A good surprise is hard to beat. Especially when that surprise was a trip to Londolozi for my 40th Birthday, a secret that my wife managed to keep until less than 3 weeks before our arrival. I’m addicted to safari so this was simply the best present imaginable. However, despite the excitement, it did induce a slight panic. As a keen photographer I had been eyeing up the Canon 200-400 F4L 1.4x as a perfect safari lens, but with only three weeks notice I was unable to rent one. Instead I went for the Canon 500mm F4L II (which I should have rented from Londolozi’s Creative Hub rather than carry it from the UK) and was not disappointed with the results.

 This was in August 2015, my second trip to Londolozi. I’m glad to report the magic does not fade; if anything it gets stronger each time. It’s a privilege to spend time in the bush on any safari, with every drive or walk bringing something unique, but Londolozi has become a place that I hope to return to for many years to come. Thanks to the excellent combination and knowledge of our ranger Sean Cresswell and tracker Robert Hletswayo, it was on this trip that I started to appreciate each sighting as more than just a photo opportunity. Learning about the individual leopards, lion prides and coalitions that frequent Londolozi makes each sighting that little bit more special. The excellent Londolozi blog then helps to keeps the memories fresh, ready for the next trip. 

The Mashaba female had very young cubs when we visited in 2013, and so I was keen to see her again now that she had two new youngsters. She and the cubs proved elusive, but thanks to some great work from Sean and Robbie we did track them down if only for a very brief but fantastic sighting. Having a 500mm lens also allowed me to spend some time appreciating the birds of the African bush. Another highlight of this trip was seeing the Mhangeni pride take a well-earned rest on the edge of a quarry. This provided a perfect photo opportunity to shoot the lions from below at close range, although it did mean we were literally surrounded by 13 lions all perched above us!

With so many memories it’s hard to pick just a few images to represent the experience, but the following are some of my favourites.

Tamboti female

The Tamboti 4:3 female enjoys a drink at a watering hole close to where she has rested up for the day. 1/800 sec at f4.5, ISO 1600


The Tamboti 4:3 female heads off on her evening patrol. 1/800 sec at f5.0, ISO 1250


A young male from the Tsalalala pride takes a brief rest. We followed the pride for two hours as they took an early morning walk through the bush. 1/400 sec at f4.0, ISO 3200

Tsalala males

A sub-adult male, without a pride of his own, attempts to join the Tsalala pride. In this image, one of the young males of the Tsalala pride finds himself a little further from the comfort of the pride than he would like as he comes face to face with the older and slightly larger intruder. 1/400 sec at f4.0, ISO 1250

Tsalala young male

Another Tsalala pride young male in the morning light. Almost two hours after we joined them, they were still wandering through the bush. 1/400 sec at f5.0, ISO 500

Pygmy kingfisher

A Malachite kingfisher sits beautifully atop this reed, allowing me to capture this picture before heading back to camp for breakfast. 1/320 sec at f5.0, ISO 400

Munghen pride

The thirteen strong Mhangeni pride rest up on the perimeter of a quarry. We drove into the quarry to get a unique view from below, which allowed me to capture this young male with an uninterrupted back drop behind him. 1/800 sec at f5.0, ISO 100

Munghen pride

Another young male of the Mhangeni pride rests above us on the quarry edge. This was an amazing photo opportunity, one that I will remember forever. 1/000 sec at f5.6, ISO 200

leopard tracks

These are very special leopard tracks. The Mashaba 3:3 female and her two 15 week old cubs hadn’t been seen for almost a week when tracker Robbie and ranger Sean literally leapt from the jeep with excitement at the discovery of fresh tracks of the whole family. 1/400 sec at f5.6, ISO 100

Mashaba cubs

Over an hour later and thanks to a great effort from Sean and Robbie we found the Mashaba female and then spotted her cubs hidden in the roots of a tree. This was the only shot I took before mum encouraged them away to a safer (and totally un-photographable) place. One photograph but an amazing experience. 1/400 sec at f5.0, ISO 1250


