Lying right in front of our vehicle are 14 wild dogs, including two pups.
“They have made their den on our property for several years now”, says Lee-ann, our game ranger, “we consider ourselves lucky and wait eagerly every year to see where they will den”.
Suddenly there is chaotic movement. The dogs are wagging their painted tails, licking one another’s mouths and yelping furiously. Each dog makes its way to the alpha female and submits to her by licking her and urinating in front of her. They all dive onto the two pups and give friendly bites and licks.
Then they are off, away from us, with furious yapping and tails raised. Off on the hunt!
The two pups remain behind, somewhat reluctantly it seems, and lie next to the termite mound where the pack has made their den. Lee-ann puts the vehicle into low range and follows the pack off-road.
Might we see a kill? Unfortunately for us they run onto the adjacent property, so we have to end our adventure.
Situated in the Timbavati area to the west of Kruger, Ngala Private Game Reserve has a large waterhole right in front of the lodge, where three large comfy couches allow my son, James, and I to see a breeding herd of elephants loping towards the water.
A squirrel is busy foraging near to us and several kinds of starlings hover in hopes of some crumbs. A line of terrapins amuses me; all lime green from the algae in the water. They are dead still, and look military in their precision. We don’t even need to leave this friendly lodge to see wildlife.
But could any sighting top that of the wild dogs, I wonder as we prepare for another game drive?
Lee-Ann is excited as we set off and tells us she has a surprise for us. We enter the bush on a seemingly random game path and suddenly we see several hyenas lying in the grass. Another den!
Here we watch three tiny hyenas gingerly advancing out of a hole in a termite heap. They are only a few days old, so are completely black and resemble furry teddy bears. They begin to suckle from the mother and we can even hear the little sucking, slurping noises they make.
Then three more pups appear which are a few months old, so are beginning to get their spots. An adult hyena rushes to one pup, bites the top of one leg and begins to shake it. The mother of this older pup dashes towards this interloper, who drops the pup and runs.
We are all shocked by this violence and Lee-ann says she has never seen that before. To avoid stressing the pups further we leave the sighting, revelling in the privilege of being so close to these efficient scavengers.
To our surprise, we see our butler and a chef next to the road. They have set up a table and are busy cooking pancakes for us in a skottle. We hop off the vehicle and are served tea and the fresh crepes with a choice of mascarpone, grated chocolate and cinnamon–sugar. Our stay at Ngala is sugared with these lovingly crafted surprises.
Together with Lee-ann and the other guests from our vehicle we later have a Boma dinner, enjoying lively conversation and the pleasure of dining under the stars. As the lodge is not fenced, we are escorted back to our cosy room, where candles have been lit for us, illuminating a plate of fudge and small meringues.
From bedtime treats to a packet of goodies for our journey back to Johannesburg, Ngala is the proverbial home from home. James and I are impressed with all we have seen during our stay, including a male leopard and a herd with hundreds of buffalos. We have seen the coveted Big Five and more besides.
For more information, visit www.andBeyond.com or call 011 809 4447.