The cormorants, fish eagles and pelicans are gone; only flamingoes remain, feeding on the abundant algae that stains the lake, darkly. Storm clouds cluster above this apocalyptic scene; the birds are a salmon-coloured contrast to the steely lake and sky as raindrops begin to puncture the parched mud.
Some shots are a result of being in the right place at the right time – and this was one of them. But in getting to “the right place” required rather a lot of time, patience and knowledge. This is a desert-adapted elephant found in the bleak expanse of northwestern Namibia, and we had spent the morning tracking them, following footprints and droppings up and down dried-up riverbeds.
“We have a leopard situation.”
These words, spoken in the southern African savannah, far from the safety of the safari vehicle, were not exactly what I wanted to hear. But the beeping of the tracker’s aerial, picking up the leopard’s radio collar, was telling us that the creature was close. What’s more, the grass around me was waist-high – and leopards are the kings of camouflage.
After almost 40 years leading tourists through the savannah, it was no wonder that George had an awesome anecdote for every occasion. Besides killing a buffalo with an ancient rifle, he had thrown himself to the ground to avoid being bitten in two by a one-and-a-half ton hippo, and escaped a lion by dashing up a tree.
One of the surprises of travelling is that it is often the big attractions and wildlife that draw us to a place, but the tiniest, quietest things that end up being most fascinating. So many times I’ve looked forward to admiring a towering mountain, or encountering an enormous African elephant, but it’s the diminutive insects …