The rain that Londolozi had in the month of February was nothing short of unprecedented. Due to various factors, Londolozi and its surroundings have been subject to a low-pressure system that has resulted in more than 300mm of rain falling over a period of two weeks. In relative terms, that is roughly two-thirds of our usual annual average rainfall – in two weeks!
I’m going to leave the task of explaining the reason that we have experienced so much rain and its effects for another day, or potentially for someone else to spell out. I’m rather going to focus on the short-term consequences that we had to grapple with whilst out on a game drive.
During this period of rain, there are two things I realised that I had taken for granted whilst guiding at Londolozi.
- Being able to freely off-road on the reserve
- Exploring ~15 000 hectares (37 000 acres) of one of the most pristine wildlife areas in the world.
Due to the Sand River being in full flood, none of the three crossing points were crossable, this ruled out ~2000 hectares (5000 acres) in the Northern parts of Londolozi. Another ~8000 hectares or so was relatively inaccessible due to the roads being waterlogged and highly likely to get stuck in the road or do some immense damage to the road network which we would have to go and fix at a later stage. If you do the maths, that means that roughly only one-third of the reserve was accessible for game drives.
*Disclaimer: The numbers given above are rough estimates and potentially quite conservative, but in the interest of everyone’s safety and enjoyment whilst on a game drive, we were fairly strict in adhering to our offroading protocols, and for good reason (in other words, for fear of receiving the infamous pink pouch).
Right, so here’s the scenario. With incessant rain falling from the sky, and difficult to predict when it will clear, or when the gaps would be, guests willing to brave the weather and head out on a game drive. The goal is to find a leopard. Tracking in these conditions is next to impossible, tracks would have all been washed away and animals’ behaviour in the rain changes. However, against all odds, my friend and tracker, Trevor, spots a leopard in a tree not long into the drive. Success!
Everyone is elated, and I am relieved. The leopard gazes at us, yawns and then descends down the tree. “Can we follow it?” a guest asks. I’d like to believe that I am very much a ‘yes man’, but in this case, “Yes” just wasn’t going to be possible. The risk of getting stuck whilst trying to follow the leopard off-road was just too high. After explaining the scene most likely to play out if we attempted to follow the leopard, the guests understood and we headed back to camp, sopping wet, but “satisfied”.
I include satisfied in inverted commas because;
I know how that sighting could have unfolded, that female leopard had cubs and she was most likely on her way to nurse them, but we couldn’t follow due to the rain.
Over the two weeks, by having a significant part of the reserve inaccessible and by not being able to offroad, I was reminded just how lucky we are to live and work at Londolozi. I was reminded why I came to work here. Apart from the amazing people I work with and the fulfilment I get from showing off a special part of my country, we have complete free reign to, within reason, unreservedly explore one of the most immaculate representations of ‘the wild’
We were all extremely grateful for the rain that we were blessed with, the Sand River still flows strongly, the ground is saturated, the water table is dramatically elevated, and the bush is lush, green and teaming with life. But all is returning to normal again, the rains have settled and rangers are breathing sighs of relief, not only are we able to off-road like usual again, but the pink pouch won’t be up for grabs as much as it has been during this rainy, wet period.