The first time you visit Africa you may arrive with expectations of what you have seen in documentaries, read on the Londolozi Blog or viewed on the internet.
All of your preconceptions however, are only a fraction of what the true experience is about. It’s more than what your eyes may witness and involves all of one’s senses. The smell of the potato bush on an unusually warm winter’s evening or the soapy feel of the leaf of a devil’s thorn when mixed with water, and of course there are the animals; the sheer size of an elephant as it walks past the vehicle – larger than you could possibly imagine. The roar of a lion that’s not only heard but reverberates through your body. Birds chirping, impala alarming. The entire bushveld experience is way more than just what meets the eye.
At Londolozi we are unbelievably fortunate to have some amazing experiences with animals in close proximity. We owe this to our trackers and rangers who through time have gained training, experience and knowledge of the animals we view; not to impact their natural behaviour, but rather through time to allow these animals to become comfortable with the sound and shape of a safari-converted Land Rover. It’s for this reason that travellers from around the world seek Londolozi as a top destination to embark on a photographic experience and hope to capture a few of these moments through glass and a viewfinder. It might not always be as easy as it seems though. Knowledge of the environment, animal movements and behaviour are taken into account, but at the end of the day this is a wild environment and unpredictability is endless.
It was morning one of a five day private photographic safari with a guest who had never been on a safari experience before. The excitement was immense for both guest, tracker and ranger alike. The energy of a first time safari is passed on to both ranger and tracker and it ignites our passion as to why we are truly here. A professional camera and lens ready to capture the action, but a mind so open as to what to capture on a first safari experience. As morning twilight lit the land, we departed from camp in search of a leopard. We drove an area that was the territorial heart of one of our resident females. The morning was beautiful and general antelope species were bountiful, yet there were no tracks of the elusive leopard.
As we reached the summit of a crest we suddenly heard alarm calls of Impala. A sign that they may have seen something of danger. We spun around and raced towards where the frightened antelope were still barking. Their large brown eyes were fixated on an area in the bush yet we couldn’t see what they were looking at. Tree squirrels were alarming from tree tops as well and francolin burst into the air from the just in front of the impala with a screeching call. All of a sudden tracker Freddy Ngobeni shouted the words of the animal we had been searching for, “Leopard, Leopard, Leopard!” There in the long grass struggled a beautiful female leopard with an impala ewe clamped in her jaws. As she approached the base of a Jackalberry tree, her next move was inevitable; in one leap she bounded into the tree and dragged the impala up past the main fork and out onto a horizontal branch. Whether you have seen this scene in documentaries or not, it’s hard to fathom the reality of what you are witnessing. You are so in awe that you forget the main reason we were here; to take pictures of these beautiful animals and the dramas that may unfold.
A short while later after regaining her breath, the leopard descended from the tree and moved off through and open grass filled crest in the direction of a thick drainage line. We identified the leopard as the Nkoveni female and, knowing her current situation, we knew she must have stashed her cubs nearby, out of sight of rival predators. Approaching some slightly denser vegetation, she began emitting low frequency grunts, clearly calling for her youngsters. Moments later her two offspring came bounding out of a thicket, greeting their mother as if they hadn’t seen her for days. The three of them groomed one another before heading directly back to where the dead impala lay. Excitement mounted within us as the mother led the cubs to the kill she had just made. The cubs investigated every tree they passed as if they were children on an Easter egg hunt. Moments later they saw the tree the mother had hoisted the impala kill in, out of reach from hyenas. In energy filled bounds, much like the mother, they were up the tree and feeding on the impala. Photographic opportunities were endless.
A gorgeous female who is found to the east of camp. Easily recognised by her 2:2 spot pattern she is often to be found in Marula trees.
Capturing these moments through a lens allows us to tell the story, but the experience, the sounds and atmosphere from this exact moment can never be shared. One needs to witness it in person to understand what Africa, what safari, what Londolozi is all about. What an experience, what a first morning safari drive!
Thanks so much Alex for the post! It truly was a 10 out of 10 experience. Your knowledge of the animals and photography really helped me make some images I am very proud of. Thanks to you and everyone at Londolozi!
A great sighting Alex. Always special to see a kill (even if it is sad to witness). Nkoveni is a lovely leopard. I think she was the first cub the Mashaba female raised to maturity. Still remember her grandmother Vomba.
Through the lens is great, but the total experience is what makes a safari special. Sometimes you just have to take your eye away from the viewfinder and watch nature at its best.
I have been fortunate to experience what you speak of each time I visit londolozi. Departing on each drive with anticipation enjoying the scents and the signs. I live Nkoveni she is beautiful to photograph but the waiting and the action preceding these photo ops is such a huge part of the experience
What stunning photos Alex. Leopards are truely a magnificent cat which is why I return to Londolozi.
What an amazing sighting!
Counting down to my first experience… Never been this excited about a trip but then I’ve been dreaming about it since I was a little kid watching Wild Kingdom with my Grandpa 🙂 Just can’t wait to experience South Africa with every sense.