This is the first episode of a three-part series.

It’s a story of a dream. A fantasy perhaps…that came true.

I entered the world in 1975, far from where Renias Mhlongo’s journey began under a jackalberry tree in the greater Kruger National Park. Our origins diverged: his in the Shangaan hunter-gatherer traditions, and mine amongst the Cape’s cattle farms.

Yet, our childhoods whispered of future paths. Mine through games of hide-and-seek in the dunes of Plettenberg Bay. And Renias’s through “Xitumbelelani,” a Shangaan version, teaching the art of observation – and a prelude to his future as a world-renowned animal tracker.

The tumultuous backdrop of apartheid South Africa was a reality for Renias, especially when his father was falsely accused of poaching. An event that turned their lives upside down and had them removed from their land.

Renias remembers that fateful night the family fled to a settlement called Dixie. They waded through a river, as a little boy, Renias clutching onto the tail of a cow to pull himself through the water – as they trekked northwards into the unknown.

Our paths crossed at Londolozi Game Reserve 20 years later. The only common threads binding us were the echoes of hide-and-seek and perhaps an affinity for cows!

At Londolozi, we found a place where diverse cultures were poured together. Immersed in its incredible conservation ethos, we witnessed the power of unity driven by a clear, shared purpose.

Me and Renias at Londolozi, circa 1995.

Walking the ancient game paths of Londolozi, Renias and I were acutely aware of our differences, our fears, and our doubts about being thrown together in an unlikely partnership.

The name Mhlongo was already synonymous with legendary tracking, and under Renias’s wing, we soon became an ace leopard tracking team.

Renias, alongside his two brothers, was pivotal in pioneering wild leopard viewing at Londolozi. Until then, spotting one was pure luck. Their efforts made it far more likely to get sightings of calm leopards. They transformed the ancient craft of tracking into a legacy that drew countless visitors to the region.

But the heart wants what it wants, and ours wanted a different trail. Leaving behind secure posts at Londolozi, we left with a vision to establish a school for trackers – to restore ancient African animal tracking for the benefit of wildlife conservation.

Together with Gaynor Rupert, Tracker Academy was founded to empower young rural people. Over a decade later, the Academy has seen 266 graduates finding gainful employment in the conservation industry.

Renias is the inspiration for Tracker Academy, which has trained 266 rural, unemployed people in 14 years. And Gaynor Rupert made it all happen.

Our dream matured.

We wanted to create a sanctuary where these skills could flourish. A venue for our graduates to demonstrate their exceptional tracking skills to discerning travelers.

For fifteen years, we chased the elusive dream of our own game reserve – submitting tenders, negotiating with banks, and courting investors. We could track leopards, yet navigating the complex terrain of high finance eluded us!

Despite many rejections, Renias remained steadfast, believing it was his ancestors’ wish.

What started as an uneasy alliance at Londolozi had now grown into a deep kinship  – forged through years of shared experiences. Over time the concept of ‘stronger together’ became obvious to us. In fact, it drove us.

In an ecotourism industry where true transformation is so scarce, we adopted the tenacity of a couple of honey badgers to prove it could be done. “Buti, we will dig even if the bees sting us,” was Ren’s best. We wanted to showcase the remarkable potential of South Africans unified by a clear purpose – in our industry.

Eventually, perseverance bore fruit with the establishment of Tshokwane River Camp in July 2023. One of the best days of our lives.

Now, the boy who once herded cattle on the dusty savanna a few kilometers away is a shareholder in a legitimate safari business (KrugerUntamed) that stands for more than profit—it stands for hope and unity.

KrugerUntamed’s Tshokwane River Camp – is open from 1 May to 30 September, annually.

The safari camp is not just a business; it’s a tangible representation of our shared vision and commitment to South Africa’s future.

The day we signed the shareholders’ agreement, Ren sent me this short WhatsApp, “Hi swi kumile. 🐆” (We found it).

For more information click here.

