My recent visit to Londolozi fulfilled a life-long dream…going on a game drive in Africa. Much to my surprise, the experience far exceeded my already elevated expectations. In particular, Ranger Werner and Tracker Euce shared a remarkable and extensive knowledge on drives.
The experience with Werner and Euce inspired me to jot down a few thoughts. I decided to delve into the essence of what it was that made us enjoy and learn so much from Werner and Euce.
Here are a few thoughts for the first-time visitor about how to learn as much as possible from your ranger and guide.
1. Watch the ranger and guide work and ask them how they located the sighting. You will be amazed by how much knowledge they can decipher from the animal tracks they come across. You will also be surprised by the wider base of knowledge that provides context for tracking. The ranger and tracker assess the specific tracking knowledge in the context of their overall understanding of how the animal tends to behave. They also demonstrate brilliant ‘pattern detection skills’ at identifying something that looks out of place. For example, they sighted the spindly impala legs of a leopard kill in a distant tree just because “branches don’t hang like that.” Werner said, “Euce and I are solving a puzzle.”
2. Be prepared to be surprised by the immediate scene. We were observing two dominant male lions at close range when we noticed a herd of impala, about 150 meters away, staring intensely at the lions. Werner explained that the impala were keeping an eye on the lions. This came as a complete surprise; I had expected the impala to put as much distance as possible between themselves and the huge cats. Instead they were standing their ground and keeping watch.
3. Ask about the interaction of species. We saw large herds of giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, and impala moving together. The interactions are very complex, ranging from the fact that each animal eats slightly different plant life from the same area to the fact that their predator defence systems are complimentary to one another. Werner explains some interesting examples of avoidance techniques in a recent blog – more on this here.
4. Be patient. Don’t expect the game drive to be a rush from animal to animal. The ranger and tracker have a remarkable knowledge of animal behaviour that allows them to make educated guesses about what might happen next. We watched a resting cheetah for a half-hour because he was yawning (invigorating his body with oxygen) and Werner predicted that the animal would most likely move about. Our patience was rewarded at dusk with a thrilling view of the cheetah as he stood on a termite mound.
5. Put the camera down and just observe. More conversation will naturally arise between you and your guides once they realise that you are camera-free and able to engage in conversation. Remember, photography is a two-dimensional view of a multi-dimensional world. In addition to the pictures, bring home memories of the details that express larger truths. The shoulder muscle of a lion communicates unbelievable strength. The expansiveness of the landscape dramatises the struggle of our own species to survive in a rich but unforgiving environment. And, if you look into the eye of an animal, you will feel a connection that is impossible to express.
Claire, my wife, and I extend our deep appreciation to everyone at Londolozi for a wonderful visit, and particularly to Werner and Euce for being such engaging and natural teachers.
Written and Photographed by: Eric Leininger
What tips or advice would you give to someone going on safari?