Nature has the ability to inspire awe and there are moments while in the bush when I realize that what I am viewing is incredibly unique. These moments are oddly emotional and often difficult to describe, but I had this profound sensation as I watched 17 three month old wild dog puppies outside of their den during my recent visit to Ngala Tented Camp. Wild dogs are the second most endangered mammal species in Africa with an estimated population of 3,000 – 5,000 on the continent. Given their small numbers, just catching a glimpse of them is special, but being able to sit with them at their den and watch the pack return from a hunt to feed the puppies was incredible.
Wild dogs are pack animals that are organized in a hierarchical social structure dominated by an alpha female and alpha male and these two will form the only breeding pair in the pack. While the puppies are still young, the alpha female will remain with them in the den while the rest of the pack hunts. Wild dogs are incredibly skilled hunters and it is estimated that 80-85% of hunts result in a successful kill. It is a brutal affair ending with the animal (often still alive) being ripped apart and then quickly devoured in a matter of minutes.
Vehicles were only permitted to view the puppies four days before I arrived and only one at a time. I was at Ngala this same time last year and the wild dog pack moved the den the day I arrived. The new den was located whilst I was on my way to the airstrip for my departing flight. Being able to have this experience was pure chance and a reminder that anything can happen in the bush.
Our ranger hoped to time our arrival at the den with the pack coming back from the morning hunt and a mere minute after we arrived, the alpha female started calling the pups out from the den. Although the alpha female was still nursing, the pups had already started eating regurgitated meat. One by one the adults returned and regurgitate part of the kill for the pups and the alpha female to feast upon. Between the feeding, the puppies played with one another and at one point even tackled the alpha male. Playing serves an important purpose amongst the pack as it cements the social bonds between the animals.
While the wild dogs were certainly the highlight of the safari, we saw plenty of other game. Ngala means lion in the local Shangaan language and while the prides managed to elude us we were able to spend time with the dominant males. The three brothers were separated from one another so there was a lot of vocalization or calling. During one night it seemed as if the lions called nearly the entire night. This is one of the most amazing sounds in all of the bush and even though I have heard it many times, it will never get old.
Anyone who reads my blog knows that &Beyond is my go to choice when booking a safari because of the quality of the guiding, luxurious camps, amazing food, and superb service. Honestly, if you are looking to book a safari, you cannot go wrong with &Beyond. Ngala Tented is located on a private concession in the greater Kruger National Park that was donated to the park by the World Wildlife Fund. The concession is enormous and is unfenced meaning your ranger and tracker have to work harder to find game because of the distances animals can cover. Often your ranger and tracker will leave you on the vehicle while they follow-up on footprints, drag marks, or any other signs that indicate animals are nearby.
This camp thinks of every detail. On chilly mornings there were hot water bottles on the vehicle to keep us warm. There was a lovely morning bush breakfast cooked over a fire. With only nine tents, service is highly personalized. The camp is located along the Timbavati River and you are likely to see all sorts of game from the deck of your luxury tent. One afternoon as we had gathered for tea in the main area before heading out on drive an entire breeding herd of elephants ran past the lodge.
It is an incredible privilege to be able to experience the bush and after every safari, I find myself planning the next one. I guess it is time to contact &Beyond for ideas on my next adventure.