We can literally start breathing a sigh of relief this Friday, as the lingering smell of decaying hippo is no longer in the air. The two that were killed by lightning a few days ago have been almost completely devoured by an assortment of carnivores, namely crocodiles, lions, hyenas, marabou storks, vultures, and literally tens of thousands of maggots. Charming, I know.
But such is the efficiency of Nature’s clean-up crew, very little apart from bones will be left over, and life for the usual inhabitants of that waterhole can return to normal.
One or two photographs from today are from a little more than a week ago, so I’m cheating a bit, but I haven’t had the opportunity to put them out until now.
Enjoy this Week in Pictures…
A Vine or Twig Snake. Deadly. These seldom-seen snakes have no known antidote for their venom, which destroys clotting factors in the bloodstream, and a blood transfusion is usually the necessary treatment for confirmed envenomation. Thankfully they spend the vast majority of their time up in the trees, well-camouflaged in the foliage, as their name suggests, rarely coming into contact with people. They are also back-fanged, and almost need to chew on you to inject any venom, so actually present very little threat to humans. This one had descended into the staff village to catch and then devour a lizard (video on our Instagram feed) but as soon as it was done it slithered back up a buffalo-thorn tree, out of sight once more. Macro lens, f10, 1/200s, ISO 3200
A female warthog emerges from her burrow in the morning light. I sat waiting for this female to emerge for a good 20 minutes (she was lying at the burrow’s entrance so I knew she would come out eventually), and I’m sure she was simply scanning to make sure the coast was clear, as she was followed out of the burrow by another female and seven very small piglets. f7.1, 1/1250, ISO 400
A spotted hyena looks back towards where a young one was following it, while a journey of giraffe looks on. Although giraffes are killed by lions on occasion, and their calves are very occasionally taken by leopards, their size means that they usually have little to fear from predators. Even so, they will keep carnivores like this hyena under observation for as long as they can, just to make sure it has moved safely away. f2.8, 1/500s, ISO 1250
A pair of zebra look towards where 10 young lions from the Mhangeni pride were lying. Full bellied, the lions had definitely caught something the night before, and since they were well out in the open, they were no threat to these zebra, who snorted a few times and then moved off in a different direction. f2.8, 1/2000s, ISO 125
The group of wildebeest calves at the airstrip is a delight to spend time with; their high spirits each morning usually result in a good twenty minutes of chasing each other and the local lapwing population around. This trio had broken off from the main herd (pictured in the background), a time when they are far more vulnerable to predation, but luckily on the open airstrip and surrounding clearings there’s a bit more leeway for them to run around without (hopefully) getting eaten. f5.6, 1/250s, ISO 1250
The Tamboti female’s cub, taking a break from feeding up in a Weeping Wattle tree. Shortly after this photograph was taken she leapt across the gap between two branches to return to the impala kill, the video of which can be seen in our Instagram feed. At around 10 months old now, she is starting to chase small prey animals like birds and mongooses. We are already seeing her practicing killing small kills that her mother brings to her, evidenced recently by a monkey kill that she spent a good 20 minutes pretending to asphyxiate. F4, 1/500S, ISO 640
The Tamboti female herself. This is a composite image, stitched together from 6 separate photographs. We were experimenting with trying to get a more panoramic feel from a relatively close-up sighting (the leopard was barely 10m from our vehicle) without a wide-angle lens. I think if we had gone any further around, we would have started to see quite a bit of warp emerging, which would have spoilt the effect somewhat. F5.6, 1/640S, ISO 640
The same sighting as the photograph above. Ranger Melvin Sambo had found the female moving through the thick bush near a drainage line, but thankfully she climbed this marula tree to scan the clearing in the distance, where a number of wildebeest were walking with their calves. Obviously deciding that there was no hunting opportunity to be had (the wildebeest were way out in the open), she dropped back to earth and continued on her way. F4.5, 1/800s, ISO 1250
The Tamboti female inhabited the south-eastern sections of Londolozi, having a large part of her territory along the Maxabene Riverbed.
