About Rich Laburn
Rich Laburn is filmmaker, photographer and writer who is based at Londolozi Game Reserve in South Africa. Spending his time capturing scenes of the wild and communicating the beauty of the African bushveld, he runs the Londolozi Blog as a way to entertain and engage people wishing to visit these wild lands.
Latest Posts by Rich Laburn
Last week I got the chance to sleep out in the bush with a group of friends, some old and some new. In the early evening, we set up camp at Southern Cross Koppie overlooking the Sabi Sand Reserve. Camp consisted of sleeping bags, a cooler of beer and some sausages. As dusk settled, we began to see the full moon coming up over the horizon with a beautiful yellowish glow reflecting the opposing sun. We each chose our own boulder and sat down for a short period of silence.
“Just as a man who wants to go farther and farther East will end up in the West, those who accumulate more and more money in order to increase their wealth will become poor.” – Fritjof Capra (on Daoist philosophy)
Sitting there with a dramatic moonrise to the east contrasted by an intense, radiant sunset to the west, I felt caught between two cosmic forces. From the perspective of earth, the two represent perfect opposites. The moon is receiving while the sun is giving. In Chinese, the characters for nature’s two equal and opposing forces, Yin (阴) and Yang (阳), contain the symbols for the moon and sun respectively.
The two ideas come from Daoist philosophy, and together they comprise the Dao, literally “the way”, which is the universal dynamic energy that underlies and dictates everything. While Yang is the masculine, aggressive, competitive, and moving, Yin is characterised by the feminine, intuitive, contemplative and grounded. For 2500 years, Daoist’s have favoured the allowing and receptive nature of Yin so as to let the Dao guide their actions.
I feel as though I have always undervalued receptive energy so, that night, I decided to see if the moon could shed some light on the subject. I chose not to close my eyes, not to focus on eradicating my thoughts, and instead face east and ask for guidance from the archetypal feminine. On an emotional level, I felt peace; I was able to let go. This allowed me to settle into an emerging presence that gave permission to all of my anxieties instead of shutting them away. Two of the people I had only recently met, George and Josh, expressed the same sentiment. They both said they felt calmed by the moon. George commented that it didn’t feel at all passive; its presence was purely allowing.
We had a small fire burning as we began to chat about what it was like to be out in the bush compared to where we all grew up. We came from as far as the U.S. and England and as close as the reserve itself, but we all connected on how remarkable it was to be out under a full moon with a clear view of the Milky Way. I confessed that while I hadn’t expected to be chatting about feminine energy that night, especially with other men, I was also relieved. The reality is that it’s the antithesis of the societal norm for manliness. For much of my life I have focused on being bigger, louder, and excessively competitive because, in all honesty, it’s fun. I love winning, and I love pushing my limits. But, leading up to my time in the bush, I started to notice that the other side was being neglected. Overemphasising the masculine traits was hindering the development of their counterparts, namely empathy. Rebalancing with the feminine, then, gives way to a sense of compassion which creates space where allowing others to be themselves is the most you can give, where less is more.
Getting the opportunity to be out in the bush that night was a doorway into nature’s balance of power. For over three hours we listened to lions roaring under the moon and a blanket of stars. Each hour brought the audio closer and louder. The contrast of the competitive versus the contemplative fell away, replaced by a feeling of unity that can only be experienced in the wild. You can read about it in the nature guides and astronomy textbooks, but, at the end of the day, you need to feel the pull of the moon for yourself and wonder what kind of energy you want to embody.
Regret is a funny thing. I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my life, both small and big, but there is precious little that I truly regret, since most experiences, especially those resulting from a mistake, invariably provide some sort of life lesson; you learn from them and move on, and are hopefully a wiser person in turn.
Having said this, one thing I do truly regret from my lifetime is that I never had the opportunity to shake Nelson Mandela’s hand. I know many people that did, many that met him and engaged in long and meaningful conversations with him, but sadly, that privilege was never mine. It is a rare thing in this day and age to feel that you are in the presence of real greatness, but I know, should I have looked into the eyes of one of the most influential people the world has ever seen, I would have felt supremely humbled.
Photo credit: Emilys Quotes and sahistory.org.za.
