Shingwedzi Day 1
January 26, 2018

We have a book called Kruger Park Drives (recently published) and it rates each of the roads in the KNP. The road we planned to take this AM was rated 5-stars. And they were spot on.  We headed north toward Punda Maria and then took the dirt road (S56) that runs along the river (though only patches of water). The game was consistently spread over the course of the travel north. It started with the usual game but after about 10kms we took a slight bend and sitting right on the side of the road I saw a lioness.  We watched her for about 20 minutes as she got up, walked across the road, settled down again, got up walked further etc. It was clear she wasn’t going anywhere soon so we eventually left her.  Less than a kilometer down the road Helen said ‘Stop, reverse’ which I dutifully did and she cried leopard. It wasn’t a leopard actually but I forgave her because it was 3 cheetah in the river bed.  Not a bad start for the day.

We stopped for morning coffee at a picnic site and then turned back south toward Shingwedzi again. The terrain is more open with plains away from the river.  We saw 3 Tsessebe shortly after we turned south on these plains.  The most recent census showed that there are only 220 in the KNP. That is about an 1/8th of the number of lions and an 1/5th of leopard.  That’s just so you appreciate how rare sightings in the KNP are of Tsessebe.

We did also see a lot of buffalo on the drive this AM. I was just remarking on how big they are and how incredible it is that a lion can take one down when mid-sentence I stopped to cry ‘Lion’.  I reversed quickly but the one I saw has vanished and Helen hadn’t seen it! There was a ridge and it was walking along the ridge line. As I pulled forward we saw it again and then suddenly another 6 appeared as well. We spent another 10-15 minutes watching them until other cars came and then majority of the lions had gone over the ridge.  That just made it a ridiculous morning. Especially when you also add in that we saw an elephant shrew on the side of the road (after we had stopped to identify a bird) and a leopard tortoise walking across the road (two of the Small 5).

When it came time for the evening drive we had low expectations because we (a) had seen so much in the morning and (b) haven’t had great evening drives so far because it is still so hot. We decided just to drive down to the Kanniedood dam & bird hide. When Helen and I came to KNP before we had kids (about 23 years ago now!), Helen twice spotted leopard on that road and so we figured we should try again. While there was quite a lot of game scattered on the way to the hide, we didn’t see leopard. Helen wasn’t keen to get out at the hide as she said it was too exposed but I coaxed her out. We got into the hide and before I even had time to put my binoculars to my eyes, I saw a leopard walking out of the riverbed heading straight for the bird hide. Helen and I agreed best to get back to the car while we could still and so made a dash back. Of course Helen said ‘I told you I had a bad feeling’. We did unfortunately not see the leopard again.

This morning the lady in the shop asked whether we had seen the Wild Dog. They had been at the back gate of the camp but unfortunately we went out the front gate so we missed them. Turned out they too hadn’t traveled very far as they were lounging around in one of the pull-off spots on the road. There are only an estimated 120 wild dog in Park. Given there were about 10 of them in the pull-off, we almost saw 10% of them.

What an unbelievable day – tsessebe, lion, leopard, cheetah & wild dog! It will be hard to beat that day easily over the next week we are still here.  And what I forgot to say is that we saw another 5 tsessebe on the evening drive.  We are also now at 135 birds for the trip and 3 lifers.

This evening while I was braaiing, Helen shouted and I turned around to see a honey badger climbing the stairs of our hut. I know they can be quite vicious and so she tried to chase it but it simply ignored her (never a good tactic with Helen – I know!).  They can be quite a pest and it simply would not leave.  You had to aggressively chase it before it would leave (and it came back at least twice while we were finishing preparing and then again while we were eating.

Helen almost earned the top spot on the blog after spotting 3 cheetah. However, I think my 2 sets of lion, tsessebe & life-saving leopard spotting still keeps me ahead of her!

Until tomorrow

P & H

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