When we started our afternoon drive the temperature had soared to around 40*. We hoped to find the lions again, and found eighteen of them gathered around a buffalo kill. They belonged to two different prides, with two visiting males among the others. Some were feeding, while others lay around and only moved when they needed to reposition into shade.
After the lions we joined up with our second vehicle at a leopard sighting. We followed the leopard as he walked along and stopped to drink from a puddle.
Then we heard that Hukumuri had been found. He was very restless, and started to hunt Impala. Up and down termite mounds he went to locate where the Impala were heading, and then he started his stalking again. He eventually tired of this and settled on a termite mound with a beautiful sky as a backdrop. We used fill-in flash to get the best possible images.
We were still photographing the leopard when we heard that another leopard had been found. This was Tortoise-Pan, and we simply couldn’t miss the opportunity to spend a bit more time with him. He was close to the river where he had recently caught a baby Impala that he now hoisted into a tree before he chose a termite mound for his rest.
As always elephants and the Plains animals kept us quite occupied. Zebras, giraffe, Impala and others, but as darkness set in we preferred to return to the lions to photograph them in the dark.
It was wonderful that it started to rain as we made our way back to the Lodge. The coolness was so very welcome, and we knew that our morning drive would be a lot more comfortable.
And yes, the morning temp was lovely. We decided to take our two safari vehicles in different directions to cover both the lions and Tortoise-Pan Leopard and thereby to increase our chances of visiting the best sighting. When we reached the buffalo carcass there was no sign of a lion. They had eaten enough and left the remains for the ever ready, ever ravenous hyenas and vultures. The squabbling, flapping, snarling and chases kept the scene moving nonstop.
Meanwhile Tortoise-Pan Leopard was a little elusive at first, but hyenas flocked around where his kill had been. Finally he was spotted as he climbed a tree where foliage camouflaged him very effectively. Luckily for us, he didn’t remain in the tree and came down after a few moments, only to disappear again – this time into a ravine. We couldn’t risk following as the rain made the ground around the ravine sodden and impossible to traverse.
Instead we photographed a herd of elephants, giraffe, zebra, herds of Impala with tiny babies, and a gorgeous regal Fish Eagle.
Hukumuri was seen strolling along the airstrip close to the Lodge. We dashed there to catch up with him, and to our total satisfaction he chose an open area next to the airstrip to stop for a rest.
After relaxing there long enough for us to get some superb photos, the leopard wandered off to a drainage pipe that runs under the airstrip. He was so interested in that pipe that we surmised that an animal like a warthog was either in the pipe or had vacated it very recently, leaving traces of its smell. Hukumuri sat there patiently, hoping that the animal would appear.
We left Hukumuri to photograph the lions that had moved away from the kill, and appeared on the far side of the airstrip. We just had time to photograph them drinking water from a puddle before it was time to return to the Lodge.
When we leave the Lodge for our afternoon safari drive, we plan to head straight to the airstrip for the Big Cats …
Wow,! wow! – our afternoon drive was so epic that it is difficult to know where to begin.
OK, we started at the Wild Dogs that we had seen previously. The youngsters gave us such a treat, such a show! They were delightful as they chased one another, pounced, wrestled on the ground, and in short had a rollicking good time. This was extra special because it was mid afternoon and we would almost expect them to rest during the heat.
Then a most exciting call alerted us to a sighting that we would not miss for anything. And yes, rare enough to lure us away even from Wild Dogs. A Pangolin! But not just a Pangolin – it had been spotted and was being harassed by a pride of lions.
We arrived on the scene to find the Pangolin desperately trying to hide, totally terrified. The encounter with the lions had left the creature really shaken and it tried hard to be invisible. However, photography was still good, and we managed some clear, sharp shots using spotlights. This was very special for many of our TuskPhoto guests as it was their first glimpse of a Pangolin and a wonderful opportunity for really memorable photos. What an encounter!
Leaving the Pangolin to recover from his ordeal, we started a slow drive back to the Lodge, and soon came across the pride of lions that had so recently terrorised that unfortunate Pangolin. Or maybe we should say fortunate as we remember that the Pangolin was really lucky to have escaped unscathed. We followed the pride for a while in the dark until they stopped at a dam for a long drink. It was the perfect final sighting to end a phenomenal afternoon. Now all we needed was to celebrate our good fortune back at the Lodge.
