For any Ranger or Tracker, or bush enthusiast that has the privilege to spend many long hours in the bush, on foot or in a vehicle behind the wheel or on the bonnet, the feeling of seeing an animal, any animal, you have never seen before, photographed or spent time with, is one the the most magical feelings. In a massive conservation area, in this case The Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park, which includes, The Limpopo National Park (Mozambique) and The Kruger National Park (South Africa) and adjoining Private sectors of The Sabi Sands, Manyelethi, Klaserie and Timbavati, the possibility of stumbling across an unknown Leopard, or Lion Pride is great.
In this case however, it was not an unknown pride of Lions, yet, for me it was a first. The Styx Pride. This pride tend to dominate land in the North Eastern section of the Sabi Sands, and have a very small portion of their territory on Londolozi, in our Northern section, Marthly.
Leaving the lodge early in the morning and telling guests about a mission we are about to embark on, not just any drive, one that will see us venturing to the corners of the property, to see who has entered and who has left. Sometimes with just tracks to tell the story of what the night before held, like ghosts in the darkness. It is an unnerving feeling, one that excites me and drives me to explore. One such morning a few days ago, it was an adventure to an area called Gowrie Corner, our North Eastern boundary, for sign of anything out of the ordinary. The results proved worthy of the risk.
Upon approaching the corner, our reserve limits, which sees other private reserves, neighbours, who like Londolozi, have their own land, however not separated by fences, merely a road to tell us our limit, I got a sense of the true wilderness, this area is not often traversed, it is wild, it is open and it is alone. Distant groans, moans, grumbles and snorts, a familiar smell in the passing wind, a light glow of the sun off a dust cloud and a hum of flies. A Buffalo herd, large, no less than 300 strong, approaching the corner, on a daily routine toward a waterhole in the early morning before heading to open lands to graze, the sweet spring grasses.
A herd like this is a force to be reckoned with, and for any large predator, much caution must be enforced, however, there was a feeling in the air, some tension that oozed from the herd, an uneasy feeling as they moved around us. Could there be a Pride following? Could this be my first sighting of the Styx Pride?
As the herd passed and the dust settled, the groans became distant behind us, but what was waiting deeper into our adventure?
Like turning a page in a gripping novel, anxious to read the next page, seeking answers and building the atmosphere, the Styx Pride emerged in the distance, walking on the trail of the Buffalo, a mere kilometre behind. The excitement was difficult to contain and the photographic opportunities were amazing. The colours, the greens, the tawny Lions and the white sandy road allowed us to capture some of this magic to share.
As the bush would have it, the Lions crossed onto a neighbouring reserve on the trail of the Buffalo and we were never to know the outcome of their morning, however, like some novels, the story is meant to keep you guessing. What is next? What is to come? Until the next sighting of the Styx Pride on Londolozi.
Written and Photographed by: Mike Sutherland