Even though I never met him face-to-face, I was part of the crowd who heard him speak at Cape Town City Hall on Sunday February 11, 1991, the day he was released from prison, ending his 27 years of incarceration.
Although I can recollect the day vividly, and I have pictures firmly imprinted on my mind, the enormity of the occasion and the fact that I was witnessing history was sadly almost certainly lost on my 8-year old self, but I still count myself as privileged to have been there.
Nelson Mandela, or Madiba as he is often known – his Xhosa clan name – is a man one struggles (I talk as a South African) to discuss without feeling some kind of emotional upwelling. The sheer magnitude of the way in which he almost singlehandedly oversaw the peaceful transition of South Africa from the oppressive apartheid regime to a nation under democratic rule almost defies belief.
Through his dignity, humility, compassion and ability to forgive, he led the nation through a turbulent period that with anyone else as a figurehead may have resulted in civil war. His legacy will never be forgotten, and it is doubtful we will see his like again.
The same gravel path that the guests tread upon now would have been walked by Nelson Mandela a quarter century ago, and I suppose in its small way, with its reminders of what this wonderful man stood for, it is an attempt to emulate and echo the sentiment of Mandela day itself.
We hold a small ceremony in our staff village every year on this day to honor Mandela and his visit here. Planting aloes along freedom’s way.
This day is more than just a celebration of Madiba’s life and legacy. It is a global movement to honour his life’s work and act to change the world for the better.
I have always been a wildlife enthusiast, my love stemming from the many fortunate opportunities I have had whilst growing up, visiting game reserves, conservancies and pristine holiday destinations all over South Africa. Being amongst nature is certainly my favourite outdoor pursuit and I am extremely proud of the natural beauty that this country has to offer. However after spending a week on safari, I have a new-found connection to the bush. My appreciation for nature has gone from a somewhat tame form to an obsession that I want to share with the world. For me the most special aspect of it is the way in which the wildlife resonates Africa’s beauty in the simplest yet most effective way – through transparency. There is no façade to what nature has to offer.
Humans have built monuments, towers, cathedrals and art pieces that attract tourists from opposite sides of the earth. Great attention is drawn to how long ago these structures were created, who designed them and for whichever king or ruler they were meant for. History books emphasise how these creations have withstood the weathering of time and what they symbolise. Sir Winston Churchill once said that history is written by the victors. What I interpret from this quote is that sometimes the truth becomes lost and we idolise people and monuments based on misconceptions or sometimes even deceit.
However nature is not the result of human’s intentions to be remembered in history books. Nature functions around a single goal and that is to survive. What you see is what you get and I find that blatant honesty truly beautiful. Being on safari made me realize this beauty – through standing amongst an ancient Leadwood forest that will overshadow the history of the structures that we are so proud of, by sitting on top of a termite mound and grasping the hidden complexity of its architecture, feeling the energy of the un-measurable intelligence of an elephant matriarch, watching a cartoon-like African sunset in the west while a full moon rose in the East and witnessing the magnificence of how every niche of an ecosystem is interconnected to function far beyond the capabilities of a man-made system.
Once you grasp this understanding of nature you feel a sense of belonging, the feeling that this is where we stemmed from and as a species have sadly diverted from so drastically. Being in the bush helped me grasp the beauty and honesty of Mother Nature. I know now that I will never take what the earth has provided us with for granted and it has taught me that if society can replicate just a fraction of what nature has to offer, the world would be a much better place.
I cannot wait to visit this slice of heaven once again where I can witness the magnificence of a virtually untouched piece of nature that, wonderfully, is oblivious to the effect it has on me.
Written by Josh Attenborough
It is nearing a month since I returned home from Sri Lanka and I feel like I can still smell the aroma of spices and feel the vibrancy of the people, their kindness and see the diverse but yet strangely familiar wildlife.
What intrigued me most about going to Sri Lanka was the way in which its diversity of wildlife was described to me. I had heard about the exceptionally high densities of leopards in Sri Lanka and I will never forget watching a documentary called Night Stalkers, which was based on the leopards of that country and their activity after dark. This wildlife documentary specifically highlighted the leopards in Yala National Park. I never thought I would get the opportunity to go visit Sri Lanka let alone the world-renowned Yala National Park.
