My drive started out like any other. It was a bit warm and we were the only GVI vehicle out so I knew we’d have to be efficient if we wanted to find all of the focus animals, including the 2 rhino (Ceratotherium simum) we were now following up on. I felt bad for the three volunteers on my truck. Since I wasn’t able to walk them into the cheetah they might not see any of the focus animals but the lions (Panthera leo) that day. By the 4 o’clock call in we had only pick up signal for one of the rhino. Feeling we needed to kick things up a notch I drove straight to the area where Ketswiri, our female cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) was seen that morning. She had just eaten her fill of a baby impala (Aepyceros melampus) so I did not think she would have moved anywhere. When we arrived at her previous location, our telemetry set did not pick up a single beep. Confused but determined, we set off to the more eastern part of the reserve to see if she had moved back towards her favored area to reside. We continued and continued to pick up nothing until, perhaps by luck, we picked up four or five beeps literally in the direction we just come. Turning around, we followed the beeps until we found ourselves in the exact spot we had originally checked. I walked in about 40m and found a very fat and happy cat basking in the setting sun. I sighed and shook my head, our little excursion around the Mafunyane farm had delayed us enough that we probably wouldn’t get to see the lions today, who had already been found by the other game drives.
Jumping back onto the truck, we quickly made our way across to the other side of the reserve, where our male cheetah coalition (Jabu and Djuma) were last seen. I was focused to get to Chipembere farm so we didn’t dawdle when crossing the spruits and slowing down we when went past the dams. As we neared the location where the boys were that morning, I turned a corner to see a wall of horses, the Wait-A-Little Horse Safaris group! Rusty, the leader, indicated to me rapidly to turn off my car and look what was in front on them. Thinking it was a leopard I quickly turned off the vehicle and glanced around in the bushes. And then I saw it. Right in the middle of the road just staring at all the horses and probably debating if they were a threat or not. I will not lie, I did a silent squeal of joy and bounced up and down in the cab as I relayed to the three volunteers with me what we had just stumbled across. A PANGOLIN (Manis temminckii). The rarest animal to find on this reserve or in South Africa in general, and, more importantly, my first one ever. I could not contain my excitement, and the volunteers knew it. Laughing from my reaction and the sheer elation from the extraordinary sighting, we all sat in wonder just observing him. After 15 minutes or so, the horse safari left and we were able to enjoy the pangolin all on our own. By this point he had curled up in a ball, perhaps frightened by the impatient horses that did not understand the significance of this small animal. We stayed with the pangolin for over 40 minutes, until he uncurled from his ball and slowly walked off into the bush. I could hear each volunteer let out a large breath of air just as I did, like we had been holding it for the entyre sighting (read about other staff members’ and their luck with pangolins!)
After that, we tried in vain to find the cheetah boys and knew we had no time to see the lions. Overall, minus the pangolin, our drive had been completely uneventful, something I had thought the drive would have been from the beginning. Just goes to show anything can happen, at any time, when you live in the bush!
Kaggie Orrick, Base Manager