After a long drive on the N4 from Joburg through heavy rain, we finally dropped down into the Lowveld and were welcomed by blue skies and a noticeable temperature increase. We arrived at the bridge overthe Crocodile River heading to Malelane gate and instantly I took in a deep breath because this is the place where I feel most at peace and where I can simply relax and breath!
We did a quick trip into the park for an hour before the gates closed and got 2 of the Big 5, rhino and ellies. In the dry river bed a small bird caught my eye and turned out to be a Dark-capped Bulbul with a touch of Leucism I think, some of it’s plumage being white instead of its normal colouring.
We did two bush walks while in the park, the first being at Berg en Dal camp and the other at Lower Sabie. The major highlight of the walks was walking into a breeding herd of Buffalo. I have done approaches like this before and they were great, but something was different this time, I just absolutely loved it. The Buffalo in a breeding herd are fairly relaxed and curious. You can walk up to them and they will also walk up to you, keeping a distance of approximately 15-20m between them and us. They approach you only to try figure out who and what you are and to decide if you are a threat or not. They inch closer and the noses go up in the air to sniff us out and eventually if something spooks them, they spin around and put foot running to a distance where they feel safe, and then will immediately start approaching again. Even when we turned to walk away they continued to follow us for a while just to make sure they constantly knew where we were and that we were not a threat.
Another huge highlight on the walk out of Lower Sabie camp was sitting on the rocks on the banks of the Sabie River to have our breakfast stop. Sitting in the Sabie River! How amazing is that!
As we continued our walk our lead guide spotted some Kudu far off on the opposite side of the river; shortly there after he spotted a lioness following the kudu. Obviously this created great excitement within the group of 7 people as everyone moved quickly to get to a spot where we could all see the action. Somehow in this rush all 6 people walking ahead of me, walked straight over a dead African Rock Python on our pathway. I honestly don’t know how they did it, it was a fair size snake, how did they not even step on it! The snake was headless with the head lying down by the tail and the head/neck side had already started to be eaten and the ribs (I guess) were visible. It looked fairly fresh still so perhaps we had actually scared off the predator who caught this creature. Seriously, but how did everyone miss this right in the path of their feet!!!! The lion sighting was cool too…the lioness made a half hearted attempt at chasing the Kudu but very quickly turned around and walked off.
The major mammal highlight for the weekend was two separate sightings of Wild Dogs. The first sighting was on the tar road just North of Afsaal picnic spot. We could only see maybe 5 dogs in the pack but most were lying flat under the bushes. One walked across the road so we had great sightings of him which continued even as he lay down in the grass too. We stayed with the dogs for ages, and noticed that so many people who drove passed didn’t seem that excited to see the dogs, only stopping for a few minutes before moving on until on a couple of occasions we were the only vehicle left there.
Our second Dog sighting the next day was just South of Afsaal, at Renosterpan, but seemed to be a much bigger pack. A lot more of the dogs were out in the open, and slightly more active. The people viewing the dogs here also seemed more genuinely interested in the dogs and realised the importance of what they were witnessing; these dogs after all, are a very endangered species.