Having recently had a phenomenal run of sightings, I decided to try and recreate the events from my perspective to give you an idea of what life is like here as a guide at Londolozi:
08h45 – “It’s not over until you’re in the carpark at camp”, I always tell people… We are on our way back to camp after a successful morning safari. An elephant up ahead of us catches our attention – we notice it is walking at a steady pace. There’s a small waterhole up ahead of the herd so we quickly loop around the elephants and park alongside the waterhole, hoping they will come to drink. Before we know it, there are at least 20 elephants of all sizes lining up about 30 yards from us!
I look over my right shoulder and notice a six-month old calf sprinting towards us trumpeting, trunk flailing about. Adorable! This catches the attention of the adults though. In seconds we are surrounded by a semi-circle of elephants, not even five yards from us. Even a tiny calf comes to within two yards of my feet, sniffing around… With no door between me and these incredible giants, one cannot help but feel completely exposed, however no sense of fear or vulnerability sets in. The look in the elephants’ eyes is one of complete calm. We all feel overwhelmingly humbled, almost connected in this moment frozen in time.
The whole herd now begins to wallow in the mud directly in front of our vehicle. Never have I been so close to these gentle pachyderms – so close that we are caught in the crossfire as mud is sent flying across the bodies of the elephants. Tracker Bennet Mathonsi is splattered with mud, as is guest Matt Evans who receives a brown spot of mud square on the nose!
09h30 – Time for coffee and breakfast overlooking the Sand River. What a way to start the day!
10h00 – 14h45 – Time for some rest, exercise etc. between game drives.
15h30 – We set out the gate for our afternoon game drive.
16h00 – We sit peacefully in the middle of the reserve, while observing the Mashaba female leopard resting at the top of a Knobthorn tree. Just a few metres from her is an impala carcass hoisted about ten metres up in the crown of the tree. What a phenomenal show of strength…
16h40 – “LION CALLING!” We listen intently as the lion breathes out its last few grunts. The Mashaba female lifts her heavy head to gaze in the direction of the lion’s calls.
16h45 – I swerve back onto the road, leaving the leopard undisturbed as if we were never there. A quick discussion between Bennet and I and we have decided where we think the lion was roaring from. Not even five minutes later, and there she is! A beautiful lioness stands regally in the road in front of us. Fortune smiles on us: a leopardess and lioness within 500 metres of each other, going about their lives…
17h00 – We follow behind the lioness excitedly as she lets off soft contact calls. Any moment now we realise that she may find the rest of her pride.
17h05 – She stops. We stop. She listens. We listen. She can hear something up ahead – maybe the rest of her pride? We can’t hear a thing…
17h08 – A cub steps out into the road! It bumps heads with the lioness we were following in an affectionate greeting. What a privilege it is to witness such a tender moment. The rest of the pride including two dominant males lies scattered through the bush up ahead.
17h15 – We sit and enjoy the spectacle as the sun slowly sinks below a dusty horizon in front of us.
17h30 – Our guests sip on gin and tonics as we replay the scenes from our spectacular day out in the African bush.
18h00 – As tracker Bennet illuminates the landscape searching for any reflection of eyes, we notice a shape moving ahead of us in the road. “Leopard! Leopard!” Bennet exclaims. The Ndzanzeni Young Male walks straight down the road in front of us, completely unperturbed by our presence. I am lost for words at our luck… He pauses to rub up against a Guarrie bush, lifting his tail as he passes to spray his urine onto the leaves. He is on a territorial walk – a bold move as he is still a young individual.
18h15 – The young leopard veers off the road into some long grass. We hear impala rutting up ahead of him and notice how he has stopped to listen. The last thing he needs is to have his cover blown by us lighting him up with a spotlight. We leave him be as he slowly fades into the long grass in the direction of the impala. What an incredible experience following behind him, seeing the world through his perspective!
05h00 – *Alarm goes off* I rub the sleep from my eyes as I remove the stubble from my neck. It’s still pitch-black outside but I know daybreak is close as I can hear a white-throated robin chat’s melodious crescendo outside my window.
05h15 – I walk to the Rangers’ Room to collect my rifle. “Don’t forget to shine around with your torch”, I think to myself, as just two mornings ago at this exact time a mating pair of leopards walked along this same path through camp. A bush rustles next to me. I stop. Ah, it’s just one of the hyenas that was scratching around to see if it can access one of the camp bin-cages. I pick up my pace now as I need to reach camp and make coffee before the guests arrive – no leopards in my way this time.
05h30 – My guests arrive for coffee on deck. I look across the boulders in front of Founders Camp deck – the white granite is starting to show. First light is approaching…
05h45 – We set out on the open Land Rover for our morning game drive. As we drive through the camp gate and into the open bushveld, we feel the cool air across our faces. It’s still a bit too dark to see without a spotlight. Have we left camp a little too early? I slow my pace down as we approach the airstrip. A single impala ewe stands staring ahead of her – why is she alone? Unusual… Something must have separated this ewe from the herd.
