Each step with extra care

12th February 2014

Saturday 18th January 2014

The duty team slept in this morning so no wake up call but everybody managed to make it for a slightly late departure.

I was leading one of the groups for the morning walk. We went with the intention of following up on one of the big five that we’d seen the night before. When we arrived at our start point we heard some vervet monkeys alarm calling. I gave a very quick brief and then we headed off in search of what we hoped was either a lion or leopard.

Every step we took was done with extra care so we wouldn’t make any unnecessary noise, I constantly stopped to listen for clues and check the wind. At one point I was convinced I’d seen a zebra hoisted up into the tree but on closer inspection it was just the shape and texture of the tree that was playing tricks on me.

The alarming had died down by the time we reached the vervets (they were calling much further away than we first thought) so we went past to check if the predator was still in the area. At one point Ralph, our new instructor, steered me away from going into bush that was too thick especially with the possibility of a big cat about. I heeded his warning and changed direction.

The excitement of walking through the long grass and wooded glades had started playing tricks with me. I spotted the rump of an animal about 100m away and I was convinced that it was a lion. I brought my back up and instructor forward but rather embarrassingly it turned out to be a bush pig. The only redeeming feature was that the bush pig hadn’t noticed us so we had used the wind well and walked with minimal noise.

As we had no luck in finding the predator we headed towards the pan. On the way we came across fresh tracks of a female leopard, we were 99% sure that was what we had been tiptoeing around the bush looking for.

We headed on to the pan and spotted some buffalo grazing on the other side, we made our approach using the trees for cover and the pan for protection. The view wasn’t great but it was good enough and we left without the buffalo knowing we were there.

We continued on and after another thirty minutes of walking we spotted more buffalo, this time we moved round the their west and crept up on them from bush to bush until we were about 250m away. This was a great view as we saw the whole herd crossing in front of us. Again we were able to leave without them noticing, this was turning out to be a great walk.

We started to meander back to the vehicle when I spotted a lone buffalo some 250m to our east. This was something that I was particularly proud of as it was not obvious at all. I made a plan to view it by using the elements and the high ground to our favour. As we were making a big arc round I was leading the group in between some bushes when I spotted three buffalo ruminating some thirty metres in front of us. We moved behind the bushes and sneaked a look before backing out of the encounter without the buffalo knowing we were there.

Lots of learnings from the walk and the additional buffalo encounter in the afternoon. The most important one being that I absolutely loved it and whilst the leopard stalking got the adrenalin pumping I was not worried at all as the training we’re getting is second to none. What will happen when I come face to face with something which is all fur and teeth is another matter.