Category Archives: rangerstales

Cheetah Chase

By | rangerstales | No Comments

I have been lucky to have spent time in the Bush from an early age and when I am asked of my most memorable experience in Nature, one incident springs to mind and even today creates a sense of excitement and awe in me.

There was no blood spilt, no rifles fired and only one quick command to my trailists to STAND STILL and this makes the event even more unforgettable.

I was leading a foot safari from the Lodge with a family of six who were dead keen on nature and all it had to offer. We had been out for about an hour and hadn’t got very far – the dawn chorus of birdsong held everyone enthralled and we were sighting new species for them all the time. We had just crossed a gulley and had gathered round a Silver Clusterleaf to discuss its properties and view a prominent rubbing spot of a Blue Wildebeest.

A large group of Impala slowly ambled into the clearing about 100 metres from us and one by one they stopped to look at us and test the air. I stopped talking as the antelope now held everyone’s attention and the father of the family lifted his camera.

Suddenly, the herd exploded! With alarm snorts and a burst of dust, they came careering towards us. Instinctively, I loaded my rifle and brought it to my shoulder, commanding everyone to “STAND STILL”.

Through the dust, we saw two cheetahs come at full speed into the clearing, in hot pursuit of the impala. This herd had now broken into two groups and were coming past us, no less than 5 metres away. So close that we became part of the action, feeling their panic and sensing their alarm. So close that we could see into their eyes and smell the danger. The cheetahs were totally focused on their target and only had eyes for their intended breakfast and were not even aware of our presence.

Nearer and nearer they came, directly towards us. Suddenly, one of the baby antelope panicked and split away from the torrent of impala coming down our left hand side and stood, trembling, not 5 metres away from us and my immediate thought was that if the closest cheetah selected this as his target, the two of them would come tumbling right into our midst, tangling us up in the process – it would not have been pretty. The cheetah did see the opportunity and altered direction to pounce onto the hapless impala lamb but as he refocused, he saw our group standing there like statues. Skidding to a halt, only about 10 metres away, he signalled the danger to his mate and they broke off the hunt and loped back to the other side of the clearing where a third cheetah joined them. One last look at us and they vanished.

We all stood there, overcome with adrenalin and the experience. It had happened so quickly but every moment was imprinted on my mind and will go with me to my grave. The reactions of my group were interesting – some thought that they were in mortal danger (which they weren’t, as those cheetahs were never going to be a threat to us) whilst the children, who were closest to me, said that I was whispering over and over “it’s OK, it’s OK” so they said they were not worried. The father never took a picture as he took my first command literally and never moved a muscle!

The family was on their first tour ever to South Africa and can you believe, they had already had a cheetah kill right in front of their car the day before in Kruger Park! Ho-Hum!!

– Tony

The Elephant’s bracelet

By | rangerstales | No Comments

I was tracking with Tony one morning & left the vehicle to follow up elephant tracks. There was a small herd of them, moving east down the Mohlabetsi towards Xikulu Dam. The tracks were of a group of males but one set were strange – they went like this… left front foot, left back foot, circle, right back foot ….!! These puzzled me as it looked like the elephant had a bucket on its right front foot & this was leaving a circle print on the ground.

I decided to follow them up & eventually came across the herd. I then set about watching them so I could find the cause of the tracks. After a while, there it was – a young bull elephant, wearing a tire around his ankle like a bracelet. Every time he picked up his foot, the tire slipped down onto his foot, so as he put his foot down, the inside rim of the tire left an impression on the ground.

I stayed with the herd for a while to see how the elephant managed with his new piece of jewellery. He had to walk by lifting his front leg around in a wide arc & this was slowing him down but he was still able to keep up with the herd. He also was playing a lot with the tire with his trunk, trying to get it off, unsuccessfully.

I went back to the Lodge with my story & it was decided to monitor the situation for 24 hours to see whether the elephant could get the tire off himself.

The next morning, I went out tracking & there was the circle on the ground! It was decided to call in a vet to take off the bracelet – our rule in the reserve is “if nature has caused the problem, then nature must solve it. However, if man has caused the problem, then we must fix it.”

That afternoon, I had tracked the elephants, who were now a small group of 4 bulls, into an area east of Bush Lodge. The helicopter, carrying in the vet with a dart gun, was given the location, while we waited in Landrovers along with our very interested guests.

We watched the vet lean out of the helicopter, and then saw it veer away, once the dart had been fired. The next moment, 3 elephants came racing out of the thick bush & the helicopter circled over the remaining one. As soon as the signal came that the elephant was down, we moved in & located the bull – but no tire around the leg!! We all questioned each other about the bulls that ran away & were sure that none of them had a bracelet.

Then, the helicopter landed & the vet came running over to tell us that, as the elephant was stumbling around, it stood on the tire just before it fell over & ripped it off. I started tracking & soon found the spoor of the tire as it rolled away. I located it under a bush a short distance away & brought it back to pose with it next to the elephant, along with my colleague, Quentin.

