Every now and again when guiding, rangers or trackers seem to go through what James Tyrrell recently referred to as a purple patch in his blog. This is a time where everything just goes right and luck is on your side.
Recently I drove a group of guests with a fellow ranger, Alfie Matabula, who I discovered was right in the middle of one of these patches. Throughout the time with this group, Alfie was having an amazing run of luck, being the one to find the lions or elephant or whatever it was we were looking for each time. Upon finding an animal he would radio me and I would come and join him wherever he was. There was one particular day that he took the animal-finding luck to a whole new level.
On the morning I refer to we headed out early, crossing the Sand River to the northern part of Londolozi, to see if we could find any sign of leopards or wild dogs. Soon Alfie had come across leopard tracks heading further north. Guide, Andrea Campbell, who had set out slightly earlier, then found wild dog tracks on our far northern boundary heading south towards Alfie.
The next update I got on the radio from Alfie was, “located a female leopard and her cub…” then, “hold on! And a pack of wild dogs!” Alfie had run into the Nanga Female leopard with her nine month old cub who had killed a small antelope called a duiker. The next moment the pack came sweeping in and tried to steal the leopard’s kill. There was a bit a scuffle, which ended with the two leopards treeing most of the kill and the pack of hungry opportunists making off with a leg or two. I made it there in time to see the dogs making off with their bit and had a great sighting of the leopards feeding in a big Leadwood tree. Thanks Alifie!
The Nanga female was born to the Nyelethi 4:4 female in 2009 as part of a litter of three.
After a satisfying morning we headed back for breakfast. As we rounded the last corner before camp we came across two lionesses stalking a bushbuck. We sat with them for a while but their attempt was unsuccessful, so we decided we would try and find them again that afternoon as they were looking decidedly hungry.
With a drizzle coming down, we set out that afternoon in search of the lionesses hoping they had found a meal. We searched the area where we had left them and within half an hour, true to form, Alfie had found something…
“I have located a female leopard,” came through on the radio. It was the Mashaba female and we stopped to view the tranquil scene of this leopard grooming herself amongst long grass that had collapsed under the weight of the water droplets trapped in its inflorescence. After a short while she stood up and we watched as she walked, scent marking along the way. With the recent rain washing her scent away, she was attempting to cover some ground and leave a fresh scent trail through her territory.
The Mashaba female is currently Londolozi’s best-known leopard. Her relaxed nature means she is comfortable around the vehicles.
As she walked off into the brush we decided to continue with our original search. I was now banking on Alfie’s luck as we were fast losing light. Driving on parallel roads that straddle a dry watercourse, we searched the thickly vegetated banks for the lionesses. Then the call came through on my radio, “I have located”. Alfie, being about four feet tall and quite stocky, was beginning to resemble a lucky Buddha in my mind’s eye.
As we joined him we managed to catch a glimpse of the two lionesses split and stalk off into the thicket on either side of the road. It was then that we noticed the herd of impala in a clearing up ahead and the lions heading their way. They were following the thicket line looking to flank the herd of impala on either side in a classic bull horn offensive. We waited in anticipation but without sight of the lions it was difficult to know if anything was going to happen.
After a short wait we heard the first barking alarm call from an impala that had sensed something. Then the whole herd started alarming. BHA!-BHA!-BHA! First the herd ran away from our position, then turned and came back our way, finding safety on the other end of the clearing. We listened but there was no sound of a wailing ungulate.
After the dust had settle we moved into the area where the impala had been to see if we could find the lions again, just in case something had happened. We crawled along a short distance apart, radios in hand to alert one another if we saw anything. Then Alfie, of course, spotted something moving in the bushes on the edge of the clearing. As he caught sight of the movement his excitement got the better of him and he accelerated forward shouting, “There’s a keeeeel!” over the radio (by no means radio protocol). And with that we ended the day with two lionesses growling aggressively at one another as they fed on their freshly caught quarry.
Alfie had done it again! It was a day well spent with much good fortune. May his purple patch continue, or better still, be passed on to me for a while.