Vedant Thite and William Asquith, both Rangers from the JAWAI and Sher Bagh Field Teams respectively send their first despatch from the Londolozi Private Game Reserve, where they are attending a three-week training course over the summer. Over the next few weeks we will follow their progress and adventures as they report on their experiences from the African Bush! Stay tuned…
We’re finally here! After a couple of months of careful planning, visa applications and a twenty-four-hour, airport-hopping journey, we have finally made it to Londolozi. Both of us, fuelled with excitement from the moment our flights left the tarmac in India, had not been able to catch a wink of sleep. The fact that we were on our way for a three-week training exchange programme to Londolozi was just sinking in! As members of SUJÁN’s Field Team, with access to some incredible wildlife experiences at two of the most successful wilderness camps in India, we were eager to explore what our fellow Relais & Chateaux member has to offer. The Londolozi name captures the imagination as an assertion of some of the best game experiences in the world, it is only natural we were excited. Londolozi has provided wildlife enthusiasts their ecstasy for a little over 90 years, so you can see why this opportunity was something of a fantasy.
The introductions on arrival were brief as Talley Smith (the Head Ranger at Londolozi) wanted to get us out on a Land Rover and experience the reserve as soon as possible. Both of us shadowed different rangers, Callum Gowar was assigned to Vedant while I had Greg Pingo. We were thrown into a world teeming with wildlife. As we listened to our respective Rangers describe every detail of what we saw: how the White Rhino has inherited its name not because of its appearance (there is nothing white about it), but because it had originally been called “wyd”(meaning wide which is reference to its mouth) and over time the name has evolved into white. Again, how you come to realise the intricate features of a Giraffe as they call to light the Latin name, giraffa camelopardalis, meaning leopard-and-camel-like: similar to a camel in its face, lips and walk, and similar to leopard is the pattern printed on its fur. But there are multiple events that occur simultaneously and as we watch a flock of zebra grazing. There will be Africa’s own feeding party happening as emerald-spotted doves dive down to feed on the fallen seeds and berries which in turn rouse swathes of insects, flying straight to the bellies of the red-billed buffalo weavers patiently waiting on the branches above.
The landscape that encompasses Londolozi is versatile, from areas which of vast grass land with little other vegetation, to dense thickets where you find a diverse variety of flora including the Marula tree, an indigenous species to South Africa. It is similar to the Mahua tree of India, whose fruits can be fermented to make an alcoholic beverage. Like the Mahua, certain mammals, eat from the marula and can consequently become intoxicated by its fermented fruit.
As we traverse round we breathe in the reminiscent whiffs of the wild basil and be reminded of India. This reminiscence continues as you see grey herons and pied kingfishers roam the watering holes. Elephants too – although similarities are limited only by the vague appearance of a large grey blob – they differ in their general size and the size of their ears (the African elephant’s ears look distinctly similar to the continent which they inhabit).
This is where the similarities stop. This is a completely different continent that offers a completely different experience. Even the sunset that sets over the Drakensberg mountains that run along the east of South Africa, gives off a completely different hue to the sun that sets over the Vindhya or the Aravalli hill ranges.
While Vedant had a wonderful sighting of leopards I – for the first time ever – sighted a pride of lions. Being at Sher Bagh, Ranthambhore for the past season, it was incredible to see the difference between the habits of India’s largest cat to Africa’s: the basic distinction being the gregarious nature of a lion compared to the independent and largely solitary life of a tiger. This sense of community is, to date, the strongest bond I’ve seen in wild animals. I will always remember the amazement I felt watching two mothers and their five cubs interact with each other; either as the two different litters frolicked in the grass together or as both mothers groomed each others cubs. And to see this in the first 24 hours of being at Londolozi, it’s still exhilarating to believe we still had another three weeks of this.
Londolozi offers five completely different and diverse camps. Consequently, as you might expect with such a large organisation that we could slip into the shadows. This was in no way the case. With every step and turn, we have found five to ten hands outstretched, welcoming us to the camp and giving time from their busy schedules to find out about the new kids from India.
As you walk about, cheeky Vervet monkeys replace the south plains grey Langurs that roam freely around the camp and Nyala (a stripped antelope) that graze instead of our accustomed Nilgai antelope. We live in the “Village”, an area in which Londolozi accommodates its entire staff. There is an unquestionable amount of effort and love the camp gives to its staff members as the “Village” lives up to every bit of its name: a shop for staff to buy creature comforts, a bar where they are able to unwind after a days work and a place in evenings where friends and colleagues can come together as cook a Braai (a word meaning barbeque but is also entangled with a sense of community).
This next week we will be with The Tracker Academy, a prestigious organisation that works alongside the South African College of Tourism and operates within the perimeter of Londolozi’s private game reserve. Here we will get an exclusive insight into the art of tracking…let’s hope a week will be enough.