Monday morning had none of its usual connotations as we kicked this week off with a bang!
It began when the last remaining lioness from the Tsalala pride chased the Nhlanguleni female leopard up a tree early in the afternoon. We waited to see how the drama would unfold and were richly rewarded when the leopard eventually reunited with her two cubs. The rest of the week proved as eventful when we watched five members of the Ntsevu pride and two male lions from the Birmingham coalition kill a kudu bull in front of us the following evening. The unforgettable sound of growling and feeding filled the still night air. Our guests bonded with herds of elephant and watched in awe as a pack of five African wild dogs showed us their playful side. We spent a morning with seven hyena cubs and four adults as they playfully soaked up the morning sunshine at their den site. We experimented with motion blur on our cameras, felt the primeval resonance of a male lion’s roar and watched as a large crocodile swam by only feet away.
Enjoy this Week in Pictures..
One could spend an entire drive sitting at the causeway and watching the myriad of birdlife, hippopotami and Nile crocodiles. Crocodiles can be difficult subjects to photograph but this individual swam up alongside us, his green beady eye reflecting the light. We can only speculate at what passes in the mind of such a prehistoric reptilian.
Two minutes into the afternoon drive the last remaining Tsalala lioness chased the Nhlanguleni female leopard up a tree in front of Pioneer camp. Once the danger passed, she descended the tree and walked along the river in search of her cubs. After thirty minutes of constant calling we feared the worst but we were overjoyed when her two cubs ran out of a nearby wild date palm and greeted her. At round 4 months old they are ever playful and still dependent on her for survival.
Initially skittish she spent a lot of time in the Sand River, now relaxed she makes up the majority of leopard viewing west of camp.
The Selati railway line traverses the grasslands of the Southwest, an area that yields huge potential for photography. The railway line itself was built in the latter part of the nineteenth century to join the goldfields in the west to the coast, but its construction was characterised by setbacks and mishaps. On this particular drive it proved to be extremely useful as three of the Birmingham male lions crossed the grassy ridge that used to hold the tracks, one after the next. We positioned ourselves in order to capture the shot at eye level, in perfect light and against a blue sky.
Late one evening we followed five lionesses from the Ntsevu pride and one male lion from the Birmingham coalition as they fanned out through a Combretum thicket. As we threaded our way through the bush trying to keep up with them, the lead lioness managed to catch an adult kudu bull. In no time, all six lions were onto the kudu in a feeding frenzy. The second male (pictured) was nearby and must have heard the commotion. He rushed into the melee and fought for his share of the meal.
In the same area as the previous photograph we found five African wild dogs trotting through the bush, hunting foremost in their minds. Before long they came to a waterhole where they drank and rolled in the mud. They chased each other back and forth on a clay ridge providing some mesmerising photographic opportunities. Two young spotted hyenas also joined the sighting before losing interest and moving off. The best part about it was that we had it all to ourselves.
Londolozi is peppered with waterholes, most of which are dry at this time of year. The herds of elephant move great distances and will regularly stop to drink and wallow. It was an exciting moment when we drove around the corner to find thirty elephant all drinking from the same pan.
Hyenas sadly have a poor reputation amongst many of our visitors, due in part to Disney’s feature film the Lion King, in which they were portrayed as the villains. But when those same visitors visit a hyena den their opinions transform into something very different. On this day there were four adults and seven cubs all soaking up the early morning sunshine. They have an incredibly interesting and intricate social organisation and with a number of active den sites on Londolozi we’re fortunate to have such stable and regular sightings.
A herd of approximately twenty elephants came running through the morning mist and they were clearly agitated. Bull elephants are normally to blame as they can place the breeding herds under a fair amount of stress when they are in musth. Sure enough, three of them were in hot pursuit. This one stopped briefly on his way past before shooting off after his comrades.
No impala wants to be left behind. When the herd decide to move they often go one at a time. In this particular case, there were fifty of them running across a narrow riverbed where danger often lurks. They were running one by one and taking the same line, giving us ample time to grapple with our camera settings.
Photographing down from a vehicle is not the most dramatic angle from which to approach a subject. Getting to eye-level is usually the goal, or even just below, which can be done by parking downhill from an animal or in a riverbed when they are up on the bank or on a boulder. More often than not it involves quite a bit of maneouvering with the vehicle, but fortunately when it comes to cheetahs, they are more than likely to climb up every termite mound they happen to walk by, which accomplishes the eye-level shot without any effort on the ranger’s part. Here the female cheetah and one of her cubs look towards a distant impala herd.
Dead trees with leopards in them are every photographer’s dream, so it was thrilling to have the Tamboti young female comply. Clutter in the form of branches, twigs and leaves can detract massively from a photo, just as a clean background of only sky allied with the beautiful textures of dead bark can greatly enhance it.
A bone shaking roar at close quarters is something truly to behold. The vibrations are felt running through the vehicle and the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. This male lion, one of the magnificent Birmingham coalition, roars into the evening sky and all who hear it know that this is their territory and they are here to stay.
During the morning drive we found a young female leopard resting in a tree, warming herself up in the sunshine. We haven’t had many sightings of the Tamboti young female recently but despite the disappearance of her mother she is still around. One of the most energetic and entertaining leopards to watch, she climbed several different termite mounds shortly after, using them as a vantage point from which to scan her surroundings.
Ximpalapala crest is a grassy, dome-shaped hill dotted with Marula trees and usually covered in general game and the occasional cheetah. I often find myself stopping for a sundowner here in the hope that something will walk by and silhouette itself against the sinking sun. As we sipped our gin and tonics I reflected on a week of memorable sightings and once in a lifetime moments that are best described by this week in pictures.