sabi sabi ranger stories

the ultimate walk

It was a sunny morning at Selati Camp when we started off on a walking safari.  My guests, Ian and Heather MacPherson (father and daughter), as well as a honeymoon couple, Neil and Tracy Bantleman, who had been staying with us for 3 nights, were unaware of the extraordinary walk they wer about to experience.

They were all wildlife enthusiasts and loved their walking safaris, so I asked them whether or not they would be interested in doing a longer walk than usual.  They were excited at the idea.

After having a wonderful breakfast in the comfort of the camp, we all set off with our backpacks, water and walking shoes.  The sun was getting higher in the sky and the temperature was beginning to soar.  This meant that the animals were most likely starting to take to shady spots to keep themselves cool.  That would make also make it harder for us to find them.

Shortly after leaving the camp, I found up some fresh Giraffe spoor.  The tracks were larger than normal, which suggested that they were from a big male. I estimated that he had walked there within the past hour.  My guests were very keen to see the giraffe, so off we went to track him.

Sometimes people think that because Giraffes are so tall they are easy to spot, and it always amazes them just how camouflaged the tallest animal in the world can actually be.  We followed the tracks through an Acacia thicket, and into and out of a small drainage line. As we came over a small hill, there, 50-60 meters away was the Giraffe we had been searching for.  He was a nice big male, with a darker than normal coat.  I tried using the cover of trees and bushes to get closer in order for my guests to get some good photographs, but with the Giraffes keen eyesight he spotted us creeping towards him.  We still managed to get within a short distance of him, while he stared at us with a cautious eye.  We got some great shots and Heather was amazed at just how tall the Giraffe really was.  When you are sitting in a vehicle, it can give you a false sense of the size of animals, but by going on a walk, you become fully aware of just how big they really are.  That’s one thing that makes a walking safari so worthwhile, as you are now on foot in the animals kingdom, walking on their terms.

During the walk Tracy started talking and asking about scorpions.  I decided to head towards a rocky outcrop which is usually a good place to look for them.  After scouting out a couple of rocks, I found the perfect one.  Rock scorpions normally like to hide under rocks that are fairly large, ones that baboons will find difficult to lift as they search for their scorpion snacks.  With a bit of effort we managed to lift the rock just far enough off the ground for me to be able to get a good look underneath.  There lay a medium sized rock scorpion.  I picked it up by the small tail and began to explain to my intrigued guests just how advanced a scorpion’s senses are.  With tiny little hairs called trichobothria, they can detect a termite walking 40cm away, and they can feel the vibrations of thunderstorms still hundreds of kilometers away.  Every animal big and small is just so interesting in its own way, which makes my job one of the best in the world.  We managed to get some great photographs of our arachnid friend before placing him back underneath its rock home.

We carried on with our walk looking at all sorts of interesting trees, plants and tracks while I shared as much knowledge as I could.  After some time we stopped under a big shady tree, where we drank water and took in the peace that the bush has to offer.  We saw some fresh buffalo tracks and we could hear the lone bull disturbing all the dry, fallen leaves on the ground as he moved off in the far distance.

After rehydrating ourselves, we put our bags back onto our backs and began to make our way back to the camp which was still about an hour away.  We were walking across a big open area, when Neil spotted a beautiful pinkish flower.  It was an Impala lily, which even for a colour blind person like myself, is really just so beautiful.  We moved closer to it to take some photographs.  Ian hadn’t brought a camera, so he stood a few meters away from us, looking around with his binoculars.

Once we had got all our photos, we carried on walking.  We hadn’t gone more than 10 meters when we heard a growl, a growl so deep and distinctive that you could feel it throughout your whole body.  I raised my head, and there, lying in the shade of a lowveld mikberry tree about 20 meters away, was a big, dark maned male lion.  His tail was lashing from side to side, which, combined with the deep growl, is a very definite warning not to come any closer.  At this stage Neil, Tracy, and Heather, who were right behind me, were fully aware of what was happening.  Ian on the other hand, who was still standing a little way away, had heard the sound, but due to his older age and weaker eyesight, could not see where it was coming from.  With a calm soft voice I told Ian ‘Please get behind me.”  He was more interested in putting the binoculars to his eyes to see if he could pinpoint what was making that terrifying noise.  So, once again, but this time with more firmness, I said, “Ian get behind me now”.  He reacted straight away, and joined the rest of the group.

I told them all to back away 10 steps, while I kept a very close eye on our angry lion.  After backing off our 10 steps, the lion was still growling and his tail was still lashing from side to side.  I told the group to back off another 10 steps.  At this point, the lion stopped growling and his posture became a lot more relaxed.  I assessed the situation, and deciding that we were now safe, we all took the opportunity to quickly and quietly take a few photographs, being very careful at the same time not to overstay our welcome.  At this stage we were all just smiling hugely from ear to ear, as we couldn’t believe what had just happened.

We began moving again, giving our lion friend a nice wide berth as we passed by him.  We could see Selati Camp in the distance, but it was still a fair way off.  We moved off the open area and entered the tree line on a big game path that animals often use to go to and from the waterhole in front of the camp.  On the path I found some more male lion tracks.  These were going in the same direction as we were, but I thought that they were possibly the tracks of the same male we had just encountered.  However, the fact that the spoor was going in our direction, left a little niggling doubt in my mind.

As we exited the tree line and onto the open area in front of the camp we saw another male lion about 70 meters away.  He had heard us coming, but due to the distance between us, he was still very relaxed.  I couldn’t believe that in the space of 30 minutes we had walked into two separate male lions.  It was just so extraordinary.  We were a safe distance away, so we took some more photographs, and then began to move off.

The lion was, however, lying right on our path home, so for safety we once again had to make a wide detour.  This meant that we would have to get back via a drainage line, where the bush is a little bit denser.  Before we descended into the drainage line, I explained to the guests that with the presence of 2 males around, there was a chance that there could also be some lionesses in the vicinity.  I needed them all to stay very close behind me, and remain completely quiet as we passed in and out of the drainage line.  We revised our hand signals and then carefully started to make our way through.

We encountered no more animals and proceeded back to the camp which was now only a short distance away.  On arriving at the camp, we were all just so ecstatic about this incredible 3 hour walk we had just experienced, that we couldn’t wait to share our amazing saga with the staff and the rest of the guests.

We were all standing on the deck telling our story, when, from exactly where we had entered the drainage line 10 minutes earlier, out came 2 lionesses.  They were on their way to drink water and join the male.

Everyone just looked at each other in amazement and laughed. It was one of the most incredible days in my game ranging history.

Craig Foaden - Ranger

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