The first time we featured the wilderness through the eyes of Africa’s Attenborough, not David, but his prettier namesake, Amy, we gave you a glimpse into the first footsteps of a newborn elephant. Today, Lady Attenborough, Londolozi‘s very own naturalist (for that’s what rangers are, in many ways) turns her lens on the young and the restless of South Africa’s Sabi Sand, the smaller brethren of Africa’s wild beings. Young and restless herself, Amy shows the same dedication and awe for the life stories of the natural world as her better known counterpart. Take a look at her Photo Journal from Londolozi below.
The Paradise of Youth
“One of the greatest gifts of childhood is its inherent innocence. Peter Matthiessen once wrote, ‘the child was not observing, he was at rest in the very center of the universe, a part of things, unaware of endings and beginnings, still in unison with the primordial nature of creation, letting all light and phenomena pour through.’ It is with the development of the ego that we cost ourselves this innocence.
“Watching young animals at rest and play is very often our guests’ greatest highlight and I think the reason for this goes far beyond the fact that they are cute. Watching these small beings is a reminder of how our young, natural, innocent selves knew how to be before the ego intruded. They are totally unfazed by time, death, guilt, the future and accept the large and small events of everyday life. They are completely at rest in the present and this is the paradise of youth.
“This photographic journal is therefore a tribute to those young animals who remind us what great truth there was in our innocence and what it is that we lost whilst trying to ‘grow up’.”
The air is vacant, frozen. Only three things exist: the lion, the safari vehicle and me. This is the feeling of time standing still. And fear. My fear. Obviously. Today, this lion is king. His gaze is locked on me. It doesn’t waiver until a younger cub breaks his focus, brings us back to the world.
Lets Kamogelo, my ranger at Zarafa Camp, comes back into view. The cub has lost his way, he explains, has wandered too far from his mother and his pride. Here in the wilderness of the Selinda Reserve in Botswana, the sun is falling fast on our evening game drive, casting shadows across the cub and elder. Without his pride’s protection, Lets says, the cub may not survive the night.
In the last light of day, the little lion strides up a sandy hill and exhales a long moan into the cool dusk air, calling out to his family. It is heartbreaking. The older male and his partner, lying some distance away, have no interest in the wanderer. He is not one of them. Not in terms of blood. They will not protect him from the evils of the wild.
It is in this moment that my thoughts drift to Munich, my Manx, and the brilliance of her breed. Not sunsets, G&Ts and warm towels. But my Manx, Munich, at home in her handmade felt bubble bed. The domestic cat, considered today to be the most popular pet in the world, has cleverly managed to bypass all the less desirable qualities of the lives of their wilder counterparts. Cleverly and of their own volition, as it turns out.
An expert on the subject, Dr. Leslie Lyons of the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, says:
“We say cats adapted themselves to us rather than the other way around. As humans became farmers, we started a civilization. And civilization has grain stores and refuse piles, two things that draw rodents. Cats started coming closer to households to eat the rodents, filling the niche that humans developed. Cats were the first to come close to humans. We tolerated them because they ate the rodents, and cats tolerated humans because we provided food.”
But of course, as much as we fawn over them as pets, our Manxes and Tabbies, our Persians and Raggamuffins (yes, that is the name of an actual breed of cat) don’t evoke the same awe in us as The Big Cats. They don’t make time stand still. Not compared to a lone female leopard slinked along a jackalberry branch, mere metres away, her stomach fat with new life and her rosetted tail hanging from the tree like ivy…
Safaris present you with these frozen moments, a glimpse into the wild, at both its dangers and miracles. They let you enter the secret life of the cat, not the cat of the popular Nat Geo documentary, but the other “untrainable lazy bundle of fur”. The Big Cats. And their own world of revealing personalities and talents.
Images Above: by Tamlin Wightman. Images below: as credited
The Best Places To See The Big Cats
Leopards are notoriously elusive creatures but the population in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve rejects this stereotype by inviting game vehicles to witness their daily lives. It is common on game drives in Londolozi to spend hours in the company of these normally shy cats.
Boasting one of the highest population of lions in the world, the Masai Mara in Kenya more than deserves its reputation for being big cat country. It is also one of the last wild frontiers that caters for cheetahs exacting needs, with wide open spaces and tall grass. Leopards also have affinity for this part of the world, with a penchant for the landscape’s rockier terrains. Explore the region from Mara Plains and Ol Donyo.
Madikwe Private Game Reserve is one of the world’s great conservation success stories. The reserve’s reputation as a cheetah sanctuary recently gained muster when two females were relocated to the territory, bringing the population to an impressive seven. Witness the grace of the big cats at Morukuru.
