My journey at MORE started this past January when I was selected to attend as one of the 8 career guides at the NJ More Field Guide College in Marataba. The last 8 months have flown by in a blur of learning, new experiences, friendships and feeding an existing but always-hungry passion for the bush.
My time at the college is a story for another blog, but I can tell you I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. I made long-lasting friendships and learned from some very knowledgeable trainers. I am currently on a 6-month placement at one of the MORE properties – Lion Sands in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve. Now if I am completely honest, I only ever had my heart set on coming to Lion Sands. Whilst the other MORE properties are spectacular and unique in their own way, this was the place I wanted to be at and grow as a field guide. My desire to be here was mainly driven by the fact that at the tender age of 31, I’ve never ventured nor visited the Kruger National Park or Greater Kruger area.
Well, I’m now more than 6 weeks into my placement here at Lion Sands and whoa what a spectacular experience it has been so far! It’s a beautiful property with a large amount of frontage to the Sabi River with massive mature Jackalberries, Sycamore figs and Appleleaf trees. The newly rebuilt River Lodge is truly impressive – stylish and modern yet it somehow manages to blend in so well with its surroundings. The property has a large number of nyala, bushbuck, impalas, buffalo and in turn the animals that prey on them – lions, leopards, hyenas and wild dogs to name a few.
Now back to those leopards or Panthera Pardus for the more scientifically inclined of you. The Sabi Sand has one of the highest density of leopards in Africa and I have truly been blessed in this regard. The leopard sightings in this small corner of Mother Africa are the stuff of dreams until recently I had actually seen more leopards in my short time here than zebra! This is in stark contrast to the 6 months spent at the NJ More Field Guide College in Marataba, where leopard sightings are infrequent and brief. Now without invoking the wrath of corporate head office, I feel like Leopard Sands would be a more appropriate name (wink). However, on that note, we do have lots of magnificent lion sightings as well.
First introduction: Just after driving through Shaw’s gate for the very first time full of excitement and nerves to start our placement, my fellow student Stohm and I had our very first leopard in a tree with a kill! Literally 500m into the reserve, we couldn’t believe it especially Stohm as he had never seen a leopard before. The Lion Sands Induction entails spending a couple of days in each department of the lodge learning how each one functions and getting to know the people in them. Whilst on Induction here which all new employees must complete, I was working in Guest Relations (reception to me and you). The previous night a young female leopard had crept into camp and killed a bushbuck and hoisted it up a tree about 15m away from the front desk. Just after all our guests had departed for their afternoon game drive she returned to her kill and started feeding! There I was sat behind a desk, a computer in front of me watching a grand spectacle of Nature. I did find it slightly amusing that all the guests had gone out on a drive to try and find this, yet now it was happening right inside the lodge. Not a bad day at the office.
That’s just one of the numerous wonderful experiences I have had in my short time here at Lion Sands. And, after all the walks and drives it just keeps on getting better and better. Every now and then when I am not on drive, I sneak onto the River Lodge deck with my Bino’s and bird book, to claim a small piece of paradise down by the river recently vacated by the guests. I use this time to reflect and think about how fortunate I have been. I can’t wait for what the rest of my time here has installed for me.
Words by: Jamie Mc Master