When I was a kid I read things about Daniel Boone and the Native American explorers and scouts. They had lore like “they could tell from a broken twig that an animal had passed this way…” I didn’t make much of it at the time. It was an abstract idea, filtered through the experience of a city kid, but what we experienced in Africa was amazing. — Alan S., Berkeley, CA
When travelers return home from an African wildlife safari, they often describe the experience as being “beyond words.” Luckily, our recent clients Jane & Alan found the words to describe what it was like to be out on a game drives while visiting Khwai Tented Camp & Linyanti Bush Camp. Enjoy their photos below along with their excellent description of a classic african game drive!
First, the guides knew their miles-wide terrain as well as I know my back yard. There aren’t very many roads – what passes for roads are basically dirt or sand paths, with non-stop bone-jarring ups and downs. Anything else looked like a track that had been run over by a jeep (more likely, a Land Cruiser) a few times – top speed 20 MPH, with curves and ruts all over the place. We also learned what “all-terrain vehicle” meant – deep sand, thigh-high water, marsh (in search of buffalo), etc. (The cars were modified so that their air intake valves were at shoulder height, allowing the vehicle to go through deep water without compromising engine intake.)
What you have to imagine is bouncing around at 10 or 15 mph, the guide alternating between driving and looking down his side at the road. He stops, backs up, and goes “these are fresh leopard tracks. There’s a large female leopard who has a den not far from here, and it looks like she was heading that way.” He the turns off-road (or follows a slightly worn trail in that direction) and we spot the leopard. Or, he follows signs of a hyena, which spots us and heads into the bush. The guide backs up, heads in another direction, then parks. Two minutes later the hyena trots into view.
The guides can tell the age of an elephant from the footprints – not just the size, but how well defined the back of the prints are – the older feet are more worn down. They know the animals’ habits well enough to find them, and they’re so sharp-eyed that they see animals (or tracks) when all we see is empty terrain. They stop, point, and wait patiently, until we see the kudu, or owl, or leopard they’ve pointed to. On our walking safaris, what they read in the tracks was beyond belief.
They navigate at night by the stars, and when there are no stars because of cloud cover, by landmarks – a bent tree here, etc. That may not sound like much, but it’s a wilderness; locally, everything pretty much looks like everything else, and because the roads resemble curvy snake trails more than straight lines, it’s nearly impossible to get oriented. Combine this with deep knowledge of the animals’ habits and an encyclopedic knowledge of their traits, and what you get is nothing short of astounding. I can’t put it in words, you have to go there yourself…