Our first night’s campsite at Ruaha National Park in Tanzania is vastly different from the ones we have experienced so far. In the other parks the campsites are inside a large fenced enclosure. They close the gates from sunset to sunrise so the tourists are fenced inside and the animals free to roam throughout the park. In each of these camps there were dozens to hundreds of other tourists, lights, buildings etc. In Ruaha our campsite is out in the open on the edge of a riverbank full of hippos and crocs and we are the only ones here. It is totally in the bush.
We spend the late afternoon watching the hippos that are less than 200 feet from us enjoying the cooling water. The sounds of the birds and insects are a cacophony only broken by the occasional bellow from the nearby hippos. As Dee is finishing cooking dinner I see two somewhat rare, black backed jackals wander within spitting distance of our camp as they head to the water. The jackals are a bit larger and longer than a German Shepard. As it gets fully dark we stick within a few feet of the truck and clean up our dishes. I have my large spotlight out and periodically pan the area around us for the gleam of eyes from a large predator- hoping not to see anything. Hippos leave the water to feed on shore during the night and I can hear the two or three we watched breathing just below our camp maybe 100 feet away hidden by the bush on the steep riverbank in front of us. On one of the pans with the light I see a red glimmer from the water just off a sandbank – it is a 15-foot long croc patiently waiting for his dinner. At one point we hear a big splash and I hit the croc with the spotlight just in time to see it swallow and then see it’s upper jaw close. Every 10 or 15 minutes we hear a splash- the croc got another tidbit.
Later from the tent I hear the squeal of a small mammal in distress- the sound is abruptly cut off followed by another splash.
As the sun comes up we hastily pack up and begin our morning game drive. Impala, elephant, majestic giraffe, zebra, ostrich, beautiful scenery, lots of bird life, then three black backed jackals resting in the shade of a tree. Later as we are watching a small herd of impala we notice they seem very skittish even though our car is a good distance away. We notice two impala are separated from the herd and running back and forth erratically- then we see why- a lone jackal has separated them from the herd and is periodically chasing them then stopping to wait and see which one falters. The hunt is on- they’ve seen him but can’t bolt for the safety of the herd. He has them on the run and is waiting for his moment to pounce on whichever ones darts the wrong way. The impala bound across the track in front of us with the jackal darting this way and that as he pursues them – we hope to see his kill but in seconds the chase continues into the deep bush and our view is cut off. We’re left to wonder how the chase ended.