From our beginnings of simple bush adventures to now, after nearly 100 years of safari, Londolozi has had many chapters and innovations. We have pioneered in meditative luxury, photographic safaris and sustainability…
Perhaps the more difficult challenge facing us now is the ability to deliver the profound and diminishing ingredients of ancient wisdom held in the old world in this modern and fast moving world. At Londolozi we regard ourselves as lucky and privileged to still be exposed to the last vestiges of this ancient wisdom, handed down by generations of many of our trackers and rangers.
We reflect on:
Winnis Mathebula who, for many years, imparted to a young Dave Varty the fundamentals of hunting and gathering and the lessons which were etched in his young mind. These remain the golden threads imbedded in the Londolozi values and guiding team to this day.
‘Twotone’ Sithole whose father, ‘Engine’ ran a successful meat trading business at the turn of the 20th century, taught the Varty brothers how to track lions. He also taught us to move silently with nature, creating a lighter footprint and minimum disturbance, taking only that which was our need for the day.
The descendants of these great naturalists still work at Londolozi today and this ancient wisdom remains deeply rooted in many of the Londolozi Trackers and Guide’s psyche. Indeed we estimate that no less than 350 years of combined wisdom reside within this unique gathering of very special individuals who make up the Londolozi Guiding and Tracking Teams who guide guests daily across the Londolozi reserve.
Despite all the changes in our industry over the last decade, one thing that has not changed at all, and that is the Guides and Trackers which remain at the heart of any great safari.- Boyd Varty
This month we celebrate them, who are the deep alchemy of safari. The combination of Guide and Tracker, many of who are alumni now, are teachers of ancient knowledge – each one leaving wisdom for the next generation. This transfer of ancient knowledge and the need to pass on lessons has resulted in one of the finest Guiding and Tracking teams standing today. While each Guide and Tracker brings something unique to the team, there is a unifying love for the wilderness, for being outdoors, for adventure, and a curiosity for the natural world that binds everyone together.
It’s a group of people who have been drawn to this place, over and over again by their passion for wild things. It’s a partnership of individuals who are in tune with the seasons, who notice the changes in the moon, and who want to facilitate the reconnection to nature for people from all corners of the world. Spending most of the day together, the Guide and Tracker Teams have an indescribable bond which is evident as they take you on a journey into the heart of wildernesses.
The Legacy Of Guiding & Tracking at Londolozi by James Souchon, Head Ranger
“There is an incredible beauty in being connected to people you have never met. The moment you qualify as a Londolozi guide or tracker, without even realizing it, you become tied to those who came before you. Even though decades may separate your respective times in the team, you now share a connection that I believe is born from reverence.
You start to feel a deep love for the land that you now get the opportunity to explore every single day. Friendships are forged as you sleep under the stars whilst one of your teammates keep watch. Even though the ground is hard, it embraces you and you feel comfort, not fear, as hyenas and lions call nearby.
Every Londolozi guide and tracker learns from those that come before them and time spent exploring this land together makes you realize just how much there is to learn. It’s time in the sun that bonds us together, faded caps become badges of honour as stories are created, knowledge is shared, and memories are made.
The faces in the team photo may change but the Jackalberry Tree in the Varty car park, under which we sit, waits to provide the perfect backdrop for the next one. Our years may not have overlapped but we can easily share stories about the excitement of tracking leopard through the magnificent Maxabene Riverbed or watching herds of elephant move through the Leadwood Forest in the North.” ~ James Souchon, Head Ranger.
Guides and Trackers ~ The Power of Relationships by Garrett Fitzpatrick, former Londolozi Ranger and now Londolozi Sales Manager
“It’s a pretty intense concoction of factors that create intense relationships in the field team. Day in and day out, trackers and guides spend countless hours together. Planning and taking game drives, tracking wildlife while exposed to the elements. Hours spent looking after guests together, many of whom have travelled across the planet to connect with nature and feel what it is like to spend time in the presence of Africa’s magnificent creatures.
The pressure of those safari expectations is constantly on our minds as you strive as a team to safely execute a world-class experience for your guests. The success of a guide-tracker team rests on the core components of their relationship – those being: trust, respect, open communication and a constant desire to learn from one another. When you take the aforementioned factors and throw in all the thrilling experiences in nature that trackers and guides have together, a powerful sense of camaraderie materialises.
In this modern world, with many polarized opinions, the guides and trackers at Londolozi have found a special recipe in which people of different ages, genders and cultures have formed close bonds all rooted in the natural world. It is a rare system of knowledge sharing. It is the realisation that natural science is integrated with ancient indigenous wisdom.
