What Leopards Can Teach Us About Being Human

“Maybe it’s animalness that will make the world right again: the wisdom of elephants, the enthusiasm of canines, the grace of snakes, the mildness of anteaters. Perhaps being human needs some diluting.” ― Carol Emshwiller.

After three days spent beside a leopard and her cub in a foresty corner of the Maasai Mara, I’d like to add leopard to this mix. I’m sure Carol would welcome it and agree that wisdom, enthusiasm, grace and mildness are all traits of this big cat, and that it’s impossible not to question your own humanity after time in their presence.

I questioned a lot of things after my time with the leopard they call Fig and her new young thing perched in the trees at Mara Plains Camp in Kenya. After game drives, I returned to camp beneath trees of my own and pondered about life, sitting on my deck looking over the plains. In that way safaris make you look at life from a different angle, and think about things like what it means to be a mother, the importance of naps and how we really should climb more trees.

I thought that if anything, the leopard might just be able to teach us how to be better humans.

With these cats, as much as there was a time to chase her mother’s snaking tail while she slept, sloped along a fallen tree, there was a time for Figlet (Fig Junior) to collapse beside her, calm, quiet, still. A time for tenderness.

As much as there was a time to roll and tumble wildly together in the shade of their kingdom beneath the trees, there was time for that charm and elegance leopards are known for, the adults at least. Like wisdom, grace would find the cub in later years, when jumping out of the bush at unsuspecting butterflies with a little too much enthusiasm would become a slow, flowing, elegant stalk toward a lone gazelle.

It isn’t that humans need diluting, we just need some reminding, from the wilderness, from nature. Wisdom, enthusiasm, grace and tenderness – that’s all we have to hold onto, that’s all the leopards were showing me, that’s all that’s needed, Carol was saying, to make the world right again.

Discover more about Mara Plains Camp here.

The Greatest Thing That Has Happened in My Life

When we started seeking out the stories behind our lodges and hotels in Africa and the Indian Ocean, we very quickly began to see the immense impact these properties were having not only on their settings, their destinations, but on the people they employed from local communities. We became attached, in that way you do when you’re getting to know someone who intrigues and inspires you. It’s what makes it difficult to leave a place, to look at the photos after a trip and not ache to be back on that river or sea or mountain, talking and laughing and living with the people who opened their hearts to you, for a moment.

What we discover each time is the power of tourism, its ability to transform lives and create opportunities that make for what Royal Chundu’s chef Teddy Mazonda calls “the greatest thing that has happened in my life.” Teddy is one of those people we’ve be fortunate to spend time with, on the banks of the Zambezi, one of those people who intrigue and inspire even when you’re miles away.

Meet Teddy for yourself in our Q&A below.

How did you start working as a chef at Royal Chundu and what is your role today?

I started as a scullery hand in 2011 and today I am sous chef. My role is to make sure that whatever goes out meets and exceeds the guest’s expectations. This is the greatest thing that has ever happened in my life. It was in 2012 when we had a cook-off with the team. We were given a mystery basket and we had to cook one starter, one main and one dessert, which we would be judged on. it was so difficult because many of us had only had a few months in the kitchen but we produced sensible dishes and I managed to win. There were two Australian guests on the panel of judges who gave me good advice for the future. It was a great experience!

What has working at Royal Chundu taught you about yourself, life and love?

It has taught me to believe in myself, never to doubt that I can do better, to always be positive and remember that the sky isn’t the limit.

Life: in life you can be what you want to be, as long as you believe in yourself. In spite of where I started, in the scullery, I had that zeal to one day be a chef.

Love: if there had been no love, I wouldn’t be where I am today. We work together because it’s a family lodge.

Your favourite dish on the menu at Royal Chundu and why?

Smoked quail. We were the first to taste the dish with my colleagues and it helped give me an idea of the guest’s experience. The smoking process we use reminds me of my childhood in the village when we would smoke food as one way of preserving it.

What inspires you day to day – in life and work?

What inspires me the most is watching great chefs on food shows on television. It’s something to aspire to and teaches me how to go about life and how to become a great chef myself. Cooking new dishes everyday also gives me a zest for learning new things.

