Not every game drive can be blessed with the sight of lions bringing down a buffalo, the plains of the Maasai Mara won’t always be teeming with wildebeest and every tree does not hide a sleeping leopard.
But that doesn’t mean that every game drive cannot be rewarding. For me, the goal is to ensure that every game drive is memorable for at least one ‘special moment’.
That ‘special moment’ could be anything. It could be tracking an animal for an hour and actually finding it, chancing upon a big cat hunting or something completely out of the blue.
One of the most common questions when we set out on a game drive is “what will we see today?”
Sometimes I know pretty much exactly what we’re going to see and yet even as I pass on that information I feel that it is taking some of the thrill from the quest.
Of course, if I know that we’ll see a pride of lions everyone is eager to see and photograph them. But it can have the effect of making things predictable and, on occasion, it can be an anticlimax. If the lions are doing what they like best, sleeping, the thrill of seeing them soon turns to frustration that they are not actually doing something other than just lying there.
For me, the key is to get everyone involved. I get very frustrated with guides who are secretive; who spend ages driving in circles, clearly looking for something specific but unwilling to tell anyone what it is. If they find what they’re looking for they feel very smug but if they don’t then everyone is left wondering what might have been.
What these guys can’t seem to understand is that seven pairs of eyes are better than one.
When I tell clients we’ve spotted (excuse the pun) leopard tracks and we’re going to see if we can find it, the excitement and anticipation is palpable. Everyone is alert, scanning every tree and bush for telltale signs. When we finally find that leopard everyone shares in the sense of achievement. It wasn’t just laid out in front of them, they found it. That’s a special moment for everyone.
For me though, the really special moments are the unexpected ones.
In Serengeti earlier this year we had enjoyed three days of excellent game viewing. For our last afternoon we wanted to stay away from the main tracks, to avoid all the other vehicles and see if we could find something that we could sit with uninterrupted.
After a bit of driving around we found a small waterhole. It wasn’t pretty and the water certainly didn’t look like anything I would consider drinking but off to our right we could see a herd of zebras approaching.
We turned off the engine and waited.
As they got closer they started running and soon there were half a dozen of them up to their bellies in the water.
A young make elephant emerged from the trees behind the waterhole and trotted down to drink causing the zebras to retreat.
We couldn’t believe our luck as the elly took a drink, sprayed himself with water and they waded in for a bath; splashing about like a kid in a paddling pool.
Another, much larger, elephant appeared and came to drink. The younger elephant made his way across the waterhole, still in the water, and came out beside the bigger one. The two elephants greeted each other by inter-twining their trunks before the larger one walked off.
At the end of a safari during which we’d seen lions, cheetahs and leopards with cubs it was this hour that was the most talked about.
Because it was exclusive to us. For that hour we had the whole scene to ourselves. It was something we had seen that no-one else had.
In the space of an hour we’d had not just one special moment but three.