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Home of leopards
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A collection of memories, which I gathered over a 10 day visit, that will be with me for the rest of my days. This is a photo journal of my time with a man, who is no stranger to Londolozi, who loves the bush more than most…
Before we start with wildlife, let’s take a quick look at one of the latest conservation efforts at our home at Londolozi. A large sum of money, R10 000, was raised by a grade seven student who has become very passionate about Londolozi. Ted Swindon has given an amazing opportunity to his godson, Hylton Royden-Turner and brought him along to Londolozi on a few occasions. Through this exposure Hylton has become exponentially more passionate about the bush and photography. This passion drove him, through a school fundraiser, to raise this substantial amount, that was donated to the Londolozi Anti Poaching Unit. The unit are extremely grateful and have used this donation to purchase new equipment which will further the impressive work they are busy with.
On our first evening Hylton, Ted, my tracker Foster and I set out to enjoy the banks of the Sand River. Before we set off, Ted had mentioned that he would like to cover a smaller section of the reserve and end at the river for the later part of the drive. We headed towards the river over the rise of a hill and there ahead of us lay the green vein of the river, winding through the life-drained tawny bush. Following the river Foster made a long distance spot through the brush. He hesitated for a split second waiting to confirm his suspicions. The Tsalala pride were slowly making their way upstream and settled on a granite rock so typical of this stretch of river. We sat and talked as the sky became rich in an orange glow . Night crept in and darkness swallowed up the bush. We were left with only the memories of an extraordinary lion sighting.
The fading colour of day, an important time for reflection. Mental images race through our minds as we discuss our more memorable sights and sounds for the day. Leopards often dominated these discussions but a scene such as this one was equally memorable.
Leopards: A highlight of Ted’s visit, every time! This female known as the Mashaba female was one of the leopards that we were fortunate to spend quite a bit of time viewing.
Youthful intrigue. A special moment as the Mashaba female led her cubs past the Land Rover.
We slowly and cautiously caught up to the trio as the mother led them to a kill she had not far away. The nervous alarm call of a nyala initiated a change in direction which we had not anticipated and ended in the Mashaba female taking her cubs into one of her old den sites.
A smooth elephant ear on its rough, wrinkled skin. I find that this image so perfectly sums up time spent in the bush. Sometimes things will go well and luck will be on your side and at other times no matter what you try, the going is tough and you end up a step behind.
The last light of the day turns this cheetah’s coat gold and leaves us wanting more… Little did we know that what lay ahead would be dominated by a cheetah sighting that would rival any other that we’d experienced before.
The Tutlwa female with a bush buck kill that she’d made right in front of us. We were all left shaking with excitement. This photo was taken just after the dust had settled. It was so fast and none of us were ready, mentally or with our cameras. Over the 10 days of Ted’s visit we were privileged to see incredible leopard behaviour.
Enjoying time around a campfire telling stories of old leopards and experiences in the bush. This time gave us the opportunity to test our skills with nighttime photography.
The lonely female ostrich takes a closer look at us!
The 4:4 male was the cause of some tension. Resisting the approaches of the Mashaba young female he caused quite a scene. This attracted the attention of the Nhlanguleni female. She rushed in and soon after arriving had a very brief but intense tussle with the original female. This left the male with too many options and he subsequently lost both females. After some time with his nose to the ground he was eventually able to find the Nhlanguleni female and try to initiate the mating process. It seemed at this stage that the tables had turned and he was met with great resistance.
The Nhlanguleni female took to the safety of a very tall marula tree to avoid the persistence of the 4:4 male. What a spectacular descent!
A leopard that Ted had hoped to see on his visit. The Dudley Riverbank young female has somehow eluded him since his first look at her as a cub. I thought this picture adequately represented his pursuit. She had her kill stashed deep within this milkberry tree.
There is nothing that excites Ted more than seeing a leopard he had not seen before. Over the years he has built up an intimate knowledge of the inhabitants of Londolozi. Their territories, bloodlines and origins are all a question away, he is extremely passionate about these big cats. On our last day we had still not seen a leopard that Ted was particularly keen to see. The Inyathini male. A glimpse was all he had managed in the past. We went in search of this leopard and with no guarantee we ventured into the dense central parts of Londolozi. We stopped to photograph an impressive male kudu when the continuous alarm calling of a bushbuck stole the show. This could possibly lead to a leopard. We got closer and switched off the engine again to listen, nothing. We started off again and as we rounded a corner there he was. The shortened tail of the Inyathini male was unmistakeable! Ted went silent. I glanced across at him, there was a smile, broad and beaming. No camera got in the way of that moment, it was about that leopard and not about a photo. The beginning of a new story for Ted. Another character to add to a growing collection. This was immediately new material, the Inyathini male was mating with the Tatowa female, on a recently burnt area with few obstructions. An amazing introduction to two new leopards!
Amazing light on these elephants. We went into the south western stretches of Londolozi in search of the beautiful Makhotini male. We had little luck in finding the leopard but instead got to enjoy these elephants drinking at the dam after which that particular leopard is named!
The riveting gaze of the Nyelethi male leopard. No longer seen on Londolozi but another leopard that Ted has many stories about. He watched him grow as a cub, as a part of a litter of three, one of the Nanga female’s brothers. Years had passed which made seeing this leopard that much more special, it was not only a very special one for Ted. I too enjoyed this sighting because it was a first for me. I have often heard stories of this amazing leopard and to finally get to see him was incredible. His size is impressive and his power evident. He had hoisted, in a near tree, an extremely large sub-adult waterbuck, a very unlikely choice of meal.
A good deal of our time was spent like this, with the noise of shutters rattling off, interspersed with comments and discussions of camera settings. There was also time when nothing was said. Time that was filled processing our surroundings. Light, trees and landscapes enticed our senses. Generations apart yet connected by common interest. The raw pull of nature and its sheer beauty sparking conversation, debate and intrigue. An appreciation for the system as a whole out here. Things hard to explain but easy to feel. Thank you, Ted, for enjoying the bush the way you do, it is infectious and I look forward to sharing this space again with you soon. Photograph by Sean Creswell
Written by Simon Smit, Londolozi Ranger
Phographed by Simon Smit and Sean Creswell, Londolozi Ranging Team
Simon boasts almost five years of guiding, two of them at Londolozi. His photographic work was already catching the eye of the team here for a long time before he joined the reserve, and he was asked to contribute to the blog literally ...