It pays to pay attention!
By Ivan Botha

Every day at Kwandwe, guests are enjoying their very first look at our iconic wildlife. Often, the first time is so exciting that the urge to snap a picture (or twenty!) and film a video takes over. Of course, that is absolutely fine – I did exactly the same thing myself – but often during the struggle to get the right angle, play with the lights and fiddle with the general camera settings, you miss a lot of the action. As a guide, it is our job to read a wildlife situation and predict what is going to happen next. Explaining every detail is difficult, but once you lower your camera or cellphone (both guests and guide), it becomes easier – and there’s always more to see than first meets the eye…

On a mid-morning game drive through some open grassland areas of Kwandwe, we swung around the corner and got a chance to view this meerkat. I took a quick picture (notice the exposure) and started looking around for what else was going on. Meerkats can find themselves in tricky or dangerous situations very easily here at Kwandwe and there’s usually something happening nearby… And lo and behold, not too far away, perched atop a jacket plumb tree, was a beautiful Southern pale chanting goshawk, watching the very same meerkat we were. Shortly after I spotted the goshawk, the meerkat did too and lowered its body back down and darted off. Two beautiful sightings in one!

In the southern part of the reserve, after a cloudy morning spent in search of lions, my guests and I stopped at a nearby dam. Soon, we heard splashing sounds coming from the water and I got out of the vehicle to see what was going on, whilst the guests took photos of the pretty landscapes. When I arrived at the water’s edge, I was shocked at what I saw! Rushing back to the vehicle, I told the rest of the guests to follow me and there in the water was a cape clawless otter. They are indeed a treat! The splashing we had heard was the sound of one coming up to feed after it had caught a fish. We stood and watched as the fish disappeared and reappeared, and the otter dove up and down, and although there was hardly any time to take a good photograph, the memory for both myself and the guests is enough.

Giraffes are a common sight when staying for a few nights at Kwandwe. One morning, the tracker spotted them in the distance and my guests were keen to have a closer look so we headed in their direction. The giraffes were feeding in some bushes, and after snapping a few photos, I put my camera down and noticed that one had a bone in its mouth. Now, giraffes are plant eaters, so what was going on?! Well, this is actually a normal practice among herbivores: chewing on bones allows them to absorb minerals that they don’t get from a plant-based diet. This behaviour is called osteophagy and is quite rare to witness up close. Another time I have been very glad to lay my camera down and see the smaller details of a sighting.

Everybody loves spotting a leopard on a drive and being able to spend time with these beautiful big cats is often a highlight for travellers. Whilst out searching for black rhinos one afternoon, our tracker noticed a male leopard moving slowly through the thickets. It isn’t always possible to follow a leopard right away, however, and explaining that is sometimes tricky! In this case, the leopard was stalking and preparing for a hunt and it wasn’t appropriate for us to get any closer. Usually, close range is the perfect opportunity to take lots of photos, but this time, we watched from afar and put our cameras down. Our patience was rewarded as not long afterwards, a squealing sound came from the bush and confirmed that a kill had been made. We moved in closer and found that the leopard had killed quite a large warthog mere seconds earlier – and that’s something that not everyone gets to see! We spent a few more minutes with him before he decided to drag the warthog into the bushes and we couldn’t follow further, but we had already had the sighting of our lives anyway, cameras not included!

Birding often provides great photographic opportunities. On this particular morning, I had spotted an Eastern-cape clapper lark and was pointing it out for my guests to photograph. One of the guests, however, wasn’t interested in the slightest and was instead looking down at the road whilst the others flashed their cameras. Suddenly, he saw some movement – he had spotted a dung beetle making off with a freshly-rolled dung ball. Dung beetles use the dropping of other animals as a food source or, in some cases, a place to live and to lay their eggs and although quite common, this guest had caught one in the middle of the action whilst everyone else was looking the other way.

The elephants at Kwandwe are majestic and guests are always happy to watch them feeding, playing and generally ambling around. One day, my guests were particularly excited about a herd we had spotted and we crossed the river to get a better look. However, as we emerged from the water, I saw some movement and saw a water monitor lizard that had climbed up the embankment to bask in the sun. The edges of the river are always a good place to search for frogs, crabs, lizards, small mammals and even birds, and whilst the elephant herd (and resulting photos!) was truly a memorable part of the day, many of the guests truly appreciated the chance to see a monitor lizard.

So next time you are out on a game drive, try putting down your camera and listening – you might get more than you bargained for!