Tuesday, 6 November 2012

4th November – Too Close For Comfort!

Photo of the Day

Mbali after she almost got an extra meal...me!

Morning Drive
(Chad and Herold)
2 x rhinos
6 x elephant bulls – Argyle, Argyle Dam
2 x elephant bulls – Motswari, sean’s Clearing

Afternoon Drive
(Chad, Andrea, Johannes and Herold)
3 x lions (Mafikizolo Pride) – Jaydee, Nkombi Pan
1 x leopard (Mbali female with impala kill) – Argyle, Argyle Dam
1 x leopard (Makepisi male) – Peru, Entrance Rd
1 x rhino
6 x elephant bulls – Argyle, Western Sohebele River Rd
1 x elephant bull – Motswari, Camp
1 x elephant bull – Motswari, Western Cutline
1 x breeding herd of elephants – Karans, KNP Corner
7 x buffalo bulls – Argyle, Crossing Below Vyeboom Dam

Daily Synopsis
My last thought was “Oh $#!^, this is going to hurt”…

But, the fact that I am now typing this from the comfort of my bed, and I am still in one piece means that, at least this time, I came off unscathed…but at the very moment that the events were unfolding, I was not all that convinced that I would.

Having spent almost six years working in the bush, I guess I consider my stories to be a bit boring, especially if I compare them to the tales so wonderfully told by Peter Allison in his books about his guiding experiences.  My scary tales involve freaking out because I have a frog on my leg, being afraid to drink a cup of tea that wasn’t made by my mother, and having an elephant throw a tree into the side of my car…okay, that last one was a genuinely “scary” story, but as for the rest, I guess I let down “macho guides” everywhere!  This however isn’t a bad thing, as it means that for the most part, I don’t get eaten, and I can share stories with my mom without giving her a mild heart attack every time.

Today’s story however, is like the Usain Bolt of “Chad’s Scary Game Ranger Stories”; basically, it leaves the other stories in the dust; ironically, it is a story that also almost left me in the dust!!!

I started the drive with a new set of guests, a group travelling together from Switzerland, and we started off at a nice leisurely pace, enjoying some impalas, crocodiles and a pod of hippos near the lodge.  Leaving the dam, I stopped at a pile of elephant dung, and while I am known to talk a lot of cr@p, this was a particularly interesting one as it was full of dung beetles busily rolling balls of dung away, and we spent some time watching them at work, grateful that our jobs weren’t so, ummmm, rubbish.

Not 20m further along the path, Petros suddenly flung up his hand indicating that I needed to stop; at first I thought that I had almost squashed a dung beetle, but when he jumped off the vehicle, I realized he had seen some tracks, and then I saw it too, a large drag mark heading through the sand to the eastern bank of the Sohebele Riverbed.  We went and inspected it, and at first saw no sign of any leopard tracks, and at almost the same time, we both looked at one another and asked the same question, “Crocodile?”

Needless to say, we began following it, and when it went straight through a bush, we both knew that it was a drag mark for a leopard’s kill, and this was confirmed when Petros picked up the plucked hair of the unfortunate impala victim.  We both carried on tracking the drag mark, something that we have done many times together, but lost the drag mark as it headed through a grassy patch towards the very nearby road, so we jumped ahead to the road, but found no further marks on the road?  This meant only one thing, the kill must have been under our noses, so when I turned around to my right, I saw the unmistakable shape of an impala.  I knew it was dead, as impalas don’t usually sleep so still, and with their legs up in the air.  The kill was about 20m away from us, and only 50m from where we had parked the Land Rover, so we turned around and went back to vehicle, and this was where I made my near-fatal mistake.  They say that assumption is the mother of all, well, I’m sure most of you know the rest, and I proved that today!  Based on the area we were in, I just assumed that the kill belonged to a slightly nervous female leopard, as it was in the middle of her territory.  She doesn’t like being tracked on foot, and runs off at the speed of light if found, so I assumed that either she had seen us as we jumped off the Land Rover and moved off, or she was off fetching her two cubs; and having actually been on both sides of the kill and not having seen a leopard, I think I can be forgiven for thinking that there was not actually a leopard nearby.

Mistake number two came when, on the way back to the vehicle I took a step towards the impala carcass to see if it had been eaten on, or just disemboweled.  I had no sooner taken that one step when time suddenly froze, just as it does in the movies.  As soon as the low, deep, guttural growl started coming from the grass on the other side of the kill, I knew that the fan was about to get dirty; I turned to Petros and said “we have to get out of here”…but it was too late.

