It is with great sadness that we announce the passing away of Ranger Raymond Mahatlani, Ray passed away yesterday morning following a short illness.
I don’t really know where to begin when faced with the daunting challenge of trying to sum up Ray’s amazing life into words…………he was quite simply A “Legend”.
I first met Ray when we were busy building Leopard Hills sixteen years ago, and was immediately drawn to his infectious smile and sense of humour, and there was no hesitation from our side in getting Raymond into the Team as a Tracker, after all, he had been born on the Reserve and nobody knew it better than he did.
You cannot work alongside someone day in and day out for 16 years, and not develop and bond and respect that goes beyond just being a simple colleague. I had been working in the Bush for 11 years when I first met Raymond Mahatlani, and had the privilege of working with some very talented Trackers, but it soon became evident that Ray had something even more special than simple talent for the art of Tracking. Ray had a gift, a raw intuition, which took him above and beyond anyone I had worked with before. After 11 years I thought I knew something about the Bush, Ray showed me I knew very little, but with his patients and tutoring, he opened a whole new world for me, something for which I will be eternally grateful.
I remember once, on a hot summer afternoon, we set off on the afternoon drive, and not far from the Lodge Ray held up his hand for me to stop the vehicle. Sitting up front on the Trackers seat he turned to me a told me there was very fresh tracks of a female leopard crossing the road. I got out of the vehicle and walked to the front, there, clearly in the sand, were the footprints, leading across the road and heading towards the thick bush to the west. Having explained to our Guests that Ray and I would be off the vehicle for a while following the tracks, I proceeded to walk into the bush looking for further signs of which way the animal had moved. After about twenty paces, I soon realised that Raymond was not following me on this venture, and turning around, discovered he was still sitting on the Trackers seat staring at me. Returning to the vehicle, Ray jumped down onto the road, and being the very gentleman he was, he said;
“I think you and I should have a meeting”!!!
So as not to embarrass me in front of our Guests, we walked down the road out of “earshot” and he proceeded to ask me what I was doing? A little taken aback, I informed him I was following Leopard tracks. I will never forget the look on Raymond’s face as he shook his head as though I had disappointed him.
“Your problem is, you don’t think like an animal” he informed me.
He told me to get back to the vehicle and drive to the nearest waterhole. I proceeded to explain to Ray that the tracks were heading west, and the waterhole was in the east. Again a little shake of the head, followed by an explanation.
“Think like the animal. It has been a hot day; the Leopard crossed the road earlier into the thick bush, looking for shade to rest up. It is cooling down now, she will want to drink, stop wasting time and drive to the waterhole”.
Feeling a bit like a child who had just been admonished by a parent, I returned to the vehicle, and we proceeded to the waterhole, and there she was, crouched, drinking at the water’s edge. A lesson was learnt, and it will never be forgotten.
When Raymond was on the Tracks of a particular animal, he was like a bloodhound; he would not give up until he had found what he was looking for. The numerous Guests, who had the privilege of spending time with Ray in the Bush, will attest to this raw ability, and the affinity he had to his surroundings.
The uncountable hours Ray and I spent together in the Bush were a blessing, and it was a joy in 2007 when Raymond completed his final exams and left the Trackers seat forever, and became a Ranger. It was a proud moment indeed, and it was the next step in Ray’s career, which like everything else he undertook, was taken on with passion and enthusiasm.
In the 16 years that Raymond worked with us at Leopard Hills, he was a part of every Ranger and Trackers lives, and he added to and contributed to their success in one way or another. Raymond was a constant, he was always there to offer guidance and support, and made many a good Ranger and exceptional one.
There are just too many memories and stories of Ray to put down here, but suffice it to say, Ray’s family have lost a Husband and Father, we have lost a Brother, and the Bush has lost a “Legend”. The Bush is a lonelier place without you in it, but it is a better place for what you gave it.
I lay awake in the early hours of this morning, memories of Ray running through my mind, and as if on cue, the Roar of Lions in the distance, bidding a final goodbye to a man who lived among them for so many years.
God speed my brother, and until we meet again in the Bush beyond, leave a clear trail that we may follow your tracks, over the horizon and beyond.
Your friend and Brother