Alex and Renias’s new book about their relationship and adventures will be on the shelves in South Africa in the first week of March 2020, or pre-order it here

‘Entertaining and inspirational, a field guide to life.’ – TONY PARK, bestselling author


World-renowned wildlife trackers Alex van den Heever and Renias Mhlongo have spent more than two decades working together, tracking leopards and lions at Londolozi, jaguars in South America and grizzly bears in the United States.

In Changing a Leopard’s Spots, Alex shares stories from his life with Renias, including the successes, failures, dramas, laughter, disappointments and highlights. As they experience numerous adventures, Alex and Renias learn to trust and rely on one another – both in order to stay alive, in a literal sense because of the sometimes dangerous environments in which they work, but also to develop a deep and meaningful relationship.

By challenging each other and learning from one another they break down social, cultural, racial and personal boundaries and obstacles that often divide South Africans; and in the process, the two men forge an unbreakable bond.

Compelling and unputdownable! This book goes beyond wildlife to life, love, trust and community” – SELLO HATANG, Chief Executive of the Nelson Mandela Foundation

This is a fantastic, fast-paced adventure and a story of brotherhood between a white boy and a tracker, a story of deep appreciation of African culture and wildlife” – GG ALCOCK, bestselling author.

Published by Pan Macmillan SA

Changing A Leopards Spots - The Adventures of Two Wildlife Trackers

Alex and Renias

Cultural Diversity - Keynote Speakers

The two speakers from very different backgrounds have come together to share their motivational talk, “The Power of Relationships,” reports


(Johannesburg, S.A.)–Though the system of Apartheid ended in the early 1990s, its impact can still be felt in modern South Africa, where racial, cultural, and class differences are still often perceived as barriers between people. Two friends and colleagues who have utterly broken down those barriers, Alex van den Heever and Renias Mhlongo are now sharing their story, “The Power of Relationships,” with the goal of helping others overcome obstacles to communication and friendship.

According to, the motivational presentation tells the true story of Alex, a white game ranger, and Renias, a black tracker and inheritor of the Shangaan pastoralist tradition. In working side by side and sharing a love of wildlife and animal tracking, a friendship developed between them despite their racial and cultural differences. In order to get to know each other well, they taught each other their own languages. “Learning Shangaan has made such a difference in my ability to understand Renias and where he comes from,” Alex commented.

The presentation also details the two men’s encounters with each other’s cultures. First, Alex visited Renias’s village, Dixie, where he was treated as a VIP guest. “In the 1990’s I thought that the villages were dirty and full of crime,” Alex commented, “but I experienced a level of generosity and a level of humanness I had never experienced before.” Renias then joined Alex for a trip to London, his first trip out of Kruger Park and his first encounter with a large European city. A thrilling story about how Renias saved Alex from a leopard attack demonstrates the immense trust that developed between the two men.

“Our goal in sharing our story,” said Alex, “is to inspire others to open their minds and learn how to actively participate in diverse teams. We want to show that it’s possible to build a deep trust and a productive friendship with someone from a different culture, and that diversity can be a source of strength.” The speakers emphasize that their story is not meant only for South Africans, but for international audiences.

In addition, they hope to offer simple steps to get rid of their own prejudices and meet others on an equal footing. According to Alex, simply being willing to listen to and try to understand another person’s experiences is the first step in breaking down the barriers of racism. To learn more about Alex and Renias or to book them for a presentation, visit


Alex van den Heever and Renias Mhlongo have worked together for 23 years, conducting safaris and training wildlife trackers. Their work has taken them to many countries in Africa, Australia, South America, and North America, and their story has been featured in several TV news documentaries. Their long friendship and working relationship represents the breaking down of racial barriers and serves as an inspirational model for the multicultural society of South Africa. They perform their cultural diversity presentation for corporations and businesses trying to learn and grow together in South Africa’s unique cultural and historic landscape.

Media Contact

Alex van den Heever

1st Floor Oxford Gate Hyde Park Lane
Hyde Park, Johannesburg, Gauteng 2196
South Africa
Telephone: 013 735 5653