From Sydney to Shanghai, my guests this week have come from far and wide with one thing in mind: Photography.
Londolozi Game Reserve has long been renowned as one of Africa’s greatest photographic safari destinations, and this week it was proven yet again that just when you think it can’t get any better, it does. The sightings have been exceptional, leaving many of our guests on the edge of their safari seats.
We experienced an action-packed morning when four African Wild Dogs caught and killed a young warthog, only to be chased off by a different pack of eight. The next morning we found these rare and endangered animals once again, outside Pioneer camp. They were on the move. We followed them and watched them catch and kill two impala in quick succession. We have spent long hours with lions and leopards, hoping both species would present beautiful photographic opportunities in golden morning and evening light, and time and again we were rewarded for our patience. We spent a morning with the Nweti male leopard as he hunted anything that moved, an evening with the Mashaba and Nkoveni female leopards, both in trees escaping the ever-present hyaena clans and several drives with the awe-inspiring Birmingham coalition, as three of them mated with lionesses from the Ntsevu pride.
We felt truly humbled in the presence of an African bull elephant.
Enjoy this Week in Pictures…
One afternoon we found ourselves, gin and tonic in hand, parked on a grassy crest watching the sunset while the Tamboti female and her one year old cub slept nearby. We had just finished having a conversation about how amazing it would be if either leopard decided to climb up the Marula tree next to us when the cub suddenly leapt to her feet and tiptoed her way to the top of the same tree in true leopard fashion. f2.8 1/500 ISO200
Leaving camp before sunrise often yields some interesting photographic opportunities and it enables us to listen for any lions or leopards roaring in the distance. We’re at the tail end of the rutting season so territorial bouts between competing male impala are becoming gradually less intense. These two however, must have had unfinished business as they repeatedly clashed with raw aggression, looking up only for the briefest of moments. f2.8 1/3200 ISO200
Ten minutes into the afternoon drive, a young male leopard stalking a herd of impala was called in over the radio. With the prospect of a successful hunt we eagerly joined the sighting. The herd of impala, with their uncanny ability of detecting danger, grew nervous of the long grass and moved off. We followed the young nomadic Nweti male as he moved about looking for more opportunities, stopping briefly for a drink at this puddle of water. What was particularly striking about this male leopard was his blue eyes. f5.6 1/30 ISO200
Seasoned safari goers will know the thrill of a fast-paced sighting of a pack of African Wild Dogs on the move. This morning was no exception as we watched them do what they do best. We were able to follow them easily through the open terrain as this pack of eight raced in on a herd of impala in golden morning light. They caught two impala and promptly devoured both, the telltale white tips of their tails reflecting the light like beacons in the long dry grass. f2.8 1/1250 ISO400
The Nkoveni female leopard rests on a fallen over tree, safely out of reach of five spotted hyaenas. The Flat Rock male leopard had killed a blue wildebeest calf the night before and after abandoning what was left of the carcass he purposefully walked straight into the Nkoveni female and robbed her of her freshly stashed male impala kill. Forced out of her Jackalberry, tree she sauntered off and climbed a nearby stump to avoid the growing numbers of scavengers. f2.8 1/800 ISO200
A tranquil early morning scene in the Sand River. A pod of hippos sleep in a still pool while a grey heron patiently waits for a meal. This section of river is usually a hub of activity, providing an array of good photographic opportunities of hippopotami, crocodiles and birds against a vibrant backdrop of tall Phragmites reeds. f2.8 1/600 ISO200
Leopards basically invented patience, often waiting long hours for their prey to come to within striking distance. The Mashaba female did just that once she’d spotted a herd of impala from this Marula tree. By using trees and termite mounds they can get a better idea of their surroundings, find their prey and decide on the best possible approach. f2.8 1/8000 ISO400
Over the past week we have had regular sightings of the Birmingham males; currently the dominant coalition on Londolozi Game Reserve. This dark maned male was mating with a lioness from the Ntsevu pride within sight of two other mating pairs. The puncture wound behind his left eye suggests that he had had to fight for his right to mate with the female. With mostly darker manes and a prominent light halo, all four males are as magnificent as male lions come. f2.8 1/800 ISO200
Two two-month old cubs play out in the open at the Nhlanguleni female’s den site. At this young age we only view them when the mother is present. This is a crucial component of ensuring that these cubs grow up relaxed around the vehicles. For an animal whose middle name is ‘elusive’ this is as special a sighting as one can hope to have in the bush ,especially since leopard den sites are usually so well hidden and are often inaccessible. As of a few days ago we suspect that the Nhlanguleni female has moved them to a different den site in the Sand River. f2.8 1/200 ISO200
From leopard cubs to majestic bull elephants, this week has had it all. Bull elephants travel great distances between water sources and grazing grounds. We had two excellent sightings with this bull elephant along the Maxabene drainage in the South Eastern part of Londolozi. One has to spend time with an animal like this to truly appreciate their contribution to the African safari experience. f2.8 1/400 ISO200
Late one afternoon the Mashaba female leopard was found enjoying an afternoon sleep in the shade of a Magic Gwarri Tree. We sat with her, cameras at the ready, anxiously waiting for some sign of activity while the golden hour drained away. Ten minutes after sundown four spotted hyaena marched out of the bush and chased her up a weeping wattle tree. The spotlight illuminated the scene against a dark blue background, making for an interesting composition. f2.8 1/250 ISO2000
After dark, one might hope to see a number of animals including porcupines, chameleons and genet cats, but not normally snakes at this time of year. With a brief downpour last week we have seen a large Puffadder slithering her way up a termite mound, a two meter long African Rock Python being mobbed by birds, and this male Boomslang resting in a Buffalo Thorn Tree. Only Freddy Ngobeni, tracker extraordinaire, will ever know how he spotted this serpent30 meters off the road! With a powerful haemotoxic venom, this snake gives new meaning to the phrase, “never trust a pretty face”. f2.8 1/60 ISO800
Three Nstevu lionesses mating with three of the Birmingham males in relatively close proximity gave Londolozi’s guests some truly spectacular lion sightings this week. Fellow guide Andrea Sithole provided some side-lighting to this male lion as he took a break between mating bouts; a composition on many a wildlife photographers’ hit list. With two of the six lionesses in the Ntsevu pride already seemingly pregnant, we await the next few months with great anticipation. f2.8 1/50 ISO1600
God’s Window is one of the most spectacular viewpoints along the Drakensberg mountains in South Africa. As the golden orb sinks beneath the horizon it brings about another perfect end to another perfect day in the bush. f22 1/80 ISO200