An Evolutionary Masterpiece
Dynamics of the Pride
A Lion’s Share
What is your experience of the big cats? Share your stories with us below.
“Remember, Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
– The Shawshank Redemption
The Art of Giving.
Some believe it to be a matter of nature. Others, nurture; something that we can learn with age. Or not learn. Either way, one gentleman with a keen grip on the art is South African, Floris Smith. A man with several titles to his name – dancer, choreographer, Executive Chef and Deputy GM at Bushmans Kloof, and, although he’d probably turn the term down, humble philanthropist.
In the remote wilderness of the Cederberg, a land of cedar trees, winding rivers, Bushman rock art and more stars than the human eye can take in at one glance, lies Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve and Wellness Retreat. Nearby is the small village of Wupperthal. A village that rarely makes the news but has, through the magic of life’s inexplicable anomalies, found its way to Hollywood.
Floris in his role as Executive Chef at Bushmans Kloof
Perhaps it isn’t so inexplicable, but simply extraordinary. The incredible feat of one man, and his background in classical dance, and his stars, Die Bushmans Kloof Nuwe Graskoue Trappers, and their unique Riel dance.
Against the odds and with no formal training, these traditional dancers from Wupperthal won the South African Championships of Performing Arts for the second consecutive year. This entitles them to represent South Africa at the prestigious World Championships of Performing Arts in Hollywood in July 2015. The team is made up of 16 talented youngsters, age 13 to 19. Bushmans Kloof is their main sponsor.
Floris is the creative force behind the group – their trainer and choreographer. He’s a busy man, difficult to track down, his colleagues in the city say. Living in the remote Cederberg makes contact difficult, a quality that is purposely sought out by visitors to the region. Mention his dancers in an email, however, and we had him by the veldskoens. Discover more in our interview below.
Meet Bushmans Kloof’s Floris Smith and find out more about Hollywood’s next stars in our Q&A:
Tell us a bit more about the background of the Riel dance troupe and how it came about.
The members come from the rural community of Wupperthal and other small towns in the area, and include two teenagers who live on site at Bushmans Kloof where their parents are employed. Most of their parents are farm workers or are unemployed. Their equally talented Riel band, who will be accompanying them to America are from Clanwilliam, Graafwater and Wupperthal.
How do the dancers feel about their success and the opportunity to go to America?
Only one of the dancers out of the group of 16 has ever had the opportunity to travel internationally. There is great excitement, a first on a plane, a first to travel internationally. There is great pride in the community. No one would ever have thought that kids from the rural Wupperthal would represent South Africa at the World Championships. It has inspired others to follow. They have become idols in the community.
What lessons do you try to instill in the younger dancers before competitions?
That through hard work and dedication one would get to the top. Also that one should never forget your roots. Their roots are now taking them to the World Championships, after all.
What drives you in life and as the creative force behind the group?
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because one has contributed to a worthy cause. What better way through my passion for dance…
What is so unique about the group and their dance style?
The Riel is something they grew up with. It is part of their culture and part of their heritage. Their frantic footwork is not easy to copy as well as the original style of music. In all my years in theatre, this is most probably the most difficult form of dance I have came across. Their dedication and drive to be the best and to be successful sets them apart from other groups.
What is the Riel Dance?
Born out of traditional Khoi and San ceremonial dances around the fire, the Riel Dance has been practiced by descendants of these indigenous cultures for many years. It is the oldest dance form in South Africa. Riel dancers are dressed typically in traditional farm workers outfits, the girls in dresses with aprons and old frontier bonnets, and the boys in waistcoats and hats with feathers, finished with the famous, hand-made red veldskoene from Wupperthal. The dance is a creative cultural expression, and includes courtship rituals, mimicking typical animal antics with lots of bravado, showmanship and foot stomping.
Is this something guests can experience at Bushmans Kloof?
Guests are more than welcome to join us in rehearsals while staying with us. We inform guests when this is happening and perform at the lodge from time to time.
How do you think the group will fair in Hollywood?
I have unwavering faith in the ability of this group of dancers and am proud to take them to the world stage to compete among the best of the best. Our sights are firmly set on bringing back the Gold from the world championships. Winning the Grand Champion Award for Best Group Performance two years in a row shows that they are a force to be reckoned with. We’ve been hard at work sourcing funding to get our young dancers there and back. The support from small and large businesses and the local community has been phenomenal.
What can we do to help?
Apart from Bushmans Kloof and its owners, the Tollman Family, other major sponsors include Rooibos Limited, WESGRO and Reagola IT Management. We have enough to sponsor 12 members but still need to raise funds for five dancers to the tune of R65,000 a dancer. We are appealing to others to assist with funding, to enable the team to take part in the championships.