We often play ‘the days of the week’ game here as staff. Working for six weeks straight, we don’t experience the usual rhythm of the five-day work week with a weekend to punctuate it in-between. We can choose to either see every day as a sparkling Saturday, or we can choose to see it as a dreary Monday – it’s all about the mindset. To that end, most of the time we lose track of what day of the week it is, and mark our days by milestones instead… Whether it was an uncharacteristically rainy day, or an amazing animal encounter right in the confines of the camp.
This past Tuesday, I embarked on a quiet run after the work day had wound down. I didn’t really have a purpose or direction, and rather let the run guide me as to where to move through camp. Something was pulling me towards running along the camp path (the well-known walkway that connects all five of the Londolozi Camps). I twisted my way along from Tree Camp, under the cool canopy of trees that shade the path. Being a photographer, I whipped out my phone to get a quick shot of the way the light was filtering through the trees as I neared Varty Camp.
Once again, letting my gut guide me, I continued down towards the Varty Camp deck. I could have turned left and taken a different path, but something tugged at me to head towards the river. Rounding the corner, I bumped squarely into Kylie Jones, our photography guru, waving her camera around with wild excitement in her eyes. “Mating leopards!” she cried, and my head whipped around to search the riverine bush for the familiar rosette pattern of a leopard. I heard them before I saw them when the Flat Rock male and Nkoveni female snapped loudly at each other as they pulled apart after mating.
A leopard who took advantage of the death of the 4:4 male in 2016 to grab territory to the west of the Londolozi camps.
A young female that lives to the east and south of camp. Easily recognised by her 2:2 spot pattern she is often to be found in Marula trees.
My eyes locked in on the two leopards, resting in the shade of a palm. As my eyes adjusted, I heard the quiet movement of an elephant and noticed two grey giants peacefully feeding on vegetation mere meters away from the two leopards. As if the scene in front of me was a wild ‘Where’s Wally’, I began to notice more and more elephants as the rest of the herd moved and fed. (Can you spot the leopards and the elephants in the video below?)
Slowly but surely other staff caught wind of this incredible sighting and they started to trickle in from all corners of the camp. We stood – in awe of what was happening right there in front of us- as the two leopards continued to mate, growl and rest and the small breeding herd moved fluidly up and down the riverbed, unperturbed by their behavior.
We discussed the dynamics of the leopards and debated which ones we thought they could be (before we positively identified them after Tally Smith arrived and assumed command of the binoculars). We commiserated over the recent death of the Nkoveni female’s cub, having been killed by the very male that she was now mating with – something we believe might have been deliberate as mating was as a means of distraction, preventing him from killing the second of her litter.
The afternoon went on in this manner, as the sun began to set and cast a pink glow over the granite rocks in the river. During a silent moment, I quietly murmured “Guys… it’s a Tuesday afternoon. What’s everyone in a city doing right now? Stuck in traffic? Sitting on a spinning bike? Doing laundry?” It was at this moment that we realized that these three things – two mating leopards and a herd of elephants- were the difference between happiness and the perpetual Sunday blues. It serves as a constant reminder to embrace the wild moments of your life, let yourself be pulled by your gut and trust that maybe, just around the next corner, you’ll feel the wilderness fulfill you in ways you didn’t expect it to.