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Wild Encounters: Trekking Through the Bush on Foot

By Samantha Marais

Bush walks through Somkhanda

Walking through Somkhanda Game Reserve in Pongola was an incredible experience, filled with unforgettable sightings and moments. As students at Bhejane Nature Training, our days were dedicated to logging hours in the bush on bush walks, immersing ourselves in the wilderness to become skilled field and trails guides.

 

On a misty winter morning, our adventure began with a familiar 5 am wakeup call. After a hearty breakfast, we packed our backpacks and set out. Along the way, a serval gracefully crossed our path, offering a rare and captivating sight of this elusive cat. Energized by this encounter, we continued our journey, eager for what lay ahead.


From left to right: Scenes from the Somkhanda Nature Reserve

 

Upon reaching the intersection of Scotia and Shamoya, we stumbled upon tracks of a buffalo herd. Intrigued, we decided to follow their trail, leading us up the rugged terrain of Shamoya mountain towards Scotia pan. Despite the dense vegetation along the way, we pressed on, guided by the anticipation of what awaited us.


As we reached the end of a game path, our gaze was met by a scene straight from a wildlife documentary – wild dogs frolicking beside the pan. Their presence filled us with a mix of excitement and awe. Catching sight of us, they growled and ran off. Observing their behavior as they left, we approached the area that they had just been in cautiously, studying their tracks, and even braving a "smell test" of their scat, though the less said about that, the better.


The African Wild Dog

The encounter with the wild dogs reminded us of the delicate balance of nature and our place within it. Their social dynamics and hunting prowess left a lasting impression, reinforcing our respect for these apex predators.

 

Our break by the pan was short-lived, interrupted by the distant call of a buffalo calf. In an instant, our instructor sprang into action, rallying us to prepare for the unexpected. With backpacks swiftly donned, we ventured towards the herd, mindful of the changing wind that could betray our presence.

 

Magical landscape views

The encounter with the buffalo herd served as a stark reminder of the unpredictability of nature. Yet, under the guidance of our instructors, we navigated the situation safely, emerging unscathed but exhilarated. As we made our descent down the mountain back to camp, we reflected on the day's events with a newfound appreciation for the wonders of the African bush. For many in our group, myself included, it was a first-time encounter with wild dogs and serval, adding an extra layer of excitement to our journey.

 

A typical pan in the African bush

Each sighting, whether it be the elusive serval, the majestic buffalo, or the playful wild dogs, contributed to an unforgettable experience in one of Africa's premier game reserves. Walking among these magnificent creatures on foot not only heightened our senses but also deepened our connection to the natural world, leaving us with stories to cherish and memories to last a lifetime.


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