Many guests ask myself and Tracker Advice Ngwenya what our best sightings are. We always say it’s so hard to choose because in actual fact every sighting has been amazing for us and we can not just disregard them all to choose one. However, deep down inside we probably both do actually have one favourite.
When we start to narrow down the better sightings, we are often drawn to the sightings with the most action in them, but this doesn’t really highlight what happens behind the scenes or in the build up to the sightings. By this I mean that these sightings often take hours to track and find, and many end up with the trackers alone on foot following a leopard or a lion’s tracks. Tracking, in a sense, is trying to be like a lion or leopard. It’s trying to think the same as they would, move around the same way that they would and to become one with the animal they are tracking.
Advice may have a different favourite memory in the bush to me, and this is due to his countless hours spent tracking and the experiences he has had. This lead me to chat to him a little further to find out which experience is closest to his heart.
“Jess, the one I can think of now was the Xinzele Female in the beginning of the year. In the northern part of Londolozi around Nanga Road. When we were driving we found the tracks of the Xinzele Female leopard on the road.
“I stopped you and jumped off the tracker seat, bent down lower to investigate if the track was fresh or what story it could tell me.”
“I could tell by the track that she had just walked here early that morning.”
“We followed the tracks on the road until the tracks cut off into the long grass.”
“This was just after cyclone Eloise, which brought a lot of rain to Londolozi, which meant the grass was thicker and longer than usual.”
“I knew it was going to be a difficult track.”
“I took the radio and asked you, Jess, to drive a road on the opposite side of the thick block, so that you can check and see if her tracks came out on the opposite road as she was heading in that direction.”
“Now that I was alone, I had to really think. Think like this female leopard. The tracks were so difficult to see, so I had to step back and look for the slightest difference in the way the grass was bent. I had to really concentrate because once I had walked through the grass I would bend it in a different way and would ruin the evidence.”
“I followed that route until I found a small part of a track on an open patch of ground.”
“She was on the hunt.”
“As exciting as this is, it makes it very challenging to follow as they do not move in a straight line and walk lightly so there will be little evidence. I got the direction she was going in and took it from there.”
“I needed to think like her even more now, going to each bush as she would. Using them as for cover to try ambush her prey.”
“I felt the pressure because we had not seen a leopard in a while and tracking can go wrong when you cannot actually see the track. Tracking with just grass and looking at how its flattened can be hard because even an impala can flatten the grass so you have to trust your intuition and become a leopard.”
“My feeling from inside lead me to the right path because I then heard a squirrel alarming, knowing that it could be alarming at the female leopard. I got excited to only find out it was alarming at an eagle.”
“I decided to go back to last track and had to believe that if the last track goes north then I must track north. So I set a goal to head to a Marula tree in the distance and if there were no tracks there I would need to come back and start all over again, making it harder.”
“Seeing a termite mound ahead, I thought she must have used the height of the termite mound to scan the herd of impalas, and maybe there was a chance of seeing tracks in the sand there. There was a single track.”
“When I was on top of the mound I saw a herd of impalas. I decided to not go further because she may still be hunting them and I did not what to disturb her.”
“I started to scan a thicket line because she could be hiding anywhere close.”
“But it was in looking beyond the herd of impala that I saw something that did not look normal.”
“So I moved to the other side of the termite mound and that is when I saw her lying in Marula tree with a fresh impala kill.”
“I remember radioing Jess, taking a breath to calm my excitement and said,”
“Jess, I have found her!”
A small female often found in NW Marthly. Similar spot pattern to her mother the Ingrid Dam Female.
I love hearing Advice tell his stories. It is the most fascinating thing to hear about how he tracks and how his mindset needs to be in order to find the leopard. It’s a process using all of your senses and a process whereby you have to keep your head clear. It is no wonder Boyd Varty does a retreat on this experience – so many life lessons can be derived from this process. As you can read, it is definitely not a simple task and requires many hours of practice and determination. When you get the opportunity at Londolozi to ask a Tracker about his best stories – take it! You will not be disappointed…