As Rangers and Trackers, we almost always set an intention at the beginning of each game drive. It’s in our nature – we like to plan things and we are here to guide our guests through their bucket list dream of seeing the Big 5. But of the many lessons I have learned over my first year here at Londolozi, one that becomes more true every day is that some days go according to plan and some don’t, and the more you let go and let nature do the guiding, often the more in awe I find myself of the scenes that surround me.
On a recent afternoon drive, with two different sets of guests, we all agreed that we would take it easy and see what came our way. Although I am often apprehensive when guests mention that they aren’t worried about ticking off the Big 5, I like to think that the bush will show them what they need to see. If not, towards the end of their stay there might be a fair amount of pressure on mine and Tracker Bennett Mathonsi’s back! But I digress… back to our afternoon drive. We were all cheerful as we laughed our way up to the airstrip discussing how our focus would be solely on herds of impala for the afternoon.
No sooner could we see the airstrip, were we welcomed to a beautiful sight of two elephant cows and a young calf running circles in between them. Watching the young calf stomping its feet, holding its head up high and swinging its trunk around trying to get a reaction from its mother – priceless as they say. The smiles widened as everyone sat back and enjoyed the show, content that this would easily be a highlight of our drive no matter what else we came across.
One or two herds of impala later and one of our guests in the top row somehow managed to spot another mother and calf – this time the much-loved rhino. The delight that these prehistoric-looking behemoths bring to guests is always infectious, they always bring a deep sense of appreciation in the moments of silence while we take in their beauty and peaceful presence.
Finally reaching the southern edge of the reserve, we knew we had a good chance of finding a pride of lions that we had in the back of our minds. Let’s face it, we all eagerly anticipate that moment we will see the Kings and Queens of the Big 5, whether it be your first encounter or 100th, they never fail to disappoint.
Snoozing the afternoon away as lions do best, I encouraged my guests to take in the finer details of scars around their faces or notice the muscular strength extending from their shoulders through to their forearms and down to the impressive size of their paws. Just by simply observing the individual features of these sleeping lions, it’s not hard for your mind to wander to the scenes of them executing a successful hunt.
At this point, spirits were high with our expectations well exceeded for the afternoon and we decided to let the lions be and go wrap up the afternoon with a good Gin and Tonic at a nearby watering hole. As we pulled up, the bush took over once again.
Queue the Leopard!
A few of us exclaimed at once as we could hardly believe our luck! The Nweti Male casually strolled around the watering hole towards us and then promptly lay down in the golden afternoon light and began grooming himself.
He is a large, tall, and long male that has an incredible coat and a tuft of hair on his neck
It is always a privilege in moments like these for me to watch the expressions on my guests’ faces as they are so taken aback by the scenes that unfold around us. We continued discussing our theme topic of the afternoon of the beauty that is the unpredictability of the bush as we identified his unique spot pattern and admired his pristine coat of rosettes.
After a few big yawns and a little stretch, he then got up and began his territorial petrol for the evening. Following him into the thicket we knew it would be tricky to keep up, but of course, the excitement had us hooked. We were all deep in concentration looking for the white tip of his tail when one of my guests stopped me to reverse back a little.
Yes! We’ve found him again I thought.
The next 10 or so minutes of the game drive were one of my greatest highlights on any game drive. One of my guests had stopped me for a Chameleon! Yes! A Chameleon! It might sound like I’m hyping this up now, but spotting a Chameleon is no easy feat up in the branches of a Russet Bushwillow tree. But what I really enjoyed most about this moment was that my guests had all let go and dived into the appreciation of letting nature show you what you need to see and experience at that moment. We all happily agreed to let the Nweti Male get away from us as we cherished this unique sighting of a Flapped Necked Chameleon!
As you may recall though, I mentioned the Big 5 in my title, so no surprise here that our series of fortune events for the afternoon was not over yet. As we made our way out of the thicket, Bennett pointed out the bellowing of a large herd of Buffalo not too far off. In no rush for ‘another big tick’, Bennett and I planned our new spot for that sundowner and if it worked out we would see the herd of Buffalo on our way home.
But yet, again the bush had other plans for us…
We got to see the Buffaloes alright! We were stopped in our tracks and reversing with haste as two buffalo bulls were having a full-blown battle as we turned the corner. From a safe distance, it was now the sound of their locking horns and huffing breathes that captivated us. Had it not been for a third bull passing by and causing a distraction, we were convinced that the fight would have gone on until there was a clear victor.
So although we were incredibly fortunate to see the Big 5 in one afternoon drive, it was about more than just the Big 5 – It was the series of events that unfolded before us as we let go and allowed nature to take over. It was in the detail of the individual features, sounds, smells, and interactions in each moment that we were able to take in. It was the unified excitement and joy that we shared as a team that afternoon, that made the Big 5 as impressive as they are. It was the little Chameleon who really charmed us all and tied everything together. Although it might all sound a little cliché, clichés are often the most accurate, and in this case, it certainly is an afternoon I will always enjoy looking back on.