I wish I could put a time stamp on the events that unfolded in that blinkingly short period of my life, as while it felt like forever, it probably lasted no more than 8 or 9 seconds, but they are 8 or 9 seconds that I will never forget as long as I live!  The blur of spots that came hurtling towards me at a frighteningly fast pace will be etched in my mind forever.  When we do our training to become a trail guide, we practice shooting the image of a lion being pulled by a human on a set of wheels and have to shoot the target in the brain in a “simulated charge exercise”; I can confidently tell you now that, as good an exercise as that is, it happens just a tad quicker in real life, and, if I had had had my rifle with me, it would still have been on its way up to my shoulder by the time that the leopard got to within a killing distance of me, i.e., less than a metre away!

It was as this snarling, paw-paddling pussy cat came bearing down on me, tail lashing and ears flattened against her head that all I can remember thinking was how much this was going to hurt as she came closer to digging her claws into me and I half turned my body bracing for the impact.  Every muscle in my body was telling me to run, but a little voice in my head, perhaps inspired by Peter Allison himself, said “whatever you do, don’t run!”, and so my feet remained firmly planted in the sand for a split second longer.

And this is where my recollection of what happened became a bit of  blur, as all I can remember was looking at one rather irate leopard standing waving her claws at me from, without exaggerating at all here, about one metre away; what I shouted and how I shouted it, how I clapped my hands and what I did with my feet I cant confirm, but all I do know is that I screamed at this leopard as loudly as I could, and clapped my hands harder than I ever have in my whole life; adrenalin clearly kicking in almost instantly there!

Doing my best not to run, but at the same time trying to bounce away from the flailing claws of this feline, all the while clapping and screaming, I must have looked like I was doing a rather strange version of the flamenco, but at that very point in my life, I actually didn’t give a hoot…even though I was doing this “leopard dance” in full view of my guests that were parked only about 25m from us!!!  Talk about a welcome to Africa; to go from pleasantly watching dung beetles merrily rolling away balls of dung one minute to watching your guide almost getting attacked by a leopard the next!  All I can say is that I must have done a good job to endear myself to them in a short time, as they were all too concerned about my well being to have taken a photo of me dancing!

As much as I can sit and mock my own dancing, it must have been so awful that the leopard couldn’t take it any more, and at some point between the screams and claps, she decided that she had got her message across, and didn’t want to be part of this dance anymore and turned and ran off into the bushes to the east.  Petros and I then walked the short distance back to the car, and for the second time in a month burst out into a rather nervous laughter at the ordeal we had just been through.  But, either being too stubborn, or too professional, we both said we were fine and drove to relocate the leopard that was now lying in the grass, but strangely, she didn’t run away as we approached in the vehicle, and this immediately allowed me to realize the error of my ways; the leopard was not Argyle Jnr as I had thought, but rather the granny of the north, dear old Mbali!  This surprised me at first, but as the adrenalin stopped pumping through my body and my normal thought processes returned, the whole scene started to make sense, and I immediately saw where her daughter (the only other leopard to ever charge me on foot) got her gutsy attitude from!

With the adrenalin rush over, my normal body functions returned, and my legs that had been fine until now suddenly began shaking uncontrollably, and as one of my guests later mentioned, colour slowly returned to my face, as what little colour I do have drained almost instantly as the leopard came running charging out of the bush in my direction!

I had to radio someone to tell them about this, and Herold’s first comment to me was “were you shouting?” to which I answered in the affirmative, only to have him retort that “oh, I told my guests that sound was baboons shouting at a leopard”.  Seeing as he was parked some distance away watching hippos, that made me rather proud of my shouting performance, but I couldn’t help but wonder what he would have said if only he had seen my amazing dancing skills as well!

So there you go, that was my rather close encounter with a leopard, and one that I am happy to have lived through, but don’t plan on experiencing again any time soon!

Following this, I opted for a much calmer remainder of the drive and headed to the northern boundary hoping to see some elephants that had been around earlier, but we only managed some kudu, impala, waterbuck, bushbuck and steenbuck.

Approaching the Nhlaralumi, we came across a small group of buffalos, but they sadly had already crossed our northern boundary into Ingwelala, so when they disappeared from view, we carried on.  We continued to tick off species like baboon, giraffe, impala, another couple of groups of waterbuck, nice birds and a gorgeous sunset; we soon stopped to enjoy this in the Nhlaralumi riverbed and the wine and GnTs went down very, very well this evening!

Impala, buffalo, giraffe and waterbuck
Resuming after drinks, we heard that Herold had gotten lucky with finding the Mafikizolo lions on our western boundary, and his luck extended further when he also found Makepisi male stalking impalas on his way home (good news that his fall from the tree two days back didn’t injure him!).

We tried to look for the Ximpoko male lions whose tracks we had been busy with in the morning, but only found chameleons and scrub hares on the route back towards the lodge.  Johannes told me that he had seen an African wild cat near the camp, and explained exactly where, so when I approached the same spot and saw eyes, I naturally assumed that it was for the wild cat, so you can imagine my surprise when the eyes turned out to belong to a relaxed adult serval!  We followed it for a short time before it casually strolled into a mopane thicket and we lost sight of it, but what a wonderful (and calm) way to end off an exciting evening!!!

