No two game drives are alike; it’s what makes going on safari an addictive experience. Each drive has its own flow, some starting off with a bang (a leopard drinking from the waterhole outside the camp entrance, for instance), others gradually building to some epic encounter.
And every so often, a drive is just on. It’s hard to describe, but Sting of The Police comes close: “A connecting principle, linked to the invisible / Almost imperceptible, something inexpressible.” In a word, synchronicity.
On a recent morning, I had a front-row seat (actually, a middle-row seat, but who’s counting?) to the kind of inexplicably good timing, the sense of nature’s almost mystical alignment, that can leave an onlooker speechless. With trainee ranger Josh Attenborough (since graduated to fully fledged ranger – well done Josh!) and tracker Richard Mthabine at the helm, we set out from the car park, stopping briefly to marvel at gigantic crocodile sunbathing by the dam, and headed into the bush.
Working through the scenic western edge of the central part of the reserve, we joined ranger Bruce Arnott at a spectacular leopard sighting: Nhlanguleni young female, lying perfectly still on a patch of flat rocks. However, her stillness was short-lived, and we were soon continuously repositioning ourselves to keep eyes on this energetic leopard as she raced around the area, scampering up and down trees, grabbing an impala leg for a snack, and growling at an approaching hyena in a tense face-off.
As we weaved through the bush trying to keep up, the sun broke through the clouds, warming us up after a streak of grey days here at Londolozi. We had a few more precious minutes with Nhlanguleni young female, who alternated between bouts of manic running, playful climbing, and majestic positions draped over branches.
Winding our way north toward Taylor’s Crossing, it felt as though the stars were aligning for our drive – the bush looked radiant in the sunshine, and we kept coming upon beautiful scenes of nature seemingly playing out just for us: a red-billed crane taking flight, a mother Egyptian goose leading her clutch of goslings through a stream.
The sunlight streaked through the trees as we traversed the riverbed, finally arriving at our destination in a sandy clearing: the Othawa pride, snoozing in the sun.
Two adult females presided over the scene, but the focus of attention (ours, at least) was one very endearing cub. Apparently trying to get comfortable in between two rocks, the cub repeatedly repositioned itself, wedging its head in search of nature’s version of the “cool side of the pillow.” For more on why we find animal cubs adorable, see Alex Jordan’s insightful blog post on the subject. Otherwise, take my word for it: this was one cute cub
Buzzing from our lion encounter, we pulled into the shade of a Jackalberry tree for coffee and hot chocolate. With that, a breeding herd of elephants leapt over the horizon and steamrolled their way toward us, causing a brief panic before rerouting themselves toward the river. Another three or four elephants arrived from the west, distantly surrounding us as we all enjoyed our refreshing mid-morning drinks.
On our final approach to camp, we passed a further two elephants, this pair walking side-by-side. Seeing these enormous creatures walk together the way two people would stroll down a city sidewalk, it was hard not to smile. Nature once had again revealed itself to be just as beautifully ordered as it is perpetually unpredictable, and thanks to some clever guiding, expert tracking, and good timing, we were right in the thick of it, happily watching the magic unfold.