Our Journey at Londolozi began on the 1st December 1998. Mish arrived from a neighbouring lodge and I was fresh off the ranger training course, which was in Northern Natal at the time. Little did we know what lay ahead but this was to be the beginning of a real adventure.
Soon after I had qualified as a ranger, Mish would join me on early morning game drives most mornings and when I had time off in the afternoons we would head across the river and explore the North (a property added to the Londolozi portfolio in 1999). It was on one of those afternoon drives when I had stopped the Land Rover on the edge of a dry river bed and I turned to Mish and explained that we were just going to sit quietly for a bit and listen because this was the time of the day that leopards became more active and if any impala, kudu, nyala or bushbuck saw the leopard they would sound the alarm and this would help us in our search for the elusive cats.
Mish wasn’t impressed by all this ranger jargon and she calmly turned to me and said, “Well, if you are looking for a leopard then you should have told me because there is one on that termite mound.”
I looked where she was pointing but I couldn’t see anything. Then I looked with my binoculars and I still couldn’t see anything and so sheepishly I headed off-road in the direction of the mound and sure enough there was a beautiful female leopard lying on the side of it. This wouldn’t be the last time that Mish would find a leopard for me. Actually, she became renowned for it as it became almost a daily thing…
“STOP, there is a leopard in the river.”
“Oliver do you copy, there is a leopard with cubs on the bank of the
river opposite Tree Camp.”
“Oliver do you copy, there is a leopard with cubs at Fish Eagle Lodge.”
“Oliver do you copy, there is a leopard on the Causeway.”
“STOP, there is a leopard on the top of that koppie.”
The list goes on and she still impresses to this day; even some trackers are left speechless.
Unfortunately our stay at Londolozi was cut short as I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2004 and the summer heat became too much for me to handle and so we left in 2005, but not before climbing the Southern Cross Koppie in the North and I proposed to her. We returned to Londolozi later that year to get married and the animals gave us their blessing as our ceremony had to be delayed by an hour due to a herd of elephant feeding around the rocks we were going to get married on. The following evening a pride of lions lay down on the same rocks and the following evening two male leopards walked across the rocks within half an hour of each other as they called to mark their territory.
We have been very fortunate to return to Londolozi every year in winter ever since we left in 2005. While we are there we drive almost exclusively in the North and try and avoid game drives as much as possible. Our game drive pace is slow as we are often off the vehicle looking at things of interest like animal dung, animal tracks and trees. It is on many of these stops that we find leopards: parked on a road listening to a bird call when a male leopard stepped out into the road in front of us. Watching an elephant bull feeding in the river when Mish spotted a kill in a tree on the opposite bank of a dry river bed. Parked at a dam Mish spotted a leopard on the far bank that no-one could see until we drove around the dam. Parked on the road looking at fresh leopard tracks when we heard francolin alarming which led us to a leopard den where a mother lay with her two tiny Cubs.
Parked, watching a francolin in the road when we noticed a male leopard crouched down in the grass 3 metres from the road. Driving along a road which is seldom driven and finding a leopard which led us to her den where she was hiding her newborn cubs whose eyes hadn’t even opened yet.
Now, by no means am I suggesting that you don’t need a tracker on drive. On the contrary, the knowledge of the Londolozi Rangers combined with the skill of their trackers will deliver a world-class experience. I am just amazed at how much we can still see when we just scratch around in the North while the game drives are out in the field viewing other breathtaking sightings.
Mish says I become a different person when we are at Londolozi. My energy levels increase, my anxiety levels drop and although I live with Multiple Sclerosis every day and it has affected my physical ability, it is as if I leave it at the gate when we drive in to Londolozi.
The truth is that I have always felt like this since the day I first arrived at Londolozi. It is a special place where you will instantly feel at home and fall in love all over again, even it is just with life (and leopards).