Tracking leopards with “The Leopard Man’s Son”
Are tracking skills included in DNA passed through generations? Four Swedish guests and myself were about to find out.
The team leading our drive were Sinhle and his tracker Patrick Mkhari, son of Johannes “The Leopard Man” Mkhari, a highly skilled Tracker and Guide who was with Motswari from 1995 to 2018. Has Johannes passed on his skills to his son, like his father before him?
Sinhle and Patrick converse, we think discussing where to start tracking or what their feelings and insights were. However, they could easily have been discussing the soccer results from the night before as none of us speak Shangaan. We set off slowly, Patrick’s eyes glued to the ground as we crawl slowly over the sandy terrain. We stop again, they both jump off the vehicle and announce they need to take a closer look on foot and see what they can find. The Swedish guests with me were on their very first safari, so this to them was not only exciting but a bit bewildering. After 10 minutes or so, one asks me – “are the keys in the vehicle?” I say yes, they are. Her reply, “oh good then if they don’t return you can drive us home”. I swiftly advised that if I was to attempt to navigate home from the far south of the reserve there’s every chance we’d end up in Mozambique by breakfast and that’s if we’re lucky! Needless to say, this didn’t calm their nerves, even though it might have lightened the mood.
Again, the team returned from their tracking expedition, pointed in a direction and explained that the leopards we’re tracking have definitely covered some ground. We set off again, everyone engrossed in the process of this hide and seek exercise. Sinhle and Patrick exit the vehicle once more, eyes darting left and right, searching for any sign of movement or presence. Back into the car, nearly 40 mins in total tracking off the vehicle, guests waiting, excitement building… suddenly, there 20 metres ahead of us Sinhle points and announces “there they are!” Gasps abound, movement to get the camera and binoculars ready and then we settle in to observe a mother and cub, chilling in the long grass just on the edge of a steep riverbank.
Nthombi was busy cleaning herself, then laying down to rest, whilst the little one was lying and keeping an eagle eye on us from her rocky bed. Watching her peer through the grass at us, not in anyway uncomfortable, just making sure she had an eye out for what this “thing” was that had come into their peaceful resting place. That silence that envelopes people when they’re in the presence of such beauty is so perfect, you can feel the immense privilege of being able to witness these incredible cats in their natural habitat. Totally unmoved by our presence, continuing their tranquil rest we sit in awe for about 10 minutes before it was time to meander back to camp.
A magical moment for anyone, especially for those on their first ever safari. In this instance, expert tracking created a beautiful sighting – it’s definitely not all about luck and timing, that tracking gene is evidently integral in the Mkhari DNA!