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Elephant Plains

Nonstop Battles at the Elephant Carcass at Elephant Plains in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve …

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Dawie Shares his Notes and Photographs from the Elephant Plains Photo Safari:


Well, the new safari group duly arrived and of course, after listening to all the anecdotes of the previous days, they really hoped that their experiences would be as good.

And to everyone’s delight, the very first game drive was even more than anyone could have wished for.

We started at the elephant carcass – and because the action there was ongoing, entertaining, and at times quite thrilling, we remained there until darkness and time dictated our return to the Lodge.

The female leopard tried every trick, stealth, and multiple strategies to outwit the hyenas. She tried constantly to grab just a morsel, even a small snack, a bite, from the carcass.

But no, the ever – vigilant hyenas responded each time and she was forced to seek refuge in the tree. From there she looked down at the growing numbers of hyenas. At one stage there were 16 feeding greedily while the cat watched for any opportunity from above.

We photographed the leopard from every conceivable angle, every technique, using flash, spotlights, both flash and spotlight – any approach we could think of … it was fabulous!

Meanwhile the hyenas not only ate, they growled, chased each other, snarled, and generally seemed to behave as though that huge elephant carcass was not enough to share. These distractions gave the leopard the occasional a quick window of opportunity to maybe grab a bite or two. But no, the hyenas were not letting anything close to what they now considered their own private banquet.

Finally, on the way back to the Lodge for our dinner around a warm fire in the boma, we saw more hyenas and then watched the mysterious shapes of elephants moving so silently in the moonlight. What a perfect ending to the first game drive for the new Guests.

In the morning the unanimous decision was to return immediately to the elephant carcass, where we found that the leopard had finally given up and was presumably searching for a  more accessible meal elsewhere.

But the action at the elephant remains had intensified. The hyenas were still there, but now dozens of vultures had arrived, and the fierce interaction between the two species kept us enthralled until the sun peeped over the horizon to provide light for our photos. Our cameras were ultra busy as vultures came in to land, wstarted squabbling or feeding, or were chased by hyenas. There seemed to be clashes everywhere, with growls, snarls, screeches adding dramatic sound effects  to the ongoing dramas.

We left the carcass to explore a little more. We passed a herd of elephants in an open area and grabbed some great shots before they moved off into some thickets.

Along the boundaries we hoped to spot leopard tracks, but although we actually did find tracks, there were no leopards in sight.

We returned to the Lodge for breakfast, passing plenty of Plains animals along the way …

Hyenas Try to Climb a Tree …

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Brendon’s Report from Elephant Plains on the Tusk Sabi Sand Photo Safari:

The morning dawned dull and drizzly … not the most ideal weather for most photography. But undeterred, we set out and headed straight to the female leopard with her kill in the tree. We sat there for some time and actually collected some pretty good photos – especially when the leopard jumped out of the tree.

Hyenas were still gathered under the tree, trying repeatedly to reach up to the kill that was way out of their reach. You could just see them wishing that they could climb and when the leopard climbed back into the tree they vainly redoubled their attempts in an effort to emulate her.

The leopard then gave us exactly what everyone hoped for – she descended from the tree to enjoy a leisurely drink at the nearby waterhole. Our spotlights works really well in that dim overcast light.

When we left the leopard we soon bumped into a lone bull elephant. Although young he is very large looked healthy. He was relaxed and carried on eating peacefully as we snapped away.

A call alerted us that another female leopard could be seen. It was the mother of the two cubs but the little ones were stashed somewhere out of sight. On the way to the leopard we stopped very briefly to photograph two Rhinos.

When we reached the Leopard she was sprawled on a termite mound – but not for long. Not having eaten for a few days she was looking lean and hungry, and sure enough, it wasn’t long before she was up and searching for something to hunt. She climbed a few trees and looked around in all directions to check for a meal. We had a while to add to our collection of leopard images before it was time to return to the Lodge.

We left the Lodge for the afternoon game drive in an optimistic mood. The weather worsened by the minute, and although we returned to the leopard in the tree we moved on as we felt that our morning sighting had been far better.

Instead we moved on to the large male leopard when we heard that he was around. We remained with him for the remainder of the afternoon because was he ever on a mission! A young male leopard was spotted in this males’ territory earlier and every scrap of dominance emerged, making the ‘boss’ of his territory very indignant. He could smell the scent of the young interloper and he followed this from bush to bush, up and down termite mounds and fallen branches. He checked every inch of his territory, ensuring that the trespasser was nowhere in his area. We collected great images of the handsome cat, and enjoyed patrolling his territory with him.

