It was a social start to the month of May when Mike Arbuthnot and Cath Salmon tied the knot and we celebrated in royal style at the indomitable Suikerbossie Restaurant (www.suikerbossie.co.za) above Hout Bay. This tried-and-tested venue was a sure-fire recipe for festive success and, with the photo booth working overtime, there were plenty of intriguing photo strips to help the more inebriated guests reconstruct the events of their wild evening on Sunday morning.
The biggest surprise of the month was a last minute request and invitation to fly up to Royal Malewane (www.royalmalewane.com) in the Greater Kruger National Park for four days. The reasons for my visit were twofold… Firstly, the lodge was desperately short of rangers so, with the post-Indaba influx of travel agents, I was asked to please come up and help them out as a freelance guide. Secondly, the high density of well-travelled tour operators and agents afforded an excellent opportunity to promote the Sisheke Conservation Project (www.sisheke.com) and our dynamic Zambian conservation initiative.
It was a real treat to be back on Thornybush Game Reserve and I revelled in the opportunity to catch up with old friends and soak up the Lowveld atmosphere on this unexpected ‘bonus’ bush break. It was great fun to be back guiding again, although I did feel decidedly rusty and it took me a little while to get back into the swing of things. Trying to remember my way around the reserve, along with all the old road names, proved more than a little stressful and compounded my feelings of being thrown in the deep end. But, with the assistance of my experienced tracker, Shadrack, we managed to find some outstanding sightings, treating our guests to a royal bush experience.
The three top wildlife sightings of this stint were undoubtedly tracking and locating a big male black rhino as he emerged to drink from Ingwe Dam; watching a young male leopard intently stalk towards a small sounder of warthogs in broad daylight; and a late night leopard adventure of note.
While watching a female leopard and her two sub-adult cubs devour an impala, a loose wire caused a short on the battery and left us without power, lights or an operational radio. Sitting below a star-strewn sky with a leopard lying either side of the vehicle noisily devouring their respective impala legs, was an experience that none of us will forget anytime soon. A cell phone, one bar of signal and a much-appreciated push from another game-viewer eventually got us mobile again and brought to an end a sensational game drive that will stay with me and the rest of the crew for many years to come.
I’ll sign off this entry with the fantastic news that years of work and a nerve-wracking presentation to the Board and EXCO members of the Peace Parks Foundation last week, finally culminated in pen-on-paper with the signing of a ten-year Management Agreement between Javelin Capital and the Barotse Royal Establishment on Friday the 25th of May. The contract gives Javelin Zambia the exclusive rights to manage and sustainably develop the ecotourism and other natural resources of the Sisheke Chiefdom in South West Zambia. This 1.5 million hectare tract of wilderness is an integral part of the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA) and the deal was supported and sanctioned by the Peace Parks Foundation (PPF).
So, the Sisheke Conservation Project has now taken its first steps down the long road to realising the huge potential of this valuable wilderness area on the Upper Zambezi River. You can read more about the Project and see pictures from the signing ceremony, which took place at Birkenhead House in Hermanus, by following this link www.sisheke.com/blog/.
Exciting magazine assignments for June include a Wild assignment to put together an outdoorsy piece on the Wilderness section (www.sanparks.org/parks/garden_route/camps/wilderness/) of the Garden Route National Park. This SANParks story will be followed by a return trip to the Lowveld to watch tracker-extraordinaire Louis Liebenberg in action when I report on CyberTracker and his new tracking institute for the October issue of Africa Geographic.