For those of you that have ever been on a safari, I am sure you would have heard the phrase – “if you skip a game drive, you will miss the animal that you want to see the most”. For me, this infamous phrase has come true on a couple of occasions.
There is one instance I will never forget. Nature is a very unpredictable thing. Just when you think that you are beginning to understand it, it will show you its true self leaving you in the dark.
I had a group of guests from Brazil who would be staying at Kapama Southern Camp for a few nights. The leopard sightings had been great over the last couple of weeks and I was confident I would find one during their stay. The first few drives we mainly focused on smaller things to be found in the bush. For example, I showed them the weeping wattle tree – named so because of a spittlebug which can be found on the tree. The spittlebug releases a substance on the tree that oozes on the bark and gives the appearance that the tree is crying or “weeping”. In Shangaan culture, the tree is said to bring Goodluck! I broke off a couple of leaves and gave one to each guest. I was hoping this would bring us the luck we needed to find a leopard during the remaining drives.
Unfortunately, we did not see a leopard on that drive. We were also struggling to find a rhino that was high up on their wish list. I was starting to get desperate to find something. I kept a positive attitude and tried my best to keep the guests interested in the game drive.
The night before the last game drive I was talking to my guests, finding out who would like the early wake-up call for the game drive. To my disbelief, only a few from the group were interested in going on the last drive. To be fair, the rest had a long way to travel and needed a good night’s rest.
Morning came, we set off and the game drive started with a bang. On the road not too far from Buffalo Camp, we came across a crash of rhinos.
It’s always a special animal to see so I was extremely excited – as were my guests. It was good that we found them in the beginning because now we could spend the rest of the drive focusing on finding a leopard.
We searched for about an hour and a half after we left the rhino but no luck. It was starting to warm up and generally, cats can be tough to find in the heat. The game drive was nearing an end, and we made our way back to the lodge. Suddenly, my assistant guide motioned for me to stop. He had seen a very fresh leopard scat on the road. The tracks were heading in the opposite direction. So, we knew that we had to turn around to follow the tracks. We followed them for a while with the suspense and anticipation from the guests and myself building. We carried on looking and I took a turn that would lead us back to the lodge.
Suddenly, just off to the side of the road was a big male leopard resting!
The vehicle came to a sudden stop and we could not believe our eyes. Safe to say we were all a little bit breathless by this magnificent animal. He slowly got up and walked right past us and it was one of the best encounters I have had with a leopard. The vehicle was abuzz with excitement as we admired this beautiful animal. The guests were thrilled, and I was elated to share this experience with them.
Now, when my guests tell me that they are not going to come on the drive, I try my best to convince them otherwise, because when you miss a game drive you may miss the very animal that they were wishing to see.
Story by: Southern Camp Ranger Joshua Radloff
Photos by: Southern Camp Ranger Joshua Radloff and Lindi Taljaard