So in spite of the weather we had yet another eventful, stunning day here at Elephant Plains. More in the morning …

Sabi Sand Photo Safari: Salayexe with a Kill Visited by Hyenas …

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Hendri Reports from the Sabi Sand Photo Safari at Elephant Plains: Salayexe with a Kill Visited by Hyenas …

How wonderful it is to be back here at Elephant Plains in the Sabi Sand reserve. After checking in, a delicious meal, and a quick briefing we were more than ready to get going. There is always that sense of anticipation about the bush. Nature is always so very unpredictable and the forthcoming days could deliver … well, what? So it was with hope and anticipation, and cameras at the ready we set out for our first game drive on this safari –

We followed tracks belonging to Anderson, that huge dominant male leopard, but no, there was no sign of the actual animal. Then two more sets of leopard tracks taunted us and we followed each set until they also disappeared into long grass.

Just then, to our delight we found Salayexe, that indomitable female leopard that has become a familiar sight over the years. She had a kill that she dragged up into tree where it was barely visible. She flopped down to lie under a nearby Marula tree. We remained with her, taking dozens of photographs – until it was dark, when we took out our spotlights to capture more images of her, this time in the eerie dark of the night.

Hyenas arrived, and we thought OK, now for a confrontation! But Salayexe is a wise old lady and she retreated to a tree from where she gazed down at the frustrated hyenas below. It was a leafy tree, and wasn’t the best for photography, but we managed some decent stuff nonetheless.

In addition, we saw herds of elephants, and a very stately Kudu Bull that stood on a termite mound, looking around at his surroundings, and looking oh, so handsome.

We also saw the biggest Monitor Lizard that I have ever seen. We looked, blinked, looked again – surely that was a crocodile? But no! It was a gigantic Monitor Lizard! Wow!

Now we are back at the Lodge, enjoying our predinner drinks and thinking that we really should check on more leopard tracks again in the morning …


Elephant Plains Safari: Furious Warthog Mom Against a Leopard …

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Ben’s Daily Update from Elephant Plains


(Images from the back of Ben’s Brendon’s Cameras)

This has been a trip with so many leopard sightings – so far, in the three days we have been here, we have had thirteen separate sightings! It has been incredible! That is in just the seven game drives we have experienced until now.

And yes, we had another fabulous day today.

This morning was overcast and very dull as we headed straight to where we left Salayexe with her kudu kill last night. She was way up in a tree so, because of the dull circumstances, we exposed correctly for the grey background and then used flash for the foreground. We waited for Salayexe to descend from her lofty perch … and finally, after some time, she obliged, allowing cameras to capture the action.

Meanwhile, our second vehicle went in search of lions and found them lying very flat and disinclined to move. While searching for the lions we discovered two different couples of White Rhinos.

We spotted another leopard, but she was quite shy, and quite quickly disappeared into the undergrowth. But then we heard of yet another leopard and we quickly drove over to find her in a tree in an open area. We photographed her for about thirty minutes before she came down from the tree and started to hunt.

She spotted some warthogs and started to stalk them. We followed far enough behind to not have any impact on her endeavours, but close enough to see all the action. We kept very quiet and we crept ahead, hardly daring to breathe, and with excitement mounting with each passing moment.

Closer, closer, closer … and suddenly she sprang forward and grabbed one of the warthog youngsters as they entered a gully. The mother warthog turned with fury and within a split second the little one was freed from the leopard’s jaws and the little family fled into the distance. The leopard settled down to groom herself before she settled down.

Back at the Lodge we enjoyed a very hearty brunch, followed by Photographic and Lightroom lectures.

This afternoon we planned to visit Salayexe at sunset, and to search for other animals until then. We photographed a number of birds, including a Black-chested Snake Eagle, Rollers, and then three Dagga Boys (buffaloes) looking very comical as they squished up together in one tiny waterhole … more a puddle than a waterhole, actually. Their huge bulks packed tightly into that minute drop of water looked quite ludicrous, like too many guys in a tub at a bachelor’s party.

We went to Salayexe and found her sleeping on a branch opposite the kill.

7 Leopard EP Brendon March 2017 2

We positioned our vehicle to photograph her descent down that branch plus the ascent up the branch to the kill. Some captures silhouette shots as she descended and then quickly popped our flashes on to capture the ascent. There was a deep lilac colour to the sky this evening, which looked quite spectacular behind the leopard.

7 Leopard EP Brendon March 2017 1

She fed for about twenty minutes while we used a variety of techniques to capture different types of images. Just as we were about to leave to return to the Lodge, Salayexe came down from the tree. We photographed her as she settled on a low branch and groomed while looking down at the hyenas below as they milled around, gazing up hopefully and clearly just waiting for scraps or the whole carcass to fall to the ground for them.

