The journey one takes in becoming a guide at Londolozi is an incredibly special one. There are life-long friendships formed along the way, with people who have the same interests and ideas. Everyone thrives off of having and providing fantastic experiences in what is an exceptional place. In the 6 years of working at Londolozi, I have never had a day that was ever the same; there is a spontaneous unpredictability about working at Londolozi that is infectious and addictive.
It is sometimes hard to believe that this is our job and home. I suppose that being in nature is the place for each of us, where we feel most alive. Training and becoming a guide at Londolozi allows oneself to re-establish your instinctive connection to nature and to truly become inspired and often humbled by the wonders of what the wild has to offer. I find it important to disconnect from the outside world in order to reconnect with myself. The powerful part about becoming a guide for me, is that our connection with nature may not only determine our happiness, but also our attitudes about protecting the environment which is vital for the sustainability of this sacred wilderness area, and indeed the planet as a whole.
Becoming a guide makes you aware that nature is never silent; nature speaks! Not literally, but nature communicates in a symbolic language that sometimes can’t be heard or seen, but it can be felt deep within. That intuitive feeling is confirmed by a scent, a track in the sand or an echoing alarm call along the banks of the Sand River. There is no greater or more diverse source for symbolic meaning than what can be derived from nature. Our natural environment holds deeper meaning about who we are and where we are headed, if we could just take the time to listen.
This may paint a pretty picture but there is a lot of hard work and investment in becoming a guide. The current trainee guides have just finished 25 theory modules in just under 4 months and best of all, have spent 8 hours a day in the field with enough freedom to enjoy and learn from the environment and people around them. There is a really big focus on being fully submerged in and around indigenous animals, plants, landscapes and people.
This week we would like to allow you the opportunity to peek into a week with the trainee guides. It has been a busy week, walking and viewing (on foot) lions, elephant, rhino, buffalo and even a leopard in the distance. We focused on wildlife photography, star photography, we had a surprising sighting of 20 lions on a buffalo kill, an incredible sighting of the Anderson and Thamba male leopards, and we participated in a snake handling course. This TWIP provides a brief introduction to the trainees and I am sure that you’ll be reading blogs from them in the near future. Each trainee has provided their own insights to each of the images in this TWIP.
Without further ado, meet the current trainees and enjoy our Week in Pictures…
When crossing The Sand River, we cannot help ourselves but stop at every sighting of the hippo calves. Watching them trying to keep up with their mothers makes for a comical sight on our training drives. It’s only at about 8 years old when a hippo will become completely independent. Before that time, they will stay close to their mothers as she will fiercely protect them. Here a hippo cow leads its young calf out the river in the early morning to get a comfy spot on the banks as they prepare to spend the day in the sun. Photograph and caption by Dean de la Rey
The hippo was quite camera shy and the majority of the pod dipped their heads under the water’s surface as we arrived at the causeway. However, one particular bull, probably the dominant one in that section of the river, found it necessary to surface every minute or so just to keep tabs on our activities at the water’s edge. As discreet as he thought he was being, we were able to follow a trail of bubbles which gave away the position in which he would next break the surface, and so we were able capture this moment. It’s interesting to notice how the hippo’s ears, eyes and nostrils are all located on top of their heads enabling them to gather a significant amount of sensory information as well a fresh gasp of air without having to raise much of their enormous bodies out of the water. Photograph and caption by Chris Taylor
Our first buffalo kill at Londolozi. As if that wasn’t a statement enough, it went on to consist of 20 lions, made up of two prides; what looked like the Nkuhumas and Mhangeni sub-adults. One pride would have made the kill and with the ferocious noises, the other pride would have come to investigate. In the end, the two groups met somewhere in the middle and an awkward but noisy truce ensued, where both prides managed to leave with full stomachs. Watching the new lion dynamics of Londolozi has been one of my highlights so far. It begs the question if we could have a new pride of the North and could it possibly be one of these prides? Photograph and Caption by Dean de la Rey
We spent a couple of minutes watching this Tree squirrel sticking its head into holes and crevices of the dead Knob thorn tree. I found it quite interesting as it headed to the ground to cache food supplies. Squirrels will typically deposit seeds into small holes they have dug and then pat the soil with their chin, with the idea of using these supplies later. Often forgotten where they buried them, these squirrel’s pantries become the seedlings of new plants upon the arrival of the first rains. Photograph and Caption by Dean de la Rey
The puff adder is an ambush hunter. It uses its cryptic colouration to remain hidden, often for weeks at a time, until an unlucky victim comes within striking range. As a result of their camouflage, and their habit of remaining still, puff adders are often stepped on and cause the majority of snake bites in South Africa. Their cytotoxic venom results in tissue damage and necrosis which can be deadly if not treated properly. The snake handler that came to Londolozi to educate us dispelled a lot of myths and unnecessary fear of these entrancing animals. Caption by Greg Mintur-Brown, photograph by Don Heyneke
The Anderson male leopard is a formidable male in the Sabi Sands and holds down a large portion of the northern section of Londolozi as his territory. Incredibly, he was recently found to have lost his left eye. We can only speculate as to how exactly this happened and what effect it may have on his survival, which James Tyrrell discusses in a blog post from earlier this week. Nonetheless, this leopard is undoubtedly one of the largest in the region and has quite an intimidating presence about him, only added to by this gruesome wound on his face which he seemed quite unfazed about at the time that we were able to capture this image. A stark reminder of how unforgiving this wilderness can be. Caption by Chris Taylor, Photograph by Don Heyneke
