“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science.” ― Albert Einstein, The World As I See It
A leopard stalks through a drainage line; dappled light breaks through the canopy of trees above, blending its rosettes into the drying grass. Its hind foot stands directly on the print left by its front foot. Whiskers extend beyond its face gently touching the grass it passes – a subconscious awareness of its surroundings. Its belly just millimetres above the ground, eyes locked on the antelope feeding ahead, it creeps up to pouncing distance. An explosion of dust, flashes of colour and distress calls – success.
All of this can be told without viewing the sequence of events; the stalk, the chase and the point of impact. It’s through experience on foot out in the bush with trackers that the picture is painted and connection is made. Every animal leaves clues of its presence. The challenge comes when the clues need to be pieced together to tell the story. At Londolozi we are very fortunate to have some of the best trackers in the world. It continues to blow my mind as to how these puzzles are put together and pictures formed. The subtle smell of a leopard scent mark, a toe print in the sand, broken grass, a droplet of blood, placement of indentations in the soil – these are all clues ready to be pieced together – but identifying this is a challenge in its own, it comes across as needing a sixth sense. Questions get asked of, “How…?” and the tracker just shrugs his shoulders and says, “I just know…”
It’s a privilege to work alongside these men, to learn from them, form a team, an understanding and show them a huge deal of respect. Safari deals with many elements and many of them would not be accessible without the expertise of all these gifted men. They all deserve a huge deal of respect and we owe the game viewing experience to them.
Just the other day I was on drive with an exceptionally talented tracker by the name of Rob Hlatshwayo. Just having him seated on the vehicle and a part of our team was already a privilege. We were driving through a dry river bed when the faintest indentation in the sand made him raise his hand and ask me to stop. We both stepped off from the vehicle and discussed what was responsible for such marks in the sand. Leopard! The tracks were fresh and Rob said the leopard was not too far away. We decided to follow. Rob drifted into a different mind-set, it was as if the signs of the leopard passing were illuminated.
“See this”, he said, “it was stalking something here”.
I looked down at the sand, saw the imprint of two toes and could barely decipher what it was, yet Rob was able to confidently say it was stalking.
We continued and Rob picked up the pace, excitement building up within me. Grass bent in a strange direction – another clue, fresh droppings – a further clue. Kudu tracks, leopard tracks, kudu tracks, leopard tracks. We felt close… anticipation built up within us and then a hyena raced out from a nearby bush away from us!
“It’s here, it’s here!” Rob said in a loud whisper filled with energy, anticipation and excitement. “Look, Look” – he pointed to a large Guarri bush, “Leopard! And it’s eating a kudu…”. There, no more than 20m away sat a male leopard with the remains of a female kudu, feeding away and oblivious to our presence.
In a fast, yet quiet walk we hurried back to the vehicle. Our excitement was clearly palpable as we relayed the message onto our guests. As we drove through the bush on the path we had just walked we encountered the leopard being harassed by four hyenas – growls and snarls erupted. The leopard saw its gap and grabbed the remains of its hard-earned meal and ran to a large Jackalberry tree, hoisting the kudu into the low hanging branches and out of the hyenas’ reach. We sat simply watching in awe. What an experience, what an afternoon, what an unbelievable track and find!
Directly descended from the original mother leopard and therefore part of the royal lineage of Londolozi.