7 Leopard EP Ben March 2017 2-1

Finally we could not remain out any longer and had to return to the Lodge for dinner, vowing to return to Salayexe in the morning to catch up with her and the hyenas …


Elephant Plains Safari: Salayexe and a Hyena – with One Kill …

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Brendon’s Daily Update from Elephant Plains

(Images from the back of Brendon’s Camera)

During the night we heard repeated lion calls not far from the Lodge and with this in mind we jumped onto our vehicles before the first shards of day changed the inky sky to grey. We headed out to find the lions but then we spotted some large and quite fresh leopard tracks, so we deviated to follow these.

We didn’t find the leopard, most likely because we deviated again – this time to follow fresh Wild Dog tracks. The tracks even covered our vehicle tracks from where we looped a short time before, so we knew that the dogs could not be far away. After about ten minutes we found a pack of fifteen dogs, running around and clearly hunting.

We stuck with the dogs, and sure enough, it didn’t take long before they all dashed off into a thicket where they killed a young kudu cow.

We arrived to find them eating noisily, scrapping over bits of meet, arguing with one another and yipping and cackling excitedly all the time. The photography wasn’t the best and quite difficult in the dense undergrowth, but the sights and sounds were quite overwhelming.

We left the dogs to return to the leopard tracks. This time we had more luck and found Salayexe, the photogenic leopard mother that lives in the area. She also had a kill – also a young kudu. It was still on the ground, so the kill must have taken place moments before we arrived. But then a hyena arrived and stole the kill from the hapless leopard! After this she climbed a nearby tree, and waited there while we photographed her.

Then she came down from the tree. She had decided that enough was enough, and the sight of the hyena devouring her well earned meal spurred her to try and get it back from the bush pirate. Seeing her approach, the hyena moved away with the kill, but we were unable to follow and see the outcome of the encounter.

This afternoon we returned to Salayexe and found her in the same place as this morning. She had retrieved her kill, and had dragged it way up into the high branches of a tree. She slept peacefully under the tree in some cool, long grass.

We continued, stopping now and again for elephants and herds of giraffe. We also saw a couple of White Rhinos.

But then we encountered Tiyane, Salayexe’s two year old cub. We spent time with her, photographing her through the long, colourful grass.

8 Leopard EP Brendon March 2017 3

And then goodness! We came across Anderson, the huge male leopard. He is one of the dominant males in the area. He was on a mission, marching through the grass, and we spent a lovely time with him as he went about his evening business.

8 Leopard EP Brendon March 2017 1

Finally we returned to Salayexe and spent the remainder of our time with her. The darkening blue sky again looked stupendous behind her, tinged as it was with the reds, oranges and yellows of the sunset. Our spotlight work was particularly lovely as Salayexe stood out so beautifully against that vibrant sky. She ate for a while, then moved her kill from one side of the tree to the opposite side.

8 Leopard EP Brendon March 2017 5

She out on a fabulous show for us. It was quite wonderful and we all thoroughly enjoyed every moment.

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We would like to start the morning back at Salayexe again …

Elephant Plains Safari: Leopards Pose for Us …

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News from Ben:

(Images from the back of Brendon’s and Ben’s Cameras)

The pre-dawn darkness found us all ready to clamber aboard the waiting game drive vehicles, ready for whatever sightings and opportunities the day would bring.

It turned out to be a clear, sunny day … perfect for viewing and photographing the plentiful game … and then later in the morning we came across two leopards. There was a female with a year-old cub. By then it was around 06:30 and really hot and the two cats were sprawled out on large branches of a large tree. We photographed them individually and together using 70-200 lenses rather than 400s. At times we also practised panoramas to capture both cats in the panoramic sweep.

9 Leopard Brendon EP March 2017 3

We returned to the Lodge for brunch followed by some Lightroom and Photographic tuition as well as recaps of the morning, techniques and so on.

This afternoon started off fairly quietly. We took the opportunity to focus on plains game and then a herd of elephants. The huge pachyderms spent their time swimming and playing in the water at Big Dam. Then a stately Nyala Bull arrived for a drink.

We saw lions, but they were lying flat in the heat of the day. The cubs were sleeping and the whole pride was relaxing in an open clearing. We captured a few images, but then heard that the two leopards from this morning were up a different tree, so we drove that way to catch up with them.

We arrived just as the sky turned to that evening indigo colour, and we made great use of that as a backdrop to the two leopards. They were in a thorn tree, with some rather thick vegetation around. The cub started off at the bottom of the tree, but then decided to climb up closer to mom, and to pose for us on an exposed branch.

