How far could you spot a leopard from? This is a question the Londolozi trackers ask themselves daily, and some of them just keep raising the bar.
Jerry Hambana has been working at Londolozi since 1984, getting to know the land and its creatures intimately as part of the Habitat team before his superior bush skills saw him becoming a tracker in 1998.
Since then, for almost 20 years, Jerry’s warm and gentle nature has endeared him to people from all over the world, and the surest way to put yourself in a good mood at Londolozi is to spend 5 minutes to chatting to him. He wears a constant smile.
Jerry isn’t exactly sure of his date of birth, since he didn’t get a birth certificate when he was born, but is confident he is somewhere in his late 50’s. At a time when most people’s eyesight is starting to fail slightly, Jerry’s is as sharp as ever, as demonstrated recently when he spotted a leopard at a distance of 820 metres! We were viewing a lioness near the Sand river, and at a time when the rest of us were only viewing the animal that was in front of us, Jerry’s radar was still working, and he was scanning all around for any other signs of life.
I was fortunate enough to be with Jerry at the time, and there literally is no way to accurately convey how incredible his spot was without having been there. Not only was the leopard far away, but the tree it was in was obscured behind bushes, a whole scattering of other trees and a thicket line. When the rest of us on the vehicle tried to confirm it actually was a leopard Jerry had seen, we had to drive about 200m in its direction before we were close enough to be convinced through binoculars! The other Land Rover that then followed us through the bush as we drove in the leopard’s direction were pretty sure were were pulling a prank on them, so long did we have to drive for before we reached the tree the leopard was in.
Jerry was pretty humble about the distance of the spot (measured on Google Earth), laughing it off as of no consequence. I think its safe to say however, that even though the sighting of the leopard was spectacular (the Tutlwa female in a marula tree with a hoisted impala carcass), what had really blown us away was Jerry’s awareness. Even though we had been sitting with a lioness at the time, where all our focus should naturally have been, Jerry was still on high alert, completely in tune with what was happening in the bush.
The level of skill and dedication to one’s craft that Jerry displays on a daily basis is a rare thing these days.