It took me a long time to get over my jealousy at what other rangers were seeing.
Being in the here and now is the only way to really enjoy the bush, and these days it is very rare that I suffer from FOMO. The last time was almost a year ago, when some of the vehicles here watched a lioness defend herself against an absolute onslaught of hyenas, and since then I have been more than content with whatever it is I happen to be filming or watching. I’d even go so far as to say that I’m happy for whoever is seeing something amazing, and am graciously able to accept that it’s just their day. Okay that last bit may be pushing it a little.
My point is that it’s not often that my jaw literally drops at hearing what someone else is seeing. It’s even rarer that it drops and then drops further with a second update.
Ranger Greg Pingo seems to be going through a purple patch. Having found a pangolin on each of his last three work cycles (a pangolin is like the holy grail of wildlife sightings; some people work in the bush for a decade without ever seeing one), other rangers are seeing him as some sort of good luck talisman, like a rabbit’s foot or horseshoe. I even tried to rub his belly recently, like one is meant to do to the statue of Buddha, in order to try and appropriate some of his good fortune for my own, but he seemed not to like this and I was forced to stop.
His purple patch recently culminated in his latest and possibly greatest sighting, which, in light of Amy’s post from yesterday, is not without its sense of irony as far as the blog is concerned.
The two Avoca male lions, new on the reserve and looking to set up shop with the Ntsevu females, were found in the deep south-east of Londolozi in company with one of the lionesses from that pride. Greg was there in the evening watching them interacting; a bit of mating, the occasional growl, a really interesting sighting. As the light faded and the lions looked like resting for a bit, Greg was preparing to leave them in peace when a rustle in the grass caught his and the lioness’ attention. The lioness got up and moved towards where something had clearly been moving in a the thicket, and then upon reaching the spot, lay down with what looked like her paw resting on some object. Confused, as there had been no distress cry from whatever she appeared to have caught, Greg drove over to her to see what had happened, and to his delight and surprise saw that she had grabbed hold of a pangolin. A pangolin is covered with very hard plates and is Africa’s version of an armadillo; when threatened it simply rolls itself into a ball, creating an almost impenetrable wall of armour which predators find it very hard to get through. The pangolin was tucked up and looking very much like a soccer ball, and Greg and his guests simply sat and marvelled at their luck at being able to see one of Africa’s rarest creatures, knowing full well that the lioness was very unlikely to be able to hurt it.
Meanwhile, a few kilometres away, tracker Bennet Mathonsi and ranger Warren Pearson were following tracks of three big male lions. Knowing full well the state and numbers of the coalitions of the area, they were fairly confident that these were tracks of the Majingilane, back once more on Londolozi soil. They hadn’t been found that morning, even though some distant roars had been heard around sunrise. Despite their occasional forays back into our central areas, nothing serious has materialised for awhile, and I don’t think anyone expected a proper clash when they were heard calling yesterday morning. Anticlimax has been the most of it in the last few months, as these three big males have been coming in one day and heading back out the next, almost every time.
This evening was different. Warren and Bennet were on the tracks as the sun was setting, so knew their time was running out. They were at least four kilometres from where Greg and his pangolin were, so neither Warren, Bennet nor Greg suspected what was about to happen.
The lioness that had the pangolin between her paws suddenly pricked up her ears. Listening as well, Greg and tracker Equalizer heard the soft contact calls of another lion from nearby. Suspecting it to be the second Avoca male, who had been left about 100 metres away, they didn’t think too much of it when the lioness suddenly leapt up an dashed off past them. Then one of the Avoca males came fleeing after her. Then the other Avoca male came hurtling by. Thoroughly confused by now, Greg and Equalizer had no idea what was happening until out of the darkness came the bellowing roars of two more male lions, rushing in out of the twilight. It was two of the Majingilane, who had clearly been on silent approach that evening, not wanting to advertise their presence until it was almost too late for the Avoca males. In the darkness and using the spotlight, Greg and Equalizer only got brief glimpses of the lions as the Majingilane chased the much younger and smaller Avoca pair back and forth amongst the acacia thickets, eventually forcing them all the way down into the Sand River and across our eastern boundary.
Hearing Greg’s update on the radio: “Uh… Warren, this update concerns you; the lions you are tracking are now chasing the Avoca males”, coming on the heels of his pangolin update, was what took my jaw to the floor. Not much can top the finding of a pangolin, but I’m pretty sure that did.
Upon returning from game drive this morning (during which we heard the roars of the Majingilane to the west of Londolozi, having come in, chased the Avoca coalition and then retreated in the space of 24 hours, covering roughly 30km!), Greg officially handed in his notice, having accepted that that sighting will probably be unmatchable for the rest of his guiding career. Okay the bit about him resigning may not be true, but I’m pretty confident he’s peaked in terms of exciting sightings.
Coming on the heels of Amy’s post from yesterday, this development is even more exciting; the Majingilane are far from done! I would have to go with the theory put forward in Amy’s third paragraph; it seems likely that the Majingilane are attempting to maintain some kind of buffer between their current established territory and any potential threat. The wider they can maintain that buffer, the more time they buy themselves as they fade into old age. The knock-on effect is that they buy the cubs of the Mhangeni Pride that much more time as well…