I am currently staying at one of my favorite lodges for the long weekend, Dulini Lodge, in the Sabi Sands. It is run by the andBeyond Group, and is a beautiful place to stay. For those of you unfamiliar with the Sabi Sands, it is a private game reserve adjacent to Kruger National Park. There are no fences between the two, so essentially the same animals can be viewed in Kruger. The specialty of the Sabi Sands is however the leopard viewing. I am not sure if there is any other place where relaxed leopards can be viewed so easily. Dulini Lodge is situated on the Exeter property, one of the many properties making up the Sabi Sands, and it shares traversing rights with lodges such as Leopard Hills, Idube and Inyati.
We drove in from Johannesburg yesterday morning after a 2-hour flight from Cape Town. On arrival we were greeted with a very tasty lunch overlooking the now dry Mabrak River. At 4 pm it was game drive time, and we set out with much excitement to see what we could see. The first sighting we had incorporated three of the big five- there were a few Buffalo wallowing in the water, and elephant in the background and a female leopard slowly making her way across an open grass area. She is called the Hlaba Nkunzi female- which means stabbed with a spear. Her name is taken from that of a dam in the area, so named because a Rhino had died in a fight with another after being ‘stabbed with a spear’ (horn). She was rolling in buffalo dung, clearly trying to take the scent on perhaps to help her later in her hunting. This leopard is incredibly relaxed, so much so that she will lie right at the tyre of a vehicle and show no interest in it what so ever.
Hlaba Nkunzi has a cub of around a year and half, who I had viewed when she was much smaller last year. This cub was strolling along some distance from her mother when she had a bit of an encounter with an elephant, which was fortunately distracted by us. She disappeared into the bush, and we relocated her sitting up on a termite mound. She wasn’t too keen on posing for us though, as she seemed a little tense after the elephant encounter. Gradually she calmed down and moved into an open area where we could view her lying in the grass. She was having none of it, and have our vehicle a pretty aggressive charge stopping a couple of meters from the trackers feet.
There are not many animals that make better viewing than a leopard (in my opinion). They are such sleek, elegant hunters, and their coats so golden. They are also very expressive cats, and rarely lie around doing nothing.
We left the leopard sighting to view a pack of 7 wild dog, but the storm clouds were brewing and they were sheltering in some grass, so we didn’t spend too long with them before heading back to the lodge to find some shelter ourselves! The storm was huge, and we spent the best part of dinner jumping out of our seats as lightning cracked around us. What an impressive display of nature’s power it was though, and it continued for a good part of the night.
This morning dawned hot and grey, the clouds from last night lingering above. After some strong coffee we headed out to read the tracks on the road from the previous evening. The rain had ended around 2am, so any tracks on the wet soil were promising. Close to camp our tracker, Eric, spotted a serval just off the side of the road. It was cleaning itself, but soon got up and made its way across the road. It was a good sighting for serval, and the first the ranger had seen this year. Servals are very dainty cats, with long legs like ballerina’s and delicate facial markings. One day, in a dream world, I’ll get THE shot of a serval, but for now, Im happy just to see this small creature.
We found some lion tracks shortly after the serval and followed them a good few kilometers until another ranger called us to say they had located the lion pair in a clearing further on. On route, we bumped into these two rhino roadblocks, who were completely unconcerned by our presence. The lions were unfortunately doing what lions do best- sleeping! So, after 25 minutes or so we left them to enjoy a hot rangers coffee. For anyone who has not tried this, I highly recommend it: Hot Chocolate, Coffee and a dash of Amarula. I would be hard pressed to find a better drink- it has everything! I’m pretty sure that a bush trip would not be complete without a good rangers coffee in the morning, but I’m not going to risk it to find out!
We relocated Hlaba Nkunzi on the road near camp, and followed her for a short while until she lay down in the middle of a thick block of vegetation. We were just settling in to wait for her when Eric, the tracker piped up “ There is a snake coming out of the bonnet” Our ranger Craig replied with “out of WHAT?”
“The Bonnet” said Eric, as he slowly slid to the opposite side of his seat.
Step one- establish it’s NOT a Mamba- otherwise we’d all be bailing off the vehicle, never mind the leopard sitting a few meters away. Craig climbed onto the bonnet to get a better look and saw it was a small vine snake. Vine snakes are extremely venomous, and there is no antidote for the bite, so Eric was told to be still while Craig poked at the thing, which then moved in Eric direction. Eric meanwhile was getting ready to ‘Baleka’ (run) choosing to take his chance with the leopard instead. Eventually Craig managed to get the thing off the car, and we left the sighting so that the snake would not be temped to find some more warmth with us.
All in all we’ve certainly had a couple of successful drives so far! And now that the clouds are clearing, I’m even more excited for what the afternoon will bring!