he stole the show

When I was a lot younger my father used to tell me that you must work hard to live your dream, good things in life take time and that you have to enjoy every minute because the absolute best things in life happen in a blink of an eye.

I have always dreamed of becoming a game ranger and I can assure you that for as long as I can remember I have worked hard to get to this point in my life. I recently qualified as a FGASA (Field guides association of Southern Africa) field guide and a few days ago I completed my long and intensive training with the best rangers at Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve. I received my epaulets and the incredible news that I was about drive my first guests. I had high expectations for my first safari, so did my guests. During my introduction before our game drive I asked them what they would like to see. They raised the expectation bar right up there by requesting to see their first leopard. We started making our way to an area close to Earth lodge where rangers had spotted leopard tracks during their morning safari, but had no success in finding him.

african sunset on safari at sabi sabi

While Doc (my tracker) had his eyes fixed on the road for leopard spoor, I scanned the bush for anything of value to share with my guests. It was very rewarding to finally share all my bush skills and I could see their appreciation of my knowledge. Doc got all of our attention with a single hand signal to stop the Land Rover. It was too good to be true when he circled a beautiful leopard spoor imprinted in the soft sandy soil. Doc's tracking skills were excellent but we both had to admit that the sounds of the bush gave the leopard away. The francolin's call had started slowly but quickly turned into a real alarm call. That was then joined by a fork- tailed drongo call which in return made the impala not too far from us alert and looking for danger. The impala's snorting was the last sound to seal the deal and the leopard casually stood up out of his crouched position not too far from us. The leopard was magnificent and majestic and the guests enjoyed it so much that we almost forgot their request to experience their sundowners at our beautiful Earth lodge. Finally satisfied, the guests tore themselves away from the leopard and we started making our way to the lodge. They marvelled at Earth lodge but couldn't hide their safari enthusiasm, wanting to get out into the bushveld and continue with their game drive.

leopard at night on safari at sabi sabi

It was already dark by the time we left Earth lodge. During an evening safari you can't help but be mesmerized by the searching spotlight. Doc's spotlight got fixed on movement in the road and he indicated that he wanted me to stop and switch off the vehicle. With every step taken the blurred figure approaching us got clearer. We gasped for breath when we all realized that the approaching figure was the same male leopard we had found earlier. Honoured to have him grace us with his presence for a second time, we gave him the right of way by repositioning our vehicle just off the road and allowing him to walk right past us. The moment when he passed our vehicle was so memorable that I decided we should experience it for a second time. To not disturb him walking on the road we took a short route across the open area to intercept him.

Just as I thought our drive could not get any better we startled another peculiar figure out of his hiding place in the grass - an aardvark. I had heard stories about them and I had learned all I possibly could about them but to actually see one was amazing. Some people have spent all their lives in the bush and have never had the privilege to see an aardvark and here he was stealing the show. We approached it with great care in the hope that it wouldn't run off. He was very relaxed but kept a safe distance from us. We saw him for about four to five minutes before he slowly made his way into the thickets. We managed such a good long look at him that we decided to leave him be and return our attention to the forgotten leopard.

Our memories and the stories we would tell about that evening were a lot more descriptive than my not very well taken photographs just showing two reflecting eyes. I have to agree with my father that the good things in life take time but the very best happens in the blink of an eye.

by: solomon mathebula - bush lodge ranger

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