So here we are, my brother-in-law Callum and I, and its around 9am on a Tuesday morning. The temperature is over 30 degrees Celsius and there is not a cloud in the sky. We have escaped to the bush for a few days of self drive game viewing to celebrate his 40th birthday. “I have a favourite place near a turning circle, with a view point, where I normally stop for a drinks breaks” I tell him. Within ten minutes we are parking up, but I am, to be honest a little disappointed. There is a car already parked there and I selfishly wanted this space (a space as I now know it, using the words of Simon Barnes, as part of my ‘Sacred Combe’) for just us. A young man comes bounding over from the other vehicle and cannot wait to tell us. “There are two lions sleeping on the river bed below” I now felt a little bad about my selfish thought and thanked him with an appreciative smile. And looking down there they are, a large young male and an equally large female.
I made my tea, obviously being English, and Callum, being South African, made himself a coffee. Drinks in hand we climbed into the back of our bakkie (pick up truck) where we could get a slightly better view of the two lions sleeping approximately 500 meters down from us. They were best viewed through binoculars, but there they were. Closer and down below us were three white rhino. And on the opposite bank looking across the river were a few elephant happily browsing.
This proved to be a popular spot. A game viewing vehicle pulled up next to us and after friendly greetings and pleasantries between us we told him of the sleeping lions. He jumped out, spotted them, and beckoned his guests to join him out of the vehicle. He then asked if he could join us on the back of the bakkie as he thought there was something sleeping only a few meters from the lions. With great excitement he pointed out a black rhino. We sort of new what was coming next. The back of the bakkie was now full. A mixed crowd of males & females all sharing the excitement in a mixture of languages. It did not end there. A lady gave a shriek and we all turned around. Less than ten meters away a cheetah casually walked behind us. The next movement was three ground hornbill making a hasty exit upwards into a dead tree to avoid the cheetah.
With more pleasantries and a lot of smiles we helped all down from the back of the bakkie, said our goodbyes, and headed off back onto the soft dirt road. Within two minutes a very young lone impala raced through the bush next to us. We stopped, wondering if the cheetah was now in hunt mode? Looking in the direction where the impala came from stood a hyena. Then there were two of them. They broke into their distinctive laboured looking run and vanished. “Did you see that run behind our vehicle” Callum asked me. I had seen nothing, but Callum went on to describe what could have been a lone wild dog. Our friends in the game viewing vehicle were now heading back towards us. “Apparently there are wild dogs in the area and I want to show my guests the magnificent eight” the driver told us. Had Callum glimpsed one? More importantly what was the eight? Well the vehicle had seen: leopard, lion, black rhino, buffalo, elephant, cheetah & hyena. Just wild dogs to go!
On our last morning on our way to what was now ‘our’ favourite view point I spotted a Wildlife ACT vehicle. WACT are a volunteer group that I have spent time with who do an excellent job in the park monitoring endangered species. I pulled over and asked if there was news of any wild dogs in the area. We were invited to follow them as they were about to check a possible location. After parking we made our way on foot to the river bank. There down below the WACT team had already counted a full quota of eleven dogs. We watched for close to an hour as the pack interacted and played on the sand below. It was a very special sighting indeed. From there we now made our way to our favourite view point. We were alone for a while but were soon joined by two other vehicles. Then below us the final spectacle of a memorable birthday break. A herd of approximately fifty elephants crossed the river bed below us. The herd contained several small to tiny elephants which added to the dramatic scene.