“The more something is unattainable, the more you want it”- Unknown
Mentioning the world elusive or rare in a conversation about animal sightings could potentially lead to a debate to which there will be no end. Various members of staff at Londolozi will vow to you that the most elusive animal at Londolozi is the enigmatic pangolin, and to a certain degree they are correct. These shy and timid creatures are almost exclusively nocturnal and very seldom seen. The scales on their bodies not only act as a deterrent, it also protects it from predators. The pangolin can melt into the environment expertly and any unsuspecting person can easily mistake it for just another rock.
On this same elusive list, one could mention the strikingly beautiful serval, the tough and rugged honey badger (yes, the same species as the acclaimed YouTube video) and the peculiar aardvark.
The aardvark, with its longish snout, hairy round trunk and prevalent ears, is probably the most anomalous of the animals on this list. However, an aardvark was recently seen when some of the rangers went out and waited at a potential aardvark hideout for a copious amount of time. They were awarded with a sighting which they will tell stories about for years to come.
The one animal that is hardly ever encountered and according to this writer, can stake a claim as the most elusive animal at Londolozi, is the caracal.
It is a surpassingly beautiful animal, roaming the diverse landscape of Londolozi like an apparition. The caracal is not a large cat and is more known for its aerial acrobatics and herculean power. It has this amazing ability to hunt animals almost twice its size and it is not uncommon for caracal to hunt young impalas or even fully grown impala ewes.
Caracals occur throughout the Greater Kruger National Park (which Londolozi forms part of) which makes finding it even more intriguing. One of the reasons these elusive cats are so hard to find is due to the competition from the larger predators such as lion, leopard and hyena. However successful the caracal might be at hunting, they will struggle to defend their hard-earned meal against a predator more than half its size. Therefore, skulking around and keeping out of sight is what they have become accustomed to doing.
I haven’t been fortunate enough to find a caracal at Londolozi but we have been close! One afternoon Euce (the tracker I work with) and I were tracking what looked to be a young leopard or a leopard cub. The tracks lead us into quite an open area, which isn’t necessarily the perfect habitat for a leopard. We followed the tracks and suddenly heard guineafowl alarm calling. This means only one thing: predator! We went down onto our haunches and listened…
Euce whispered to me that he didn’t think it was a leopard or a lion. Quite bemused I looked at him and asked him what he thought it might be. He said the magic word: caracal! My heart skipped a beat as I tried to collect myself. The guineafowl continued their alarm calls until a deathly silence fell over the open field… The next moment chaos engulfed this quiet scene. Guineafowls filled the skies in an effort to avoid capture and we could hear a muffled last breath of an unfortunate bird that just wasn’t quick enough. We swiftly made our way back to the vehicle and went straight to the area where the commotion initially started. Following the tracks of what was now clearly a caracal we found the remains of the guineafowl that was caught a couple of minutes ago. The tracks of the caracal then headed into a thick drainage that was impenetrable and the light of day wasn’t on our side either. Reluctantly and emotionally drained I agreed that we head back to camp to try another day. Needless to say the topic of discussion at dinner was how this elusive cat had evaded us.
Mystery and intrigue are but two words to describe this creature. As the days shorten and the nights grow longer, the perplexing caracal will utilise its devious tactics to avoid being seen. Perhaps it will make a mistake and deviate from its usual routine. Until then, we can only go out, enjoy ourselves and hope that this tantalising animal will grant us the opportunity to view the most elusive animal at Londolozi.