I have been on quite a few safaris in my lifetime across many different African countries. Most of the time at private game lodges or when you are with professional safari companies, the focus is on cats and big game, which if we are honest, is what most tourists are looking for. Being a bit of a photographer (albeit amateur), I am not one to complain but it is somewhat refreshing to take it slower and focus on learning.
That is what is nice with EcoTraining - it is not about racing around on what Van calls a 'ferrari safari', trying to see the Big 5 in one or two days. The courses here are more about taking in the entirety of the African bush and how it all links together. Often this means you may go days without seeing any big game - but instead focus on birds, insects, trees, grass and other interesting elements of nature.
As interesting as it is, you do after a few days (or weeks) begin to hope for a nice lion, leopard or elephant sighting (well at least I do). At Karongwe last week we had Professional Field Guide group 10B in camp, finishing off their year course. They did a week of advanced birding, and then had a few days of what is called 'consolidation', where they can catch up on things and also ready the camp for their own graduation (their families join them for two nights to celebrate).
During this time we went out on average once a day to see if we could find some bigger game (after a week of advanced birding). The first couple of drives were quiet, but then we found ourselves on a roll. One evening we found the elephants right at sunset, then the next afternoon we spotted a leopard in the road after following some very fresh tracks. These were both awesome drives, but the third day (and final day before their graduation), was definitely the sighting of the month!
We had heard that lion cubs and their mother had been around a specific area in the morning, so on our afternoon drive we went straight there. Even when you have intel about where lions may be, it can still feel a bit like finding a needle in a haystack (especially when we are talking about cubs!). Nonetheless, I managed to spot the cubs hiding away on a rock behind lots of bushes. Even Norman, a trained Shangaan tracker (now EcoTraining instructor) was impressed with my spotting skills. I have to admit I was pretty chuffed with myself as I'm usually not the best at spotting cats! I knew Van would be proud.
Mum was nowhere to be seen, so we sat with the cubs for quite a while until all of a sudden they were off! We got ourselves into gear and gave chase, and spotted them with mum on the road. The lioness clearly had blood on her legs, so we grew quite excited, anticipating the fact she was leading them (and us) straight to a fresh kill.
Unfortunately it's not always easy to follow cats because they don't tend to stick to the roads like us! We managed to keep up with them for a while but then lost them when they disappeared into thick bush. Consulting our map we figured out where was the next likely road they would cross and sent another vehicle in that direction to try and relocate them. NOTHING. Off we went on the same road, and AGAIN I manage to beat now TWO Shangaan trackers to spot these lions. I wasn't even that confident it was them but sure enough, my (newly formed) eagle-eyes managed to pick out the shape of a lioness's head under a tree.
I don't know what I was more excited about - finding these amazing animals feasting on a kudu kill or the fact I had managed two amazing spots that afternoon! We pulled in to get a better view and watched as the cubs excitedly started eating their dinner amongst also playing with it and each other! Mum was lying nearby, keeping a watchful eye on them.
We managed to spend quite a bit of time with the family as they ate and played that evening. This is what the African bush is all about! You may go on numerous drives (or walks) and not see any big game, but then all of a sudden out of nowhere you have a truly amazing sighting that you will never forget!