There are many firsts out here.
Your first impala, first kudu bull, first elephant…
Your first safari is of course littered with them, and each one seems to generate more excitement than the last. In fact, as guides, it is the energy given off by guests when they experience each animal for the first time that really fuels us and inspires us to keep sharing the magic out here.
Whether you like it or not though, the novelty of seeing an impala can wear off, and as much as I hate to admit it, I do not stop for every impala anymore (unless my guests haven’t seen one yet). Having said that, there will always remain something that us guides and trackers have never seen. For many years a lot of South African bush goers would have told you that seeing a wild leopard was their ultimate prize, as they are considered secretive, shy cats that rarely allow themselves to be seen. Of course, the leopards of Londolozi are habituated compared to most of the World, allowing us some unbelievable sightings that most people would never have dreamed of.
I have been visiting the greater Kruger National Park area for 25 years of my life, and have been fortunate to work in a few different wild places, including the Okavango Delta.
The one animal that has evaded me all this time is the Serval.
I conducted some work with camera traps in the Okavango and recorded an individual coming across the bridge to our camp on numerous occasions, once just 30 minutes before we walked across. I once was on a vehicle in the grasslands of the Kwa-Zulu Natal province in South Africa when the driver spotted one just off to the side of the road in the headlights. In his excitement to show me (knowing that it was my ultimate animal to see) there was some confusion and with all the shouting – “LOOK! LOOK PETE!” – the serval ran and all I saw was darkness.
That same gentleman spotted a serval cross the road in broad daylight just days after I left his farm. To rub salt into my wounds, the author of a recent blog on Londoloz’s Secret Seven animals to view – Ranger Chris Taylor – had a sighting of one in Londolozi’s south-western grasslands as I got back to camp. Hope was not lost though as out here, you just never know what is around each corner…
My moment came this last week:
Tracker Bennet Mathonsi had seen the reflection of its eyes in the spotlight, behind a bush in a thicket. I knew it was something special when he raised his voice and said, “Go forward! It’s either a leopard, or… a Serval!” Just as he said this, it walked right into the clearing in front of us. I fumbled to get my camera out, knowing that nobody would believe me without photographic evidence. Luckily I had already switched to the settings for night photography, and even luckier for us, it just acted as if we weren’t even there…
Serval are typically found in grassland areas where there are lower densities of larger predators such as leopard, hyena and lion. They will walk through the grass, periodically stopping to listen out for the movement of rodents with their massive ears. Their long legs allow them to pounce long distances when hunting, giving them a peculiar look along with their mid-length tail and over-sized ears.
To top off our sighting, as we sat in silence watching the serval in awe under a magnificent starry sky, we heard the growls of a pair of leopards mating nearby!
What’s next on the list?