There have been a number of occasions over the past year, where tracker Euce Madonsela and I have been discussing the whereabouts (or at least the possible movements) of certain animals, merely moments before we find that exact animal.
Whether we set out with a particular intention to look for them or not, the number of times this has happened is simply uncanny, and something certainly worth writing about in my opinion.
Euce and I now have the running joke amongst ourselves and with guests, that we are convinced that the bush is listening to us. It is the only explanation (albeit farfetched of course) that we have for these strangely convenient occurrences.
Here are just a few that have taken place over the last few months:
- Cheetah Chase
The first time this happened to us was on a warm summer’s morning about six months ago. Having arrived late the evening before, it was our guests’ first ever game drive and our plan was to head down into the open grassland area of the property in search of zebra, wildebeest, giraffe and any sign of rhino. Luck was clearly on our side on that particular morning, as we managed to find all of the above, including a large breeding herd of elephant. Satisfied with our first game drive experience, we all agreed that it was time to stop for coffee and stretch the legs.
On our way to the spot I had in mind to stop, Euce turned around to me and asked when the last time was that anyone had spotted the cheetah. It had been a couple of weeks since the last sighting, and so my answer to Euce was “a long time ago”. Moments after these words came out of my mouth, and as we turned the next corner, Euce spotted something on the road a couple of hundred yards away. Of course it was the cheetah. Needless to say, our coffee stop was delayed and we enjoyed a phenomenal sighting of the male cheetah as he chased a scrub hare that was frightened out of its day-time hiding spot.
2. The Mashaba Female
The team had gone some time without finding the Mashaba female leopard. It had been a turbulent time for her as only months before this; her latest litter had been killed by the newest male to the area, the Flat Rock Male. As is only natural for female leopards, she was spotted mating with this same male a few weeks after the incident, in an attempt to ensure the safety of her next litters to follow. Being new to the area, the Flat Rock male was unsettled, and had not yet established a formal territory. This often meant that the Mashaba female was led far astray, sometimes many kilometres outside of her natural territory whilst they had been mating. It was for this reason that the team had not found her for some time.
The Mashaba female is currently Londolozi’s best-known leopard. Her relaxed nature means she is comfortable around the vehicles.
Euce and my next experience was once again on a warm summer’s morning as the sun was beginning to pierce through the heavy clouds that had remained after a thunderstorm the evening before. We were driving the area west of the camps, where the Mashaba female has an established territory. We had only been out there for 30 minutes when Euce alerted me to a number of impala alarm calls some distance ahead of us. I am still not sure to this day what possessed Euce to have this reaction, but he turned to me and said “Ive got a good feeling about this, I think it’s the Mashaba female”… He was right! After a number of weeks of not being seen, Euce spotted the upright tail of a leopard, who upon closer inspection was indeed her. She abandoned her early morning hunt on the account of the alarming impala, and continued on through an open area.
3. A truly unbelievable afternoon
The third of these events is perhaps my favourite. After this particular afternoon drive, not only myself, but the rest of the ranging team were in total disbelief. It was once again the very first drive for guests of mine that had arrived a few hours earlier. The guests had specifically requested to see elephants and so our plan for our first drive was to head out in search of any sign of them. It was a time when the Marulas were fruiting, so Euce and I were confident that we would be able to find elephants feeding on the ripened fruit. What followed next I still struggle to come to terms with. We couldn’t have been 10 minutes from the lodge when we found a group of three white rhino, six kudu bulls, four lone buffalo and probably the largest elephant bull I have ever seen at Londolozi, all within one kilometre of each other.
Initially skittish she spent a lot of time in the Sand River, now relaxed she makes up the majority of leopard viewing west of camp.
I turned around to the guests, who were smiling from ear to ear, and I tried my best to convince them that this is not how things normally are, and that it usually takes some time to find this many animals, and that luck was clearly on our side. Euce, who had obviously missed my attempts to convince the guests that this kind of thing was not normal, proceeded to say “all we need now is a leopard in my favourite marula tree coming up”. Of course I laughed at the rather obvious impossibility of what Euce had just said and the guests found humour in this too. Coming around a prominent bend on the main road (approaching Euce’s favorite tree), Euce stuck out his hand, instructing me to stop the vehicle and to hand him my binoculars. We all laughed at Euce’s animated expressions when he jumped off the tracker seat and sat next to me in the passengers seat and said “leopard”. I continued driving, commending Euce for his production, and briefly scanned the marula tree which Euce had alluded to; and there she was. As if she had a role to play in this series of comedic events, the Nhlanguleni female was lying in a large marula tree as if we had placed her there!
4. Lion Cubs
The most recent of these ‘episodes’ was only a few days ago. Euce and I had recently returned from our leave cycle and were eager to get back out into the bush. As is quite often the case, you feel a little out of sorts for the first drive when it comes to the animal movements over the previous two weeks, being almost entirely reliant on regular updates from the rest of the team during that time.
Euce and I set out, along with two other rangers (Kevin and Alex), and trackers (Ray and Rob) with whom we were driving a group from Varty camp. Our intention for the morning drive was to head out in search of any fresh leopard activity. A call came over the radio that there had been a leopard calling somewhere along the southern bank of the Sand River to the west of camp. We searched the area extensively for over an hour and a half and had come up with no sign. Debating with Euce about where to check next, I suggested that we checked one final road near the river. As we took the turning onto this loop, Euce turned and asked if I had received an update regarding the latest movements of the Tsalala Breakaway Pride and the two young cubs of the Tailless female. Out of genuine concern for the cubs, Euce said that he hoped that they were still alive.
As if the pride of lions had overheard and understood our conversation, we were greeted by both lionesses and the cubs, laying in the middle of the road, soaking up the golden morning sunshine. Once again I entered a state of total disbelief at what had just happened. We were all treated to arguably one of my best lion cub sightings ever!
The bush is most certainly a magical place, and, every now and then, magical things happen! I look forward to the adventures of yet another six week cycle with Euce and the rest of the field team.