After a quick chat in the Founders Camp car park with expert Tracker Freddy Ngobeni, we both agreed on the afternoon’s plan, to search for a leopard. It was night two of our guest’s stay and the briefest of views at night the day before was what summed up our leopard-viewing experience so far.
Driving out of camp and explaining to our guests what the plan for the afternoon is can be very exciting. It’s a chance to present a goal for that particular game drive and do everything in our power to achieve it. However, Londolozi being a complete wild, natural area, the most exciting part of the presentation of the wildlife goal is that it’s never ever guaranteed!
Only about 700m outside of camp, and maybe just three minutes after presenting the goal for the afternoon, Freddy raised his right hand asking me to stop the vehicle. Jumping off the tracker seat, I knew something was up so I followed to the front of the vehicle. He knelt down pointing in front of his feet, “a drag mark” with leopard tracks on either side. There are very few signs in the bush that make rangers and trackers more excited than a drag mark across a road from a predator. It has the potential for a phenomenal sighting.
We quickly established which way this female leopard had dragged her kill and jumped back into the vehicle. While in the process of explaining to the guests what had unfolded here, we noticed a few more obvious signs in the terrain beside us. Flattened grass, bits of blood and the odd leopard track were the signs Freddy was using, inching us closer and closer.
Through years and years of experience, Freddy has an incredible ability to notice the slightest of disturbances in the soil or grass. To the untrained eye, it would take hours just to work out where the leopard had cut off the road, but to Freddy and trackers alike, they are able to read the scene and follow the signs as though there is someone on the other end pulling them closer and closer through an invisible cord.
I would like to say I am a much better tracker having worked alongside one of the best in the business but the truth is Freddy makes the tracking experience that much more enjoyable and let’s be honest successful.
In this particular instance, the tracking was not complex, we followed the evidence through the grass for a while before looking up and about 200m away there she was, resting in the shade beside her fresh duiker kill, the Nhlanguleni Female. Having recently killed this duiker she then dragged it a couple of hundred metres and had chosen to rest in the shade of a magic guarri tree.
Initially skittish she spent a lot of time in the Sand River, now relaxed she makes up the majority of leopard viewing west of camp.
After catching her breath she got up, positioned the duiker underneath her body and dragged the kill towards the base of a large nearby tree. The strength and determination of these predators is absolutely extraordinary. We watched her drag the kill for 20 or so metres, stop and rest for a few seconds then carry on moving forward.
Getting closer to the tree where she knew her kill would be safe she started to pick up the pace as if she knew there was potential danger nearby. Just before escalating the large weeping boer-bean tree, she gathered her breath for a few seconds positioned herself with the easiest route up into the tree and leapt up with the duiker in her jaws, hoisting it safely into the higher branches.
To see this leopard hoist her kill after dragging it all that distance just minutes ago was a special sighting for all of us. The art of tracking was the reason we managed to find this female leopard and enjoy such an amazing sighting. From the raising of Freddy’s hand, in the beginning, all the way through to letting the leopard be with its meal safely stashed in the tree, this experience was one I will not forget in a hurry.
Dan that is phenomenal the strength that the leopard has to drag her kill so far, and then hoist it in the tree is outstanding. Thanks to Freddy for his expertise in tracking for he is thd master tracker. Outstanding work.
It’s apparent from your story how much you like, respect and have learned from Freddy. A partnership is built on mutual trust and the ability to work as a unit together, or a solid team. My experiences during my previous visits have truly shown that level of complete trust and simpatico. I hope you realize many more exciting sightings like the one you described today!
Freddie is an absolutely fantastic tracker. More importantly he is a wonderful family man and recgnized community leader! (..and I’m not saying that because we have similar family names NgoBENI
It’s so amazing what the rangers and trackers can do working together! The skills of tracking are just so special – it makes safari that much more special to experience it and have that excitement of potential findings through tracking.
Great recap Dan. Thanks for sharing your tracking experience with Freddy.
Yes a good tracker makes a safari perfect. I admire this art of reading details and making judgements from tracks in the bush that seem so difficult to read and interpret by a non-professional.
It‘s great how the tracker/ ranger teams work together.
My notable sighting with Nhlanguleni, her girls Finfoot and Nkuwa, and dad Flat Rock in early August 2019, was them feeding peaceably together on a nyala, then Flat Rock hoisting the carcass into a jackalberry tree, and strolling away. The 3 females leapt into the tree as 3 hyenas rocked up, and draped themselves to sleep. It was such a remarkable family moment in the bush, and one which the textbooks would claim never happens!