What is a guided adventure?
During guided adventures, a professional safari guide (field guide) takes you on a safari. A safari guide has a deep-rooted passion and love for the bush. It is his job to let you experience nature in a way you could not imagine possible on your own. The knowledge and experience your guide brings to the table give you the edge when searching for wildlife. You are ensured of seeing way more wild animals, and you will get up closer to wildlife than you would if you were to go out on your own.
What makes these adventures so special?
With the knowledge and help of your guide, your bush experience is a more intense safari experience. As a field guide, I have guided many guests over the years. I normally ask them what they expect to see and experience before going on a first safari with them. About 99% of my guests respond by wanting to see wildlife, be it the Big-5, or seeing lions kill, or something like it. Seeing an elephant 50 meters away from you or merely a couple of feet away makes a huge difference in the experience. As a guide, I have learned how to interpret animal behaviour and in that way, I find more animals, get closer to them, and offer as such a unique experience to my guests. Another aspect where my role as field guide plays a role is the fact that most of the guests do not have extensive experience in the bush. There is so much to see and experience in the bush, that we can’t take it in all at once. Driving around yourself and having to pay attention to the road and the route is taking time and attention away from the bush. You are able to optimize that time you are spending in the bush by taking a guide with you.
The leopard that didn’t get away
Let me illustrate my point with the following sighting my cousin and I had during a private trip in Kruger National Park. My cousin had never been to the bush and everything was new to her. That morning we were up before the break of day, getting ready to head out of Shingwedzi rest camp as soon as the gates opened. Shingwedzi is a lovely rest camp nestled against the southern bank of the majestic Shingwedzi river. We heard the lions roar in the distance, with the roaring sound coming from the northeastern part of camp. There are no public roads in that area. We planned to head out in an easterly direction on the southern bank of the river. We thought we might get lucky by spotting the lions coming down to the river, although we held little hope. Just before sunrise we got in our car, a regular closed top city car, and headed out in our intended direction. The winter morning was chilly, but we came prepared with jackets, gloves, and beanies. Closing the windows and turning the heater on is more comfortable, but a killer for finding animals. We slowly made our way, and together with other vehicles had a sighting along our way of a troop of baboons going about their daily routine.
All of a sudden I caught the distant sound of a calling leopard. I pointed out the sound to my cousin as she was unaware of the call. I knew this leopard was still far off to the south of us. With no roads leading in that direction, there was no easy way to try and find this leopard. We kept our ears open, as a calling leopard at this time of the day is normally an indication of a leopard being on the move. The second time the leopard called, my cousin heard the call as well. This time, the noise was a lot closer. We could clearly hear the deep, heavy, and raspy call which I now could identify as the territorial call of a male. The leopard was on a mission, making his way to the river. We lingered in the area as vehicles kept passing us on their way eastbound, completely unaware of the nearby leopard. And surely, the next time we heard his call, he had already crossed the road and was either in the riverbed or between the river and the road. We drove up and down the road and located his tracks where he had crossed the road. We found a turn off to the river and slowly made our way in that direction, looking and searching for any sign of him. I switched off the engine as we looked out over the dry riverbed, where on our right-hand side a little rise gave way to a drainage line. At the edge of the drainage line, a dead tree was being used by a pair of Bateleur eagles to catch some warm rays of the sun. We sat, watched, and waited for 10 minutes when we heard the call just on the other side of the little rise! We were excited with the anticipation of a leopard appearing out of the bush a mere 30 meters away from us. But nothing happened and so we kept on waiting.
A total of two other vehicles joined us on separate occasions. Each only staying a couple of minutes after we explained what we were waiting for. Perhaps they did not believe us, perhaps they did not have the patience. However, they left as we still regularly heard his call coming from the same location. Finally, we heard his call again, but this time further away from us. He was on the move again and we had to move as well. We drove further east in search of the next place where we could get access to the river. We found that spot almost a kilometer down the road. And so we waited again until we finally got a glimpse of the leopard walking along the edge of the riverbed towards the road. I positioned the vehicle where I expected him to appear out of the bush. All of a sudden he popped out of the bush and crossed the road right in front of us. In the course of another 20 minutes, he gave us plenty of opportunities to admire him. No one was there to share this sighting with us.
A lion’s face is prettier than his backside
Another sighting I want to share with you happened during a trip I made with two befriended families to Namibia and Botswana. We were on an overland tour using 4×4 vehicles with rooftop tents. Early one morning, only the children of the families went out on a drive, so I joined them in their car. We turned west along the southern bank of the river. Only a couple of hundred meters from camp, I asked them to stop the car as I noted large, fresh tracks on the road. After making sure the area was safe, we took a closer look at the tracks. It was clear that a single male lion had walked on this road in the same direction we were travelling. Judging by the tracks, the male had walked here only minutes up to a few hours ago. There was a good chance we would be able to find this male walking on the road or perhaps in the vicinity of the road. We were all getting excited as we still had yet to see our first lion of the trip. Now everyone kept their eyes on the bush whilst I kept a watch on the tracks.
Suddenly, the tracks disappeared from the road and I asked them to reverse the vehicle. We had found the place where the lion had left the road. We determined that the lion had moved off to the north, towards the river. We slowly continued on our way, with everybody scanning the bush to the right of us. A few times we stopped to make double sure that a tuft of grass was not the top of the lion’s head. And then, all of a sudden, we spotted another tuft of grass with ears sticking out from the side. We found our lion lying there under a bush while observing two buffalo males on the opposite side of the river. If we would not have known that there was a lion around, we surely would have missed him altogether. For a few minutes, we sat there in silence as we watched the lion observe the buffaloes. The wind must have carried his scent to them as the buffaloes all of a sudden lifted up their heads, turned around, and bolted in the opposite direction. Shortly after, the lion stood up and started to walk back towards the road. I knew that the lion would get back to the road, but probably somewhere in front of us. This left us behind to observe his backside. I asked the guy behind the steering wheel to start the engine and start driving. Although totally puzzled by my directions, he started driving. I asked him to speed up and continue another 200m or so. They were are all puzzled now and wondered what my reasoning was. I asked him to quickly turn the vehicle and then park completely on the side of the road. We were now facing the lion as he made his way towards us. With the lion facing us, this was a much more appealing site than seeing his backside. Needless to say, we had a spectacular sighting.