9 Ben Leopard EP March 2017 1

When it reached mom the two has a grooming session in a fork of the tree. Then they posed beautifully for us with their heads close together as they gazed down at us. And of course the indigo sky completed the picture for us.

9 Leopards 2 Brendon EP March 2017 2

After some time the two descended from the tree and quickly disappeared into the darkness.

It was wonderful to see the two cats twice in a day in different trees, and capturing the two in one frame was just awesome!

Tomorrow we may try to catch up with them again …

Elephant Plains Safari: A Cracking Start to our Safari …

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Brendon Shares his Day:

(Images from Back of Brendon’s Camera)

It was really exciting to see everyone as they arrived in time for lunch for our first Elephant Plains Safari for 2017. After getting to know one another and then a quick briefing, and with expectation levels running high, we were more than ready to get started on our first game drive.

The bush looks wonderful and green – quite splendid, in fact, after all those rains. The lush, long grass does add some extra challenges for photography, but that is compensated for by the sheer beauty all around.

First of all, and almost immediately, we found a pack of fifteen Wild Dogs. They were lying around in the long grass, so not in a position for phenomenal photography, but as a first sighting – Wow!

Next we saw some very handsome kudu bulls, and plenty of general game like zebras and very aloof giraffes.

99 Kudu Brendon EP Mar 2017

Then we spotted some fairly fresh lion tracks and followed these until we received a call to inform us that Tiyane (Salayexe’s cub) had been spotted, so we hastened to that area. The beautiful young leopard was walking around in the open before she went to lie on a termite mound. The light at this stage was warm, and glowing with that late afternoon golden tinge to it.

99 Leopard Tiyane Brendon EP March 2017 2

This ensured that our photos were real treasures. We spent a superb time with the lovely young lady …

99 Leopard Tiyane Brendon EP March 2017

Eventually we left and returned to the lion tracks, and soon after we caught up with the tracks again we found a young lioness lying in the grass. Our cameras filled quickly as she lasy there in the gathering darkness. When it was dark enough we used the spotlights to capture some silhouette shots, back-lit shots and portraits of her in the dark. Then the lioness started to move around.

99 Lioness Brendon EP Mar 2017

And suddenly, who was this? Tiyane! Tiyane immediately saw the lioness, but the lioness was unaware of Tiyane’s presence. We held our breath, waiting to see what would happen next. But Tiyane took evasive action, and shot up a tree while the lioness walked along without breaking her stride or looking around at all.

We stopped to photograph Tiyane while she lurked up in the tree. She remained there until satisfied that the lioness was no longer anywhere nearby. Only then did she come down from the tree to slink silently and rapidly into the nearby thickets.

So after our action – packed afternoon, we are back at the Lodge, enjoying our pre-dinner drinks and ready for our dinner under the stars while we recap our day and gloat over our hoard of images that we have already collected.

Maybe we will start the morning with a search for Salayexe …



Elephant Plains Safari: Hyenas Chase Baby Waterbuck to Middle of Dam …

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Brendon’s Shares his Day on Safari:

(All images from back of Brendon’s Camera)

It rained throughout last night and this morning started all wet, soggy, overcast and drizzly. Unperturbed by the weather we headed out and went straight to where we left Salayexe and Tiyane with their kill last night.

We couldn’t find any sign of them initially, but after scratching around for a while we spotted Salayexe lying in the shelter of a bush. She got up and started to move around, whereupon Tiyane popped out and we photographed them together and singly. They went together to check on the remains of their kill, but foolishly for two leopards, they did not stash it in a tree overnight … and of course it was stolen by hyenas – probably in the early hours of this morning.


It wasn’t long before the two leopards abandoned the area and started to travel to a different spot. Well, Salayexe marched along while Tiyane tried her level best to keep up with her mom, but mom wanted nothing to do with her daughter, and at the first opportunity Salayexe dashed away, and the two ended up going in different directions.

We left the leopards to see what else we could find, and passed White Rhinos, Buffalos, Elephants and plenty of general game. From a birding perspective there is always plenty to photograph here – including adult and juvenile Martial Eagles.

We went to Big Dam to see what activity there was in and around the water. We arrived to find six or seven Spotted Hyenas playing vigorously in the water. They collected chunks of a Hippo carcass that they threw around in the water, running in and out of the dam, and swimming to retrieve bits and pieces that floated away.


We also spotted a baby Waterbuck that the Hyenas had chased into the centre of the dam. He stood or sat there, and didn’t move until the Hyenas tired of their strenuous game and moved away to find a spot to rest. Only then did the little one emerge from the water and escape to a safe spot.



