The bush: Nature's mosaic. The environment that surrounds us is a perfectly balanced amalgamation of all things great and small. From the microscopic bacteria to the largest tree, each individual performs independently, yet coexists in perfect harmony. However, sometimes I wonder if there is not more to it; a bigger picture that we seem to ignore due a lack of empirical evidence and scientific explanation. As a psychology major, I recall the modules on social psychology and group consciousness and there are moments in the bush where its inhabitants seems to work in tandem to achieve such a universal effect. I joke that it is the bush gods at work and whilst this is a tongue in cheek explanation, it sometimes does seem like the bush itself has a sense of humour, and an ironic one at that. I have lost count of the number of times that I have made a finite statement and within seconds, nature proves me wrong! Suddenly, it seems as if the background noise is more than just the sound of birds and insects calling, but the collective consciousness of the bush chuckling at its belittling of me!
The same goes for sightings on some days. When the pressure is on to find a particular animal that the guests want to see, it feels like the harder you look, the less the chances of success. Luck certainly plays its part and one of my favourite quotes is from Gary Player who said that the 'harder I practise, the luckier I seem to become.' A perfect case in point happened just the other day. My guests and I had seen everything with the exception of the illusive leopard and although we had multiple sets of tracks, we failed miserably to locate Africa's spotted enigma in 3 hours of trying. Unperturbed, we tried again that afternoon and for a further 2 hours, we toiled unsuccessfully seeing very little else en route. Finally however, the bush decided to relent with the cruel withholding of its most sought after possession and we were rewarded with a wonderful sighting of Sand River as he melted in and out of the long grass close to Little Bush Camp.
We returned to the lodge later that night ecstatic, but I felt exhausted as the weight of the pressure was removed from my shoulders. The next morning: my guests' last, the pressure was now off and I was prepared for a nice relaxing drive where we could spend some quality time with the smaller things that really make nature tick. However, the bush had other ideas. A misty start to the morning meant that the air was thick and humid. We all assumed that the taste in the air was merely water vapour but in hindsight, I believe it was a manifestation of irony itself! Perhaps in an attempt to right the scales of a fairly unproductive previous day (prior to the leopard sighting), or simply to reward us for our hard work, or perhaps even just to spite my safari plan of a quiet morning, the bush gods showered us with special sightings.
The list of sightings is too long to be recounted in this blog but suffice to say that we saw the big 5 without even trying, not to mention a host of general game and other treats. So much for a quiet drive.... The obvious highlights were the cats and we sat dumbstruck, with comical smiles on our face as Mandleve and her cubs chose to perform for us in the road. The two cubs looked skinny and the mother took some persuasion to part with their milk. With the demise of Mandleve's last cubs from starvation about 2 years ago still fresh in my memory, I hope they get some real protein soon but in the mean time, we delighted in their antics. Perhaps Mandleve had her orders to put on a show for us from the bush gods but was not in mood? But whatever her issues that morning, suffice to say that she had got up on the proverbial wrong side of the bed. The cubs suffered serious chastising in the form of menacing growls and bared teeth, but the innocence of childhood is compelling and eventually their cries of hunger caused their mother to relent, if perhaps only for some peace from their wailing!
No sooner had we left the sighting, beaming with delight at the spectacle, a leopard was spotted (if you excuse the pun) a few hundred meters up the road. In fact, there were 3 leopards seen that morning....the irony of tracking 1 for 5 or 6 hours yesterday was lost on none of us!! Having marvelled at the battle hardened Sand River the night before, we were now graced with the power of Xihangalas as he marched down the centre of the road, scent marking and calling as he went. This has long been my favourite leopard on Sabi Sabi - he is the perfect example of a male leopard. He would be the feline equivalent of the newly crowned sex symbol for women everywhere, Channing Tatem (young, fit and handsome: or so my wife tells me. Repeatedly I might add!). Xihangalas certainly fits the bill and in fact it sometimes seems like a miracle that he doesn't slip on the self confidence that seems to ooze from him! All of the above made for a spectacular sighting and guests now had pictures of this magnificent creature in the sunlight to add to their portfolio form the night before!
The drive continued along the same vein until we crawled back into the lodge, exhausted after our morning of 'concentrating on the small things.' Not that we were complaining. Far from it in fact! Irony or no irony, the bush is an amazing place and nothing can be planned or predicted. As we often say to guests that demand to see the big 5 on day 1, if you want guarantees, you must go to the zoo. Here, we let the 'powers that be' do the planning and we merely view what it chosen to be shown to us. The bush is what you make of it and the rewards are there to be enjoyed, whatever the occasion. The emotional antithesis of searching for a leopard for 6 hours one day and then having everything handed to you on a plate on the next is what makes the wild so exciting. I have been doing this for 7 years now and every day is different but equally exciting. Who knows if there is a higher power at work deciding what should be viewed but for the last few days, I say thank you to the bush gods and long may they reign!