“Life is measured not by the amount of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” – unknown
As I sit and reflect on my first six months at Londolozi and scroll through my photo album on my laptop, I am astonished at how many of these “moments” I have been privileged to experience. The very nature of safari and living in the bush is getting a thrill from the unexpected and not knowing what the bush is going to deliver each day. Not every sighting or experience is photographed or filmed, sometimes it’s just a feeling you get as you drive out of the lodge so excited about the possibilities of what you could find. Sometimes, it’s the ridiculously beautiful sunset as you sit on top of Ximpalapala Koppie with new friends. Sometimes, it’s standing by yourself on the deck at first light with a cup of coffee content in the knowledge that you are doing what you love. And then there’s the wildlife…
I wish I could share all of the sightings that have taken my breath away over the last six months but I have selected just three that have really stood out for me for various reasons.
The Nkoveni Female kills a Steenbok
It was early one morning when I heard over the radio that the Nkoveni female leopard had been found very close to where I was. I joined the sighting and as we were approaching Dan Buys came over the radio telling me to switch off my engine as she had spotted something and was busy stalking. We couldn’t see what it was she was interested in and the anticipation was building. We lost sight of her and continued to wait in tense silence to see what the outcome of this hunt would be. Next thing we heard the bush erupt and the unmistakable sound of an animal in distress; she had successfully caught a Steenbok.
However, It wasn’t the fact that we had witnessed a successful hunt that made this sighting memorable. Up to this point in my guiding career I had never been able to get a sighting of a leopard hoisting its kill up into a tree. I had seen leopards successfully hunt and had watched them feeding on kills high up in trees but I had never before witnessed the actual moment they effortlessly carried their prey up a vertical tree trunk to feed on it in safety. Thankfully, that was about to change.
After making the kill the leopard headed straight towards a termite mound that had a big Weeping Boer Bean growing out of it. We knew exactly what she had in mind and quickly got into position with the cameras at the ready. She walked briskly up to the mound and after a quick glance upwards scaled the tree with such ease as the steenbok hung limply out of her mouth. I had just experienced another bush “bucket list” moment.
Buffalo herd at Two Pans
Being a part of a wilderness area that covers over 2.2 million hectares means that we get to see large herds of buffalo coming and going as they move in search of suitable grazing areas. There are a number of buffalo herds that we watch moving through Londolozi and they usually number in the region of a few hundred. However, this time was different. We had set ourselves the mission one afternoon of finding a buffalo herd and set off in the direction of the open grasslands in the south-western parts of the reserve. It wasn’t long before we saw dust being kicked up in the distance and a quick look through the binoculars confirmed that there was a herd of buffalo moving across the horizon. As we got closer we realized they were heading to a waterhole and quickly went to position ourselves there so we could watch their arrival.
The first buffalo came over the horizon and proceeded straight to the water to quench their thirst and then for the next half an hour they kept coming. We alternated between watching them drink and wallow to scanning the horizon thinking that this constant stream of buffalo surely had to end sometime. We were completely surrounded and could not look in any direction without seeing hundreds of the bovines. It was the biggest herd of buffalo I had seen and we gave up counting after we reached one thousand. We were enthralled for over an hour as young calves struggled through the mud to get to the water and older bulls sat metres away chewing the cud. It was one of those moments where I did not need to say anything. The sheer number of buffalo in the golden hour of the afternoon combined with the bright blue winter sky spoke for itself and it was the single best buffalo sighting I have ever had.
The youngest lion cubs I have seen
Technically, this is not one particular sighting but even still I am going to add it in here. Shortly, after my arrival here at Londolozi there were two other new arrivals in the form of lion cubs belonging to the Tsalala pride. We have watched them from when they had only just opened their eyes and still continue to do so today. Considering that the Tsalala pride over the years has had quite a tough time in successfully raising cubs due to the unstable male lion dynamics in the area it is special to see these two cubs, now about 5 months old, still doing so well. The reason why I added these two in to my best “sightings” list is because having time in the bush is the ultimate luxury. People often ask me, “What is the best thing you have ever seen whilst guiding?” and whilst I certainly can remember lots of great sightings the thing I enjoy most is being able to see animals grow up and the trials and tribulations of being a young animal, be it a predator or a herbivore, in this often harsh environment. When we first started viewing these 2 little cubs they could barely walk and stumbled around in the sand of the Manyeleti Riverbed tripping over their own legs as they started to venture out of their den site for the first time. They then got bigger and, with their mother’s help, were able to successfully navigate the Sand River and crossed over on to the southern bank of the river for the first time. They are now not even the youngest members of the pride and with their confidence building they boisterously torment the three new lion cubs that were born 6 weeks ago. They continue to ambitiously stalk anything that comes in sight, including buffalo and elephant, only to flee the creature turns to face them. They continue to melt hearts and provide endless hours of amusement. Looking back at photos of them its incredible to have a timeline of their short lives and see just how big they are getting each month. Being able to follow the lives of individual animals over an extended period of time is one of the reasons I became a guide in the first place and I look forward to continue watching these two grow into mature lions over the next few years.
It is almost an insult to this place to only speak about three memorable sightings when the truth is that every week every ranger has a new story about something unforgettable they were able to witness or experience. It’s these memories that are made and the emotions they stir up inside us that will stay with us for the rest of our lives and even though there may not always be photos and videos to go along with them they remain etched into our subconscious ready to be retrieved at any stage. The next six months just mustn’t fly by too quickly!