As managers in camps, we don`t often get the chance to get out in the area with a guide. When we do have the opportunity to go out it is normally on our own and we don’t usually have much luck seeing much game. The experience of the guide on a drive always makes it much better and I recently had the honour of joining Madala Kay on his vehicle and experiencing this man’s great tracking and knowledgeable guiding abilities.
Another beautiful day in the delta started with a spectacular sunrise, the treat of the morning as we set out on our early morning drive. We headed west from the camp and had decided we were not looking for anything specific and would track the first animal’s spoor we spotted. We bounced around in the vehicle for about an hour or so before the first sign of any animal contact, a lone male reedbuck. To my surprise this was not what I was expecting as I have seen much more doing airstrip transfers on my own, but decided to be open-minded and put it down to a slow start. While watching the reedbuck, Kay pointed in a northerly direction and claimed he could see sable antelope about mile in the distance. I sniggered to myself and thought, no way. I reached for my binoculars and to my surprise, there they were: 11 sable antelope, beautiful. The most amazing thing was, I could barely see them with my binoculars and Madala Kay saw them with the naked eye. Off we went in their direction.
Crossing water and very bumpy roads along the way was fun and nerve-wracking at the same time, as one water crossing was very muddy and we feared we would get stuck, but made it through… just. Sable are Madala Kay`s favourite animal so he was very excited with this rare find. We counted 11 fully grown beautiful sable and three young, just super to see that the herd is growing. After sitting with these gorgeous animals for about half an hour, we decided to move on and see what else we could find.
While driving along, Kay was continuously scanning the grass and trees and looking out for spoor along the road. Every now then he would stop and peer at the ground making sure all the tracks he spotted were fresh from the morning. Suddenly a call came over the radio,`Matala for mosadi inkwe, south of Tutwa Road.` Translated – Tracks for a female leopard south of Impala Road. We were in luck, I knew we were just around the corner from that location, and being with Kay and his amazing tracking knowledge we would be able to help track and find this leopard. Kay responded to the call to let the other guides know he was on his way to help.
Kay moved up a gear and we shot off to Impala Road. We saw one vehicle in the distance which had called in the leopard tracks. Kay began to look around and instantly saw the spoor of this elusive animal and told me what his plan was. We were to leave the other vehicle doing what they were doing and we would try a different spot not far from them, `We will work as a team. ` He said. Kay followed the tracks along the road until they veered off into the long grass; Kay stopped and looked long and hard at the grass. He explained he was trying to see which way the grass had moved so he could choose the correct direction to go. He smiled and it was off-road we went. We pushed through the long grass and circled the thicker bushes – Kay was on to something.
The excitement was almost unbearable, I could hardly contain myself when suddenly Kay pointed up into a thick tree in the distance and there she was. We could only see her feet and tail hanging down but we had located her. We moved in and got right under the tree she was perched in. Beautiful, this majestic cat was grooming herself in the comfort of the tree. We watched her move around in the tree for about an hour before she finally decided to come down. Then it got interesting following her as she moved with such grace and ease through the grass and bushes and we struggled to keep up. Eventually she decided to climb a new tree where she sat and posed for us one again.
After spending three hours in total with this amazing lady, with Kay explaining many fascinating facts about the cat, we decided to call it a day and headed back to camp for brunch. Along the way we had more spectacular sightings… elephant and warthog, as well as some beautiful birds.
The experience of having a guide with you on a drive is like no other. You may see plains game and the odd lion or leopard, but I find self-driving in an area with wildlife sells the area so short. If you want the full experience of that area you need someone who knows it and has the skills and know-how to find what you are looking for, on this occasion Madala Kay definitely proved he was the right man for the job.