Life has been a bit different during lockdown for us rangers.
Normally we have a vehicle with up to six guests and a tracker on the front. At the moment though, we head out alone most often, usually in an attempt to spread out across the reserve and find more wildlife. This was the case one morning this August.
06:00 – Morning Drive
My plan was to head along the river to check if any leopards were sunning themselves on the large granite boulders, or possibly find tracks of the Ntsevu pride returning from across the Sand River.
Sean Zeederberg called in tracks of a pride of lions heading in my general direction, which added to the excitement. While off my vehicle checking on some tracks in the road, the sound of impalas alarming frantically across the river caught my attention. I quickly drove ahead and lifted my binoculars. The impalas were all staring into the middle of their own herd. A leopard suddenly stood up with tail raised, walking out from an unsuccessful hunt. With no way of getting closer, I stood on the seat of the vehicle and enjoyed the long-distance view.
Back to the lion tracking...
Sean had heard a lion calling somewhere close to the eastern edge of Londolozi. I headed along the cutline road separating us from Mala Mala to check for any tracks. While stopped on a crest, my heart dropped as I saw fresh tracks of a whole pride exiting our traversing area. Hope was not lost though, as the booming roars of a lion reverberated through my body while I was investigating the tracks.
It was close. Somewhere just down the hill. Sean and I converged along the cutline and stood on our respective vehicles scanning around. After about 20 minutes, as I was about to head elsewhere, a lioness suddenly stood up right under our noses and walked away out of view. We laughed at our inability to spot her earlier!
My morning adventure took me right down into the southern reaches of the reserve. I was perplexed by leopard tracks going back and forth over themselves, next to a set of wild dog tracks. With few vehicles driving around, it is rather difficult to age the evidence we find.
On my way home, several dazzles of zebra and a great journey of giraffe with six young calves were a beautiful sight. Not to mention a massive bull rhino completely submerged in a mud wallow!
15:00 – Afternoon Drive
Monkeys alarm calling opposite the camps set our direction. The Sand River is a maze of thickets, trees and sand banks that provide ample habitat for leopards to move about without being seen. With this in mind, I did not have much confidence of finding whatever the monkeys had seen, but it’s always worth a check!
We were rewarded this time however, as we found the Flat Rock male leopard in the middle channel, looking exceedingly full. Our view did not last long as he soon slunk off into the palm thickets, inaccessible by vehicle. Our short view did not dampen our excitement levels though.
A leopard who took advantage of the death of the 4:4 male in 2016 to grab territory to the west of the Londolozi camps.
Off we set along the Sand River again. Vultures descending caught the attention of the Tracker Academy in the clearings ahead of us. We swiftly headed into the vicinity to see if anything was around. About 30 vultures perched on a dead tree were a clear sign that a carcass was nearby.
I had been past that area in the morning and there was not one vulture. It didn’t take long to spot a lioness with a bloodied face emerge from under a small bush. Our timing was perfect as we had her stroll past us three times before she disappeared down into the Sand River.
Upon closer inspection we found the remains of an impala that she had been eating. The vultures were left to finish off the scraps. Another short but phenomenal experience!
A leisurely drive home after a fulfilling day was topped off by a quintessential African scene – a deep red sky as the sun dipped to the horizon.
“Nothing but breathing the air of Africa, and actually walking through it, can communicate the indescribable sensations.” William Burchell