This afternoon we again saw Buffalos and Rhinos. Oh, accompanying the Rhinos this afternoon we saw a tiny baby Rhino with its mother – a lovely sight to see.

Then a call came that Tingana had been found with an Impala kill up in a tree. We dashed there and saw the large dominant male leopard in a big, thick tree – so leafy that although it looked gorgeous, Tingana was difficult to see well. Nevertheless it was fabulous to just see him with his kill.

Then Tiyane was found again so we returned to her, and spent the remainder of our drive with her. She was hunting, trying to go after Impala, then resting on termite mounds before trying again.


In between she walked around and climbed branches and trees for a look around. Eventually she went to lie down – maybe waiting for darkness to aid her hunt later on.


Tomorrow morning it would be great to follow up on Salayexe for a final time before our safari ends …


Elephant Plains Safari: Injured Salayexe Manages to Hunt …

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Brendon’s Shares his Day on Safari:

(All images from back of Brendon’s Camera)

It was overcast but clear as our early morning started. We headed directly to where we had last seen Salayexe and Tiyane last night. We found Salayexe walking through the bush, constantly contact calling as she went, searching for Tiyane. Thank goodness, we could see that she had eaten, which is quite a relief.

We followed the injured leopard as she went through the bush, as always giving us plenty of opportunity for excellent photographs. She was still contact calling when she disappeared into some thick undergrowth.

We passed White Rhino and Buffalo again and then received a call that a large male Leopard had been spotted. This turned out to be Tingana first lying on a termite mound before he got up to start walking around before he went to lie down in an open spot.

During our break back at the Lodge we heard that Salayexe had met up with Tiyane and that they had an Impala Kill. We found the two this afternoon , and it was great to see that although she is still very sore, Salayexe is able to hunt, and is doing great.


When we arrived at the two leopards they were lying in a tree with the Impala remains below. They had consumed quite a bit of their kill. We photographed mom and daughter in the tree together. Then Tiyane came down to inspect the carcass and we collected a whole new set of images.


We left to give another vehicle a chance to see the leopards, and traveled around to photograph more Rhinos and Buffalos, plus plenty of other general game. We were still doing this when we received a call to say that three Wild Dogs had been spotted.

We rushed there and found the dogs running along at a pace. We took advantage of this to do some panning shots and then some motion blur sots. It is not so easy, but a great challenge – and very satisfying when you get it …



We returned to the Leopards to find both feeding, until Tiyane decided to pose for us, first on a fallen log with a dark blue evening sky behind her. Then the spotlights came out and we carried on photographing the two until it was time to return to the Lodge.


Hopefully the Leopards will still be visibe tomorrow so that we can continue to check on Salayexe’s progress …



Elephant Plains Safari: Salayexe Still very Tentative …

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Brendon’s Shares his Day on Safari:

(All images from back of Brendon’s Camera)

A sunny, warm morning greeted us when we headed out on our drive this morning. We were keen to find a Leopard again and followed promising tracks soon after leaving the Lodge. Our collective wish was granted when we picked up Salayexe’s tracks that led us to her within a few moments. She was still walking around gingerly and carefully, and quickly went to lie down when walking appeared to be too much for her. We photographed her until she moved to the safety of some really thick undergrowth where we could barely see her.

We moved on and almost immediately found another young female Leopard’s tracks. Thinking that it was probably Tiyane we followed these, stopping briefly for White Rhino, Buffalo Bulls, and Spotted Hyenas feeding on an old Buffalo carcass that they dragged around.


A Tortoise had us all on the ground for eye-level photography.



We carried on until we bumped into Tiyane. She was on a hunt and we followed as she searhed for suitable prey. She went in and out of river beds, stood on logs or termite mounds for a good look around, and gave us ample time to collect some really good shots.She stopped to listen intently from time to time, and followed up on each promising sound – until she disappeared into a thicket.


Heavy weather blew up during the early afternoon and by the time we went out it started to rain. We remained out, enjoying the bush in the soft drizzle.

Hearing monkeys give an alarm call as we left the Lodge we followed the sound – that led us straight to Salayexe again. The rainy weather gave us some different photos, ad we capitalised on the opportunity.

We left her again when she went into a thicket and drove around again. We saw Buffalo, White Rhinos, Elephants – and then found Tiyane again.This time she had found a herd of Impala and was hunting them. We were so very hopeful that we would witness a successful hunt, but no luck, and she also went into a rather dense thicket.


By now the rain started to pelt down, so, having had a very successful day we decided to return to the Lodge a few minutes earlier than usual to dry off and warm up.


We would like to check on Salayexe again in the morning, hoping that she heals enough to hunt and to care for herself again …