The Tracker & The Visitors
Singita Ebony Lodge; a wild yet tranquil oasis in the middle of the Kruger National Park. On our last visit to this magical location, we experienced something truly incredible whilst out on our morning game drive. As we climbed into the game vehicle, we were a buzz with conversation and hope as to what the morning may bring. We drove around the surrounding wilderness, in awe of the birdsong, wind dance and early morning sun show that unfolded around us.
After driving around for around an hour our tracker, Lawrence, asked for the vehicle to stop. He jumped off the back and landed on the ground in a small explosion of red sand. He walked slowly back in the direction we had driven, and then stopped to gaze upon something in the sand: leopard tracks.
He climbed back into the car and then directed us along the route he felt like this mystery leopard may have followed.
Once we had driven for a further twenty minutes, Lawrence decided he wanted to try and find them on foot. He took a two-way radio, climbed down once more and told us to carry on driving. As we drove away we all turned to watch as he became ever smaller and smaller in the distance; an eerie sight for us who were not familiar with this wild land, but a truly familiar occurrence for Lawrence who had been raised by generations of experts on this area and its wildlife – one could say Africa was in his blood.
We went off deeper and deeper into the thickets and all kept our eyes open and alert for any signs of movement. The problem was mainly that leopards blend perfectly into their surroundings, with their dark spots perfectly catching the shadows of the vegetation and their golden coats morphing into the golden grass. For our eyes perhaps an impossible task, but not for Lawrence who suddenly called us on the radio…. “Pick me up, I’ve found them!” These words made us truly excited, not only for the fact that he had found the leopard, but the fact that he had said the word “them” …
We sped off in the direction we had left him and found him wondering on the side of the dirt road flagging us down. He climbed in and immediately pointed in the direction we should drive. Wheel turn by wheel turn we finally arrived at the spot, a heavily vegetated area full of long green and gold grass. Lawrence told us to stop and switch off the car, and then guided our eyes to one particular bush in the middle of an opening. It took us all a few seconds at first, but then all of a sudden, we all gasped as we saw two spotted heads bobbing up and down behind the grass blades. We all turned to Lawrence in awe: that he possessed the instincts, the skills and the intuition to find these elusive animals whilst hiding in plain sight, was an unworldly skill that we had extreme respect for.
We watched these to leopards relaxing in the grass for some time before they suddenly got up and started moving, an action that made us all sit up and wait in anticipation for the roar of the car to start up again. We slowly and respectfully followed them as they made their way through the grasslands and eventually where they linked up back to the dirt road. We moved behind them as if the car could tip toe, and after a while started to come to the realization that they were heading in a very familiar direction: it would seem that these two leopards were escorting us home!
As camp became closer and closer, we assumed they would veer off in another direction at some point, but they never did… they kept walking and walking until we found ourselves at the back entrance of the camp! Once they were standing in the parking area… they paused… and we held our breath. Then, as if instantly, they began moving again, right onto the cobbled pathway of the camp and down the stairs towards the chalets. Our guide grabbed his radio and told all staff to stay inside as he put the vehicle into reverse and swung round to get to the front entrance of Singita Ebony. The game drive had come to us!
Once we parked abruptly at the front, we all climbed out and calmly moved in single file to the dining area, where we all waited to see if our new visitors would come out at this end of camp. After a while we decided that they weren’t headed this way and carried on with breakfast, complete with a conversation full of excitement and wonder around the experience we had just had with our expert tracker, Lawrence, and guide, Nick!
Just then, we noticed Nick wasn’t actually at the table, but then suddenly burst out from behind a corridor and came running to the table. He had set up his camera in the leopards’ pathway and then went to hide, eagerly waiting to see what his lens would capture! When he came back to the table, we watched a still scene set up in front of one of our rooms for a few seconds, before one of the leopards came trotting past with a monkey in its jaws! We had all been eager to see a leopard exerting all sorts of its most common behaviors and had incredibly been able to see one of the most fascinating on camera!
We continued to enjoy this virtual safari around the table, and reflected on what a truly magical morning we had just had…