From the patio door, on our second morning at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, I saw dense fog hemming in the mountains and feared, at best, an overcast if not a rainy day. A glance at the clock revealed it to be only 5:30 a.m. Two hours later, the fog was lifting, and the sun bathed the hillsides in golden showers of light.
Our adventure that day would take us through Imfolozi Park, exiting at the Cengeni Gate, in order to drive south to Ulundi and onwards to Shakaland. Setting off from Hilltop Camp, we had a sweeping view of the surrounding landscape.
Barely underway, we rounded a curve in the road and found two African Wild Dogs trotting along the shoulder of the pavement. They exhibited no fear of our car and continued to mosey along.
African Wild Dogs are the most endangered carnivores in Africa. They require large territories and face a variety of threats including stock farmers, habitat loss and diseases contracted from domestic dogs.
African Wild Dogs are native to sub-Saharan Africa but by 2016, they had disappeared from most of their original range. Ongoing research and concentrated efforts to regrow the population are part of the reason that a radio transmitter collar is placed on any of the individual Wild Dogs that can be captured and released.
African Wild Dogs are highly social and usually travel together in a pack of at least 6 animals and up to 20 individuals, but within that group, there will be only one dominant breeding pair.
African Wild Dogs go by several different names including Painted Wolf, which stems from the animals’ Latin or scientific name. This refers to the mottled fur in shades of black, brown, yellow and white. The fur of each individual African Wild Dog has a unique colour pattern so they are readily distinguished, one from the other.
As in Kruger National Park, it seemed that keeping alert and having a keen eye rewarded us with wildlife sightings in the most unexpected places. As we crossed one bridge, a casual glance out the car window to admire the beauty of a muddy river had me noticing something that seemed out of place.
Further scrutiny of the river rocks revealed a gigantic Nile Crocodile basking in the sun. I remarked to Bob that to be swept into the river by a flash flood would likely end up being fatal if not for the raging waters but because of these giant amphibians. In Zululand, attacks on humans are fairly common.
Bob and I didn’t have to drive much further to come across a Blue Wildebeest at the edge of the roadway.
Differing from Black Wildebeests or White-tailed Gnus, Blue Wildebeests have a black tail and also go by the name Brindled Gnus. The other diagnostic feature that helps with differentiation between the 2 species is the orientation of their horns.
We had superior views of this Blue Wildebeest compared to the one we saw at Kruger National Park so were pretty pleased with ourselves as we moved on.
A female Kudu exhibits a similar silhouette to the male complete with a hump and mane,
so when this female Nyala crept out from the bushes to join the other animals, I knew we had something different. Its rufous-coloured hair with distinctive vertical white stripes the length of its body sets it apart from the female Kudu, as well as the fact that the Nyala has no mane or hump. We were indeed lucky to see this creature.
Wildlife viewing can occur in the strangest of places, and when nature called that morning, it was on the side of a building that a huge Stick Insect was resting. It drew me up short!
Stick Insects are some of the largest insects in the world, and specimens can sometimes reach up to 19 inches long with their legs outstretched! The individual that we observed was about 8 inches long.
Because a Stick Insect resembles just that, a wooden twig, its camouflage is very efficient when lurking in trees. That is a Stick Insect’s habit at night when it feeds on leaves. Some Stick Insects can fly and also change the colour of their bodies which might account for the location of this one above.
By early afternoon, we were south of Ulundi when fog totally enveloped the mountains and it started to drizzle. Upon exiting the car at Shakaland, near Melmoth, what a shock to the system!
The temperature had plummeted to a damp, chilly 16 Celsius. Luckily, Bob had an extra jacket that I promptly put on over my tank top and skirt. It saved the day for me. The tour of Shakaland was very educational and entertaining.
As we left for the return trip to Hilltop Camp late in the afternoon, the push was on to get back to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park before the gates closed at 7 p.m. A thunderstorm bore down on us,
and I couldn’t help but think of those hungry Crocodiles at the river bridge. I sure hoped for little rainfall. At the Nyalazi Gate, we discovered that our Park Pass was back at Hilltop Camp, so we had a few tense moments dealing with the gate attendant who refused to let us enter the Park. Bob and I heaved a huge sigh of relief when a senior official gave the okay.
Once back inside Hluhluwe-Imfolozi, Bob and I were sufficiently relaxed that we pulled the car over and snapped a couple of photos of this interesting pair of birds on an old weathered snag.
Turns out that this was a pair of Yellow-billed Kites that were taking advantage of the last daylight hours to survey their surroundings in hopes of catching some prey.
Just before a curtain of darkness descended over the land, we climbed the hill into Hilltop Camp. We were satisfied with our long day’s adventure.