Wonderful tips Janes. Each day on safari bring new experiences. Each safari is different. The best is to start with an open mind and no expectations. What is meant to be will come to you. Rather enjoy the drive. As you mention, trust the ranger and tracker. They will find what there is to see. It is not just about the animals but the trees, plants, flowers, birds, insects. It is not all about getting the best photo. It is about the memories.
There are easy traps to fall into when coming on safari.
You want to know what others are seeing elsewhere, you might get impatient because a lion is taking its time to wake up, you wonder if you’re missing out…basically you just want to make sure you are having the best time possible.
And this is perfectly natural. You might have travelled a long way and made a considerable investment in order to come out to Africa, and a certain level of anxiety is quite understandable, especially in an environment which isn’t predictable, or at least isn’t controllable.
Yet ultimately, a lot of the behavioural patterns we have seen over the years from both first-time and repeat guests actually go a long way towards decreasing the level of enjoyment they will get out of their safari. They place unnecessary pressure on the ranger and tracker and on themselves, which only serves to detract from what’s happening right in front of them.
As I said, most of the behaviours we see are perfectly understandable, but we’re going to put your mind at ease here, because if you follow these simple steps (and I’m not saying they’re easy, I just said they are simple), I guarantee you will get far more out of the safari experience…
Don’t listen to the radio.
There’s often a misunderstanding about the radio’s function. It is not a tool to be used so that as soon as something exciting is seen, every vehicle can flock in there and everyone can rotate quickly through.
No, the radio is actually there so the game viewers can avoid each other! The more everyone spreads out across the reserve, the more animals get found, the less pressure there is on sightings and the more everyone gets to spend time with whatever animal(s) they may have found.
Your Land Rover might be 15km away from the vehicle that has found a leopard that you heard about on the radio. By the time you get there (it’ll take much longer than you think over the windy dirt tracks) the leopard will be long gone or the action will be over.
Guides and trackers help each other track down high profile game by using the radio to communicate bits of information: “Tracks are heading east”, or “Impalas alarm calling near this junction” and by the end of drive, the rangers will have an idea of what was seen where, which will help them plan the next drive(s). A lot of the communication is abbreviated to save on chatter, so what might sound like a big cat being found to the inexperienced ear is actually just a tracking effort taking place, or even just someone’s intention to look for a leopard.
The radio will only impact your ability to stay present if you keep listening to it…
Don’t Expect to See Everything You’ve Seen on the Blog
Much like sports networks on TV broadcast highlights packages, as is the blog to the game viewing here. A few photos of an impala herd grazing aren’t as likely to gain viewership as a pride of lions hunting buffalo, so we obviously want to put out the best sightings online.
Remember though, many of those sightings came about through long tracking hours and persistence. And many of them develop over the course of a few days. Time and patience are the keys to gaining the most out of your game drives, and arriving with a list in mind of what you want to see is the worst approach! Simply let things develop organically and I pretty much guarantee you’ll have an amazing time and see incredible things.
I always open my introduction to new guests by stating that it’s a big area we’re traversing, so we won’t see what everyone else sees, and they won’t see everything that we’ll see, but we’ll ALL enjoy fantastic viewing.
Remember also that many epic sightings don’t make it onto the blog! Things might have been happening too fast for the ranger to take a photo, he or she might not have had a camera with them, or we’ve just got too much other content coming in… There might be 5 amazing sightings all taking place simultaneously across the reserve, only one of which will ever grace the blog.
Stay present in your own vehicle, be patient, and let the magic unfold…
Don’t Think That Quantity Beats Quality
A common thing we hear is how many leopards guests have seen during a stay.
Numbers can be misleading though, because even though Londolozi is one of the best places in the world to view these magnificent cats, just because you saw a lot doesn’t mean each sighting was mind-blowing. Yes, seeing them each time is fantastic, but as mentioned in point 2 above, patience and time with an animal is how you mine the real gold.
When I first started guiding I was also into the numbers, wanting to show my guests a different leopard at every opportunity. It was soon made evident to me by some of the senior guides that it is in fact the story behind each sighting that makes it special, and this is where we are so fortunate; to be able to follow the same leopards through their lives, getting to know each one, their territory and their life histories is an opportunity granted to few areas in Africa. A connection with or an investment in a story is that much more profound when it centres around an individual, and seeing the same leopard a number of times over the course of a stay can be far more informative as to the habits of the species than just ticking numbers. Seeing a female hungry and hunting on day one, then seeing the same female on a kill having fetched her cub on day two, then still on the kill and well fed on day three can be a far more enlightening experience than seeing 5 different individuals over that same time period.
Trust Your Ranger/Tracker Team.
If it’s your ranger’s first official day on the job at Londolozi, her or she will already boast roughly 1000 hours of bush time, just from their training period!
If we average a game drive at about 3.5 to 4 hours, then as a guest you’ll need between 250 and 285 game drives to match those 1000 hours, which if you come to the bush twice a year for three days at a time, amounts to about 20 years of trips to the bush. That’s a lot of time to catch up!
Some of the senior trackers at Londolozi have over 40 years of experience behind them, and if 10 000 hours of practice in a field makes you world-class, we have a number of such proponents of the tracking art right here.
The general policy is to pair newer rangers with more experienced trackers and vice versa, so whichever combination you go out with on safari, you’re in safe and experienced hands. The team will know where animals have been moving, the current dynamics, the best place to start looking for leopards, what is going on in the rest of the reserve, and all the information that is necessary to provide you with the best wildlife viewing experience possible, so no matter who you are with, all you have to do is sit back and enjoy the ride.
Take in the Moment
It’s all too easy to get frantic about taking a photo, but the more you look through that viewfinder, the more you miss what’s actually happening in front of you. Stop, put the camera down (especially if photographic conditions aren’t great), breathe, and take it all in.
Smell, listen, look, and actually see.
Appreciate the finer details of an impala’s coat, the way a Green Wood-hoopoe’s beak is curved to allow it to probe for grubs under the bark, or how a rhino’s ears are constantly rotating, catching the tiniest sound bytes.
The wilderness experience – like a fine wine – is meant to be savoured.
Slow everything right down, and I’m fairly certain it will unfold in a more exciting and fulfilling way than you thought possible…
Filed under Featured General Nature Wilderness teachings Wildlife
Actually Ian, Margareth Ngobeni, butler at Varty camp, tracks every now and then. But at the moment no, we have no permanent female trackers.
Is that Freddie;s wife?
He has a wonderful son,
No not Freddy’s wife (although it would be brilliant if Freddy’s wife were also a tracker). Margareth just shares the same surname…