I often get asked what I love about safari and besides being in nature away from the hectic pace of city life, I keep returning to the bush to witness the intricacies of animal behavior and learn more about the ingenious and multitude of ways birds, animals, trees, and insects have adapted to their natural surroundings. Londolozi is the first place that I went on a proper safari and I knew after my first visit that I would be back not only because of the superb tracking and guiding, but also because of the camp’s commitment to the surrounding community and conservation. Londolozi offers unparalleled intimate animal encounters, perhaps because the Varty family has owned the camp since 1926 and the animals have grown accustomed to Land Rovers traversing their land and seem less skittish than the game on other reserves. So when I was deciding where I wanted to celebrate my birthday, Varty Camp at Londolozi was my first choice. The three nights flew by, but it was just enough time for five memorable animal encounters.
Lions Crossing a River
When our ranger learned that a pride of lions had been found on the banks of the Sand River, we abandoned our unsuccessful search for wild dogs and headed to the river. The lions were comfortably occupying what little shade there was and appeared to display zero interest in moving. Despite our ranger’s entreaties to cross the river (something he explained he had been waiting to see since he came to Londolozi a year ago) the lions continued to sleep. The sun was getting hot so we left the lions and stopped for our morning coffee break just across the river from the lions. As our guide and tracker packed up, they decided that we should drive along the opposite bank of the river to see if the lions had moved. At the very moment we arrived, the tailless lioness yawned a few times and started moving. Even when it became apparent they would cross, I didn’t quite believe it would happen. The ranger positioned the vehicle perpendicular to the river at what seemed to be a 45 degree angle and the lions crossed directly toward us. The two lionesses led with the remaining five members of the pride trailing. After our ranger dropped us back at camp and sped off in the vehicle we heard him whoop loudly. The other two couples and I erupted in laughter at his infectious excitement.
The Hungry Leopards of Londolozi
Londolozi is famed for it leopards and while leopards are relatively common they are skittish, solitary, and often difficult to see. The leopards at Londolzi are more accustomed to the vehicles and Londolozi remains one of the premier places in South Africa to spot leopards. On one morning drive, after getting lost on a neighboring reserve’s property, we stopped to marvel at the most relaxed warthogs ever. We were watching them feast on grasses relatively close to the vehicle when our tracker nonchalantly said, “leopard.” A huge male leopard was just visible under a bush and had likely been stalking the warthogs for quite some time. We waited for over an hour. The warthogs would drift closer to leopard, then further away, and then closer. Our ranger gave us a pep talk about the circle of life and that witnessing a kill might be difficult to watch, but we were all secretly hoping we would witness a successful hunt. The leopard finally made his move and charged into the middle of the group scattering the warthogs in all directions. The leopard paused and looked around, as if he couldn’t quite understand what had gone wrong, before slinking off without anything to eat.
A young female with a cub had been spotted and we joined another vehicle that was already with her. She was moving through the tall grasses toward some oblivious impala. She crouched down in the tall grasses and we waited for her to creep closer to the impala. Then a hyena appeared on the scene. She was tailing the leopard in the hopes that the leopard would make a kill and she could steal it away. After a few minutes, the leopard noticed the hyena and decided to put the hunt on hold in favor of a bath. The impatient hyena eventually wandered out into an open area in plain sight of the impala who immediately started alarm calling alerting the entire bush that there were predators in their midst. The hunt was over for the day and both mothers moved on looking for their next meal.
Elephants at Play
Of all of the animals seen on safari, elephants are the ones that make my heart beat a little bit faster. The mere fact that they could charge and overturn the vehicle makes me nervous. That is why it was so incredibly amazing to sit with a relaxed breeding herd of four elephants. They dug for water near a fetid pool looking for fresh water. Then the kids played while mom took a sand bath. I have never had the opportunity to witness the tenderness with which elephants treat one another or heard their vocalizations so clearly. One of the elephants lay down on a sandbank while the other climbed on his side every time he tried to rise to his feet. And, proof that I find the same things funny as most 13 year old boys, I was reduced to muffled laughter as one of the elephants proved how inefficient their digestive tracks are with his audible gassiness.
Despite having seen hyenas on numerous occasions, including having one saunter casually behind me one night at dinner in the Okavango Delta, I had never had enough light to photograph one. On numerous occasions when the ranger asked what animal I wanted to see, I have requested hyenas not only because I wanted to get a photo, but because they have to be one of the more interesting animal species with their complicated matriarchal societies and much maligned behaviors. The hyena den we visited was a hive of activity as everyone appeared for their night patrols. It was incredible to watch as a menacing hyena transformed into a protective and tender mum as she groomed and suckled her adorably cute cubs.
Sundowners with Giraffes
On my first night we had drinks with giraffes. The sun has just set and we drove just past an impala herd and parked the vehicle. There were 11 giraffes slowly making their way toward us. Instead of passing by, they stopped to feed all around us. With a gin and tonic in hand we had drinks with giraffes. They ambled off at about the same time we polished off our last sips and piled back onto the vehicle for the ride back to camp. Viewing a giraffe from the ground instead of from the extra height of the vehicle felt unreal and an experience I am unlikely to ever forget.
Londolozi is one of the premier camps in the Sabi Sands – a private game area that borders Kruger. The fences were dropped long ago and the game is free to roam across large swaths of land. As with any luxury safari operation, the rooms were immaculate, the hospitality and service exceptional, and the food was delicious. An added bonus for any photography amateur is the creative hub – a place where you can go to edit photos and even print exceptional masterpieces onto canvas.