When a group of like-minded people are able to harness each other’s strengths and coordinate their efforts to achieve a common goal, something really special begins to arise within that team. As a person who thrives on team energy, I will forever be grateful for my time spent as a member of the Londolozi field team, the Trackers and Guides that make up a team of teams.” ~ Garrett Fitzpatrick, former Londolozi Ranger and now Londolozi Sales Manager
The Ancient Art Of Tracking ~ Protecting Ancient Wisdom
Due to Southern Africa’s historical events – Shangaan people colonising areas of southern Mozambique and eastern parts of South Africa, where they live today. This eastern part of South Africa is where Londolozi is found. Londolozi’s initial tracking team consisted of Elmon Mhlongo, Phineas Mhlongo and Kimbian Mnisi. A couple years later Richard Siwela arrived. And in the early 1980s, Renias Mhlongo. They were the most successful leopard trackers of their time. The ones who tracked them on foot until they found them. Richard Siwela spent an unbroken 42 years tracking leopards every day at Londolozi.
“These men crafted a relationship with the world’s most elusive big cat. It is a remarkable story. They were mavericks – achieving what no one else had done. They developed trust with wild leopards so that people could view them. Without changing their behaviour in any way. Leopards tread lightly. Their tracks can be incredibly obscure – even in clear soils. And they move in unpredictable directions. Making them difficult to trail. The team was successful because of their refined tracking skills, intimate knowledge, and sheer tenacity. Respect for the animal was their main tenet – it’s what made it all possible. Over 50 years, an extraordinary connection has emerged between the humans and leopards at Londolozi. It is a relationship bound in reverence.” ~ Alex van den Heever, Alumni Guide and Co-Founder of Tracker Academy.
In 2010 a bold and visionary action by Mrs Gaynor Rupert made the Tracker Academy possible. The Tracker Academy is a training division of the SA College for Tourism (SACT) which is chaired by Mrs Rupert and operates under the auspices of the Peace Parks Foundation. SACT Tracker Academy is a non-profit organisation that trains disadvantaged rural people in the traditional skills of tracking. The accreditation of its training programme with the Culture, Arts, Tourism, Hospitality and Sport Sector Education and Training Authority (CATHSSETA) made the Tracker Academy the first tracker training school to achieve this distinction in South Africa. More than 94% of Tracker Academy graduates are permanently employed in the nature-based tourism industry of South Africa.
Tracker Academy has spread its wings and started projects in Brazil (habituating jaguars in the Pantanal), Botswana (habituating leopards in Khwai), Malawi and Zambia (training local field rangers as trackers). All are examples of South Africa having exported rare skills for the benefit of wildlife.
“Skilled, talented trackers are fast disappearing. It would be an indictment of modern conservation to lose this important traditional knowledge. The Tracker Academy seeks to restore and preserve the ancient indigenous African art of tracking.” – Alex van den Heever
The Alchemy of Safari ~ Guides & Trackers
No two days are the same while on safari at Londolozi and your experience is tailored to suit individual preferences and expectations. Still, there is a certain rhythm and pace to the experience that stirs a sense of homecoming on repeat visits and a pleasing sense of order for first-time bushveld visitors. Life at Londolozi is dictated by the seasons; the vegetation and the animal behaviour shift with the rains of summer and the chill of winter. What is unchanging is the warmth of the welcome by your camp manager and the opportunity to experience a deep and authentic connection with the natural world.
Game drives at Londolozi are taken by professional, passionate and knowledgeable rangers and trackers, who have 350 years of experience between them. With over 34,000 acres of traversing wilderness, no two game drives are ever the same.
Trackers sit up at the front of the Land Rover looking for fresh animal tracks, an ancient art-form living inside a human being that is magnificent to watch in action. Rangers drive with astonishing skill into ravines and through thickets in pursuit of rare animal sightings, simultaneously astonishing guests with their outstanding knowledge and unforgettable stories. These naturalist teams go out of their way to showcase the remarkable intelligence of nature.
Londolozi’s rangers have a deep experience and connection to the land. All Londolozi guides have taken the time to immerse themselves for days in nature, creating a tangible passion for the conservation and the animals that call Londolozi home. Our guides specialise in Photographic Safaris and, where possible, will position the vehicle for guests to get the best angle. They will also share advice and knowledge where they can so you can capture the moment in all its glory.