Anxiously I arrived in Sri Lanka’s capital, Columbo, and was met by not only the warmth in the air but the warmth in every person I came across. My hosts from Leopard Trails went out of their way to make me comfortable and for me to see as much of Sri Lanka as possible. My itinerary was based around seeing a variety of parks in the four different climatic zones before finally returning to Columbo to do a lecture to the Wildlife Protection Society of Sri Lanka on the Londolozi model. I spent a week in Yala National Park being privately guided by Avi Fonseka, the exchange guide, whilst sleeping in Leopard Trails luxury tented camp. This was an incredible insight into Sri Lanka and Yala.
I learnt quickly that despite its small size, Sri Lanka possesses one of the highest rates of biological endemism (16% of the fauna and 23% of flowering plants are endemic) in the world and is included among the top five biodiversity hotspots across the globe There are nearly 433 bird species of which 233 are resident.
Sri Lanka holds 20 endemic species while another 80 species have developed distinct Sri Lankan races, compared to their cousins in Indian mainland. Meanwhile the ocean around Sri Lanka is home to large families of cetaceans including the mighty blue whales, sperm whales and lively dolphins. Altogether 26 species of cetaceans rule the waters surrounding the country, making it one of the best locations for whale and dolphin watching. Although less celebrated, Sri Lanka has one of the richest diversity of amphibians in the world, containing over 106 species of amphibians, over 90 of which are endemic.
The climate and weather of Sri Lanka during the middle of the year is perfect for exploring the jungle and for viewing animals in the Arid Zone. The weather in Sri Lanka is influenced to a considerable extent by its location. Presence of sea around the country renders it free from temperature extremes, and influences humidity to a great extent. However, myself and all of Sri Lanka were not prepared for the biggest flood in 20 years that hit during my stay, courtesy of a cyclone called Rauna. Hundreds of thousands of people were forced from their homes by floodwaters and landslides after a major storm hammered the whole country. What amazed me is how the whole country pulled together to help one another during this time. The flood impacted my trip and me positively just by seeing the effort and care everyone had for others.
Being travel-restricted because of the flood meant I was able to explore Yala National Park even further. Yala combines a strict nature reserve with a national park divided into five blocks, two of which are accessible. One of the blocks in particular doesn’t have a high density of vehicles. The park has a protected area of nearly 130,000 hectares of land consisting of light forests, scrubs, grasslands, tanks and lagoons. Situated in Sri Lanka’s south-east hugging the panoramic Indian Ocean, Yala was designated a wildlife sanctuary in 1900 and was designated a national park in 1938. Ironically, the park was initially used as a hunting ground for the elite under British rule.
Naturally I had preconceived ideas before arriving in the tiny island nation south of India in the Indian Ocean, however I decided to let my experiences shape my ideas. The unknown led me to a place of wonder that widened my perspective.
I left Sri Lanka not only overwhelmed with the leopards I saw, but overwhelmed but the diversity of wildlife, kindness of the people, the beauty of beaches and the delectability of the unbelievable cuisine. This holistic experience left me with a special feeling of having truly explored and made me truly feel the gift of travel.
Enjoy the following photographic highlights:
Contributed by Don Heyneke
Spending as much time as I do in the bush, makes me realize my love for the outdoors. This appreciation goes hand in hand with a sincere love of animals. When we are in the bush, it feels as if our worries float away like a petal in the wind. The hustle and bustle of one’s normal lifestyle gets thwarted by the roar of a lion when drinking your early morning coffee. The disquietude of getting in your car and driving off to work takes a back seat for a couple of days. The outdoors is like one’s happy place where everything just seems to happen in slow motion. When one adds the relaxation to the potential to see some of the most majestic animals in the world, the outcome is often breath-taking.
People who come into the bush with me, have a genuine admiration of animals and the euphoria displayed by them in each sighting just cemented my thoughts on why more people come to the bush to shrug off the listlessness of their day to day lives.
