Londolozi has made a deep impression on both my wife and I. We enjoyed a bush experience extraordinaire in a place that is the complete antithesis of our home in the high-density population of Hong Kong.
We lived the safari experience amongst the rolling game lands, the heat, trees, and the curly green grasses bordered by winding tracks.
Our short ride from the airstrip to the lodge immediately immersed us in the wonder. Under a hot blue sky, a hooded vulture soared by, while the incredible colour palette of the lilac-breasted rollers perched on leadwood and knobthorn trees flashed by. Nervous, innocent-eyed and beautifully coated young impala scanned our vehicle. Their heads stood out amongst their more relaxed looking cohorts of zebra and wildebeest.
The wave and friendly welcome from our Camp Managers confirmed that this was going to be a special trip. The lodge with its timber deck is a beautifully shaded place for relaxing with long icy drinks. Our room in Tree Camp was as close to what I would build as my dream bush shelter, if I could!
Lex Hex’s book Leopards of Londolozi describes the amazing journey of leopards in the reserve and their behaviours. Today visitors can closely observe these most elusive and perfect of predators. On our first game drive we experienced the techniques and tracking required in locating a leopard first hand. Our tracker Milton sat front and left on the Land Rover and quickly spotted fresh leopard tracks. He judged that the track was of a male, based on the size of the print! We followed a short way and happening upon hard ground, lost the spoor. This resulted in a wider search with Milton on foot and our ranger Melvin both in the vehicle and on foot. Our search was confined to an area of dense bush along a donga and a small watering hole with an adjacent open grassy area.
Some 40 minutes of searching with an inkling of doubt forming amongst the guests on our prospects of finding anything exciting, took us back to the watering hole where Milton and Melvin both jumped off the Land Rover. They had not gone five metres when a leopard broke cover from a clump of bushes and in a less than a blink had shot across to the far side of the watering hole. It became clear to us that these animals were masters of concealment and camouflage, particularly as Melvin had been down to search the area of the watering hole earlier and if the leopard was there at that time he must have come very close to it.
After a while the leopard broke cover and strolled past us as if we weren’t even there. It was the Marthly 3:2 Male, we did not need to identify him by checking for his spot pattern as the top of his right ear had previously been bitten off in an altercation with another leopard leaving a distinctive mark. I found it somewhat ironic that his previous alias was Tyson, was it not Tyson who was notorious for biting other people’s ears?
The leopard salivated at the antelope, zebra and wildebeest in the clearing. He was hungry but with our presence and his cover blown he curled his tail to the sky and crossed the clearing to a number of alarm calls and closely interested bystanders. Not the show we were hoping for. We followed him for about half an hour as he investigated the disused burrows of aardvarks most likely in search of warthogs. Having no success, we watched as he disappeared into the darkness.
We had the great pleasure of observing and photographing the leopard in amazingly close proximity, a very special experience. On reflection I was most impressed by the determined search of the ranger and tracker. They knew the leopard had to be somewhere close, had trusted their skills and patience to finally locate him despite being so well hidden. I am also glad that Melvin did not make eye contact with the leopard on his first visit to the waterhole, as he would easily have been within six meters of the leopard! Have you ever been that close to a leopard?
Written and Photographed by: Gavin Erasmus