Ethan Kinsey Safaris

Adventures in East Africa

Posts tagged Wilddogs
Spring in Ruaha
 

Same baobab tree, 11 days apart, slightly different angle.

Ruaha is just that far away that it doesn’t make it into enough of my safari itineraries. This year I was fortunate to have two back to back safaris in Ruaha, giving me two weeks in the park at one of the best times to be there.

I’ve written about Ruaha in other articles about walking safaris or exploring the more remote areas of the park. However over these two weeks, most of the time I spent was in the core area- a triangle between the escarpment, Mdonya River, and Great Ruaha River. Being the end of the dry season, water had ceased to flow in the Ruaha and elephants, warthogs, zebra and baboon dug in the sand rivers to get at the cool water that flowed beneath the sand. The predators staked these points out, waiting in ambush, for whatever prey overcome by thirst would venture too close without a careful scan.

Within a few days of me being there, the rains came. Big, violent thunderstorms that brought with them relief. Change was overnight. Areas that had been doused with water began the transformation into an emerald paradise. Fragile buds pushed through the soils crust, the tips of dead-grey branches began to bud, while other plants threw sprays of fragrant blossoms that filled the air with the scent of jasmine.

The following images and videos were all taken with my phone (for more and better quality follow me on instagram @tembomdogo

A herd of impala resting in the shade.

Combretum longispicatum blossom.

A delicate Ribbon-wing lacewing is our dinner guest.

Magic.

Scadoxus multiflorum is a great Latin name for this Fireball lilly.

The incredible light- what you can't see is the fragrance of jasmine that was drifting in the air from the blossoms of this bush.

Fresh growth on Combretum apiculatum.

Sesamothamnus blossom- another fragrant beauty.

Lillies on a walk.

Never smile at a crocodile- unless you're a Ruaha lion that specializes in hunting crocodiles.

You have to get out and walk to find this baobab tree that is growing out of a rock!

 
Happy New Year
 

In my attempt to share experiences I find myself often writing trip reports that read a bit like a fill in the blank story. “I went to …., and I saw … Then I went to… and I saw …”. The wildlife viewing on the last back-to-back safaris was phenomenal. The list itself is impressive, but the experiences themselves were unbelievable. It seemed that every day topped the previous, and we couldn’t imagine how it could go on… but it did. I don’t want to get into the list, but I’ll write about a few select highlights.

Happy New Year- Day 2. Rubondo Island. Cats. Late for Lunch. An Unusual Hyena.

A Happy New Year!

As I opened the game viewing roof of my car at 5:30 a.m., a chilly wind sent shivers down my spine. Had I really convinced my guests to get up before sunrise on New Year’s Day? The sighting of 13 African wilddogs on a kill by other guests the evening before was enough to persuade me to enthuse my guests to get up for an animal they’d never heard of. After a quick cup of coffee, and with dawn quickly threatening over the horizon, we crept out of camp. A Kori bustard displaying the white of his under tail stood out in the darkness as I wove my car across the wildebeest migration trails along the edge of a large depression. Lappet-faced vultures roosting on Acacia trees stood out against the changing sky.

I stopped every few hundred meters and stood on my seat, elbows rested on the roof of the car, binoculars pressed against my face looking for a sign; the typical formation of wilddogs heading off on a hunt, the flash of white tail tips, panicking gazelle or wildebeest… something. A zebra brayed, and my binoculars scanned in his direction and caught a familiar trot that indicates danger. It was still a little too dark so I had to stare longer than usual to allow the opportunity for my eyes to adjust. But there they were. It is truly a beautiful moment and a nostalgic one for me which brings back memories of chasing wilddogs in Piyaya. What a thrill… my first wildlife sighting of the New Year was a pack of wilddogs.

Instagram

Few first time visitors to Africa understand the magic of wilddogs. Once common in the Serengeti, their population has struggled throughout Africa as a result of persecution from pastoralists and contact with domestic carnivore diseases. As co-operative breeders, only the alpha male and female breed The need at least 4, if not more, helpers to help raise their pups. Sharing their food through regurgitation and the constant reinforcement of the hierarchy through facial licking has made them vulnerable to diseases that can easily wipe out the whole pack.

The obligation to regurgitate, especially to feed puppies and dogs higher in the hierarchy means that the members of the pack generally get hungry at the same time. It’s predictable, and there’s usually a leader who sets off quickly followed by the rest of the pack. There’s no patient stalking and waiting like the cats, or strategic flanking like the lions. Instead it’s a bold trot in a loose arrow-head formation with no attempt to hide. It must be one of the most terrifying moments for a gazelle, impala, or wildebeest. The pace increases with sightings of prey and, once an individual is selected, can reach 60km/h, kilometer after kilometer. Prey has little chance, but it is exhilarating to follow.

