kudu were fleeing. There was a straggler in the back, and right on its tail a lone African wild dog sprinting through the scrub.

The dog moved so fast we didn’t have a chance to get good pictures, but we were too thrilled to feel disappointed. There are only about 220 wild dogs in the 250 million hectares that make up Kruger National Park and the surrounding reserves, so getting a single glimpse is an incredible treat.

Can you find the African wild dog darting back toward the brush?
Can you find the African wild dog darting back toward the brush? (Hint: look for a blur beneath the tree.)

However, where there’s one wild dog, a pack is usually nearby, so we decided to see if we could find the others. Ally radioed the other guides to let them know what she’d seen, and a few minutes later another tracker found additional pack members. We joined up with them and I took this video.

I’m happy with how the video turned out, though it can’t convey the whole experience: the excitement of tracking such an elusive animal, the wet dog smell upon finding the whole pack, and the strange hooting sounds the dogs make to communicate with each other over long distances. It was a thrill to be among these rare animals — the kind of thrill one can only find on safari.

(This post was written by Kathryn Kingsbury, Ujuzi’s communications coordinator.)

 

Featured Lodge: &Beyond Ngala Tented Camp, South Africa

&Beyond Ngala Tented Camp, Ngala Private Game Reserve on the western edge of Kruger National Park, South Africa

Situated in Ngala Private Game Reserve on the western edge of Kruger National Park, &Beyond Ngala Tented Camp never lets you forget that you are in the wild.

Yet there is nothing primitive about this chic and contemporary camp. Ngala is a true safari experience where guests go to bed to the sounds of lion calling, safely cosseted in modern tented suites and pampered with the warm-hearted service that embodies the soul of South Africa.

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Twenty thatched cottages with shaded verandas nestle among the trees, ensuring the perfect privacy of your retreat. The romance of canvas, with big night sounds and flickering lanterns lighting the camp grounds, mingles with the simple sophistication of polished wooden decks, textured fabrics and clean lines.

&Beyond Ngala Tented Camp, Ngala Private Game Reserve on the western edge of Kruger National Park, South Africa

Nature is never far at &Beyond Ngala, with breakfast and lunch served in the shade of an enormous weeping boere bean tree. A walled courtyard provides a sheltered space to indulge in sumptuous cuisine, while the boma creates a dramatic setting for fire-lit dinners. An afternoon by the poolside rewards you with a refreshing dip as well as blissful relaxation time. Secret nooks and crannies with cushy sofas are ideal for quiet hours of contemplation in the leafy shade.

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Ngala Private Game Reserve supports a great diversity of animals, and one species of animal seen daily is the lion, or “ngala” in the local Shangaan language. There are several lion prides that patrol this reserve and many of the lions are known by name to the rangers. The reserve is also particularly known for packs of endangered African wild dogs.

&Beyond Ngala Tented Camp, Ngala Private Game Reserve on the western edge of Kruger National Park, South Africa

“The Finest Trip of My Life”

Bill Starr has jumped out of airplanes. Every year, he goes fishing in Alaska among wild bears. But he says no experience compares to a balloon ride over the Serengeti: “There were animals as far as the eye could see – wildebeest, zebra, ostrich, hyenas. Nothing tops that. I could tell you about that balloon ride until the cows come home, but you really have to see it to believe it.”

Starr, who lives in Billings, Montana, went on an Ujuzi safari to Tanzania with his wife and six friends in February. It was his first trip to Africa, and he’d spent much of the previous year reading about Tanzania and its wildlife to get ready. “But nothing can prepare you for it,” he says. “The trip was beyond my expectations. It’s one thing to look at pictures of animals. It’s another thing to be standing there with them right next to you.”

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In Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a male lion walked right up to his group’s slowly moving vehicle to inspect it. At Tarangire National Park, they came upon a pack of 27 African wild dogs – a sight so unusual that even their guide was over the moon at the encounter.

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While staying at Kikoti Safari Camp, located on a scenic hill outside of Tarangire National Park, the group took a morning hike in the camp’s wilderness reserve. They saw baboons, impala and even a Cape buffalo. A guide carried a spear in case any of the wildlife became hostile, but all of their encounters were peaceful thanks to the guides’ experience in wilderness treks and reading the body language of animals.

Starr’s group also took a night game drive, allowing them to see many animals rarely seen during the day. These included bush babies, tiny nocturnal primates with huge eyes and a baby-like cry; and springhares, rodents that look like a cross between a kangaroo and a rabbit but are not directly related to either.

Staying at a mobile tented camp called Zebra Camp was an integral part of what made the safari so memorable, says Starr. The camp moves with the wildebeest migration, and Starr’s group spent three nights there while visiting the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Serengeti. “The Zebra Camp was outstanding. There is nothing that can top living next to the Serengeti in a tent, and the service was excellent.”

Even though the camp moves frequently, it was incredibly comfortable – with real beds, showers with hot water, chemical toilets that were cleaned out daily, and electricity from a generator. Even though it was in the middle of the wilderness, the service and incredible food were on par with with a luxury hotel’s. “We had a fantastic chef,” he says, recalling the sculptures that the kitchen staff would carve out of the melons they served at breakfast.

Starr says he would recommend Ujuzi “to anyone planning a safari to Tanzania. It was the finest trip of my life. We saw every animal that we desired up close and personal. And our guides, Modi and Amini, were excellent. We felt like they were family by the end of the safari. ”

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Thank you to Bill’s friend John Traeger for allowing us to share some of his photos from the trip!

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