Soaking up the dawn chorus with a hot coffee in hand on one of Londolozi’s wooden decks is how any good day in the bush should start. It’s something of an eagerly anticipated pre-game drive ritual that Terry, one of Londolozi’s multiple repeat guests, is well familiar with. As dawn approaches we listen for the distant roar of a lion, the gravelly rasp of a leopard or the tell-tale whoop of the spotted hyena. On that first morning drive, at 05:35 sharp, we drive out into the bush eager and excited. At this time of year, it is the perfect time to leave as it coincides with the sunrise. With the sun peeking over the horizon through gold-splattered clouds we weave our way along Londolozi’s bush tracks out into the unknown.
As is so often the case on safari, we as guides have a well thought out plan but the moment we drive out of the camp the plan usually flies out the proverbial window.
Early one morning we thought about driving along the Maxabene drainage in search of the Ntsevu pride. Freddy Ngobeni and I had an idea about how we were going to go about finding this particular pride and where we were going to drive but three minutes out of camp Freddy saw leopard tracks in the sand, although at this point I had already conjured up vivid images of driving around a corner and seeing lions lying about on the road or stalking a herd of zebra through the bush.
Thrusting them aside we had a closer look at the leopard tracks and decided they were fresh. We could see where she (the tracks were of a female) had rubbed herself up against a bush and pushed the claws of her back feet through the hard ground. Although we had already seen a leopard, this was the bush saying, ‘Leave the lions for another day’.
And so we tracked the leopard. And tracked some more until at last, we rounded a bend in the road and saw her, an image of spotted perfection, poised in morning light intently watching a herd of impala..
By day two we had still not found any lions. Due to the size of their territories and their cross-border wanderings our search took us to the four corners of Londolozi. But we needn’t have worried. On Terry’s previous visit we had the most incredible sighting of the three Birmingham male lions crossing over the old Selati railway line in Londolozi’s south-western corner. The opportunity allowed us to position ourselves below the lions and take photographs of them against a blue background). Almost a year later, our efforts were rewarded when we once again found ourselves in a sighting that was almost too good to be true. The Ntsevu pride, including nine of their cubs, were being trailed by two of the aforementioned Birmingham males. This pride are currently in excellent condition and together, they make quite the spectacle. Serenaded by a symphony of harlequin quails, rufous-naped larks and cape turtle doves, they meandered their way through tall summer grass, bathed in the glow of sunset..
How often can it be said that had we been five minutes earlier or later and we’d have missed that sighting, or had we not stopped for that bird we might not have been in the right place at the right time? This certainly holds true in some cases but in others, we work for it, we’re patient when we need to be and we make our own luck.
Late one evening on their way back to camp, Grant Rodewijk and Jerry Hambana found the Nhlanguleni female leopard leading her two cubs away from the Sand River not far upstream from Pioneer Camp. Our interpretation was that they’d either finished a kill and were moving out of the area or she had made a kill and was taking her cubs to it. Early the next morning we took a rather circuitous route into the area on account of the cloudy conditions and low light (we were waiting for it to get lighter before we got onto the tracks so we could see them better). Freddy and Sersant Sibuyi immediately went to work. Like Hansel and Gretel, they followed a trail of subtle clues that to us mortals would be difficult to see let alone interpret. A combined thirty years of tracking experience paid off. They found them! The Nhlanguleni female and one cub were on one side of the river, having evidently just crossed, and the second cub had yet to do so. All that was left to do was position ourselves on the northern bank and wait. Wait for the moment we knew would come…
Our approach each day, and a proven one at that, was to go with what the bush has to offer. To head out with no expectations and just see what we would see. They say the bush is ninety percent peace and tranquility and ten percent chaos and confusion. Ask anyone who has tried to keep up with lions hunting buffalo through the dry season dust! A lot of time and energy can be spent chasing the action only to have it continuously out of reach. But with a bit of patience and by feeling your way through each drive, using what you see, hear and smell, interpreting the sounds and smells around you and listening to what the bush is ‘saying’ one can have the most extraordinary, action-packed sightings.