We sat with the dogs for nearly two hours, watching them play, their curious nature bringing the younger pups closer to the vehicle. The alpha male guarded the female and I suspect that within the next couple months they will be whelping and the pack will grow by 8-12 puppies.

Piyaya puppies (2007)

 
Wilddogs and Camels

My latest adventure was a safari designed by Charlie Babault. Starting in Maasai Mara we had spent four nights watching migrating wildebeest and zebra, driven long distances with picnics and taken naps along the river. We then spent a couple of nights in Nakuru National Park capturing great images of flamingo, white and black rhino, and watching lions and leopard. Driving from Nakuru to Laikipia had turned into a longer drive as unexpected rains forced us to detour, but gave us a good feel for the vast wilderness in Kenya. We’d arrived on a road that petered out to nothing as we pulled up to a host of Laikipia Maasai waiting for us.

(Zebras in the red-oat grass)

(Flamingos in Lake Nakuru)

(Siesta along the banks of the Mara river)

(Camp in Nakuru)

As I stood alone on top of a granite outcrop, watching a dramatic sky and landscape change as evening crept in, baboons climbed the biggest granite outcrops, bickering for the best roosts and a lone white-necked raven cawed as the darkness and silence set in. We had arrived on a beautiful piece of land just south of the Ewaso Nyiro River in northern Kenya. The next morning we headed off on a long morning walk while the camels moved camp. Three camels accompanied us should anyone tire or feel like riding.

That night, the Maasai sat around the fire watching buckets of smokey water heat for the guest’s showers, murmuring and sipping on camel milk chai. A chef diced vegetables for a wonderful dinner he was preparing, all the while watching his metal box oven covered in coals, taking care not to burn the fresh bread. Everything had arrived on camels that had been hobbled for the night.

The next day we set off on the walk after a wonderful breakfast. The rains on the previous day had cleaned the ground and we picked up fresh hyena, caracal, kudu, and warthog tracks. We talked of the animals, the plants, and insects that we found along the way. In a sudden clearing we stumbled upon our new camp, fully set up. The camp chairs sat under a flysheet looking out across the bush, the tents were tucked under trees, and a table had been set with campfire baked pizzas.

Another highlight materialized as I left the next day to drive to Meru National Park. Not 10 minutes out of camp I drove around a corner to find African Painted Hunting dogs, otherwise known as wilddogs as they regrouped around a large male impala they had just killed. I am very fond of wilddogs and this sighting allows me to boast, having now seen members of 3 of the 4 largest populations of wilddogs in Africa.

Meru National Park proved to be another beautiful corner of Kenya where we closed the safari sitting on the banks of a river, reading and fishing as the sun set.

Photographic Memories: Ruaha Part I

I was recently handed an i-pod that had a year’s worth of photographs from Ruaha National Park that I thought I’d lost. Flicking through them, I realized how significant the events that the images recorded were in steering me in the direction to where I am now. I’d never had time to edit them and as I touched up the images and took an inspirational trip through the memories.

The rains end in April and early May and by June the long grass has turned golden. The grass seed-heads are mature and many of the trees start to lose their leaves or are turning red- its Africa’s version of autumn. Distant waterholes have started drying up and the Ruaha River takes on its role as the animals slowly return to the floodplains.The surface water on the Mwagusi Sand River is limited to a few spots that become wallows for elephants and regular drinking troughs for huge herds of buffalo. The skies are clear of dust and smoke and the last clouds depart as the dry sets in.

Stunning sunsets... and spectacular light.

The large buffalo herds coming down to drink in the Ruaha river towards the end of the dry season when the water flow is nearly stopped.

and magical light like this...

The toothbrush combretum has the most beautiful flowers and seed pods loved by kudu and giraffe- but some of the most beautiful were the various seed pods that we would dry and use to decorate the camp.

Living in camp for months on end, these little things began to fascinate me and the appearance of snakes would always cause a great deal of excitement among the other staff there. I managed to capture some beautiful images of these spectacular creatures.

This puff-adder was so cold in the morning sun and the buffalo weavers wouldn't give it a break.

And of course the wild dogs... my first encounters with them. Ruaha has one of the last viable populations of these beautiful and fascinating creatures.

The morning they ran through camp and stole the back off one of the safari chairs.

Typical mid-day behavior in the shade.

A classic greeting frenzy...

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