Three impala ewes snatch a quick drink from a still waterhole. Nervous at the best of times, impala generally won’t put their heads down for long, always aware of possible hidden danger nearby. The herd that came to drink on this particular morning specifically chose the more open side of the waterhole, away from any undergrowth that might conceal a predator. f3.5, 1/800, ISO 125
Some of the Mhangeni pride begin to get active. Although yawning often means fatigue in humans, it is generally a sign that big cats are about to get moving. The process can be quite protracted, and will involve grooming, stretching, and quite a bit of up-and-down with a few false starts, but behaviour like this means that you should be sticking with the pride, not heading off for sundowners! f4.5, 1/500s, ISO 800
Sitting with this herd of wildebeest one morning at a clearing near camp, we were excited when they suddenly started to snort, meaning they had spotted a perceived threat of some sort in the distance. Wildebeest give a slightly different alarm call for lions than they do for leopards, with the lion one generally being a longer, more drawn out snort and the leopard alarm being more abrupt. They were giving the leopard alarm on this occasion, and their good eyesight was evidenced when we lifted our binoculars to look in the same direction they were, and spotted a leopard moving off about 200 metres away… f4, 1/640s, ISO 1000
…which turned out to be the Nkoveni female moving up the hill. We think she had bumped into her mother the Mashaba female, who ranger Andrea Sithole had found about 15 minutes previously near the river, back in the direction the Nkoveni female had come from. Whether she had or hadn’t, the wildebeests’ alarm calls soon drove her back into the thickets, a natural reaction for any leopard whose presence has been given away by alarm calling. f22, 1/50s, ISO 1000
A young female that lives to the east and south of camp. Easily recognised by her 2:2 spot pattern she is often to be found in Marula trees.
When the camp is quiet the rangers will often take the opportunity to take some of the camp staff out into the bush. Here Sean Zeederberg takes butlers Vusi Phelembe (Founders Camp, behind Sean), Matthew Machabe (Tree Camp, holding binoculars), Trevor Ramukhithi (Pioneer Camp, waving) and Margreth Ngobeni (Varty Camp), along with Camp Manager Cry Sithole (front row, wearing hat) to see the Tamboti female leopard and her cub, who were up in a Jackalberry tree just to the left of where this shot was taken from. f5.6, 1/500s, ISO 1600
Far more lethal than the Vine Snake, Africa’s most feared serpent: the Black Mamba. This one was searching through the leaf litter for prey, and when I stood up to try and get a photo of it through a gap (using a 600mm lens), it stuck its head up to look in our direction, at which point I luckily managed to get a couple of shots. Although having a fearsome reputation, these snakes are actually relatively shy, usually choosing to move off rather than initiate a confrontation. f4, 1/250s, ISO 125
There are few things more enjoyable than spending time with a herd of elephants at a waterhole. I think it’s the sounds more than the sight itself that makes the whole experience so pleasing; slurping and splashing and rumbling… a whole blend or watery gurgles that suggest that the elephants themselves are getting as much enjoyment from the experience as we are from watching it. f4, 1/1250, ISO 640
An African fish eagle watches over the local waterhole at Varty Camp while sombre skies brood malevolently in the background. Fish eagles reportedly live between 12 and 24 years (up to 40 in captivity), which makes one wonder just how long the local pair has been in residence. f4, 1/640s, ISO 1250
Three giraffe bulls engage in some friendly petting. Older bulls are generally darker and solitary; you wouldn’t usually find an aggregation of them together like this. One can therefore assume that this trio are all of less dominant stature, and are unlikely to have any breeding opportunities if an older and bigger bull is around. The fact that there were a number of females close by yet these males were showing no real signs of competition towards each other supports this. f4.5, 1/800s, ISO 2000
The two Tatowa cubs again, as featured in last week’s blog post. They have not been seen since this sighting, despite a number of excursions into the deep south to track them down. Hopefully it won’t be another 5 or 6 weeks before we see them again… f4, 1/250s, ISO 800
The Tatowa female was one of a litter of three females born in early 2012 to the Ximpalapala female of the north.