You could say that the phrase “it takes a village to raise a child” refers to the making of a meal too. How does the whole team play a role in the creation of dishes?

In making a dish everyone is involved in coming forward with an idea and then we cooperate to bring out the best, like they say, “Together we stand, divided we fall.”

Where do you source most of your produce from and why?

We source most of our produce from the community so to ensure the freshness and taste of the product and also to support the community. Our concept is Zambian cuisine, celebrating local ingredients.

What are some of your favourite local ingredients to use?

Impwa, Lusala, Ichisongole, Malaka (calabash), Munkoyo, Mubuyu (baobab fruit), and Cassava meal.

From a chef’s point of view, what is special about the Royal Chundu experience?

The breakfast and lunch picnic with our signature canoeing trip, because we are the only lodge on the bank of the Zambezi river doing it.

Tips & Tricks for Wildlife Photography

We’ve introduced you to Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Wellness Retreat before, now take a look at this haven through the eyes of a photographer –  Bushmans Kloof Field Guide, Daniel du Plessis – as featured in the lodge’s blog.

Here, photographers of all abilities have the perfect opportunity to capture everything from the graceful Springbok to the rare Cape Leopard, in their natural habitats. Here in the Cederberg Mountains, over 150 species of bird and more than 35 kinds of mammal roam freely across the reserve.

Q&A with Bushmans Kloof’s Daniel du Plessis

What makes Bushmans Kloof such a brilliant location for photographing wildlife?

The wildlife at Bushmans Kloof is particularly photogenic because it is such a variety of colours. In the entire history of the reserve there has never been hunting on the property, so the animals tend to be very calm. Visitors also have the opportunity to get really close to herds with a game viewer.

Which animals are guests most likely to spot on the reserve?

The most common sightings on a game drive are of Springbok, Red Hartebeest, Ostrich, Bontebok and Cape Mountain Zebra. The Eland, Black Wildebeest, Rheebuck, Duiker and Steenbok are all very shy, so we don’t get to see these so often. Nevertheless, the size of our reserve means that if you drove for a whole day, you could spot every species – besides the nocturnal ones, of course.

What camera do you use and why? Is there a particular model you’d recommend for newcomers to wildlife photography?

I have a Canon 700D, though it is not the best camera on the market. I use it because it’s light enough for hiking in the mountains. When it comes to different makes and models, there is a huge selection to choose from. If you are new to photography, I wouldn’t recommend getting a top of the range camera; it has so many settings that a novice wouldn’t use. Instead, I’d buy the next level up from basic. There will be settings to play with, but most will still operate on auto.

Tell us about the highlights of your career as a guide on the reserve.

Just working at Bushmans Kloof is a highlight for me, but I have to say the best thing has been the chance to see and study the Cape Leopard. I am lucky enough to have seen this unique animal five times in my three years working on the reserve.

What is your favourite animal on the reserve to catch on camera and why?

All animals are great to catch on camera, but my favourite would have to be the Elephant Shrew. They are very shy, elusive creatures, and extremely skittish, so when I am able to photograph one it is always exciting. But when I finally get the opportunity to photograph a Cape Leopard, I think that will be my all-time highlight.

Can you give us your top tips for budding wildlife photographers?

Time of day is very important to consider because of the effect of the sunlight on your subject. Sunrise and sunset are known in the photography world as “the golden hour”, and the light is perfect then for capturing wildlife on camera. For action shots, visit during breeding season. You can get some great shots of bulls fighting in the morning light.

Can you recommend a secret spot on the reserve where our guests can get some particularly good pictures?

Definitely, at one of our breakfast stop locations on the Nature Tour. The birds, lizards and Hyrax are somewhat habituated, so you can get up close to photograph them.

How do you ensure you comply with the conservation focus of Bushmans Kloof?

When we go out on a game drive or photographic excursion, we try to raise awareness of our endangered species, the Bontebok, Black Wildebeest and Cape Mountain Zebra. The Bontebok and Zebra photograph particularly well.

Take the opportunity to put Daniel’s tips into practice on one of Bushmans Kloof’s nature drives.