The Sand River is the lifeblood of Londolozi, and indeed the Sabi Sand reserve as a whole. From the reserve’s western boundary, the river flows through 8 different properties on its way to the Kruger National Park, where it joins the Sabie River, which in turn joins the Komati and ultimately flows into the Indian ocean in Mozambique.
The catchment of the Sabie-Sand river system is approximately 6320 square kilometres, yet this relatively small area is said to contain more biodiversity than the accumulated total of all the river systems in the United Kingdom. A lot of this biodiversity is in the form of microfauna and flora, and as such is easily overlooked, but when it comes to the flagship species of the area – the lions, the leopards, and the great grey pachyderms that are so dependent on the river for drinking water – there is no mistaking the fact that the incredible game viewing we are witness to at Londolozi is due in large part to perennial waters that flow ever sea-ward…
The setting in which wildlife viewing takes place plays a huge part in determining the quality of the sighting, and along the open sandbanks that flank the river, as well as down in the water itself, the simplest of sightings can rise exponentially in quality.
A pride of lions walking along is thrilling enough, especially because they spend such a large part of their day asleep, but make that same pride pad through the waters of the Sand River, and the simple act of placing one foot in front of the other becomes the most exciting thing in the world! Water droplets glinting in the sunlight, the shimmering reflections and the deep pug marks left in the exposed sand combine to put hearts in mouths and keep fingers firmly pressed on shutter release buttons.
A herd of elephants moving solemnly from one bank to the other, pausing briefly to drink from the deeper channels and maybe spray themselves down in a cooling mist can keep a whole vehicle of guests, ranger and tracker riveted. Time is never wasted when spent with elephants, and in Winter, our dry season, when they are flocking to the permanent drinking water that the Sand River offers, one can get five or six herds a day crossing in front of or near to the camp.
But what is it about animals walking through water that makes the sighting so phenomenal? Is it the unobstructed view? The reflections? The fact that for all the animals apart from hippos and crocodiles, the river isn’t their natural environment? Is it something more subtle, in that the river represents a barrier yet the animals find it seemingly so easy to ford?
I don’t know. I’ve given it a lot of thought and discussed it with other rangers, and we can’t quite put our finger on the exact thing that gives a river sighting that much more of a wow factor. It’s surely a combination of the above, but if you have any thoughts on the matter, I’d be interested to hear them.
Around 60 percent of an adult’s body is made up of water, and as such many people feel a subconscious gravitation towards the substance. The sound of flowing water can be incredibly soothing, and there are even apps one can download that play the sound of water in order to help babies sleep.
Maybe our attraction to the river and our enjoyment of watching animals in and around it stems from something far more innate then. Is it simply our recognition and appreciation of one of life’s most valuable resource, one that is so much a part of us?
You be the judge…
Written and Photographed by James Tyrrell, Londolozi Photographer