Tracker Exon Sibuyi is a softly-spoken man, yet some of his stories are the best you will hear in the bush. He’s been knocked unconscious off the tracker’s seat by a flying impala, after which 15 lions came and ate it off him like a dinner plate, but he just chuckles about the incident, brushing it aside as almost inconsequential. This happened years ago at another lodge, when Exon was out on the front seat after dark.
Although there’s little danger in staying in the trackers seat, as most of the big cats in particular are habituated to the presence of a vehicle, at Londolozi we will bring the trackers inside, mainly to enhance the experience for the guests. If a pride of lions is moving in front of the vehicle, it’s far more pleasant not having to stare at someone’s back.
Also, it’s one less thing for the ranger to have to worry about when off-roading; I’ve been severely reprimanded by a tracker after ripping his favourite jacket full of Knobthorn holes when I accidentally drove him into the tree whilst looking the other way at the leopard we were trying to follow. He was still on the front seat at the time, and I learnt my lesson.
One of Exon’s favourite stories comes from a time when he was on the tracker’s seat. At least he was for most of the telling of it.
The incident took place about 20 years ago, before Exon was at Londolozi. He had tracked and found a pride of lions, and had returned to the vehicle to direct the ranger into the sighting. They found the pride just as they emerged onto the road, and the ranger slotted the vehicle in behind the lions, slowly trundling along at 5 kilometres an hour.
Exon was happily sitting on the front seat, content to watch the lions and their cubs as they slowly moved through the reserve at a sedate pace. The ranger meanwhile was explaining to the guests about lions in general, turning in his seat to be heard.
If the engine is on and the ranger is facing forward when speaking, it’s hard to hear his or her voice, so one of the first things you are taught when starting guiding is to talk to the back seat; turn and talk! The ranger was doing a great job of this while the rising heat of the morning was having a soporific effect on Exon, making him quite drowsy out on his bonnet seat. With heavy lids, he had folded his arms across his stomach and his chin was slowly drooping towards his chest…
The ranger, meanwhile, was swivelled in his seat to talk to his guests. It happened to be a more extended bit of dialogue than usual, and he didn’t notice that one of the lionesses had stopped to listen to something off in the bush. Eventually tuning back to the road, the ranger was horrified to suddenly see that he was practically on top of the lioness, and his immediate reaction was to slam on the brakes. Now, the vehicle wasn’t exactly moving fast, but it and everyone it contained still had a certain amount of inertia. Exon was horrified to wake up and find himself in mid-air, catapulted out of his seat by his forward momentum!
I imagine he was even more horrified half a second later, when he landed squarely on the back of the lioness!
Thankfully, most lions out there aren’t used to being assaulted from the air by falling bodies, so it’s debatable who got the bigger fright: her or Exon.
What we do know is that her immediate reaction was to run for her life, disappearing in a puff of dust and with a hearty growl into the thickest bushes she could find, while the pride up ahead of her spun in all directions, trying to establish what the threat was while Exon sprawled in the road.
The only real threats were those probably uttered by Exon himself, as he quickly jumped up, brushed himself off and made it known to his ranger just how displeased he was with what had just happened.
And I always wondered why there are handles installed next to the tracker’s seat…