Whenever I start off guiding a new set of guests, I like to find out what is on their “game drive wish list” of animals and sightings that they hope to see whilst visiting Tanda Tula Safari Camp. For many first-time safari goers, the list is usually quite a simple “anything and everything”, with a surprisingly large number specifying that giraffes (if they haven’t already seen some whilst being transferred to the camp), but elephants and lions are almost always on the top of their list. The more safari’s that the guests have been on, the more creative the lists become, with aardvark, honey badger and pangolin usually topping what is ultimately a near-impossible list of requests. That being said, the safaris never diminish into a run around to tick off a bunch of animals off a list, but rather the list can help guide my decisions about what to look for and to prioritise where I drive.

With this in mind, I set off this week with some regular return guests, as well as an Australian couple visiting Africa for their first time after having spent years dreaming of doing a safari. After the pre-drive briefing, I realised that they were the easy-going sort that would be happy with anything, and so off we headed in search of animals in this part of the Greater Kruger. Our mission was to track down a male lion that had evaded us in the morning and so we set off to where we had his last tracks, but soon discovered that during the day he had walked on top of our vehicle tracks towards Machaton Dam. Glen and Given set off on foot whilst we went and enjoyed some giraffes and a massive herd of elephants grazing in the last light of day, and if the safari had ended there, everyone would have been happy. Fortunately, it wasn’t the end, and our skilled trackers radioed to say that they had located the male lion resting in a big open area. So, off we trundled and got to enjoy an evening with him as he went in search of his brother. The next morning we were awoken shortly before dawn with the two male lions roaring to one another from across the reserve; with each roar we could hear that they were getting closer to one another, and we arrived to see them shortly after they were joyously reunited with one another, and let the world know about it by giving us an almighty roar from only a few meters away! What a way to spend the morning.

With such a good start to their stay, Mark and Kim (the lovely Australian guests) got a little more demanding on the afternoon drive and told me that they now had a list. I said that I would happily oblige, but that my personal rule is to only allow two items on the list at a time, and so Mark said that rhino and a kill would be good enough for him to start with! Heading off on a warm afternoon, and with a new couple on the vehicle, we began with giraffe, elephant, kudu, impala and zebras before coming across a stunning sighting of a parade of elephants dashing right past us on their way towards Machaton Dam for a drink. Everyone was spellbound by this, but Mark quietly reminded me that he still wanted to see rhinos, and he broke the rules by asking for a close up sighting of a giraffe too. Not ten minutes later we rounded a corner and had an elegantly elongated giraffe standing browsing right next to the road. Mark was suitably impressed. After some quality time, I told them that we were just going to go and find some rhinos before we stopped for a drink. A few minutes later nature delivered spectacularly by placing a crash of five rhinos right next to the road for us; not knowing what else to say, I casually pointed to the rhinos and said, “there we go Mark, here are your rhinos”! I did realise that all I had done was simply satisfy the easiest requests on Mark and Kim’s list, they still wanted to see a kill and no matter how well I described the sighting of the lions killing the zebra last week, it probably wasn’t going to cut it for them!

The next morning saw us spending a frustratingly slow birthday morning tracking lions; we had heard them roaring when we woke up, but couldn’t find tracks for the males, so ended up tracking the lionesses. The biggest frustration came in the fact that as I was driving around looking for these felines their tracks were continuously crossing on top of my vehicle tracks where I had been driving and searching for them. A wonderful coffee stop didn’t bring the lion luck we wanted, but we heard that Nthombi female leopard had been found not too far from the camp, so we headed off to see her before breakfast. She was fast asleep when we arrived, but after a while she got up and headed off towards a gully where we actually lost sight of her. Going around the other side we spotted some impalas and realised that she was no doubt stalking them.Glen then got a glimpse of her using the gully as cover to stalk closer. We turned off at once and sat quietly as her camouflaged coat allowed her to melt into her surrounds and she completely disappeared from view. The impalas were walking in her direction, and all I could think of was “am I really going to tick off another sighting from the list?” It only took a few minutes before there was pandemonium in the neighbourhood and the rank of impalas went shooting off in all directions. Well, all but one, because once the dust settled, we were greeted by the sight of Nthombi with a young male impala clutched firmly in her jaws. “Mark, there is your kill…” were the only words I could muster, because like everyone else, I just couldn’t believe how lucky we had been to see that!

On our last morning, we almost got a double bonus as Mark spotted Marula female leopard lying amongst some rocks in the Zebenine riverbed, exactly where a trotting duiker was headed. Fortunately, for the duiker, it reacted quickly enough as Marula shot out in her direction and it managed to evade the blur of spots! During the course of the morning, Mark asked about the chances of seeing a male leopard, and I explained that we only really saw three, but that the chances weren’t great based on the large size of their territories. We stopped for our last cup of coffee in the bush, and Mark and Kim were discussing our Land Rover’s tyres and how often we got punctures; I said I had only had two in my 18 months at Tanda Tula Safari Camp and left it at that.

Based on what had happened over the last few days, it should really not have come as a surprise that half an hour later, whilst following the very same elusive male leopard, there was a sudden gushing of air from my back tyre. And for only the third time since arriving here I was changing a Land Rover tyre, the only difference was that this time it was only 60m from a large, male leopard!




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