This year has certainly been a little unreal.
A LOT unreal would probably be closer to the mark.
When we said goodbye to our last guests back in March, the idea of an entire winter in the bush with no visitors was pretty much incomprehensible. But now the knobthorn trees are flowering once more, the migrant birds are returning, and we’re about to reset our rain-gauges to zero for the start of another annual measure (we record rainfall from the start of September to the end of the following August).
Wahlberg’s eagles have flown to North Africa, spent a season there, and are now returning again. Other avian visitors have been to Russia and back over the same period.
And while it’s crazy to think that this year’s crop of impala lambs will be born in a couple of months and the summer rain clouds will soon be brimming on the horizon while much of the world is still in lockdown, it’s a wonderful reminder of the relentlessness of nature’s cycles.
We have been asked many times whether or not we have seen a change in animal behaviour since the start of lockdown with fewer people at the lodge, and apart from the Finfoot female leopard regularly hunting bushbuck through the camp, the answer is no; the animals in the wider reserve have continued as normal. A few shifts in territory amongst themselves, but just like every year, the impala are browsing a lot right now (the grazing is poor and they can switch between the two), the elephant herds are spending a lot of time near the Sand River, and the hippos are bellowing for territory as the lowering water levels of winter result in cramped conditions for them.
Londolozi’s wildlife doesn’t know what’s happening in the rest of the world. It doesn’t care. Their dramas – although we try to follow them as closely as possible and record them through our lenses – take place regardless of whether we’re watching or not.
I’ve heard a number of misconceptions about the greater reserve over the years, in which the sightings are referred to as unrealistic, mainly because of the high density of big cats and their regular proximity to the Land Rovers, but the reality is in fact the opposite.
The wildlife is doing exactly what it would if we were not even here. This is natural behaviour at its finest.
If we packed up and left tomorrow, just removed everything – lodges, vehicles, the whole shebang – I can guarantee you that the Piccadilly female would still be stashing her cub on Southern Cross Koppies, the elephants would still be frequenting the river, and the only thing that would happen would be that the local nyala population would have just a tiny bit more living room where Varty Camp deck once stood.
I think for those of us who have been at the lodge over the last six months, seeing the inexorable march of the natural processes through the season’s change has been a poignant reminder of just how important a low impact is on the environment, and not just at Londolozi, but everywhere.
If Londolozi did have a large footprint, if our procedures did alter natural wildlife behaviour, then most likely yes, we would have seen a change since the start of lockdown.
The fact that we haven’t is testament to the work the lodge – and indeed all lodges in the greater reserve – is/are doing to ensure that the wilderness area we are in remains in as pristine a state for posterity as possible.
It’s a reminder to all of us that nature simply gets on with it.
The best thing we can possibly do is leave it entirely to its own devices. It, after all, knows best…