Relaxed serval
The day itself didn’t start out so excitedly as we headed to the eastern sections to see what was up there, but without Petros I was relying more on luck than anything else; we saw a lone zebra, kudus and impalas, smelt the fresh smell of leopard’s urine (it really does smell like popcorn) and saw fresh rhino tracks, but not much else.  Nearing the southern central regions, the game picked up with many more impalas, a massive herd of giraffes and zebras, and also two rhinos feeding within a few metres of the Land Rover!

Giraffe, zebras and rhinos....and a brown snake eagle pulling "a Chad"

We stopped for coffee before heading back to the lodge, seeing more impalas and kudus, as well as two elephant bulls near the camp, but as the day pushed on, the temperatures heated up as if to remind us that it really is summer now…but at that point, little did I know that I was going to be sweating for a totally different reason in the afternoon!!!


  1. Whoops!!!!

    Sue UK

  2. Now that was a story! A heart-stopping reminder of the dangers of the bush. Glad you survived to tell the tale, pity your guests didn't have the video camera rolling;-)

  3. Wow! wonderfully told and I am happy you are able to tell it. Love reading your blogs and the pics of course.
    UK Jules

  4. WOW you must still be high from that adrenaline shot!

  5. I have LIKED your page on Facebook and enjoy your stories immensely Chad.
    (Your photos are great too!)
    If you have not yet done so, you really should consider writing a book about your experiences in the wild. You're a 'Natural Born Writer' - effortlessly hold the reader's attention and with a healthy tot of humour thrown in!
    Keep it up

    Proud to be in Africa too - Ronel Preston

    1. I do agree with Ronel here, I simply love the way you write!

    2. Fully agree with Ronel. You really have the rare talent as "natural born writer" and great wildlife photograph. Awesome. And very amazing for a not native english speaker. Thumbs up and big respect Chad.

  6. Chad for heavens sake be careful - we'd rather see your pictures and blog than have you a statistic (one more death to Africa's wildlife)

  7. An incredible story ! Glad that you survive to tell the story! I really enjoy to read your blog!

  8. Chad, you rock! And kudos to Herold for his nonchalant reply... classic. You only need one scary bush story. Not sure your heart, our ours, could take another one.


  9. Chad doing the Leopard Dance - A MUST READ!!! No preaching, Chad. Your training kicked in and I am very thankful that you & Petros are OK. I am sure your mother as well. Stay safe.

  10. Wow, what a story!! Enough to turn your hair white! Relieved about the happy ending.That's Chad 2 Leopards 0, please don't try a third round with Mbali and her offspring.

  11. Chad, so glad we got the full story and your mum isn't going to like the long story any better!!!!! Stay safe my friend we need to see more of your work!


  12. What a story! I had goosebumps reading it! Very relieved you are okay.

  13. WOW... What a story Chad! I am very glad you are still here to tell us the story. I see I am not alone loving the blog and you're writing style. Love the humour thrown in.
    Man, what a classic reply from Herold, seriously laughed till I had tears in my eyes :-).
    You did not tell us what the highlight of the day was ;-)... Probably surviving a great day in the bush!
    And then to finish it of with a great sighting of the serval, amazing...


  14. I wonder . What was the "Highlight of the day" ? Be careful

  15. Your old friend Mbali! What a tale!
    Your take care, Sue and John

  16. Great blog and pictures, I am always amazed how many great photos come out of a few drives :) Stay safe and keep the blog coming.


  17. I am so glad to know you are fine and all in one piece after that close encounter. Although, I have to say that I'd sure love to have seen a video of the whole process. Now, Let's not have another one of those again. One was enough!

  18. thank you for all the wonderful comments on this post - glad you enjoyed it and happy to be able to retell the story for you all....hope to share many more with you, but hopefully not such close encounters in future!


  19. I loved your leopard story:) and beautiful photography! I am presently sailing on our yacht around Indonesia and Malaysia and Thailand...I share your passion for photography and storytelling-sharing your life experiences:) My blog- sharyn-ourjourney.blogspot.com
    stay safe and I look forward to reading some more and looking at your brilliant photos!Sharyn.

  20. Wow! Glad we were able to see the re-enactment of this tale and not the real thing (although your and Petras re-enactment is a must see and will leave anyone giggling for hours). Very impressed with you, Chad! Our following experience in Thornybush just couldn't compare (as we sit on our deck enjoying coffee, having decided to skip our last game drive). A drive is only as good as the guide and they had the highest expectations to meet (and subsequently failed). Thanks again for making our S. African trip one of the absolute best memories!

    Craig & Ginger

  21. Thank you for this Chad.
    As you well put the "tales" told by Peter Allison on his book "Don't run whatever you do" as most of it are lies or lived by others.....sad.
    It is always a pleasure to read true experiences and to see your wonderful photographs.
    Take care and all the best,