I am not a person prone to exaggerate so I wrote that title line quite carefully and thoughtfully but it really was the best day of game viewing in my life. We started out at 5:30am as our ranger (Daniel) said he likes to get out before everyone else as he can then choose the road and route he wants to drive. We were first out and not far out of the camp our tracker spotted tracks which he said were cheetah. Cheetah very seldom come onto the Kirkman’s land according to our ranger and so they were quite excited to see the tracks and so we abandoned our plans to go and revisit the lions and their buffalo kill and rather follow the cheetah tracks. They led us into a block we had to start off-roading in and our tracker jumped off the vehicle with a radio and started to track by foot. Our ranger then try to cover the remainder of the area in the vehicle but after about 5 minutes our tracker called in and said he had found a female leopard. Looking for cheetah, found leopard! So we found the tracker and then found and followed the leopard. It was a great sighting.
After we had finished with the leopard, another vehicle called in saying they had found Wild Dog. These are also very rare to see with only 200 Wild Dog in the greater Kruger area (of which Sabi Sands forms a part). Factor in that wild dog can run up to 50 km per day you can understand that they are very hard to see and if you do get a sighting of them it is usually for a brief time only. We found the dogs lying right near one of the roads and they weren’t going anywhere. It seemed that they had just killed something this morning themselves as some of them had blood on their faces.
We then headed to the river to find a spot for morning coffee only to find two male lions lying on rock across the river from the spot our ranger had thought to be a good one! We did eventually find another spot further down the river. After coffee we went to revisit the lion kill. On the way there we met some of the lions from the pride going to and from the river for a drink. They walked right past the vehicle. To explain how close they were it might be easiest to say that Daniel decided to chose the safety of the front seat next to the ranger on the evening drive (there might have been a wet patch on the seat at the back where he was sitting). They seemed to look us in the eye when they walked past. We also watched the dominant male trying to drag the carcass into the shade. There was still quite a reasonable amount of meat left on the carcass – probably enough for them to feed on for the rest of today. The smell was quite strong and the vultures were starting to arrive as well. Then we started to move back towards the camp and someone radioed to say they had found the cheetah whose tracks we had originally found. We went immediately to that sighting and found the cheetah on the move and stayed with it until it eventually settled under a tree. At this point we eventually headed back into the camp as it was 10am (4 hour 30 minute game drive!).
All of the action was interspersed with the ‘usual’ sightings of elephant, kudu, impala, buffalo, a hippo out of the water and of course the mandatory coffee break alongside the river where I managed to see a lifer (first time in my life bird sighting of Black Stork). That sighting took my to 395 lifers and was the first lifer I have had in about 18 months. We had a late breakfast at he lodge and then time off until 4pm for the evening game drive.
After two amazing game drives it was hard to see what extra we would be able to see that we hadn’t already seen on the other 2 drives. While we had seen rhino in the Kruger Park (and bucket loads of them), Pam and John had yet to see one and so that was at least one thing we needed to add. It was pretty hot still (it got to 39 degrees C today) and so we headed to the river as that was many of animals would likely be. On route our ranger got a call that another vehicle had seen Coqui Francolin. That was the first time I have had rangers call in a bird sighting but Daniel (our ranger) said he had only ever seen them twice and so the rangers were all keen to see them (and I think they knew I was keen to get some more lifers and this was definitely one I had not seen before either). We did find one just before it headed into the bushes and even though we tried to coax him out with a call we didn’t get another look. But it did take me to 396 lifers.
We also had a really good sighting of a herd of elephant alongside the river (including some baby elephants that we only about 6 months) and then when we were looking for a place for evening drinks alongside the river, we saw two rhino. So that was everything ticked off in one day. Daniel calls it the ‘Magnificent Seven’ being lion, leopard, cheetah, rhino, buffalo, elephant and wild dog. After the evening drinks we found a male leopard that the wild dog had chased up a tree. By the time we got there the leopard was out of the tree as the dogs had gone to hunt and the leopard was on the move. We followed it until it went into very thick bush and the Landrover was unable to follow. On the way back into camp we stopped to look at the stars which are really incredible in this part of the world. The use of iPhone apps makes it even easier to identify the constellations and individual stars.
Back to the lodge for Boma dinner which included Kudu potjie and then especially for John they brought Creme Brulee for desert (on top of the nights desert). This was because John had asked whether they would have Creme Brulee last night at dinner and so they made some especially for him (and the rest of us). John had proposed to Pam over a Creme Brulee so there was special significance. Dinner was ended with the local staff signing a few songs in Shangaan and then we were off to bed. About 20 minutes ago Michael knocked on our door and said there was a hyena on the lawn (we did see one last night near the lion kill and I think I failed to mention that) and then later Michael whatsapp’d to say the hyena had followed them back to their room (they had a guard with them – don’t panic).
It is 11pm and I need to wake up at 5am again so time to head for bed. Hopefully I will be able to upload a few photos from today (and I will try for one of the lion kill from last night again).
Until tomorrow …
P, H, M, D (he kept his mouth shut today when we saw the hippo), J & P