After the high of the previous afternoon we were not sure about the morning game drive, but we were keen to catch up with a leopard again. We need not have been at all concerned.
First came the Flat-Rock leopard, and while we photographed him our second vehicle found Hukumuri. Hukumuri was on a mound and then started to move around restlessly. When he saw Impala he chased them. It was exciting and the adrenaline rush was tremendous. Luckily, being photographers, cameras were not forgotten and action shots filled memory cards.
Then to our surprise we found the third leopard for the morning. The Tortoise-Pan Leopard was scent-marking as we followed his progress. He retired into in impenetrable palm thicket and lurked there for a while. But then hyenas appeared and when Tortoise-Pan saw that they had started to chase Impala, he dashed out of his hiding place, had a good look, but then slunk away into seclusion again.
So after not one, but two amazing, epic dame drives, everyone is almost alternating between being speechless and then recounting excitedly the events of the drives – and of course there are ‘great expectations’ for our photo editing session …
Our afternoon was humid and rather hot. We no sooner left the Lodge when we came upon a White Rhino enjoying a lovely, cooling mud wallow. He was a little nervous and jumped up when he spotted us, so we left quickly, not wanting to upset the big fellow.
Elephants drinking at a waterhole came next. Thirty pachyderms milled around, splashed, went right into the water, and drank plentifully as they enjoyed a frolicking time. We spent time to get different shots, different angles, different lighting.
After that beautiful sighting we wanted to check for any big cats. While searching we found a couple of male buffalo, also in a wallow and covered in mud. They eventually had enough and left the scene, with mud clinging to every surface.
As always there we photographed Plains animals, zebra, wildebeest, giraffe, Impala, kudu, all around, as well as diverse birds.
Then we saw male leopard tracks. After tracking these for a long time we gave up. But we had spotted a hyena close to the tracks and decided to investigate what he was up to. However, he remained asleep.
Further north we encountered a lioness with her cub on a mound just as the sun was setting.
She got up slowly, stretched and moved to flop down next to a mud wallow. Unlike mom, the cub was very active and very curious and simply had to check anything and everything that caught its attention.
As it was quite dark by now we returned to the Lodge. After dinner and a good sleep we were ready for our morning game drive.
Lions had been calling from the eastern end of Elephant Plains, and we headed directly to that area. We found tracks and followed these for ages. We stopped to watch a couple of rhino and while we viewed them a subadult lion suddenly popped out of the bush. So we were there at the perfect moment for the rhinos and also for the lions. The big cats were disinclined to move much and we left them to snooze.
Tiyane had been spotted and when we caught up with the leopard, we found her in a Marula Tree. She had a baby Impala kill. (The impalas are having a difficult time at present). Tiyane fed for a while, dozed for a few minutes, then fed again. At the base of the tree hyenas hovered, waiting for scraps to fall as the leopard ate. Competition was fierce for each tiny morsel that fell, and they tugged and pulled at every scrap. There was as much to photograph on the ground as up in the tree.
When done Tiyane jumped out of the tree to start a scent-marking stroll through the bush. When she reached a Jackalberry tree she looked at it speculating its possibilities, then leaped up to find a comfortable branch. But as it wasn’t comfortable enough for her, she came down again, and strolled away.
We were happy to return to the Lodge for a meal and to start editing our growing collection of superb images before our afternoon game drive time …
Having heard that another male Leopard, Hukumuri (A one-eyed leopard) had been spotted in the area our first aim was to locate him. Luck and good tracking led us directly to him on top of a termite mound. He dozed there for a while before he became active. He spotted a herd of Impala and went into stalking mode, but soon lost interest.
Having spent a very successful hour with Hukumuri, when we heard about Wild Dogs not too far away we elected to follow them for a while. The adults were away hunting, and we stopped with the youngsters. They were so playful, so boisterous, so full of fun and mischief as they ran and tumbled about on the road next to us. The were curious and reacted to every sight, every sound, every smell.
