Don Wilson is curator of mammals at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and was named senior scientist in January, 2000. For the last 30 years, his work has taken him around the world to conduct field work and research. He has led tours for Smithsonian Journeys to most of the world’s greatest natural history destinations, from Antarctica to Africa. Click here to learn more about Don.
Kruger National Park is South Africa’s largest game reserve, and has long been one of my favorites. As a long-time Study Leader, I have made lots of trips to Africa over the years, but in the summer of 2007 my wife Kate and I had the good fortune to join a wonderful couple and 19 of their children and grandchildren on the experience of a lifetime. To celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, they took the whole family on an African safari by private plane.
One of the most memorable destinations was a private lodge and reserve bordering Kruger. It was the 21st of July, mid-winter in the southern hemisphere, and the morning air was nippy when morning tea was delivered to our thatch-roofed rondavel. Warmed by a hearty breakfast enjoyed while overlooking the Sand River, we headed out on our morning game drive in open-topped vehicles.
Having seen a plethora of wildlife, including the “Big Five” in our first two days here, we were on a special mission this morning. Our driver guides had told me about a den of African Wild Dogs, and although I had done research on mammals and led safaris to Africa for 30 years, I had never seen this impressive predator in the wild. Because we were in a private reserve rather than inside the National Park, we were able to ease our way through the scrub forest to a spot very near the den. In fact, we were so close, the pups came right up to the vehicle and were smelling the tires. (more…)