Notes for readers:
- Diary entries are written in first person as they were composed in real time.
- The “we” refers to me and a lifelong friend, Razz Rasberry, who has always wanted to see African wildlife.
- This is one of a series of posts chronicling my March, 2020 visit to the Kruger over 11 days and 10 nights.
- For reference, I posted the below map of Kruger National Park
Razz and I drove from Satara to Orpen at 530am, first out of the gate when it opened. I was hoping to find Lions, Cheetah, and possibly African Wild Dogs, all species I had seen on that 40 or so km stretch in years past. Two years ago I had a pack of dogs run with me on that road one morning for several kilometers.
African Wild Dogs are, like Cheetahs, rarely seen in the Kruger. The mutts number in the low hundreds. Cute as they look behind the safety of windshield glass, wild dogs are indiscriminate meat eaters. People are on their menu, and the dogs’ razor sharp teeth and strong jaw muscles would certainly eviscerate a human with no trouble should we get out of the car.
However, it was misting rain and unusually cool (65° F.) for summer in the Kruger, and we drove the entire distance to Orpen seeing only some baboons and a large black mongoose.
Orpen Camp is also a Kruger Park gate which many private safari truck operators use to bring day trippers in for a look at the wildlife. Razz and I stopped for caffeine and found ourselves mingling with young Germans and other nationalities about to embark on such a drive. The surprisingly good coffee was poured at a tiny java bar adjacent to the modest camp store.
After our break, we got back on the road to return to Satara. I’d plotted a slight detour on a gravel road hoping to see at least an elephant or two. About 2 kilometers off the main road I was slowed by one of the day tripper safari trucks hogging the lane and puttering along at a snail’s pace. The driver-guide was no doubt regaling his paying guests with Kruger lore and not paying attention.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, a pack of 8 African Wild Dogs appeared on the road from our left between us and the slow-moving safari truck. I yelled out “WILD DOGS!” prompting Razz to grab his cameras and began to click away. I did the same with my camera phone.
The safari truck folks caught in pretty quick and backed up to catch the scene. The dogs moved to the front of their truck, blocking our view. I thought we had seen the last of the dogs as it was blocked by the big truck, but some of the girls on board suddenly began to gesticulate behind us and must have implored the driver to back up. They had spotted a hyena coming up the road and wanted to see it.
I moved left enough on the wet dirt road (it was drizzling) for the safari truck to reverse on my right, and when he did, I saw my chance to flank him and get ahead to stay with the dogs. Apparently, the young ladies on the truck failed to comprehend their Kruger lessons that Wild Dogs are rare, unlike the Hyena, a predator that far outnumbers the dogs.
Soon Razz and I were in the midst of the Wild Dogs, as these pictures attest. After a long private period with the dogs all around us, we moved on to let others have a chance, but not before getting close to the hyena that had ambled up and which seemed curious about the dogs. Below, the hyena is pictured staring at the wild dog pack.
Razz’s luck seeing wildlife hit a new high with the dogs. After seeing Leopards twice and a Lion, plus Hyena and all the other species I’ve reported the last few days, he was missing only Cheetah and Rhino to fill out his Kruger dance card.
We drove on to the Timbavati picnic area on another dirt/gravel road in order to make a big loop back to Satara. En route we saw Impala, Wildebeest, Zebra, Giraffe, Elephant, Waterbuck, a family of black Mongoose, Vultures, many other birds, a Klipspringer or a Steenbok (I couldnt be sure), and the Hyena I mentioned that was following the dogs.
I thought we were done for the days after seeing the African Wild Dogs because Razz’s luck must have limits. I was wrong.
After seeing Wild Dogs by 830am, I didn’t think Razz’s luck could top that, let alone on the same morning. But after leaving the Timbavati picnic site, we took another gravel road that loops back to Satara and almost immediately came across two Cheetahs.
Cheetah! Along with Wild Dogs, one of the rarest large carnivores to be seen in the Kruger. And now we had seen both in the space of perhaps 90 minutes.
The two cats were loping quickly across the road. I accelerated to come parallel in order to give Razz a fast shot with his Canon SLR before the lanky animals disappeared into the tall grass. Razz got a nice picture, but the Cheetahs were gone before I could get to a stop and raise my Samsung S10+ phone camera. Here below is his photo.
Considering the steadily misting rain, overcast skies, speed of the cats, and fast reaction required to properly adjust the aperture and focus of the telephoto to account for conditions, Razz’s snap shot was excellent. I credit that to 60 years perfecting his photography skills.
Naturally, we were elated, just as we had been to see the Wild Dogs an hour and a half earlier. I started up the Toyota Avanza and continued on the gravel road that would lead us back to Satara. Along the way we stopped to photograph my favorite South African bird species, the Lilac-breasted Roller, as a pair hawked insects off the road, successfully, as you can see in the second of Razz’s pictures below.
At three or four kilometers beyond the Cheetah sighting we rounded a curve and saw two lions on the road, a youngish male with a partially grown mane and a female.
LIons! After seeing Wold Dogs, Cheetahs, and a Hyena. Again, I was astonished at our luck.
Both Lions were showing ribs and looked thin. I took the pair to be mother and offspring. No signs of a pride nearby, and they obviously had not eaten in some time. We paced them for a kilometer as the photos attest, then moved off the road.
All together, a thrilling morning of wildlife. I want Razz to come with me on every Kruger trip from now on. His luck has been phenomenal, and he is excellent company to boot. Razz’s stories as we drive along looking for animals (about 1200 kms so far) are engaging, funny, and full of human warmth. We grew up together and were in every grade from Kindergarten until Razz went off to Woodberry Forest for high school, but I’d forgotten what a grand raconteur he is.
In addition to African Wild Dogs, Cheetah, Lions, Hyena, and the other critters mentioned earlier, we saw Buffalo, Bataleur (new species today), Giraffe, Zebra, Wildebeest, Warthog, Impala, Black-backed Jackel, and 6 more Leopard Tortoises. Probably more, but that’s all I recall.
The last photo attached is of our rondavels at Satara Camp by the perimeter fence, with the African wilderness beyond the fence. Good depiction of how we are in the zoo while the wildlife roams free.
We do it all again tomorrow, getting up at 430am. Very early mornings are often the best time of the day to see wildlife in the Kruger.