Amazing sightings often take a great deal of hard work and patience, however there is sometimes a healthy dose of luck needed as well.
Guests offer a heap of credit and praise to guides and trackers when things go right but I will be the first to admit that in just about every case, there was some degree of luck involved in getting you to have that dream sighting.
The creatures discussed today are all about luck. They are the seven animals (in my opinion at least) that are the most elusive at Londolozi and, if you do happen to see even one of them during your stay, you can count yourself very, very lucky. They are secretive animals by nature, sometimes nocturnal, all small, but ultimately the fact that there just aren’t many of these animals around makes them big ticks to see.
AardvarkQuite possibly one of the strangest looking animals in Africa, the Aardvark (Afrikaans for ‘earth pig’) is a specialist digger and spends a great deal of its time underground in burrows that can be up to 10m (33 feet) deep. They dig these burrow themselves using their powerful fore-claws. Largely considered nocturnal, aardvarks generally only leave their burrows in the dead of night to forage for ants (in the dry season) and termites (in the rainy season) which they also dig up and then use their long sticky tongue to retrieve them from beneath the ground. They make use of excellent hearing and sense of smell to detect the insects, hence their large ears and protruding snout.
Although we regularly see evidence of aardvark activity across the reserve in the form of tracks, scat and dig sites, the animal itself remains incredibly elusive. The most recent recording of one was during the Panthera camera trap survey when one was snapped strolling past one of the camera stations late at night. Other than that, the last ranger to actually see one was Melvin Sambo, sometime early last year as we was driving back into the reserve one night returning from leave. I am yet to see one myself.
Another creature that I am yet to see for myself is a pangolin. These relatively small, slow moving mammals are also most active at night, also feeding on ants and termites. However, due to the fact that they don’t burrow themselves away like the aardvark, they can be seen from time to time in the daylight hours, resting up in the thick undergrowth. I know of only four occasions in the past year when a pangolin has been seen. The most recent one being when ranger John Mohaud, while following the Inyathini male leopard through a dry river bed, witnessed the leopard sniff out and pick up a pangolin in its jaws. Large predators are often (and I use that term loosely) inquisitive and even playful with pangolins but usually lose interest when they find the armour plating prevents them from getting a meal. A few weeks before John’s sighting, a couple of rangers and other Londolozi staff were incredibly lucky to witness a mother pangolin and her pup moving about one evening – truly a once in a lifetime moment, which I happened to be on leave for…
Black (Hooked Lipped) Rhino
While Londolozi and the rest of the Sabi Sand Reserve boasts one of the highest population densities of white (square-lipped) rhino in the world, black rhino remain a rarity. They do tend to be seen on a more regular basis in the southern parts of the reserve, however due to a slightly different habitat further north, only two have been seen at Londolozi in the past year.
Aside from there simply being far fewer black rhinos left in the world, their habitat requirements are thought to be a lot more specific than that of the white rhino. Black rhino enjoy thickly vegetated areas where they can browse on the leaves while white rhinos are happy to graze in the open plains and crests that we have at Londolozi. I have been fortunate enough to see black rhino on more than one occasion, but this was in the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi national park in Zululand – an area know to have a healthy population of black rhino. I am still awaiting the day to see one at Londolozi.
Londolozi is known for its large predators. The lion and leopard viewing in particular here is really something quite special – and I don’t say that just because I work here!
These carnivores sit right at the top of the predator hierarchy, along with hyenas, and therefore dominate the ecosystem to such an extent that some of the smaller predators are simply out-competed and struggle to establish themselves in the area.
One such animal is the serval. In the past year, serval have been seen on only two occasions, both in or near the open plains of the south-western portion of the reserve. It just happens to be the area of the reserve where lions, hyenas and leopard are not as frequently seen, primarily due to a difference in prey availability.
Officially we tell guests that we have four species of mongoose at Londolozi; the dwarf, slender, banded and white-tailed, all of which you stand a fairly good chance of seeing during your stay. However, their is a fifth member of the family we almost never mention simply because the chances of seeing one are so slim – the Meller’s mongoose. I can proudly say that two weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to see one as it wondered into my headlights one night on the way back to camp and it was that moment that I devised the idea of writing this post. From what I’ve gathered they are more commonly seen (although still classified as an endangered species) further north into Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi nevertheless. Some senior rangers and trackers at Londolozi have only seen one or two in more than a decade of working here!
Possibly one my favourite animals of the African bush is the honey badger. These relatively small, ferocious animals are the definition of dynamite coming in small packages. They have a no-nonsense attitude about the way they operate, often even warding off lions and leopard with their aggressive nature. They are tales of honey badgers being bitten by deadly snakes in the process of catching them, only to roll over, sleep off the effects of the venom and continue to feed on their bounty. I have been fortunate enough to see a honey badger on three occasions in the past year at Londolozi and one was in fact a breeding pair which was amazing. They seldom hang around for any photographs but the glimpse of one dashing across the road in front of you is still enough to get you excited.
African Wild Cat
As is the case with African wild dogs, there is often a misconception about the wild cat simply being a feral domestic cat, which most certainly is not the case. The African wild cat is however the ancestor of the domestic house cat and is in fact under threat from their domestic descendants as a species due to cross breeding with them. However, no domestic cats are found near Londolozi so our small population of Wild cats is safe for the time being.
Like the serval, wild cats are out-competed and threatened by the density of larger carnivores in the area and therefore aren’t able to flourish naturally. With that being said we went through a stage towards the end of the winter when a breeding pair were regularly seen in the same area and I was even fortunate enough to see the female with a young kitten feeding on a field mouse one night. Sightings of these animals have since declined I suspect due to the vegetation and in particular the grasses becoming much thicker with the recent summer rains. Hopefully next winter as the vegetation thins out we’ll be seeing more of these little predators.
And now you know Londolozi’s Secret Seven. On your next visit, don’t expect to see any of these animals. They pop up when you least expect it and hopefully now, after reading this post you’ll hopefully fully appreciate the brief moments that you might might spend with them. On the other hand, if you have seen any of these creatures in your previous visits you can count yourself incredibly lucky! While it is by no means a given that you’ll see the animals that are not mentioned in this post, the ones listed above do take that extra special dose of luck.