Open any outdoor/travel-related magazine in South Africa and you are bound to come across photographic evidence of wonderful sightings of wildlife seen at Transport Dam, some 24 km from Skukuza in the Kruger National Park. It is a waterhole worth spending time at and this year was no exception – we happily parked there for five hours. Okay, there were no dramatic happenings, but there was always something to watch.
Before I get onto what we saw, this is what Transport Dam looked like in April 2015
And the shock that awaited us in September 2016, where the devastating effect of the drought is blatantly obvious.
Patience is required when watching nature reveal itself. The kudu were diffident, cautious about approaching the water, and left as soon as they had slaked their thirst. Impala, on the other hand, came and went in large herds – one of close to a hundred – carefully skirting the section of the bank where a crocodile basked in the sun.
At first one elephant made its way to the dam, sprayed itself with muddy water, drank deeply, and then walked further into the dam to submerge itself completely before leaving in a determined manner.
Later, another young bull arrived in a feisty mood, striding forward, scattering impala in its wake and sending the resident Egyptian Goose flying across to the opposite bank. He trumpeted loudly, chased after a few impala standing nearby, and then splashed himself with water, drank his fill and seemed reluctant to leave. I got the impression that it is no fun for a young bull elephant to drink by himself. Too true. He stood to one side and watched as, a while later, two other young bulls waded into the water. Greetings over and the fun began. The three elephants soon submerged themselves, climbed on top of each other, and were clearly having fun until – at some signal only they recognised – they broke away from each other and left abruptly.
A lone giraffe took a long time to make its elegant way through the sparse vegetation to the edge of the water. Caution meant that a good 45 minutes passed before it finally bent down to drink.
Several herds of Burchell’s zebra came to drink at one time or another, often with foals in tow.
Warthogs wallowed in the mud and two hippos submerged in the water would occasionally show only their noses or a fraction of their heads. It was the arrival of a white rhinoceros that caused a stir of excitement. Covered with up to twenty Red-billed Oxpeckers, it lumbered towards the dam, stopping short for a good mud wallow before slaking its thirst.
Blue wildebeest, vervet monkeys and waterbuck arrived and left during the time we spent at Transport Dam. For me, however, the most exciting event of all was when a Bataleur alighted right next to our vehicle. It returned there more than once and at one stage was joined on the ground by its mate.
I find it good for my soul to get right away from our home town now and then. The recent need to be in Cape Town provided a good opportunity for this. Ideally we would have liked to stop more often and to savour more of the countryside than we had time for, yet we saw all sorts of interesting things along the way.
There is something special about being on the road as the sun rises, casting long shadows across the veld and seeing the patches of thick mist rising from the low-lying areas as the day warms up. The long journey was enlivened by glimpses of impala grazing in open spaces in the bush highlighted by the sun. We also saw kudu, wildebeest, blesbuck, and zebra early on.
I was struck by the number of Cape Crows sitting on their untidy nests built on the telephone poles that march along sections of the road in the Western Cape as well as an abundance of Jackal Buzzards and Black Harriers. It was a thrill seeing a pair of Blue Cranes on our way down and then several more on our return journey. These are the national bird of South Africa.
An increase in the number – and size – of wind farms is noticeable. I wonder how effective they will be in terms of alleviating the current shortage of electricity in the country.
The Cape Town weather was kind to us: warm, clear and dry throughout our four-day stay. Time spent in the small suburban garden revealed Hadeda ibises (not at all concerned about being stalked by a calico cat), Redwinged starlings, Olive thrushes, Laughing doves, Redeyed doves, a Cape robin, Rock pigeons, Cape crows and an abundance of Cape White-eyes.
The latter flitted in and out of the trees throughout each day. On one particularly hot and dry afternoon, they delighted in the spray from the sprinkler turned on to water the lawn. It was a joy watching the white-eyes fly through the jets of water and perch on the branches of a fig tree while having a communal shower!
The return journey was equally interesting. A highlight was seeing a sizeable flock of White Storks. Nearer home we spotted eland, springbuck and, lastly, a group of giraffe so close to the road that C asked me to stop so that she could “see how giraffe eat”.
How satisfying it is to walk round the side of the house to the front door on our arrival at the end of a long journey and to see that the pompon trees have burst into bloom during our absence!
The other joy is that the Lesserstriped swallows have completed their replacement nest.
A full day later came the satisfaction of making a salad using lettuce, spinach, carrots and green peppers from our own garden. It is a relief that the purple basil seeds that germinated a few days before our departure are still looking sturdy. A garden bonus (I hope we will see the fruits of this) are gemsquashes spreading out their tendrils from the compost heap.
It is wonderful living in our nook of the Eastern Cape!
According to Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable a ‘dog in a manger’ refers to a mean-spirited person who refuses to let others use what is wanted by them, yet does not use it himself/herself. This in turn alludes to the fable of a dog sitting in a manger and not letting the ox eat the hay in it even though the dog would not eat it either!
It was at the Kameelsleep waterhole (71 Km from Nossob) in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park that we saw a Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta) exhibiting similar behaviour. This particular waterhole is in the form of a water trough, rather than a pool or dam, surrounded by the pale Kalahari sand.
The hyena was already standing in the trough and drinking when we arrived. The apparently tranquil scene included a small herd of Gemsbuck (Oryx gazelle) gathered near the trees and a single Black-backed Jackal (Canis mesomelas) positioned close to the water trough.
Every now and then this opportunistic creature would creep ever closer and even mount the edge of the trough to try and get to the water.
Each time it would be rebuffed by the hyena and retreat with a submissive stance to either curl up on the ground for a while or remain standing a short distance away. The jackal kept a sharp focus on every move of the hyena.
The hyena meanwhile had clearly had its fill of water and simply remained standing in the trough. Once it got out, but as soon as the jackal darted closer it stepped right back into the water!
This impasse continued for some time.
A small group of gemsbuck, however, detached themselves from the herd and gave the impression of ganging up against the hyena and marching it off their territory! They did this by grouping closely together with their heads lowered. It was in this fashion that they walked steadfastly behind the hyena for some distance before returning to the waterhole to join the others in the dappled shade.
In the absence of a suitable guide book in the shops within the Park, we were pleased to have brought the 2013 edition of Go! Kgalagadi with us. It was from this publication that we learned that the name Kameelsleep comes from it having been the place where the last giraffe (kameelperd) was shot and dragged off.
Happily, these graceful animals have since been re-introduced and we were able to enjoy some magnificent views of them browsing amongst the trees in the area of Mata-Mata.