The camp where I've been stationed was scheduled to be closed for two month's worth of renovations in Jan/Feb. That plan had been on the books for more than a year but the head office in London decided not to go through with it. Since the world's travel agents had been informed that it would be closed(and would open again in March as essentially a brand-new lodge, that should be fun for the managers to explain to guests for the next six months. "Where's the fitness center?") the reservations log was all blank spaces as per the old plan. So I was to move to one of their other properties.
I saw a beautiful sunrise, pre-flighted, and lifted for a 50 nm trip to the Northeast. The last 30 or so miles was brand-new country to me. I knew from my nav-log planning that I'd fly over a village, then an airstrip, then I should be on the lookout for some drums full of fossil fuels, they would be at my LZ along with a game drive vehicle and two guests for a scenic flight.
I landed, quickly introduced myself, and asked them to hang tight while I unloaded the fuel pump and removed the doors. After the safety briefing, I asked them if they had any questions. "What are we gonna see today?" Inner dialog, "How the hell should I know? I just got here, my main concern is finding this LZ again at the end of the flight." Outer dialog, "Every flight is different, that's what makes this such a fun gig."
It's challenging at this lodge cuz it borders a park that I can't fly over unless I'm 1000' AGL(above the ground), there are other lodges and game-drive vehicles scattered about, and there's a proper two-lane road that one can probably see from space. So you can imagine the difficulty of staying where I won't disturb others, get chased by BDF(Botswana Defense Force, keep the acronyms coming), or blow the illusion that the guests have of being in the middle of nowhere, all while looking for game, oh yeah, and flying a helicopter.
But I got lucky. We saw wild dogs, the most endangered predator in Africa(no it's not the cheetah. Cheetahs are thriving, they've learned how to live on the edges of wild and domestic areas. Sure they are genetically extinct, but that had nothing to do with human predation, they went through an evolutionary bottle-neck 10,000 years ago. Cheetahs are so similar that skin graphs, or is it grafts, yep grafts, from one animal to the next work 100% of the time without rejection medication. So if one of them gets a flu, they're all fucked, but not much we can do about that. Whoopsie, major tangent.) and they were hunting.
Wild dogs hunt by trotting after their prey. They only chase the sprinters, not the distance runners. After six or eight sprints, the impala or whatever is exhausted and they casually disembowel it while it dies a painful death. Sort of The Tortoise and the Hare, Stephen King-style. I only did half an orbit around the pack, doing my best to share from the air without altering outcomes. And while trying to find the LZ again, we saw a fair number of elephants, zebras, etc.
That afternoon, I joined a staff-only game drive and we had a great leopard sighting. I've been lucky enough to see a few but just to put it in perspective, one of the guys has been in Africa for 18 years, managed camps in South Africa, seen silver-backs fighting, etc. and that was his first leopard.
Y’all made my heart hurt in such a good way.
21 hours ago