Many of Londolozi’s rangers and trackers grew up in this region, living close to the land. This gives them an unmatched knowledge of the terrain, flora, and wildlife on the reserve. Londolozi boasts two of only 17 Master trackers in South Africa, resulting in world-class game drive experiences. Our rangers’ primary mission is to showcase the wilderness and bring you in tune with nature’s harmony.
But for Londolozi, a truly magnificent guide and tracker team have certain intangibles…
- A great tracker knows how to track an owl and tell the difference in a squirrel’s alarm call from a snake to an eagle
- A great guide understands the power of silence
- Guides and Trackers will tell you that a firelight is the fastest way to connect to wilderness
- A great Tracker and Guide team lives in a world of abundance, sharing knowledge. Sharing stories. Sharing Wisdom
- A great tracker understands the power of the unknown and how to truly commit to the adventure
This month we celebrate our beloved Tracker and Guide team – both present and past – and all the ways they contribute to the magic that is Londolozi
Filed under General Nature History Ranger Tracking Wildlife
The relationship between trackers and a leopard or an elephant so close is amazing. Trust is the greatest feeling you can get and you do… I wish there were such good trackers for lynxes in Europe but, given the different attitude of people, I guess it is a gift that belongs only to populations that are used to live in symbiosis with nature… wonderful
What a great article! It so closely describes the attraction of Londolozi and why on the flight home we are already planning the next trip back. Thank you for sharing!
Thank you for sharing the incredible history and knowledge that is Londolozi. My dream would be to visit one day but, the blogs and videos you provide are a wonderful substitute, thank you! May ancient wisdom never fade from existence .
I have traveled on safari to several different African countries and other countries in our world, and I can attest that Londolozi-trained trackers and guides are the best in the world! A few other guide-training programs are very close, but cannot surpass the superb Londolozi teams!
We salute all you Rangers anf Trackers for the inspiration you bring to the world. For all your hard work, patience, diligence, dedication and love for the animals and the land. With your foto’s and blogs we have gained so much knowledge and interest in Londolozi and all its animals. Paradise on earth. Thanks to Sean for all the TWIP and the Sunday video, which I cannot wait to see each week. Much appreciated and keep up the good work.
Thank you so much Bronwyn for acknowledging the team that makes for a great safari. As a repeat guest, I can attest to the fact that each team I’ve been paired with, has provided me with the most extraordinary experiences. I took my first safari to Kenya in 1986, traveling in a pop top van, not the best for viewing, but I was hooked. From then on, I’ve basically traveled in Southern Africa, but interesting enough, only three places have made such an impact on my safari travels and all are within the SabiSand Reserve, and of those, only Londolozi has treated me like family. Your guides and trackers alike exude happiness, excitement, knowledge, thoughtfulness, and professionalism. They listen …. In closing, my heartfelt thanks to all the teams at Londolozi, as I’ve learned a really great safari is not without teamwork.
A stunning story reinforcing what makes Londolozi the very best.
Stunning history, stunning photographs, looking forward to the next one hundred years !!
The bond between rangers and trackers at Londolozi is immense. A ranger working on their own, however knowledgeable, can never give the guests as good an experience.
In our several visits we have had so many different but exceptional ranger-tracker teams. The personalities and interests vary, but the quality never does. Throughout our other safari experiences, we have visited many other excellent camps. but rarely experience the quality of the Londolozi teams.
Good to see Joy “in the saddle.”
I can name them all – Melvin and Milton, Nick and Mike (2x), Grant and Jerry, Kirst and Lucky and Richard Ferrier in 2010! They are all special, all lovers of nature and wildlife, all excellent teachers – simply the best! I’ve been on safari in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Tanzania, Kenya and Botswana and none of the rangers or trackers can hold a candle to the Londolozi teams!
Thanks for a wonderful article and great photos. I am so glad that Londolozi continues to develop trackers for the next generation. The experience of watching the trackers engage with their surroundings is invaluable. Thanks to Life, Foster (RIP), Mike Sithole, Advice, Ray, Bennett and Jerry!
Great article. Alex and Renias – and all the others – have done so much to save indigenous wisdom, help people, and save animals. We have spent the last several years supporting the Tracker Academy and its graduates because their dream is now an actual ray of hope AND ACTION in a tough, hurting world. And we tell everyone we know and meet to support Londolozi by going on eco-safari – a huge treat for the safari goer that also protects elephants, rhinos, and so much more. Last, a shout out to the Varty family – visionaries, hard workers, founders of eco tourism….with more like them, we might just save the planet.