Those of you that have come to Londolozi or even followed the blog page over the last few years will most likely be familiar with the infamous ‘pink pouch‘. For those that don’t know, the pink pouch (a pink ammunition pouch we wear on our belt that holds the rounds for our rifle) is, in short, the floating trophy amongst the ranger team that is awarded to the most recent person to have got stuck and needed assistance in getting out.
While out on safari, we are fortunate enough to be able to drive off-road to follow and track down certain animal species which ultimately allows us to have the incredible sightings that we do. However, despite being equipped with powerful Land Rovers, we occasionally get caught off-guard! Be it getting bogged down in muddy waters or beached on a rock in the river, there comes a time (sometimes several) in every ranger and tracker’s tenure where they have to admit defeat and call for help, thus earning themselves the floating pink pouch.
It goes without saying that we all would like to avoid getting the pink pouch and, generally speaking, we’re pretty good at not getting stuck. We don’t take the risk of getting into the sticky areas unless it’s absolutely necessary and even then, we try our utmost to avoid getting stuck there. There are however occasions when we make mistakes, certain elements might not be in our favour and we end up getting stuck, all for little reward. Then there are the occasions when we are faced with the decision of pushing the limits on the Land Rover and risking it all for a spectacular sighting!
Just a few weeks ago tracker Euce Madonsela and I were faced with such a decision. We had spent the earlier parts of the morning exploring the northern banks of the Sand River and hadn’t managed to find all that much when we got the news over the radio that ranger, Andrea Sithole had found a pack of twelve wild dogs that were steadily heading in the direction of the river. After a short consult with Jess Shillaw, with whom I was driving a group, we surmised that the pack may well cross the river at Finfoot Crossing – a beautiful open patch of the Sand River and one that would provide us with spectacular views of them leaping through the water. Jess was slightly closer to the crossing and wisely positioned herself up on the river bank itself. As I was nearing the river, she gave me the update that they were approaching the water’s edge, ie. just about to cross.
I told the guests to hold on as we bounced down the river bank and into Finfoot Crossing where I felt we would get the best view and where Andrea also happened to be parked. Just downstream from the crossing itself, we spotted the wild dogs on the southern bank as they entered the riverbed. Quickly shifting the vehicle into low-range and engaging the diff-lock, vital for driving through the river, we headed off in the direction of the animals, following Andrea’s tracks all the way in. By now the wild dogs were leaping through the water, chasing one another around in circles and thoroughly enjoying themselves. My guests at the time were keen photographers so I began to assess where best to position the vehicle in order to capture this incredible, fast-paced scene.
With the vehicle still moving down Andrea’s tracks in the sandy riverbed, I noticed a slightly more wet and muddy section which I was about to approach but one that Andrea had already made it through. The only snag was that there wasn’t any space for my vehicle beyond the muddy patch. I was left with a split-second decision to make: stop exactly where I was, before reaching the muddy patch but then have a harsh backlight on the wild dogs thus minimising the photographic opportunity a huge amount or… take the risk of driving further forward, putting us in prime seats to watch the amazing scene unfold but from within the muddy patch and just hope that we could get out of it after the sighting was done. Euce and I had one look at each other and decided it was worth the risk!
To date, it was most likely one of my favourite wild dog sightings. All twelve animals were darting around, stalking and tackling one another in the shallow water while running circles around our vehicle. They kept us quite entertained for around ten minutes until eventually, they crossed the river onto the northern bank. Now was the moment of truth. I started the engine up, engaged reverse and slowly started to turn the tyres, inch by inch we crept backwards, closer and closer to dry land until suddenly the right rear wheel began to lose traction. Fearing the worst, we decided to try our luck going forward but to no avail. A few more attempts in both directions and we found ourselves completely bogged down. However, all the while we were getting ourselves deeper into trouble, so too was Andrea just a few meters in front of us! Eventually, Andrea, Sersant, Euce and I were all off our vehicles, shoes off and pants rolled up, wading through the shallow water searching for branches to stack beneath the wheels. Our guests all found this very amusing and took great joy watching us all hard at work.
After a good while trying to get unstuck, Euce and I took a moment to assess what our chances were of getting ourselves out. The conclusion was slim to none. We swallowed our pride and radioed Frank. Frank is part of our habitat team and takes great pleasure in being the one to save the day by pulling the bogged down vehicles free with his tractor. Frank arrived in minutes. However, Andrea and Sersant were still hard at work and believed they could get the job done without Frank’s help. Remember, if you manage to get yourselves unstuck without the help of Frank then you avoid being awarded the pink pouch! Euce and I, now supposed proud new owners of the pouch, sat and hoped (purely for our sake) that Andrea would eventually call on Frank’s help, Frank already on the scene would make this so much sweeter. But our wishes were not fulfilled as moments later Andrea launched his Land Rover out of the mud and up onto the dry beach! Thus avoiding the pink pouch.
Was it all worth it? I’d like to think so. The sighting was so unique and action-packed that when I think back on the morning, it is the wild dogs running circles around us, splashing up water that I remember and not necessarily the fact that we got ourselves stuck! With that being said… the rest of the rangers and trackers have made sure we didn’t forget the latter. Hopefully, with the summer rains now arriving, the pink pouch will soon be re-awarded to a new owner.