Eventually an adult called and the youngsters dashed off together in the direction of the sound. It was hard work to keep up with the furiously running pack and because it was so difficult we decided to leave the dogs and return to Hukumuri.
Our return to Hukumuri was prompted by the presence of our second vehicle and working together we would be able to use lights to create superb spotlit images.
As always we passed plenty of Plains game, elephants, and buffalo.
Back at the leopard our plan was successful, and working together we were able to photograph the busy cat as he made his way here and there through the bush. It was quite a challenge at times as he changed direction frequently, and even backtracked, and it was a very satisfied group of photographers that returned to the Lodge for dinner.
For our morning drive we had no set goal in mind. Instead, we thought it would be great to simply go out and see what tracks, animals, sounds we would discover.
Soon after we started, however, we received a call about Hukumuri. He was still around and just as we arrived at the sighting a lioness arrived, seemed most displeased with his presence, and stormed the hapless leopard who quickly took refuge in a tree.
We were able to get some decent shots of Hukumuri in the tree, and as soon as the lioness departed, he leaped down and walked very briskly away from the direction of the lioness. It was interesting to see him walking so rapidly as he tends to be a rather lazy, sedentary cat. As he walked the anxious male leopard constantly looked over his shoulder, really quite afraid that the lioness was following. We spent ages with him, but diverted occasionally to photograph giraffe, elephants, zebras, buffalo, and any other Plains game that posed for us.
We returned to the indignant lioness and found her and her cub resting together on a termite mound.
We noticed a nearby baby Impala and stopped to watch the unfolding scene.
The little Impala got up, sat down, got up again, and finally started to move away. As he started to walk the lioness leaped up and started to chase from about thirty meters distant. She caught him easily and brought it back for her cub. Although sad in so many ways, it was very gratifying to see the cub get a good meal …
For a change our afternoon drive was peaceful with a total lack of cats. The reason was the rainy weather that meant that predators were sheltering out of sight. However, this gave us an excellent opportunity to concentrate on the numerous Plains species that call the Sabi Sand Reserve their home.
A male White Rhino strutted around, scent-marking as he walked across an open area, giving us uninterrupted views. We were even able to capture panning shots as the huge animal lumbered along.
With the poor weather we concentrated on imaginative photography, and had success with panning shots of running Impala.
Giraffe, Kudu, Zebra, Wildebeest, and Elephants were photographed in various ways, again using many imaginative techniques.
Back at the Lodge we found a hyena inside the camp and being photographers our cameras came out yet again.
The next morning our game drive turned out very differently. Our two TuskPhoto groups split up to cover more territory and to alert each other of anything interesting.
We quickly found a few young hyenas in an open area. They were very curious and scrutinised us with as much interest as we viewed them.
Very soon after seeing the hyenas we found male leopard tracks. We followed these and after a short search we came across the leopard next to a tree. He lounged on the ground for a while before he climbed up into the tree. He settled on a branch for a while, but decided to come down again and go for a walk. We remained with him as he moved along. He scent-marked, sniffed the foliage, and then went into a thicket where we eventually lost sight of him.
We joined another sighting where Tiyane, a female leopard was hunting. It was special to see this ‘grande dame’ again. She was looking lean, was clearly hungry, and was searching for prey in earnest.
On the way back to the Lodge we stopped to photograph elephants – the final sighting for the current safari group. At the Lodge in time to greet the new arrivals as they arrived in time for lunch …
During lunch we heard of a male leopard on a termite mound just south of the Lodge, so that was where we went first on our afternoon game drive. We found him exactly as described. He was sprawled on the termite mound and as we looked closer we saw that he had not one, but two, baby warthog kills. We watched as he moved around quite restlessly on the mound, giving us multiple opportunities to photograph him from all angles.
When we left the leopard we went in search of hyenas that we could hear calling repeatedly. We couldn’t find them, but stopped frequently for elephants, Impala, giraffe, wildebeest, kudu, and zebras. And as we changed direction we stopped again – this time for a hippo in a dam.
