Tracker Robert Hlatshwyo hereafter referred to as “Prof”; a nickname that he has earned several times over in the course of the 11 years he has been working at Londolozi, and I recently had big-time repeat guests, Bob and Lucy, stay for a 10 day period. Veterans of Londolozi, having been coming here fairly regularly since 2006 and as they are avid blog followers they had only two requests:
- To see at least one impala.
- Having ticked box 1, our mission statement would become “cats and dogs, pups and cubs.”
Now, a request like that can be somewhat intimidating. But given that several territorial female leopards on Londolozi had cubs at the time and the Wild Dog Pack of what was 8, then 7 were denning in the deep South. As well as the fact that we would have the Professor front-left of the vehicle, I felt we were up for the challenge. All that would be needed was patience and a healthy dose of trusting in the process. Tracking an animal can take time, it can become frustrating, it can seem that you are circling back on yourself, and you oftentimes are. One may become somewhat despondent as an afternoon wears on with no clear signs of getting nearer to the animal.
But generally, there is a light at the end of the tunnel and the rewards can be beyond expectations. Bob and Lucy knew this and the four of us had a very special 10 days in the bush together. Both of them being photographically inclined suited me just fine and the three of us managed to get not-a-few snaps off. Below are a few of the highlights of what turned out to be one of the most incredible weeks of my time here in this already spectacular environment.
Having been viewed by vehicles from an early age, this leopard is supremely relaxed around Land Rovers.
It started off with us following up on reports of a duiker kill being found in one morning. As we knew that the Ximungwe Female leopard and her cub had been in the area we were dead keen to try to look for the two of them that afternoon. Everything came together in a big way and we were treated to a stunning afternoon of leopard viewing.
Next, we had to try for the wild dog pups. Knowing that they had begun to move the pups around to new dens every few days and that the chances were high that they may soon move off of Londolozi, we got down there as soon as we could. Luck was on our side again and we spent a very special morning watching these youngsters caper a termite mound deep in the southern parts of the reserve.
Things quieted down as they inevitably will in the bush. It’s never always completely action-packed. But once again, Bob and Lucy were happy to put in the hours tracking, and after a couple of quiet drives determined to find the Ndzandzeni Female leopard, the last of the original mother lineage, and her two cubs, we were once again rewarded with a sighting beyond what we could have hoped for.
This female is a success story all in herself, being born as a single cub to the Dudley Riverbank female in early 2012.
After our anti-poaching team out in the field gave us a tip-off that they’d just seen a leopard kill an impala ram, we rushed straight into the area to find out what was going on. Soon thereafter, we found the mother with the fresh kill, this one is far too big a kill for her to be able to hoist. We stayed with her while she opened up the carcass and fed a little before taking a rest in the shade to catch her breath. After which she stood up and began marching away from the carcass. There would be only one reason for this,
“She’s going to get the cubs!”
Sure enough, after leading us on a merry chase through a few hundred meters of combretum thicket, she began to contact call. And suddenly there appeared, out of nowhere, two little very excited furballs. After tumbling out of the undergrowth the two greeted their mother, ready for action and play. Instead, she promptly turned tail and began leading them back to the kill. We looped back and waited with bated breath for the trio to return. Once again, patience paid off and eventually, all three arrived back on the scene. Now the majority of the viewing was fairly poor to be honest; the mother had stashed the kill in some thick grass and we couldn’t see much. But Bob and Lucy were happy to shoot the breeze while we watched three tails waving at us from the grass. But after a couple of hours, they finally emerged, and given that it was an overcast day and the light was still nice and diffuse, we managed to get off a few snaps of the little ones, bloody and sated and ready to join the mother resting in the shade nearby.
Now at this point, it would be prudent of me to point out that scenes like these are by no means the norm out here. We worked hard, yes, but the bush also provided for us in a big way, especially on these three occasions. One goes out on drive every day, not knowing exactly how it’s all going to go down out there. On some days it can be quiet, and on other days it can be absolutely surreal.
But you just have to be ready to put in the time. And then, with a little bit of luck, you might have one of the best days of your life out there.