sabi sabi ranger stories

take a walk on the wild side

This is not an adrenaline filled encounter with one of Africa's big 5, instead it is what one feels when experiencing the intricacies of the African bushveld on foot. Sabi Sabi’s philosophy, to deliver the ULTIMATE bush experience!

When one is on foot one does not have the reassurances and comfort that an open safari vehicle affords. Instead the fascinating "less" significant aspects of the African bushveld will blow one away, simultaneously one feels a sense of excitement and vulnerability!

To put it in perspective, a human being is the second slowest creature in the African bushveld, the leopard tortoise taking first prize. Ben Johnson the fastest man alive ran at a top speed of 37km per/hour over one hundred metres. An elephant being one of the slowest in the African bushveld can attain a speed of over 40km/per hour for the duration of a full kilometre. Where a human being runs around a tree, an elephant simply runs over the tree! One can be assured that the fastest 100m ever run was not by any well-trained track athlete, but by man avoiding being eaten by some wild animal!

Although the rangers at Sabi Sabi are equipped with heavy artillery for the protection of the guests and themselves, it is wise to have a very healthy level of respect for this wild environment. An experienced ranger will avoid confrontations with dangerous animals at all costs, firstly for safety reasons and secondly it is unnecessary to stress any wild animal by not respecting their comfort zone. The above may appear to be rather daunting, but on a lighter note Sabi Sabi has never in its history had a guest injured by any wild animal whilst on a walking safari or game drive, that is fact! The game rangers are extensively trained and assessed before being allowed to liaise with a guest. To ensure even higher standards of expertise and safety, the Field Guides Association of Southern Africa assesses rangers at Sabi Sabi by means of a written examination and a practical test. Rest assured you are in very capable hands when being guided on foot through the game reserve with one of Sabi Sabi’s game rangers.

When on foot in the bush, there are no words that can describe the magical sensation that one feels. The foot prints (spoor) left on the ground by the dainty feet of the various antelope species or the monstrous round pug marks left by a male lion tell us that they were here! The hot crisp air that gently blows on ones face and back, produce a remarkable cooling sensation as it evaporates the beads of perspiration expelled by the human body. It almost seems sacrilege and a waste of water when one observes the dry bush and the parched grass tufts that have been made lifeless by the hot, relentless African sun. In the winter months in South Africa and in the region where Sabi Sabi is situated the winter is a very dry time of year. The animals become very dependant on the permanent water sources as the smaller pans and wallows dry up leaving the clay hard and cracked like the soles on the feet of a 50 year old bull elephant. The vegetation that sustains them is also dry, brown and lifeless. The majority of the trees are bare, no leaves, no fruit, seemingly just waiting for the rains to return.

When looking up at the sun in the dry periods of the year, the white hot circular disk is occasionally broken by the silhouette of large birds of prey, riding the thermals rising from the hot ground. It almost seems as if these large birds of prey are looking for any sign of weakness from its spectators on the ground!

One will notice when participating on a guided walk in a dangerous game area, the game ranger concentrates on spoor identification, reading the ground like a businessman would read the Financial Mail on a Monday morning. So much can be revealed when one understands the various behaviour patterns and intricacies displayed by wild animals. Only time spent in the rugged bushveld on foot will equip a person with this sort of knowledge. By constantly scrutinising the ground for spoor and carefully scanning the horizon, the game ranger avoids accidentally "bumping" into the dangerous game species! There is no educational institute that can teach this aspect of the African bush to anyone!

The tell tale signs of animal species in an area can be observed by using most of ones senses. By listening carefully to the various bird calls and alarm calls made by the various mammal species listed high on the food chain, gives one ample time to avoid an area where there may be one of the big five lurking in the undergrowth. The various smells and field signs left unintentionally by the wild animals, for example, a small tuft of hair from a male lion's mane caught up in a low lying thorn tree indicates that a male lion passed through the area. The rattling call of the red billed ox-pecker (bird) often giving away the presence of various antelope species, including buffalo and giraffe. This obviously increases the excitement levels during the walking safari.

Often one observes trees that are caked with mud, these trees are often used as "rubbing posts" by various wild animals. On closer inspection there are often ticks and skin parasites encased in the dry mud. These muddy deposits often being left by the African elephant, black and white rhino species, as well as buffalo and warthog. During the hottest hours of the day these animals will often cool themselves by taking a mud bath. The mud bath serving a dual purpose, cooling the animal down and protecting the skin from the sun, as well as ridding themselves of external skin parasites. By understanding the animal movement and behaviour the game ranger will also be able to show you how to obtain water from the bush in the drier months of the year.

Ancestral folklore of the local Shangaan people is also a popular topic of discussion during a walking safari. The medicinal usage of trees and shrubs in this pristine area serve many of the local Shangaan people, this often being the highlight of conversation on a bush walk. Some species of tree can be used to make a strong bush tea; other species can be used as medicines, toothbrushes, insect repellents, and even disinfectants.

When coming across the shade of a large tree, the game ranger will often ask his guests to sit down, close their eyes and just listen to the African bush. There are so many different sounds that are audible when doing this kind of exercise. There is no noise pollution created by cars, trucks and aeroplanes, just the sound of undisturbed nature! One can almost feel the "clean" positive energy being released by the plants as the wind gently rustles the leaves in the surrounding trees. When one is walking in the bush it can be deathly quiet, all one are able to hear is one's own breathing and footsteps as one's shoes make contact with the dry, dusty rugged ground!

Often the game ranger will spot the general game species long before the guests do, this can also be very exciting, depending on the guests. It is quite common to try and get closer to these animals whilst on foot! The hunter, gatherer tends to come out in all of us, when approaching the various ungulates (hoofed species) on foot. It is vitally important to keep as quiet as possible as well as being aware of wind direction, if the animals pick up human scent whilst one is on foot, they disappear before one even has time to blink! Often one can get relatively close to these game species to photograph them, if the silent approach has been successful, giraffe being the ultimate, as they are incredibly inquisitive!

In the summer months, the very varied array of insect life is also on full display! One learns which species are good eating and which species are to be avoided. Most guests will try the wild fruit that the bush offers, but will politely decline from eating any of the six-legged critters that normally go unnoticed! I also suppose that anyone eating the five star meals at the lodge would refrain from eating any raw arthropod! The Shangaan people used and ate many species of insect when they lived off the land hundreds of years ago. The soldier termites have the most incredible mandibles (biting mouth-parts), these were used as stitches, when closing a large laceration. The heads of the termites are broken off after they have bitten across the laceration, thus holding a cut closed as a modern day stitch would!

As previously mentioned, Sabi Sabi's philosophy is to give the guest the ULTIMATE bush experience, the combination of the game drives, the walking safaris, the lodge and the exquisite cuisine offered, make an unbeatable combination!

By Andre van Zyl

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