05h55 – “Wild dogs! Wild dogs!” Ten of them in total. They trot in unison down the road towards us. One stops two metres from my open door and looks me in the eyes. Now I’m wide awake!
06h05 – The pack runs past the camp entrance gate towards a clearing in which we had just seen a large herd of impala. Will they see the impala in time for a hunt?
~ Flip to Head Ranger, Talley Danckwerts’, start to the day ~
06h30 – Talley jogs along her usual route from her room down the service road behind camp towards Pioneer Camp. She thinks her usual thoughts, not reflecting too much on what the rangers may be viewing just outside the camp fence that surrounds her.
06h35 – Talley’s radio blares out: “Everyone in camp, please be aware that a pack of wild dogs has just chased a herd of impala straight towards the camp area.” Talley hasn’t even had time to process what she has heard as an impala flies past her quicker than greased lightning, with two wild dogs hot on its heels! No need to finish her jog – her heart rate has already gone through the roof and she’s only five minutes in!
06h40 – Knowing all too well that wild dogs are incredibly efficient hunters, Talley moves cautiously towards where they disappeared to see if and where they catch the impala.
06h41 – The dogs are standing on the service road behind Private Granite Suites. They have blood on their faces! They have just caught an impala and are about to eat it, right inside camp! As Talley watches from one side, so does ranger John Mohaud from the other. The dogs gorge themselves then trot out of camp.
06h50 – Talley and John heave together. They must remove the remains of the impala carcass out of camp as soon as they can, so that either the dogs can finish it outside the camp boundary or another predator can, and that no people walking around have to deal with the sight of it. It takes some serious muscle work, but they manage to drag it right past the lodge and drop it in the river in front of Varty Camp deck.
06h55 – Talley finishes her morning jog by completing the 100m back to her house where she must quickly shower to prepare for the morning operations meeting. An interesting start to the day…
~ Switch back to us on game drive ~
07h00 – As quickly as they disappeared, suddenly two dogs come sprinting out of camp. They have faces bright red with blood. They must have killed something in camp! This is confirmed as Talley radios us to inform us of what she has just witnessed…
07h10 – The whole pack of ten regroup, having dispersed in all directions in pursuit of the impalas. We follow them to the banks of the Sand River near Finfoot Crossing where a crocodile is feeding off the remains of another impala. While the two dogs had killed one in camp, some other members of the pack had caught another, promptly to have had it stolen away by the croc!
07h30 – We have had quite our fair share for the morning and leave the Wild Dog sighting to be enjoyed by some other guests.
07h45 – We cross through the Sand River to go and explore the beautiful northern sections of Londolozi. Not even ten minutes in and guest Graham Wood stops me as he spots a large congregation of perched vultures. We notice a mixed array of species, including a tawny eagle. Could there be a kill?
07h50 – We stumble across the single Tsalala lioness feeding off the remains of an impala ram directly under the vultures. Seriously? We have just left an amazing sighting of wild dogs! She is very full and the sun is warming up. We let her be so as not to disturb her.
08h30 – Having enjoyed a great cup of coffee from Ximpalapala crest overlooking the rolling hills, we return to the lioness. Nothing has changed – a few vultures are flying towards camp though. I wonder what has drawn their attention?
08h33 – Impalas start going crazy – alarming calling – just where we had our coffee ten minutes earlier. We kick the car into gear, leaving the Tsalala lioness once again. As we approach the impala, we all spot a large cat about 300 metres to our left. “It’s another lioness!” I shout excitedly. Wait! No… It’s the Anderson male leopard! We are in absolute disbelief. So big is the Anderson male that I misidentified him at first as another lion.
08h40 – We manage to find the massive male leopard closer up, however he is trying to hide in the middle of a Spikethorn thicket. We see only a few spots and the penetrating stare from his steel-blue eyes every few minutes. We decide that he’ll probably be better off without us trying to get a view of him and make our way back to camp for breakfast…
All in all, a ridiculous 24 hours out on safari at Londolozi. It turns out that the vultures that were flying in the direction of camp were seen in front of Varty Camp Deck around 09h30 that morning and were promptly chased off the impala that they were feeding on by the single Tsalala lioness.
The events over the 24-hour period are an indication that you just never know what the bush will deliver… Sometimes we go weeks without seeing wild dogs, and this was the first time that dogs have been recorded running into camp. In terms of the number of sightings we had, we consider ourselves incredibly fortunate. We traverse over roughly 15 000 hectares (~37 000 acres) at Londolozi, thus the distance between animals and the time between sightings can sometimes be quite substantial. Every now and then though, you hit a lucky streak or a “purple patch” as we like to refer to it. Let’s just hope you bring a purple patch with you when visiting us here too…
The Mashaba female is currently Londolozi’s best known leopard. Her relaxed nature means she is comfortable around the camps and vehicles.
Unofficially the biggest leopard in the Sabi Sands, the Anderson male is an absolutely enormous individual in north western Londolozi.