November 13 – Our 13-hour Game Drive – Selinda
I have so much to write about our days at Selinda that I thought it best to share the experiences in separate posts.
This post is a tribute to our guide, Isaac Seredile, for his friendship, passion, patience, determination and guiding mastery. Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken”, one of my favorites, took on particular meaning today on what became a 13-hour game drive for us.
“The Road Not Taken”
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
– Robert Frost
Evan and I clicked with Isaac right away – we usually are the ones pushing to start the drives as early as possible – here at Selinda, Isaac told us he wanted to be the first one out – music to our ears!! And it doesn’t hurt when you find out that your guide is just as passionate about leopards as you are…
We left the rest of the camp in the dust at 5:30am and starting looking for tracks. Leopards were our first priority that morning, but when on a photographic safari, you need to be open to whatever “the bush provides” – and when you take that attitude you are usually pleasantly surprised and rarely disappointed. Pretty quickly, Isaac identified two sets of male lion tracks and we set off in search of these two big guys. It took about an hour of following the tracks before we came upon the two brothers (each about five years old) and what was left of a buffalo. I made the mistake of moving a bit too quickly in the vehicle to better position my camera and in so doing, made one of the lions take notice (of me) – usually lions appear to look right through you, but this guy had a laser beam focus and believe me when I say, being the object of a lion’s stare makes you hold your breath and swallow hard for a second or two (and I loved every minute of it).
Around 8am when the brothers had gotten their requisite fill of buffalo (and us of them – photographically speaking that is), we refocused our attention on finding a leopard. Isaac seemed to take us all over creation in our quest… and around 11am he identified the tracks of a mother leopard and her cub. FYI, the size of the Selinda Reserve is about 320,000 acres so this is no easy task.
Those first tracks got the process started for us and for the next two and a half hours we followed their tracks (on the road, off the road, around trees, under brush – we truly “took the road less traveled” and I am using the word “road” quite generously). Isaac followed the tracks from the safety of our vehicle but occasionally he got out when we found ourselves off-road in heavier brush (which was in fact quite dangerous because the mother leopard might be closer than he estimated). Isaac knew that the tracks were getting fresher by the minute and finally said, “It’s time to start looking for her” – and it wasn’t 10 minutes later that she appeared– we had just rounded a bend in the road and Isaac yelled “LEOPARD!” – all I could see was a big patch of dust which she had created when she had pounced on a young impala – and while we missed the actual pounce, the impala was still alive when we got close, but not for long…
It was now about 1:30pm (remember what I said about patience,persistence and mastery) – not many guests (or even guides) are willing to take that length of time to track, never knowing if you will ultimately be rewarded for your efforts. (Those who live for instant gratification will be seriously challenged on an African safari). Evan and I took as much pleasure in Isaac’s expression of pure joy for his discovery as we did in the mother leopard herself. The mother took the kill to a safe place, rested, snacked and then went off to retrieve her cub. We followed her with great anticipation (this would be our first leopard cub sighting – ever). What a great reunion of mother and daughter (about 5-6 months old). The mother led her cub on a circuitous route back to the impala, climbing and resting in a couple of trees along the way, chasing guinea hens, and posing on termite mounds before ultimately bringing the cub back to the impala.
Speaking of food, it was now about 3pm and we had missed lunch (nor had I gotten out of the truck since we left camp at 5:30am to “check the tires” – that’s the “polite” way of saying needing to pee). Our friends, Tony and Michelle had just arrived at camp and Lizzie brought them and our lunch to us just as the mother and her cub had arrived back at the impala for their meal – really quite timely. We watched this mother leopard (8-9 years old and weighing about 60 kgs) and her young cub for a couple of more hours before heading back towards camp.
On the way (in fact only a mile or two from camp) Isaac discovered another hidden impala kill under some thick brush on the edge of a long grassy field. This impala was a large adult and we were surprised not to find the predator who had brought it down. After further scouting, we found our second adult female leopard of the day (she was, in fact, the second (older) daughter of the mother we had spent most of our day tracking). The huntress was resting (and digesting) in the tall grass. It was getting dark, we were hungry and besides, I really had to “check the tires”, so we rolled back into camp around 7pm – with huge smiles and packed memory cards.