Saturday, 18 August 2012

It's what we set out to do

Safari guests often ask me what methods we use to find game and especially leopards while on game drive on the vast Thaba Tholo Wilderness Reserve. As with anything in nature there is no great mystery, it all comes down to good field craft.
In fact nature provides all the clues, all we have to do is to listen.
One of the first things we do on any OTS safari is to show our guests how to dust away their sensory cobwebs and heighten awareness of the smells, sights and most importantly sounds of the bush. 
In that way guests can enjoy a lot more than just being shown animals. They can 'be involved'.
Let me give you an example......
On Tuesday evening we were out on game drive, enjoying a sundowner as the sun set by the main dam. By now our safari guests had started to pick up many of the clues that nature provides, such as reading spoor and scats to recognise which animals had passed by. While enjoying their drink and chatting about the day, everyone suddenly stopped and all heads turned in the direction of an alarm call (actually a bark) from a bush buck further up the valley, letting us know that a leopard was around.
We quickly jumped back onto the game drive vehicle and headed in the direction of the intermitent barking. Stopping to listen for a short while to check we had the direction correct and then moving on.
At every stop senses were heightened and the excitement levels increased. Then, the warning calls changed direction, now comming from behind us. At some point we had passed the leopard, who was now walking somewhere in the bush to our rear. By now the sun had set so we set up a spotlight to help us navigate and find the leopard.
Heading back down into the valley Mike picked up a fleeting reflection from the eyes of some bush babies, sat in a small tree at the side of the track. They were also alarm calling and looking straight passed us into the bush on our right hand side, showing us exactly where the leopard was. 
We could now see him sitting down in some heavy cover about 70 meters away.
We moved a little closer, then stopped the engine and sat in the dark just enjoying being in the company of a young male leopard that we recognised as one of Diamonds adolescent cubs. These are magical moments and I know that everyone (guests and guides alike) felt privaliged to be with such a relaxed leopard.
Back at Black Leopard Camp there was excited chatter and photographs being shared, but one particular comment put the cherry on the cake for me. Amidst it all, someone said 'its not just the photo but it's also the memory we'll have for ever.' That said it all for me, after all it's exactly what we set out to do.
Written by Will Fox
OTS Manager.

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