Getting up close and personal with animals
Often, I’ve discovered that a safari continues well after I’ve returned to the lodge after careening all over the jungle or bush in a jeep. Wilderness camps and the areas surrounding them are replete with nests, hollows, hives and dens. Some wild creatures are lured by the smells of the kitchen and garbage. They might feel safer around people. Often, they’re drawn by simple curiosity.
Having a good look a resident wild boar up close at Dhikala lodge in Corbett National Park was an unexpected delight, as was observing Percy, the jungle cat who invites herself to the fireside chat at Sher Bagh, a lodge at Ranthambhore National Park. Steps away, a handful of enormous water monitors have moved en familie into the warm boiler room. And, mongoose are regularly clapped away from the kitchen.
Tara Lal, a conservationist, said she’d wake up in the middle of the night at a South African lodge, spooked by the eerie swinging of the lamp over her bed. She figured out, to her excitement, that a bush baby crawls in through the roof thatch to hunt insects.
Anjali Singh, a wildlife photographer, remembers being enthralled by a pair of spotted genets that glide along the suspended roof beams of the dining room at Ndutu camp, Tanzania.
Recently, at Mokombe’s House, a wooden lodge in northern Serengeti, I spent hours one afternoon with a family of rock hyraxes. They lived in and around the wooden deck. The mother and youngsters huddled close together as I approached, but stood their ground.
Dining under the stars at Sasakwa Serengeti Lodge a few days earlier, a heartmeltingly lovable, dark, furry creature with a bushy tail and enormous eyes quietly materialized on a ledge besides our table. It was a greater galago.
‘The pair live on this tree and they drop-by at dinnertime,” said Stuart, our guide. Before long, its mate joined the feast and we found ourselves lavishing mozzarella sticks, fish fritters and vast gigabytes of film on them. “They’re properly spoilt,” said Stu, adding, ‘These insect eaters have developed a taste for fresh cream and panacotta, and will bypass many leftovers on the table to get to the dessert.’
Not everyone is so welcoming of wildlife at the table. At breakfast at another camp in Botswana, a large, male baboon once made off with a massive wheel of Swiss cheese and clambered up a nearby tree. We couldn’t help laughing at his banditry. Horrified with the robbery and annoyed at being outwitted by his arch-nemesis, the manager swore at him angrily and then placed a stuffed lion on the buffet to scare him from coming back.
Mokombe’s House, Serengeti, where a family of hyraxes lives under the deck