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Safari at Ngala, November 2014

We've spent the last two years on safari for Thanksgiving, so it seemed appropriate to head out again for our third (and final) South African Thanksgiving. One of our earlier guides at Kirkman's Kamp (in Sabi Sands) had raved about Ngala, so we thought we'd check it out. Ngala is in the same general area -- on the western edge of Kruger, and about 6-7 hours from Pretoria.

We figured that this was a great time to go: at the end of the dry season, vegetation has died down and it's easy to see longer distances through the bush. Also, water sources have dried up over the summer, so animals all congregate at the same watering holes, so you see a ton of animals together.

All good, except... it turns out that in the case of Ngala, all of those animals must've taken off and crossed the border into Kruger!

We've gone on safari a lot, and rarely seen as few animals as we did here. We took six drives (plus a few bumbles and walks), and came back nearly empty-handed on many of them. We had a few good sightings -- in particular a leopard playing with and eating a cute vervet monkey, and a baboon catching and eating a rabbit -- but it was slim overall. Ngala seems like a good place -- friendly staff, great food, all that -- but as far as animals go, we must've just hit it at the wrong time.


Slideshow (big images)

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On safari... crocodiles, baboons, and a hyena den

What do you do if you're a baboon, and you want to pass a croc?
Walk carefully!
Our guide Elliot. He was hired in 1994 and was the first black ranger at Ngala (and still one of the few). He learned about animals from his father.

"When I retire, I want to go back to my village. They're very poor there. I want to be a farmer, and make food for all of them.

My kids, they're doing well in school. I send them to a private school. They do well on the exams, but I tell you this: they fail their home language. Everything else -- maths, geography, life skills -- 80s and 90s. But Tshivenda, they fail."

At the watering hole (or closer, a gravel pit).
We saw this lion with her cub at night, but she was hiding when we returned several times during the day.
Tree scorpion at night! This one lives in this particular tree year-round.
Frog eggs! They sit here for some time, and then fall in the water to hatch.
Baboon feasting on a baby rabbit! Apparently this is quite rare: they eat a lot of birds and mice, but rabbits are pretty uncommon. We saw it catch the rabbit, or at least chase it across the road in front of us.
Orchids (?) in a tree.
Piper had her GoPro with her... dry-run for taking it to Madagascar, with monkeys standing in for lemurs.
We're in the vehicle with Thomas, Nadia (?), and ___, who flew up from Joburg.

The Eastgate airport outside of Hoedspruit services the game lodges. It also used to service NASA -- it's a super-long runway, and was a Space Shuttle backup landing strip. There were a lot of these in Africa: Zaire, The Gambia, Liberia, Algeria, Cape Verde, and Morocco also were available as emergency sites, although none of them were ever used.

I do not know who is under the blankie.
A couple of elephants...
Astro in the safari truck. "STOP TAKING PICTURES DADDY!"
OK! I'll take pictures of baby rhinos running instead.
A bunch of hyenas. These were cool, and we did see a lot of them.
We headed off to a hyena den, which was pretty neat... we've seen a lot of hyenas individually before, but never a den.
At the den we found about a dozen hyena pups (and several moms) playing and chasing each other. NB: despite the appearance, hyenas are clsoer to mongooses than to dogs.


Driving along the road, Elliot saw some ground hornbills (*), and some monkeys making a ruckus in the trees. "The monkeys see those hornbills... the birds can go in and grab a baby."

(*) Which by themselves are quite rare -- this is the first time I've ever photographed them.

We investigated a bit further.
Turns out it wasn't the hornbills scaring the monkeys!
This leopard had apparently caught a baby vervet monkey just before we got there.
The monkey was not dead -- only bloody -- and the leopard was playing with its toy.
Then it was time to bring it up the tree.
Play with it some more...
Chew its head...
Tasty tasty!
The leopard dropped it on the ground, carried it back up, dropped, carried, dropped... over and over again.
Until it finished it off and headed away.
(Or was it a different leopard joining it -- I forget.)

Back to snacks

Some nice dung beetle action right next to our sundowner stop...

Birthday surprise time!

It was Thomas' birthday, and Nadia had surprised him by having the lodge plant a cake. We were told to stop at the site of the mysterious box hanging from the tree...

Partaking at the lodge...

Finn's triceratops is allowed to eat with us.

Cookie-baking time!

Finn went with us on most of the morning drives, while Astro stayed behind and slept. During the day, the staff offered to let them both make cookies in the kitchen. So of course, they went for it.
I agree: even though a rolling pin has two handles, it is not possible to share it.


Despite a couple of nice sightings, in general we had a real dearth of animals at Ngala. We went on six drives, and many of them we came back with a few impala and zebras and not much else. Usually the end of the dry season is good, but not here.

Here, we've given up on finding animals within the reserve, and are driving on the outside tar road.

Trying to track some lions on foot.
"Nothing out there... come back."
We did some crazy driving through the brush on our last morning.
But still managed to come back empty-handed.
Piper and Heidi returning from a bush walk.
Watching the water buffalo back at the lodge...

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Henry Throop

Last modified Fri Jan 23 09:17:32 2015