What’s the strangest question you’ve been asked as a guide?
A client staying at a lodge that I was working at in Botswana asked me whether he could get any closer to an elephant whose path he was obstructing! He was on foot about 2 meters in front of this massive elephant bull. This was no tame elephant but he had the necessary patience and things worked out well. I guess humanity can be thankful that I am not an elephant because I had disastrous images flashing through my mind…
What’s your most embarrassing moment as a guide?
I have always been proud of my tree climbing ability and never thought I would fall! In April this year I had to be evacuated by helicopter when I fell about three stories from a tree in front of some good friends of mine.
What’s the wildest place you’ve ever been to?
Without question the wildest place I have ever been to is Antarctica. In December 2010 I traveled to the Falklands Islands, South Georgia and Antarctica on a mission to see as much wildlife as possible in this remote and wonderful landscape! The place that feels the wildest is Mana Pools National Park in the Lower Zambezi Valley. I suppose that one cannot be surprised at the beauty of a place carved out by one of Africa’s most powerful rivers. Mana Pools owns my soul: I love walking and canoeing in this game-packed paradise!
What’s the best lodge you’ve ever been to?
Ngorongoro Crater Lodge is certainly one of the best lodges that I have ever stayed at. The camp is set amongst a beautiful forest on the edge of what looks like a crater on another planet. The floor of the crater contains a miniature version of the Serengeti that wraps itself around a lake filled with flamingoes. The lodge has been built to compliment its magnificent surroundings with each chalet having different windows to take advantage of each view offered by each unique position! On top of the surreal splendor of the lodge location are the bizrre and decadent lodge decorations; red satin curtains, hot Rose petal filled baths and chandeliers…
You’re involved in a jaguar project in the Pantanal, how’s that going?
Very well; we have radio/satellite collars on two Jaguars at the moment! The aim of the project is to try to habituate the jaguars to vehicles with the hope that one-day people have jaguar viewing on par with the leopard viewing in the Sabi Sands. Actually we are trying to emulate the same techniques that were used in the early days at Londolozi.
The habituation process involves finding the jaguars each day (a process which used to entail many fun hours of tracking but which we now do with much more ease with the aid of the collars) and either enjoying views of the animal from a vehicle or parking the vehicle close to the animal if a view is unobtainable. Over a period of time a the animal gains trust in the vehicle from many uneventful encounters;. The reward for this hard-earned trust is of course unparalleled viewing opportunities.
Any guiding tips for aspiring guides?
I think good guiding comes down to ones ability to socialize: the same skills. I have seen many variations of excellent guides but the cardinal rule of guiding must be that if you don’t enjoy chatting to people, don’t guide! In the hope that these points are taken into consideration by aspiring guides I would like to say that my top three dislikes are as follows:
1. Guides that lie.
2. Guides that position themselves in better viewing\photographic positions than their guests.
3. Guides that have lost the passion for their subject.
What was your most hair-raising moment?
My most hair-raising moment to date occurred this year in the Pantanal! I was sitting on the bonnet of a vehicle looking for tracks when two jaguars ran out from a culvert under the road. I asked my friend to reverse back in the hope that we might see them again! This good friend of mine (who used to test drive Formula One cars!) reversed over the edge of the culvert. The car was stuck for a while right over the culvert where the two animals had run from and with a fair amount of disturbance we got the vehicle back on the road again.
One of the problems that we are experiencing with jaguars is that despite the fact that a jaguar is very much part of the Pantherus genus, they behave very differently to lion and leopard which can lead to unexpected surprises for us Africans! Anyone who has spent time with lions and leopards will know that the last place that one would expect them to be is in the vicinity of such a disturbance.
Professional guide Lawrence Weitz and I left the vehicle a little while later and a fair distance away to check where the animals had run to. We checked under the culvert and around the patch of bush that the animals had disappeared into and found no sign of the cats. On the return back to the vehicle we decided to check under the culvert one last time,we were curious as to what they had been doing under there. Lawrence got onto his hands and knees to poke his head under the culvert for a better look and quickly jumped back up when a cough and deep growl came out from under the road. I remember thinking that it was not possible that one of the jaguars would have returned under the road due to the disturbance that we had created there when the vehicle was stuck. Before I could express my feelings an angry snarling jaguar male popped its head out! I could have touched him on the head from where I was standing and Lawrence was even closer! My previous thought was now replaced by the thought that one of us would surely die today!
I have never been that close to a wild big cat let alone one that was so angry! Lawrence listened to his gut instincts and quickly moved away and in the process I think he saved our lives. The angry Jaguar no longer had us blocking his escape from under the road and bounded after Lawrence leaving me unscathed. I yelled to Lawrence not to run just when the animal was about to leap onto his back. Lawrence responded by spinning around and again looked into the eyes of this fuming jaguar!
There are no jaguars in this part of the Pantanal that have hurt any humans (that we know of) and this animal must have looked at this tall unknown enemy (Lawrence) and the easy escape at hand (the thicket of bush) and made the survivalist’s choice: it ran into the bush! Lawrence and I must have laughed for at least a few minutes after the incident… the adrenalin overload and the transition from certain death to unscathed was too much for the senses!