What a morning we just had. The first two were a bit ‘disappointing’ regarding animal spotting. Let’s just say today made up for it! And it’s only noon.
As always, we left the camp by 3:50 am (yes, yawn) to check the signals on the beacon. MCM_ _’s (male cheetah, exact numbers won’t be mentioned by me) seemed to be rather near so instead of going straight to the wild dogs, Wihan decided to check his exact whereabouts first. It didn’t take us all that long to spot him! There he was, in the distance, walking away from the road we were on.
Cheetah may not make it to the official ‘Big 5’ but he sure is one of mine.
Because it was still dark, we couldn’t see too much of him and definitely not as long as I would have wanted. No need to say, no picture. Even though that wasn’t possible, the moment of seeing him was worth so much more.
We then proceeded further, to the Wild dog’s den. Just before we got to their residence, we heard some noise in the bushes on our right. We stopped. More noises were heard, and more. Munching, peeing, soft rumbles. Elephants for sure. All six of us sat very still in the car. Excitement was felt in all our bodies. We sat there for a while before female number one crossed the road into the bush on the other side of the road. She was followed by a tiny calf but not before she stopped on the road, had looked at us and must have communicated with the calf that it was OK to cross. And so, the little one did. He/she even started to hurry up a bit. They were followed by two other youngsters. Other family members followed and started munching away on the other side of us. We could still here there were other left where they had started crossing, so we waited. The waiting was no bore, I can assure you that much. What an amazing feeling to sit there in an open car, with one of the worlds’ most magnificent, smart animals all around you. Blessed for sure.
When we got to the dog’s den all but one (the female) had, of course, already left their place. We knew that as we had stopped by the cheetah first, elephant road block … wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
We have our ways to find the dogs of course… telemetry. We had soon caught up with them.
Every dog has its own distinguished markings, recognition points, colour scheme. And although there are ID sheets to learn who’s who, it is still up to you to find a way of recognizing each one. To me, there’s one that looks like Yoda (ears) and is a bit darker coloured, one has like a big Harness marking around the front necks and shoulder, the other has a big, black Spot(ty) on his tail. When I see all three together, I can (most of the time) say who’s who.
There’s also a female, I call her Alpha (because she truly is the alfa in this pack). She’s a bit smaller than the males. She’s also a bit darker so when I see her with Yoda it’s not easy at first to tell who’s who.
We got a strong signal from 2 males (Yoda & Harness). Number 3 (Spotty) was not to be heard off.
And sure thing, the 2 of them were feasting on a freshly caught young nyala. I am telling you they don’t really have proper table manners. But that’s a wild dog for you. They tore it apart in no time. In a way I am glad we didn’t see the kill, but on the other hand, that’s what they need to do to survive. Maybe we’ll come across a kill during the course of this amazing experience.
Usually there would be one dog keeping guard while the others eat. Taking turns on the guarding part. But this time around, since there were only 2 of them, they looked very anxious and were obviously not at ease. You could feel their nervousness. And we were also getting a bit worried about the whereabout of number 3. As the dogs took off into the bushes, who- calling, number 3 soon appeared. He looked very bloody and at first there was some doubt whether the blood was his or its preys. We sure established it was the prey’s. Relief.
They stayed with us for a while and I cannot begin to tell you how I felt. I mean, we had seen glimpses of them before (which was awesome) but this was the actual moment where they are just there, for us to see and take in everything they are doing. How they seem to care for each other, communicating with each other, scent marking ..
You name it. We got to see it.
This pack doesn’t seem to have a significant alpha male. Which is usually how a wild dog pack works. You have the alpha female & male who lead the pack. In most cases they are the only breeding couple but of course, as always – and very well being so – there are exceptions. Mother nature never works according to the books. Suits me fine J
The three musketeers took off and went into the direction of their den. We followed them and not long after, Alpha took off.
Unfortunately, we had to leave them behind and move on. It’s not a sad goodbye of course and tomorrow’s another day 🙂 I kinda like the fact that I’ll be here for at least 10 more days. The only downside is that I have to miss my wild dog at home.
Who else could we scan for? So many animals we can check-up on. Wihan decided to scan for 2 males who are often seen together. And sure be! We found them not too far from the road we were travelling. As we drove closer, we spotted two magnificent beasts! They are huge and gorgeous. One has a scar on his mouth because of a snare so I quickly gave him the name Joker. The other one I still call by his ‘official number’. Maybe one will spring to mind later on during my stay.
They didn’t take any notice of us, at all, and we got to enjoy them for quite some time. One of them, not the Joker, was checking out a good looking nyala in the bushes. The Joker joined him, but no chase came from it. The ‘other’ went for a drink at the water pond and afterwards both of them took off together. Again, what a sight!
We didn’t follow them as there was no need to. The necessary data was recorded (more about that in a separate chapter) and we left them.
During this morning drive, we also came across a white rhino, tons of birds, impala, zebra, giraffe, … you name it. It was a very good morning.
The afternoon session was still about finding the female cheetah. She’s very good in keeping away from people. Which is of of course very good for her. Not so good for us as we haven’t been able to record her wellbeing. That afternoon / evening made no difference. We narrowed down where she was (though telemetry) but couldn’t get to her. All that we could do was sit and wait for her to move off. She did after a what seemed like a few hours (but I am sure it was no more than 1 2/2h). Tracking and monitoring is no safari! They have a saying here: this is Zululand, not Disney Land. If you want to see a lot of wildlife and them to be brought to your doorstep, you shouldn’t come here. Monitoring takes time, patience and perseverance.
In the end she did move from her spot but not to a location where we could see how she was looking & doing. Here whereabouts are all we have. And that’s ok.
Some of us ‘saw’ her through their binoculars but I didn’t. My camera caught a glance of her but since I didn’t actually see her, I am not counting this as a sighting for me.
A good day was had by all!