The frustrating thing about going on safari in the bush is that nothing is guaranteed. But that also makes it the best thing. If you go to a zoo, you know you are going to see the animals. It’s not a surprise. On safari, however, you have no idea if you are going to see anything at all. So when you turn a corner and bump into a huge male lion, or are taking a quiet sundowner drink and a herd of elephants just happens to walk by – these are the moments that take your breath away. You work harder for them, and sometimes you don’t get lucky at all. But I would trade a thousand days walking around a zoo for that one moment in the wild. It’s what I live for. It’s what makes me a safari addict.
On the last day of my very first cycle in my new job, I had one of those moments. The kind that you always read about but it never actually happens to you. Except it finally did. Driving my guests out one chilly morning, we hadn’t been on the road more than 5 minutes when we hit the bridge that runs across the Klaserie river. Dubbed ‘one beer bridge’ because it’s so narrow, I slowed to a crawl and began my traverse. Just then, to my right, I saw a flash of movement. Paying more attention now, I focussed on the rocks hugging the river and standing right there were two spotted hyena. Although not especially uncommon to see them in the day, they are generally more active at night so this was already turning out to be a good morning.
I stopped the car to allow us to enjoy the sighting when one of my guests called out suddenly. A leopard! Right in front of us, so camouflaged as to almost be invisible, the young male was lying in the shade on the rocks. Not 100m from the hyena, he had his eye on the pair and casually got up and ambled round the back of the rocks towards them. Hardly believing my luck, I quickly started the engine and crossed the bridge; there was a dirt track running directly behind the rocks that I hoped to spot our guy from again. Sure enough, as we spun around the corner there he was. He stopped for a moment to regard us then, without a care in the world, carried on walking parallel to the road.
Creeping behind him now, we watched as he lightly jumped onto another rock and lay down. His eyes were still firmly locked on the hyena. Maneuvering myself into a better position, I managed to set the car so that we were staring right into the river. With the hyena 40 metres to our left and the leopard just 20 metres to our right, we were perfectly set. All focus still on the leopard, the guests and I and reveled in the moment, snapping away with our cameras to try to capture it forever. We were so enraptured, it took a full 10 minutes for any of us to realize that the hyena were actually eating something. They were on a kill!
Making more sense now, I realised that was why our young friend was paying the hyena so much attention. With a rather plump belly himself, we figured he had probably made the kill in the night and now the hyena had come along for the spoils. Another 20 minutes went by as we soaked up the incredible scene unfolding around us. It really doesn’t get much better than this – or so I thought!
As if out of nowhere, a rhino had magically appeared in the river ahead of us! Taking a long drink from the cool water, he didn’t seem to notice the three predators lurking nearby at all. Attention now back onto the river, another guest chimed in that they had seen an elephant. Thinking they were joking now – I turned around to laugh and saw they were deadly serious, pointing up river. Getting my binoculars out, sure enough there was an elephant! Hyena, leopard, rhino and elephant all in the same sighting – I couldn’t believe it!
Calling in the latest development over the radio, the other guide was just as incredulous. “Stay there a bit longer and the lions and buffalo will come through as well” he joked. Well, there were no lions or buffalo in the end but 3 of the big five plus a couple of hyena on a kill thrown in for good measure – I’ll take it! In total, we spent over an hour enjoying our special moment, no other cars or tourists to contend with. It was absolute heaven. Eventually, the leopard decided to move on and thus, so did we.
So yes, you can see all of these animals and more in the zoo. But you will never have that unforgettable moment that takes your breath away. Don’t get me wrong – I think zoos have their place in conservation and to help educate people about animals. The problem is, they’re just not as awesome as seeing animals in the wild! As I drive along with my guests, desperately trying to turn a quiet morning into one more interesting and entertaining, the knowledge that something spectacular could be just around the corner keeps me going. In the bush, you never know what is going to happen next. That is why I am a hopeless safari addict and why, without a doubt, I have the best job in the world.