Photography has become a huge part of a guide’s job, with just about every guest snapping pictures while on safari. Be it a professional photographer or a nature lover with an iPhone, everyone wants to take some memories home with them, and it’s up to us as guides to assist them in capturing those moments. The photography module has been one of our most interesting and enjoyable ones to date, learning everything from the basics of photography to the intricacies of star trails. This evening we went out, armed with spotlights and cameras, to learn about backlighting when taking pictures at night. We were lucky enough to see the large Nkuhuma pride just after they had brought down an nyala, and spent the next couple of hours fine tuning our camera settings to get the perfect image of a backlit lion. This image was the result of that hard work. Caption by James Steele and photograph by Don Heyneke
After an epic evening of following and photographing hunting lions, we decided to head to an open area and reflect on our experience. The clear, open sky paired with the moonless night provided an amazing view of the Milky Way arching over us. We decided to take advantage of the perfect conditions to play around with some star photography. Using a long exposure and wide aperture, we were able to capture this image with all the trainees on the Land Rover silhouetted by the majestic African night sky. Caption by Nick Sims and Photograph by Don Heyneke
As the sun rose to awaken the bush. We walked through open plains, becoming a shadow in the golden grass using small Magic Guarri bushes or the ancient dead leadwoods as structures to hide our presence. Each footprint we left behind had a purpose and sense of respect, hearts pumping with excitement, not knowing what we might experience. We were lucky enough to sit silently onto a termite mound from which we viewed a breeding herd of elephants walk past us without even knowing we were there. To be a part of nature and walking the paths crafted by the animals reaches deep in your soul, awakening new senses or emotions never stretched before. Caption by Jess Shillaw and Photograph by Don Heyneke
We set off from camp rather late in the afternoon and made our way towards the causeway which takes us through the Sand River and into the northern section of Londolozi. As we dipped down the slope into the river, a raft of several hippos greeted us with a snort and a grunt to our left. Equipped with our newly borrowed camera equipment (thanks to our photographic studio), we seized the moment to test out a few settings at an eye level with the large mammals. We carefully hopped off the vehicle and positioned ourselves as best we could. Don quietly moved off to one side and captured the moment. Although we may all look quite professional, we were only just finding our feet. Caption by Chris Taylor and Photo by Don Heyneke
Chris Taylor starting to feel comfortable behind the lens. Londolozi has an impressive array of accomplished photographers and their enthusiasm and willingness to pass on their photographic knowledge has worked like a well-baited hook to the aspiring trainees. Caption and Photograph by Greg Mintur-Brown
In winter time, the aloes that are planted around camp bloom in their bright reds and vibrant oranges. These colourful flowers attract some equally colourful birds to the scene. Sunbirds, like the White-bellied Sunbird pictured here, come to feed on the sweet nectar produced by the aloes. Trying to capture the iridescent colours of the sunbird amongst the red of the aloes was an exciting opportunity for the trainees to put our photography skills to the test. Photograph and Caption by Nick Sims
After sitting silently in the Manyelethi river bed, under the cover of darkness, we heard the monstrous sounds of lions making a kill close by. Wasting no time, we arrived at the surreal scene and watched a pride feed with an air of ruthlessness as each individual fought for their share of the kill. Lions are the only social cats and the dynamic within the pride is usually affectionate and good-natured so to see them act with belligerence toward one another was intriguing. We stayed with the pride for a while, and Don introduced us to the complex yet satisfying art of photographing animals at night with a spot light. It was an educational and thrilling evening. Photograph and caption by Greg Mintur-Brown
Spending time in the bush, learning from the guides at Londolozi, has been invaluable for our group of trainees over the past 4 months. Every guide here has a wealth of knowledge and a passion for the bush that has a contagious effect on everyone around. Here our head trainer Don Heyneke is teaching us the importance of using the elements such as wind direction and position of the sun to your favour when walking in the bush. We had just seen the remains of a lion kill from the night before, and were preparing to track the lions that had since moved off in the early hours of the morning. Photograph and Caption by James Steele
There was lots of excitement (and some nerves) amongst the Londolozi guests and staff as we were treated to a presentation by reptile expert Jason Stewart from Perry’s Bridge Reptile Park. With Jason were a number of snakes, including a Black Mamba, Boomslang, Puff Adder and a Southern African Python. As part of our training, us trainees had to learn how to capture the snakes – something that may be required should a snake find itself into an area where it’s not wanted! This picture shows trainee Dean Frank de la Rey handling a Snouted Cobra. The focus on Dean’s face and the nervous looks from those behind him tell the story of each of us embracing our fears and doing something we never thought we would be able to do. Caption by James Steele and Photograph by Don Heyneke
After exploring a block less ventured. We came across a crash of seven rhino grazing, which was well spotted by Dean from about a kilometre away. We approached slowly, learning how to use our senses to ensure we viewed them without any change in their behaviour. We decided to climb a Bushveld Saffron tree to gain a better view. It was great to refind a childhood pleasure of tree-climbing, while at the same time remaining hidden from from the rhinos. Full of life, fulfilling our passion while creating bonds that are unbreakable. Photograph and Caption by Jess Shillaw