When you meet Londolozi’s Tree Camp Butler Sersant Sibuyi you immediately feel at ease because of his calm demeanour and friendly nature, he simply has that way about him.
There is however something you may not know and that is that Sersant has a hidden talent. It’s not something you would expect from someone working in camp but his ability to imitate bird calls, has astounded us!
But how did Sersant, come to learn these calls? He laughs and says it all began in the field while tending to cattle in his hometown of Justicia, located on the outskirts of the Sabi Sands. “I started to learn the call of the Cape turtle dove at home in 1989. I began by listening carefully to the sounds of the bells that we had placed on the cattle to locate their whereabouts. When listening for the bells I would hear the distinctive call of the Cape turtle dove and began to practice the call at home.”
At school Sersant would whistle the call. His teacher amused at his interest asked him what he thought this meant. Befuddled by his teacher’s question he said that it had no meaning. “This is where you are wrong,” his teacher replied. The bird is saying to you in the early morning while looking after the cattle to ‘work harder!’ ” If you listen to the call you can easily see the humour. He then continued, “the bird is then saying to you, once you have found the cattle, to celebrate and ‘drink larger!’
The other call that he knows well is that of the African fish eagle. Sersant was again looking after his cattle but this time closer to the Londolozi Reserve in an area nearby to the Sabi Sands. This is when he first heard the piercing cry of the raptor and immediately asked his brother what bird it was. His brother responded saying it was the ‘Nghunghwa,’ the African fish eagle. It was the first time he had heard this sound. “It was only when I began working at Londolozi in 2005 that I would hear the bird again. It became a frequent sound especially in the morning where it was heard most clearly from the deck. This became the second call that I learnt.”
His brother who knows the fish eagle well believes that it carries a message. He says that if you hear the eagle in the morning, this means it will be a hot day! Sersant believes that this is true and when he hears the ring he knows not to wear a fleece!
While Sersant knows many other calls, the last of the ones he demonstrates for us is that of the grey-headed bush strike. “When I first saw this bird, it was a great pleasure for me, mostly because it is a bird that I have not often seen at my home and because it is very beautiful.” His story with the shrike began at Londolozi when he watched two birds killing a chameleon and eating it. “I took a look at this and thought that these birds are very cruel. When you listen to their call it sounds like they are saying ‘where?’ ‘where?’ I always believe they are saying ‘Where is the next chameleon!’
Sersant tells me that he loves birds and is willing to learn more about them. His goal is to learn bird sounds so that he can identify them by their calls before seeing them.
“In 2015 I join the Tracker Academy based at Londolozi where I will learn to become skilled at tracking. I am lucky to work here, it’s a place that has allowed me to reach my dream and to become a tracker will be a dream come true.”
Written by Kate Collins
Filmed by Richard Laburn.