My wife and I chose to celebrate our thirtieth wedding anniversary at Londolozi (our first safari). Being new to the bushveld we came without any preconceived expectations. We put our faith in the hands of our extremely knowledgeable and passionate ranger, Amy, and our skillful tracker, Life. Choosing Londolozi for our first safari was probably our best decision. What we thought was going to be an observation of wildlife with some photographic opportunities became an experience that touched our spirits in a way we will never forget.
Amy and Life were not only in harmony with one another but also with ourselves and most importantly, the living wilderness that would create the canvas on which unimagined experiences would be lived and memories painted for a lifetime. From magnificent elephants to the hard working dung beetles, all were equally important.
Part of the magic is that the animals seemed not to mind our Land Rover and viewed the vehicle as part of the terrain – at one time a leopard actually used us as cover while eyeing up some preoccupied impala. You could see the large cats looked through us, as if we did not exist, all but the Short Tailed Mail, I will return to him later.
Spending long periods of time, just being with the lions for example, watching them move through their daily rhythm of life, gave a sense that you were almost part of them, not just an observer. We spent time with a pride finishing the remains of a night’s kill as vultures waited in the wings, the interaction between the young males and mature females while picking the final scraps was fascinating. Following breakfast they proceeded to clean themselves, and one another, before they separated to sleep it off in peace.
We hoped to see a leopard during our four days, as it turned out we encountered nine! We were fortunate enough to watch two of them mate; we also witnessed an encounter between two males that met head on. The older male, limping and scarred, came into contact on his own territory with a young, extremely healthy male, his son. Amy informed us that the leopards would most likely fight. As the drama unfolded the reaction of the leopards was one of apparent respect from the younger male and a hint of surrender from the father; to all of our relief, after the initial snarl, they passed each other without another glance.
To a couple of newbie safari goers, leaving the sanctuary of the vehicle was an incredible experience. An early morning hike to the top of Ximpalapala Koppie, in the northwest corner of Londolozi for a delicious Amarula coffee and hot chocolate while soaking up incredible views was indeed a special treat. Once at the top, a breeding heard of elephants walked by our vehicle parked below, followed by two bulls.
We both felt exposed while walking but knew we were in capable hands with Amy and Life by our sides. I got a similar feeling while sitting on the ground against the vehicle while photographing another bull elephant and some buffalo. It made me feel totally alive and in touch with these incredible animals.
This feeling was multiplied 100 fold for me when we spotted an uneasy leopard known as the Short Tail Male. As I mentioned earlier, this leopard, unlike all the other cats we encountered, was not at ease with our presence. He hissed and moved forwards towards our LandRover, staying close to the ground keeping his eyes locked through the camera lens onto mine. His eyes seemed to pierce deep into my soul and I felt a profound reverence for this unrestrained wild being.
Londolozi is truly a very precious place with an outstanding team of passionate people who gave us an experience that touched our lives in a very special way, we are truly grateful to you all.
To capture the above images I used my Nikon D700 and D800 body along with a 200-400 F4 and 70-200 F2.8 – which I rented from the Londolozi Photographic Studio. I flipped between the two using the camera rest and bean bag for stabilisation. With Amy’s insight into animal behaviour and vehicle positioning I was set!
Written and Photographed by: Michael Johnson