We headed northward where we found Cara, the young female leopard. She had a kill and as she was far from where we saw her previously we debated whether she had lugged the kill all that way through the bush, or if this possibly another kill. The vegetation was quite thick and made photography tricky. But then Cara decided to hoist her kill up into a Marula Tree. Aaahhh – so much better! And as she climbed up and down the tree a number of times, and fed on the kill in the tree intermittently, the sighting turned out to be all one could wish for.
When Cara had finished her kill, she disappeared into the night, and we realised that it was time for our dinner.
Our early morning game drive was delayed for a while due to heavy rain. It had rained through most of the night, but the delicious fresh smell of the bush lured us and we eventually left the Lodge only twenty minutes later than usual.
A female lion rested on a termite mound with her young cub. Photography wasn’t easy because of the gloomy light and intermittent drizzle. But eventually she sat up, moved around, looked around, and we were able to capture different types of shots. High Key, Fill-in Flash, Portrait Shots – we used as many different techniques as the situation allowed.
The lioness stood up on the mound to scan the area. We could see that she looked quite lean and hungry, and would certainly need to hunt soon. There are plenty of Impala around and although baby impalas are easy to catch they are no more than a small snack for a large lion.
The mother and cub split up when the cub moved away and the lioness chose a different termite mound that afforded her a better view of her surroundings. She was also easier to photograph on this mound, being more prominent and with less vegetation.
It would have been great to follow the lioness as we knew she would soon start to hunt in earnest, but as it was time to return to the Lodge, we left her in peace, determined to check on her as soon as we started our afternoon game drive …
(Photos: Brendon Cremer)
Our afternoon game drive was busy, busy, busy.
We set out with the prime purpose of finding a male leopard that had been reported close to a dam. When we arrived at the dam we found fresh tracks but there was no sign of a leopard. As we drew closer to the dam we spotted a herd of elephants drinking at the water. They were well positioned for photography for a while, and then, as is often the way with elephants, they melted away into the bush.
Then on the opposite side of the dam four rhinos suddenly materialised. A bull and a cow were accompanied by two calves of different ages. They wallowed in the dam, and played in the sloshy, muddy edge of the water. The bull challenged the older calf, and huffed and puffed as he chased the youngster around. The interaction was totally captivating.
Plains game could be seen everywhere as we drove around. We collected many images of Impala, Kudu, Wildebeest, and then received a call about fresh leopard tracks.
Then a second call informed us that a young female leopard, Cara, had been found and she had a baby impala kill. She and the kill were on a termite mound, but as the visibility was quite poor and not great for photography we preferred to go in search of the Wild Dogs.
We caught up with the dogs as they headed to a dam. We followed them and were rewarded with plenty of opportunity to photograph them drinking and as they played and splashed around in the cool water – and also when they chased some Waterbuck. We had plenty of time to compose different shots, backlighting, motion blur – all the techniques we could think of. Then hyenas arrived and the dogs chased or were alternatively chased, creating so much chaos that it was difficult to choose where to point out cameras. There was just so much happening in all directions.
After all the excitement we decided to head off in the direction of Sibuye, the mother leopard and her cub. We were on our way when we received info about a male leopard and we turned that way instead. As we arrived the leopard decided to wander off towards the south, and across the boundary. Oh, well! It doesn’t always go as you wish, but there was still more in store for us. Suddenly as we waited, watching the leopard just in sight, hyena arrived on the scene and chased the leopard into a tree where he had a kill.
After that bit of excitement we headed to a male lion where we grabbed some superb evening shots before it was time for supper, and an early night in preparation for the morning drive.
At first we were not sure which direction to take for our early safari, but then we received an alert about a leopard close to a neighbouring camp. After about two kilometres of tracking we found the cat. He marched steadily along towards another Lodge, and we actually caught up with him inside that Lodge. He looked quite rotund, with a very full belly and had clearly eaten recently.
While there we heard that Sibuye had been spotted with both Cubs. On the way we passed a herd of around a hundred buffalo. They were relaxed, and photography was very straightforward.
Sibuye had left her cubs shortly before we arrived, but the two youngsters were both in the open.
The male cub lounged on a lowdown branch of a large tree while his sister restlessly climbed up, down, up and down.