A sighting that we had with elephants epitomizes this point. We had been fortunate enough to be in a couple of sightings with elephants. Approaching these pachyderms is something that should always be done with caution and one needs to know the signs the animals give you if they do not welcome your presence. We realised that these particular elephants were content and we approached… The herd then proceeded to walk past the vehicle within touching distance.
Elephants have an aura about them which when first encountered can lead to an incredible up-welling of emotion. Whether it be their size, their generally placid nature, or the fact that when you look into their eyes you know that they are working you out at the same time, they can humble even the most accomplished safari-goer.
Emotional experiences like this can potentially be brought on by any animal or situation when in the bush; the only part of the recipe you need to bring is a true appreciation for them, the space they inhabit, and what their continued existence represents. Not just for a visitor to Africa, but for all of us.
Photo credit: BBC
One of the most iconic sounds when you stand on deck early in the morning is the sound of hippos grunting after venturing back to the water after a night time feeding bout. Despite the hippo’s appeal, these animals have often been misunderstood. Here I discuss five myths about hippos that, by simply spending time observing them with an open mind, we have come to understand.
1. Hippos Sweat Over Blood
Early roman naturalist Pliny the Elder was one of the first to notice a red secretion from hippos and suggested that hippos, which he described as being “over-gross and fat” were pricking themselves on sharp reeds, causing them to bleed and relieve their bodies from the swelling. Fortunately for us, a substantial amount of research has since been done on this substance that hippos secrete and the purpose it serves. Researchers have shown that what hippos actually secrete is a type of red gel secreted from glands under the skin. This substance helps to keep the skin soft and pliable and could even shield hippos from the harsh sun. Hippos constantly fight, particularly bulls, which often results in gaping wounds; the substance in question also has antibiotic properties which could help heal these wounds. But here’s where things get interesting. When this substance is initially secreted it is clear, very much the same colour of human sweat, but when exposed to sun for a long time it takes on an orange-brown hue, which is probably what early naturalists interpreted as blood.
A pod of hippos lay up next to a crocodile on the bank of a waterhole. During stressful times, hippo will secrete a reddish substance from their skin which helps to keep the skin soft and pliable, and also has antibiotic properties.
2. Hippos Stamp Out Camp Fires
In certain parts of Africa, folklore abounds about hippos running through campsites, trampling out campfires and knocking supplies about. Although hippos have almost certainly run through some campsites and stamped out fires, whether this was intentional could simply be a misinterpretation. Explorers and hunters would often set up camp close to water in the early pioneering days and run-ins with hippo could have been related to this. Camping close to water was not only convenient for the pioneers, but setting up camp was easy due to open clearings and prominent pathways created by hippos that venture out of the water each evening to forage. Hippos that encountered these campfires most likely trampled them in an attempt to run back to the water, which they would consider to be their safe refuge.
In the early pioneering days, camp sites were often made close to water for convenience and in open clearings close to prominent hippo paths. This could explain tales of hippos stamping out campfires.
3. Hippos Are Good Swimmers
Although hippos can spend almost 16 hours a day submerged in water, they cannot swim. At least, not as we consider it. Hippos lack webbing on their feet and have short stumpy tails, neither of which are adapted for swimming. Instead, hippos are bottom dwellers, walking along the river bed while keeping their nostrils above water to breathe. Although they can hold their breath for about five minutes, when hippos reach deep sections of a river, they will often “hop” along the bottom until they reach a section of river shallow enough to rest up in. Hippos are a vital species in river and waterholes, opening up water channels that would otherwise become clogged with reeds, and churning up silt that would otherwise collect at the bottom of deep pools. This silt contains vital nutrients that support a myriad of other life forms such as snails and insects, which in turn feeds a multitude of other animals.
A marsh terrapin rests on the back of a hippo. Hippo dung releases nutrients into deep pools, sustaining a variety of other lifeforms such as insects and crustaceans, which this terrapin will eat.
4. Hippos Eat Meat
When a hippo opens its mouth the incredibly large canines and incisors could easily give the impression that these animals should be carnivorous in some way or another. It does actually happen that hippos occasionally scavenge meat. However, these large teeth are usually used for self defense. Hippos are almost exclusively vegetarians, coming out at night time to feed on around 30 kg of grass in an evening and returning to the water before sunrise. The large teeth play no role in cropping grass, which is plucked off using the very broad lips. As a result of the recent El Nino, we had lower than average rainfall and as a result, grass cover has been limited in some areas. The hippos are adapting to it, venturing further in the evenings to feed. In fact, when food is scarce, hippos can even cover distances of up to 10 km or more in search of grass.
