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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Living the Dream - My Life as a Professional Safari Guide

Part 1: The Leopards of the Sabi Sand Game Reserve

It was a Sunday afternoon, living in a small farm town in the North West Province, when the phone unexpectedly rang. It was my brother Hendri and he casually asked me if I would like to come and work on a game reserve for the holiday before starting university. I was 17 years old, only 2 exams away from finishing school and what happened in the summer of 1999 change my life forever. Maybe one day I will be able to write down all my incredible experiences in the wild, but for now I will stick to a selection of my most incredible African wildlife encounters with some of the planets most fascinating animals.

It was the beginning of 2005 when I started guiding in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, the crème de la crème of private game reserves in Africa. I have heard about the ‘Sands’ legendary Leopard viewing on numerous occasions in the past but what I have seen, lived, photographed and experienced in almost 7 years while I was based at Leopard Hills Private Game Reserve , situated in the Western part of the Sabi Sands, was absolutely astonishing. Above image copyright Rudi Hulshof ©

On a cold winter’s morning the night watch man came rushing down to tell me that the guests in room number 8 called for the guides to come to their room as soon as possible. Upon arrival the guest pulled back the curtain and on the pool cushion was 2, 5 month old Leopard Cubs starring at my fellow guide Ryan and I. Instinctively they knew we were bad news, the bold cub charged to the window, snarled at us and ran away. It was without a doubt my single most incredible experience in the wild.

The following winter I was on a morning safari when my tracker Abraham located fresh Leopard tracks soon after we left the lodge. We found a young female leopard stalking through the dry thatch grass. She suddenly stopped, stood on her hind legs- like a “meerkat” paused, listened and with the speed of light, she charges forward and leaped into the air. The jump was more than a meter and a half high; her victim, as small flock of Crested Francolin.

Unfortunately the inexperienced feline was unsuccessful but the incredible agility of the Leopard was absolutely staggering.

The single greatest gift that I was granted in my time at Leopard Hills was the freedom to take a Land Rover and drive around when I wasn’t guiding guests. Less than 800m from Leopard Hills was a small little pan, known as Tawny Eagle Pan. I made this source of water my stake out for a week. I decided to drive to the pan, get in position and stay there until darkness falls. I photographed an astonishing amount of wildlife most notably a pair of Saddle-billed Storks that visited the pan almost everyday for the week.

On of the most humorous images I have ever taken was early one afternoon, upon arrival at Tawny Eagle Pan I noticed a large male warthog rolling in the mud. I slowly drove forward, switched the vehicle off and captured a couple of images of the ‘pig'.

I waited at the pan for another hour and a half and as dusk approached, I leisurely got ready to make my way back to the lodge. Suddenly, I looked up from my ignition and there in front me was our resident female Leopard, Makwela. She appeared from nowhere, crawled over the wall and laid down 10 meters away from me for a drink. I slowly picked my camera up, rested it over the bean bag and captured various images of the most beautiful animal in Africa. The Leopard disappeared into the darkness as secretively as she arrived and once again I realised just how fortunate I am.


Food, Fun and Life in the Charente said...

Just love that picture of the warthog. Great post. Diane

RainDrop said...

Not many people get to live their dreams.. amazing post! love the warthog hehehe he does look so funny!

Sylwia Grabinska said...

"smiling pig" - looks really funy-
Grate pictures. I like very much all your shots.