Eventually she chose to settle on a broken branch. As she made herself comfortable a hyena pitched up intent on stealing their kill. However, the remains were stowed safely out of reach in the upper branches of the trees.
On the way back to the Lodge for our breakfast we spotted some giraffe and of course plenty of Plains game.
Whew, we certainly have a number of options for our next game drive. Which leopard? Which direction to go – and all are good options with plenty of promise …
We arrived at Elephant Plains before lunch and after our introductions and briefing we were ready to start our first drive. We faced a hot, humid day with temperatures hovering around 37*. Because of the heat we were a little apprehensive about sightings. But what a super start to the safari.
We passed plenty of Plains animals, and noticed that there are tiny impalas everywhere. They are so cute as they totter quite nimbly to keep up with mom.
We were told at lunchtime about a leopard with two subadult Cubs, and we gradually made our way towards them. As we approached the area we heard a bird alarm calling again and again. We followed the sound and found the mother leopard on the bank of a river. Sibuye was on top of a termite mound, and you can believe that our memory cards filled really quickly even though the sighting was slightly obscured by a few small twigs.
Then suddenly another face popped up out of the grass close to the termite mound. The young female cub named Langa gave us enough time for photographs before she languorously joined her mother on the mound. There was no sign of the male cub, but we were more than delighted with the two we could enjoy.
We moved our vehicle to try for a view with no obstructions, and found the perfect spot. We could see both leopards clearly, and Langa added to an already superb situation by leaving her mother to pose for us in the sandy riverbed where she then flopped down. When Sibuye joined her cub a while later, Langa climbed a nearby tree where she fed on the remains of an impala.
Then back to the Lodge for dinner and preparations for our morning drive.
After a pre-dawn cup of coffee and snacks everyone was ready to head out for another adventurous day. During our coffee time we watched a buffalo in front of the Lodge and when we set out our hope was to find a male leopard that was reported to be around. We visited the area, and other than Plains animals, kudu, waterbuck, there was no sign of the elusive cat.
When a call alerted us to the presence of Wild Dogs nearby we headed in that direction. We followed the dog tracks, and realised that the pack must be close by when hyenas were spotted dragging an impala carcass. They had most probably stolen the kill from the dogs.
We found the Wild Dogs, but they were winding down, with no running or hunting. Some of them played while others relaxed. There are eighteen dogs in this pack, meaning that there is constant interaction, plenty of activity, and always something to photograph.
On the way back to the Lodge we stopped to photograph birds before our meal and then some Lightroom work …
Although we started our morning headed towards an area where we hoped to find Wild Dogs (our TuskPhoto Safari guests are keen to see them), we saw elephants and Plains animals before we were distracted from that search when we found Moyà, the female leopard. She was clearly visible on a fallen tree and posed beautifully for us before she decided to start her morning walk and wandered off into a neighbouring territory.
Our second vehicle then spotted two male lions, sleeping in a grassy area. They were flat, and disinclined to move. We didn’t spend long with them as they were clearly settled for the day.
We stopped for some rhino shots, and then to watch a herd of elephants before we returned to the Lodge.
We tried to find Wild Dog tracks again in the afternoon, but as there were no tracks, we didn’t continue, but rather went to a reported sighting of a male leopard. This was Flat Rock at a waterhole. He moved away to follow the river.
We were able to keep up with him easily as he walked along in the sand, and across many open patches. As we followed Flat Rock we were surprised to suddenly spot a female leopard as well. She stopped, clearly stunned by the sight of the large male, gave us a few moments to grab some photos before she dashed away nervously.
We continued to follow Flat Rock until he eventually went into a thicket and having spent plenty of time with him in the open, we rather returned to the earlier lion sighting. However, the two males were gone, leaving no trace of the direction they had taken.
We photographed elephants, then looped around and returned a short while later to find leopard tracks on top of the elephant prints. We had missed the male cat by a only a minute or two.
Finally, on the way back to the Lodge there were last night photos of a chameleon and a hyena skulking in the dark.
This was our last full day safari, and we hope the the morning will prove to be as phenomenal as all the wonderful days we have experienced here at Elephant Plains …