A battle-scarred rhino rests as the heat of the day starts to fade. 1/1250 sec at f5.0, ISO 500

Tatowa female

The Tatowa female takes a cursory look around whilst resting under a tree, captured in beautiful late afternoon light. 1/1000 sec at f5.0, ISO 160

Tatowa female

The Tatowa female, now lying down under the same tree. On this sighting, she really didn’t do much but the light more than made up for it. 1/1000 sec at f4.0, ISO 250

Tamboti female

The Tamboti 4:3 female stares directly into the lens as she rests before returning to a fresh impala kill, stowed safely in a nearby tree. 1/320 sec at f4.0, ISO 250

Brown hooded kingfisher

A brown hooded kingfisher greets us as we set off on an afternoon drive. 1/800 sec at f4.5, ISO 1250


A long distance photograph of the Tatowa female as she rests below a Weeping Boer Bean tree in the late afternoon. 1/400 sec at f5.6, ISO 400

Piva male

This was my first sighting of the Piva male. Although he’s lying down I think the shot captures the seemingly effortless power of a male leopard. 1/500 sec at f5.6, ISO 640


Early morning mist and light combine to highlight this lone giraffe. 1/250 sec at f4.0, ISO 160

Matshipiri male

One of the Matshipiri coalition is encouraged to pace through the bush by a Sparta female. The brothers were separated at this point, but we had been listening to them calling all morning as they worked on reuniting. 1/800 sec at f5.0, ISO 500

Taken with Canon 5D mark III and Canon 500 F4 L II other than 10, 11, 16 and 19 which were shot with Sony A7R II and Sony 70-200 F4 G.

Written and photographed by Ian Wilson, Londolozi Guest

Filed under Guests Photography


on The Best Birthday Present Imaginable

Join the conversationJoin the conversation

Jill Larone

What a fantastic birthday gift Ian — happy birthday! You captured some beautiful images with your new lens! It’s always nice seeing the Tamboti female…she’s such a beauty and a great shot also of the Piva male. Thanks for sharing your pictures with us!

Margarita Doychinova

Thank you for the beautiful pictures!!!!!!!!!!!!


Wonderful exciting pictures. Awesome surprise!

Lydia Watson

Thanks for sharing these incredible photos – they really made me smile with joy at the end of a long day in the office.

Rick Lusk

Thanks for sharing your pictures and commentary Ian. Brings back great memories. 🙂

Ian Wilson

Hi Rick, great memories indeed. Hope you and Kari are well.


Ian, great pictures and the best birthday present ever! Tell me more about the lens you wanted, but didn’t get, the Cannon 200-400 F4L 1.4x. Why you thought this would be the best lens for safari?

Ian Wilson

Hi David,
To be honest, a 70-200 2.8 is probably the perfect Safari lens. I had been lucky enough to Safari a few times in the last few years and wanted to try something with a little more reach. Having now shot with the 500 f4 used here and the 200-400 F4 1.4x I’d be hard pushed to chooses a favourite. The 200-400 is a great lens, and I never tired of being able to flick a switch to go to 560, but the size and weight of this zoom does compromise handling in a safari jeep. It’s too heavy to hand hold for any amount of time, so I used a bag support which then gets in the way of the zoom operation. There are no such worries when using a big prime on a bag support. Having said that, I’m going on safari in August and will be taking the 200-400 1.4x again!

Judy Guffey

Any day at Londolozi is magical but a birthday celebration is over the top.


What amazing photos and thank you so much for sharing them with us.


A beautiful blog! Wondering who is the lone sub male lion who attempted to join Tsalsla ?

Wendy Hawkins

Thank you Ian for these stunning pictures! I’m sure this is a birthday that you will never forget! The Malachite Kingfisher & Piva Male are just so beautiful, as are they all

Gillian Evans

Ian – wonderful and atmospheric photos.. your leopard shots are amazing and I love the malachite kingfisher too! You had a great team with Sean and Robbie – as we did in March this year. My next birthday at Londolozi is booked – what a wonderful place it is to celebrate a birthday!

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