The vet checked the elephant & revived it & it headed off to join up with its mates, none of the worse for wear!

– Hamilton Ndlovu

Snakes!!!

By | rangerstales | No Comments

Black Mamba
Our slithery wildlife always holds the greatest fear and fascination for our guests, so no evening around the campfire goes without a tale or two about snakes.

Without a doubt, snakes have the worst PR of any creature – for no good reason as they are extremely polite and well mannered and do their very best to live in harmony with us here. We would be amazed to know how many individuals and different species there are around the camp but we always consider it a real privilege to have an encounter with one. In 20 years we have only had 2 incidents with snakes, both of which turned out well.

A friend of mine came down from Phalaborwa one afternoon along with his fiancé and her friend to join us on a game drive. They were running late and only arrived at the camp in time for a quick “comfort break” before climbing on board the LandRover. The 2 ladies rushed to our public facilities and Karen decided to make use of the “Gents’’ to speed up the process. She ran in, throwing open the door, only to shove a Mfezi (Mozambique Spitting Cobra) out of the way with the door. Naturally, the serpent took offence to this and retaliated with a fine spray of venom, aimed very accurately at her eyes. With the tilt of her head, the venom only reached one eye and she reacted by screaming and stepping backwards out of the room.
We rushed around, summed up the situation and quickly took her to the kitchen, where we proceeded to bathe her eye out with milk. We popped an eye patch on her and off she went on the safari with a slightly piratical look about her. She was rewarded with some awesome sightings too, albeit with only one eye! By the end of the safari, we removed the patch and her eyesight was fine.
All was well that ended well!

My favourite story occurred after lunch. There was a crew from Eskom, the power utility company, busy in the area replacing poles. As our guests were retiring to their rooms to get ready for the afternoon safari, we spotted a fellow staggering up the road towards us, appearing quite drunk. What made it even more peculiar was that he wasn’t looking towards the camp, put rather off to the distance.
Intrigued, I strolled down to investigate. I stopped the staggering young man, who virtually ignored me. I asked him how he was and he replied “Oom, ‘n slang het my gepik” (Uncle, I have been bitten by a snake) and he was looking for his Supervisor. As he blurted this out, he began to sink to his knees.

I helped him to stumble his way to the Lodge and we settled him on a Pool Lounger. By now, he was in a pretty poor state, shivering uncontrollably and breathing rapidly. We prepared ourselves to begin administering CPR, should his symptoms require it. We discovered that he had been standing in a hole that he had dug and suddenly he felt a burning on the one cheek of his buttocks. Sure enough, there was a single puncture wound, which showed that the snake, who must have come out of a side tunnel, had struck and bitten him but only one fang had got him.

Different species of snakes have various types of toxic venom so we didn’t know what we were dealing with but it became apparent that we were dealing with a neurotoxic venom so it was probably administered by a Mamba or a Cobra. By now, there was nothing we could do to treat it, as he had exerted himself and the venom would have been well dispersed. But we soon worked out that the shaking was from him sobbing from fear and the panting was from his exertion and the heat. We did our best to calm him down and by now we were pretty well convinced that he would be OK as he was a fit young male and it was going to take more than a Mamba to bring him down.

His Supervisor pitched up and we loaded him into the vehicle and off to hospital, where he spent the night under observation and was discharged the following morning, none the worse for wear!

– Tony

Ranger Tales - Phone story 1

Technology

By | rangerstales | No Comments

My early safaris here, back in the mid-1990’s, were solitary affairs. We were the only operational Lodge in Balule and we did not have any infrastructure. This meant that there was no radio contact with the Lodge, or indeed, with anyone else. All of a sudden, cell phone technology came of age and I saw this as an answer to a prayer. I was one of the first in Hoedspruit to get myself one of these new-fangled instruments of wonder and awe. It even had an expandable aerial. Do you remember those? Huge bricks, with battery that only lasted a little while. I was very proud of my new acquisition as I now envisaged myself being able to call Alma back at the Lodge in the event of any difficulties, which was always a possibility, given the decrepit state of my LandRover.
Ranger Tales - Phone story 2
However, the saleslady never did tell me that the coverage by the towers was very sketchy (and still is!), which meant that the cell phone was pretty useless. However, I did go out this one time with two ladies from the Netherlands, who were most impressed that this First World technology should work in the heart of the African wilderness. So I set out to find a high point where I had “3 bars of signal” so that the ladies could make a call home to Amsterdam! I’ll never forget that call – both the Ladies speaking to their families and even insisting that that I should greet them too!

Since then, we have set up a radio system and just recently upgraded it to state of the art digital, so we are always in contact to one another and even with our neighbouring Lodges to maximize our sightings and improve our safety.