As the first rays of sunshine filtered through the clouds there was a general content silence at Tumbeta House. The coffee, tea and lemon water was being enjoyed while everyone had a moment of quiet contemplation before putting the cups down.
“Right, let’s head out and see what’s out there” – said Tristan Dicks, the private guide leading this trip.
This was the third morning of our very first private guided safari at Tumbeta House in the Sabi Sand since the pandemic started and we couldn’t have asked for a better group of guests to share this experience with. The ability of enjoying the light, dust, sounds and rhythm of nature on its own became the theme of our safari. There was no rushing around but rather taking the opportunity to sit, to wait, to listen and to learn from nature and from everyone in our group while we observed the stories of everyday life in the wilderness unfold before our eyes. Our patience was often rewarded we enjoyed being truly immersed in nature and becoming spectators of intimate wildlife moments.
On this particular morning we set out looking for the endangered wild dogs. They had been spotted the day before and chances were they’d still be around since this pack, the Pungwe Pack, had 11 pups “slowing” them down. As we stopped to enjoy the company of a crash of rhino, our tracker William announced he thought he could hear dogs. Mike, our guide, and Tristan managed to pinpoint where the sounds came from and as we headed in that direction the call came on the game drive radio that the pack had been found near a waterhole.
As we arrived to the area, the most chaotic and beautiful scene was before us. Three adults were looking after the pups who were running around, play fighting over sticks and duiker heads, pulling each other by the tails and generally just being full of beans. Wild dogs can be very vocal creatures and their games were accompanied by a succession of high-pitched chirps and squeaks – not quite what you’d expect from an animal so similar to a domestic dog! Even Tristan let slip an, “they’re so cute man” as he contemplated the scene.
We spent our time besotted with the antics of the little ones (it was hard to keep up with everything they were doing!) and soon enough the other three adults returned from their morning hunt. Excitement all around as the puppies ran to the returning adults and started begging for food which the adults promptly regurgitated for them. It’s a fascinating behavioral trait of wild dogs and a special moment to witness. Unlike most young animals, the food wasn’t enough to send the pups into a food coma, but rather gave me them extra energy to carry on running around all around us for another hour.
There was a moment of tension as the begging cries of the pups attracted two hyenas nearby. While the hyenas approached the area inquisitively looking for the potential remains of a kill, the alpha female wasted no time chasing the hyenas far and long to ensure the protection of her little ones. The hyenas didn’t bother them again.
After some in-depth discussion about wild dog behavior and conservation that lasted our entire morning safari, we then decided to leave the pups as they were finally settling in the sand for a well-deserved nap. Plus we could smell the bacon calling us from camp!
That afternoon we decided to head towards a young female leopard that had been found not too far from where we were with the wild dogs earlier that morning. This female had apparently made a kill (tough day for antelope species!) and so we decided to bake under the sun patiently waiting for her to awaken from her slumber and head back to her kill. Our patience once more was rewarded as she led us back to a grass-covered impala carcass – a clever tactic deployed by leopards to hide their kills from prying eyes and powerful noses.
We spent time watching her cut through the skin and feed on the carcass and then, all of a sudden, her head was up. There was a frantic look in her face and although she could not see them, we could tell she knew someone was approaching.
“A more experienced female would have dragged the kill to the base of a tree instead of covering it up here and feeding in this spot; there isn’t much she will be able to do from here if something comes. I’ve seen more experienced females drag their kills to the base of a tree in order to be able to hoist the carcass to safety from any other predators” – explained Tristan.
Upon sniffing the imminent approach of the dogs, the leopard named Tlalamba, looked around for any potential trees where she could take her kill to, sadly there were non close by for her to put her kill into safety. With the wild dogs closing in on her, she dropped the carcass and ran at an incredible speed to the nearest tree – with a wild dog following her tail closely. Tlalamba then watched from the safety of a Marula tree as the wild dogs finished her kill. It was some consolation that she had managed to have her fill before the kill was stolen from her. What would have lasted the leopard a couple of days, disappeared in a couple of minutes by the wild dogs.
Although we couldn’t help but feel sorry for the Tlalamba losing her meal, we knew immediately where the adult wild dogs were heading back to, there were 11 hungry puppies who would have been very grateful for this easy meal.
If you’d like to join one of our 2021 private guided safaris contact us for more information.