A hippo opens its mouth, displaying its impressive canines and incisors which are used mostly for fighting and self defense. The molars seen toward the back of the mouth are used to grind down grass cropped up by the lips.
5. Hippos are the Most Dangerous Animals in Africa
Hippos are often described as the most dangerous animal in Africa, and based on the figures of human fatalities, this statement is true (approx 2,900 deaths per year!). Hippos should certainly never be underestimated and have the potential to be extremely dangerous. However, the fact that hippos come into contact with humans more than any other animal in Africa has a lot more to do with where hippos live, rather than them being bad tempered, aggressive animals. Throughout Africa, hippos live in large rivers and permanent water sources both inside of and out of conservation areas.
Many rural people, who live in these same areas are dependent on the same rivers that many hippos call home. On a daily basis people walk from their villages to rivers and waterholes to wash their clothes and collect water for drinking and crops. On many occasions people walk down the well defined pathways created by hippos previously discussed. When confronted by humans, a hippo will almost always attempt to move back to the safety of the water, which can often be tragic if the bystander is blocking the hippo’s immediate pathway.
Dawn on the Sand river. Africa’s rivers are home to hippos, but they are also the lifeblood of many rural villages, where locals venture to rivers to collect water on a daily basis. As a result, humans come into contact with hippos more often than most animals.
Let’s face it – as humans, we don’t have the ability to walk or talk from the moment we are born, we learn it. The same applies for some animals. Yes, most are able to walk within minutes of birth, but there are certain actions and behaviours that are learnt, either by observing their mothers, or through trial and error.
We have the privilege of observing these cute youngsters learning the ropes on a daily basis; be it a young impala realising its legs have the ability to hurtle its body 2 metres into the air, or a leopard cub practicing its stalking skills on its mothers tail. The youngsters may just be doing this for fun or because they’re emulating their mother but what they don’t realise is that it’s teaching them crucial life lessons for survival.
Seeing any young animal is always a treat and no doubt entertaining, but my absolute favourite and the one that always gets me giggling are young elephants. A few weeks ago my guests and I had one of the more entertaining elephant sightings I’ve ever had in the bush.
We were watching a herd of elephants approaching a watering hole, which is always exciting as elephants in general love water. The adults seem to get rather excited and the youngsters become uncontrollably animated. We noticed there was a very young calf in the herd following its mother towards the water. It couldn’t have been more than 1,5 – 2 months old, so it was still quite wobbly on its oversized feet and certainly not in control of this “thing” hanging off its face. This appendage of course being its trunk.
They reached the water’s edge where the mother, who’s well rehearsed in the use of her trunk, dipped it straight into the water and started drinking without a hassle – a seasoned professional. Her calf on the other hand, who has only just mastered the art of stopping, seemed to look up at her with amazement, wondering how and what its mother was doing with this ‘thing’ hanging off her face. The youngster seemed to take a moment to work it all through in its head and decided it was going to give it a go. It dipped its miniature trunk into the water and lifted it towards its mouth, spilling every last drop it had so cleverly “sucked” up. It tried time after time, each time getting a little closer, but after about 7 attempts it still had a dry mouth.
The youngster seemed to be getting a little thirsty now and was obviously very jealous of the gallons of water that its mother was pouring down her throat, so he decided to change his approach. He eventually decided to cancel out the middle man and disregard the trunk altogether. He was now going to drink with his mouth.
He dived head first into the water with some serious force, more than likely leaving a perfect imprint of his face in the mud, in order to get the optimal amount of water into his now very parched mouth. Success.
He realised immediately that this new tactic was a winner; it was also helluva fun and so threw his face into the water a few more times.
When it was time to go, the youngster faced his next challenge, namely getting out. This seemed like an easy task, all he had to do was stand and move his legs; much easier said than done for a month and a half old elephant. The mud was now rather thick after all the splashing and the second obstacle was the now drenched bank where he would have to exit. He struggled for a little while but with the help of his mother and a sibling, he managed to get out.
