Winter months at Londolozi offer some of the clearest night skies around. I have had many guests in awe of the amphitheatre of stars above their heads on a drive home at night. It really makes us feel insignificant when gazing up at the glitter of millions of shining galactic bodies of which we form part. This sense of awe is lost when there is any form of light around, whether that be from the moon or from light pollution in towns and cities.
Part of the Londolozi family, Rob Crankshaw, is an undercover photographic wiz. Some of his images were portrayed in The Week in Pictures #440. He specialises in scoping out beautiful landscapes and monitoring the weather conditions to find the perfect day and time for the perfect shot. This is true for stars too. As the Earth orbits around the Sun and the moon orbits around the Earth, so our perspective of the night sky changes on a daily basis. He and I had been meaning for a number of days to go and take some star photographs at a specific location that he had identified. We finally packed the hot chocolate and set out knowing that as it got darker, the milky way would line up perfectly with a set of boulders in the north of Londolozi.
There is a technique to the perfect milky way shot which, once mastered is not too difficult. However, getting the right composition and focus in the dark can be tricky. I was hacking away at grass, knocking the tripod, messing up my focus and all round failing at my initial attempts. To make matters worse, I would hear Rob gasping with excitement at how his shots were turning out…
I packed away my competitive side, picked up all my gear and set off down the slope towards where Rob was set up. Our respective partners were set up just next to the vehicle. Bear in mind that the best time to take star photos is when the nights are at their darkest with no moon. We couldn’t see much past a few metres in front of us… That’s when the grass started rustling both upslope and downslope from us.
Being the ranger in the group, I felt obliged to face off the threat and protect everyone, as much as I would have preferred otherwise. I grasped a rock (a poor weapon of defence really) and stepped carefully away from the vehicle with torches beaming from behind me. I knew the rustling was not a predator like a lion or leopard as they are light footed and knowing we were there they would tend to avoid us. But the suspense and darkness left us guessing as to what was approaching. We all held our breaths to listen.
The noise came again. It was directly under the bush in front of me… Clearly not anything too large!
I lifted a branch to clear my view, and there it was – a pangolin!
Seeing a pangolin is a once in a lifetime experience. They are incredibly rare. Safari enthusiasts wait their whole lives to see these shy, nocturnal creatures. It was definitely the last animal that we expected to be making the bushes rustle! From struggling to take a photo, to panicking about an animal coming towards us, it all came together under a beautiful starry sky at Londolozi…