As the herd departed the waterhole, the youngster followed in its midsts, thirst quenched and covered in mud. And we were left grinning ear to ear. A truly remarkable sighting.
Recently, I decided to explore parts of the Kruger National Park that I hadn’t been to, and spent a week bumbling around the northern parts of the reserve until I found myself on the border with Zimbabwe and Mozambique. During a day of driving through the Kruger you have plenty of time to get lost in your own thoughts, and only after I had solved all of the world’s problems and then spent the greater part of the morning wrestling with the question of, “is it too early for a beer?”, I found myself staring at a map of where I was and began thinking about just how special the Kruger National Park is even for a park ranger.
A dazzle of Zebra in the Kruger early morning light. Photograph by James Souchon
Most people have heard about the Kruger National Park in South Africa as it prides itself on being one of the most famous game reserves not just in the country, but also in the whole of Africa. The Kruger National Park was officially proclaimed in 1926. It was the amalgamation of two game reserves that had been established to try and control hunting in the region and to protect the different species of animals whose populations were decreasing. The reserve now covers an area of 19,485 square kilometres, extending 360 km from north to south and averaging 65 km in width from east to west. To put this into perspective, the Kruger National Park is approximately the same size as Wales or about the same size as the state of New Jersey in the US!
The early days of Kruger Park self-drive safaris. Photograph by krugernationalparksafaris.blogspot.com
What makes it even more exciting is that the Kruger is also part of the Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park, which is an exciting project to join up other game reserves in the neighbouring countries of Zimbabwe and Mozambique. If all goes according to plan over the next few years there could potentially be a game reserve covering an area close to 100 000 square kilometres, which is more than 5 times the size of what the Kruger National Park is today.
The proposed Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park. The dark green areas are already protected game reserves and the light green areas are the proposed areas to be included in the park. With an area of wilderness that big it meant that animals could now travel further and wider in search of food and water when the conditions got tough. Territorial predators like lion and leopard could disperse as young males and moved away from the dominant males in their areas and set up territories of their own without encroaching onto neighbouring farmlands. Grasslands weren’t getting overgrazed because wildebeest, zebra, buffalo and rhino could move on to new areas, giving depleted grasslands a chance to recover.
It is not uncommon to see herds of elephant making their way through the Sand River. The Kruger National Park is vital to conservation in South Africa not just because of the wilderness area it preserves but also as an educational tool. It is the most accessible game reserve to get to for a large number of South Africans as well as the hundreds of thousands of tourists that visit South Africa each year. About a million visitors go through the gates of the Kruger Park annually. School trips with the Good Work Foundation and family holidays to the Kruger each year play a big role in shaping the young minds that will be our future conservation heroes in the years to come, when preserving our wild areas is going to be even higher up on the agenda than it is today.
The children of Tfolinhlanhla Primary School get ready for their first ever game drive with “Kids in Parks” Facilitator, Oriel Mhlongo (centre back). Of the 40 children who were part of this outing, not one had ever visited Kruger. Photograph by Accolade Ubisi
People can choose to experience the Kruger in a host of different ways, depending on their preferences and budgets, and whether it is a camping, self-drive holiday where you explore the reserve on your own with the help of a map, or visiting an exclusive concession within the reserve with an experienced guide who takes you around, the reserve has something for everybody. It’s a part of South Africa’s heritage and has provided countless campfire stories for millions of people across the world since it’s proclamation. Some of my fondest childhood memories are helping my Dad pack the family car and heading off for a holiday to Kruger. We would ‘braai’ (barbecue) each night and then my sister and I would fall asleep staring into the burning embers of the fire as the adults continued to chat around it. Each morning we would be queuing at the camp gate with flasks of coffee waiting for the guard to open it so we would get out and start searching for animals. It was those trips to the bush in my early years that made me decide that I wanted to live and work out here.
My best memories from family holidays to the Kruger National Park are sitting around the campfire at night cooking dinner and listening to everyone’s stories. Photograph by James Souchon
Contributed by James Souchon.
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