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Sabi Sand Photo Safari

Heat Does Not Deter Big Game Action in the Sabi Sand Reserve …

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Dawie Reports from a hot day at Elephant Plains Photo Safari:

A fairly slow start in the heat of the morning did not foretell the way the day would turn out for us. We followed tracks of the male leopard from the evening before that led further and further northward. Then we found him! He moved through thickets, making photography quite a challenge. But when he decided to rest next to a ravine, our cameras were able to capture as many uninterrupted images as we wished. Superb image followed fabulous photo! He called constantly until the sun warmed the area and that was his signal to settle down and sleep for the day.

We found tracks of another male leopard – and he was only about 200 meters away. Indications were that the two had met and had a bit of a scuffle earlier. This male was also asleep, but as he showed no signs of movement other than an occasional look around, we decided to search further for whatever would appear out of the bush.

Later we found a pack of wild dogs. Adults and pups were feeling the heat and also lay very flat. Not surprising as the temperature peaked at 42*C.

But when we found some male Nyalas displaying and sparring, we stopped for some great photography.

Our afternoon drive started slowly again in the heat. We found a herd of elephants trying to cool down as they spread lovely cool mud all over their bodies. We couldn’t help thinking that it looked very inviting. Some young males put on a lovely show close to the vehicle as they showed off and sparred.

It was not surprising that when we found buffalo a short while later they were also intent on wallowing, to get as much of their bulk as possible covered in mud.

We continued to search for the male leopard and then received a call. He had been located inside one of the lodges, but when he decided to leave the Lodge grounds we caught up with him. He disappeared again, but we tracked him closely and caught up yet again. This time he treated us to some superb walk-bys, giving us a number of those iconic face-on images.

We returned to the Lodge, surprised and gratified that we had accomplished so much and seen so much in spite of the soaring temperatures!

Hoping that tomorrow will be a little cooler …

A Welcome and Exciting Return to the Sabi Sand Reserve …

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Dawie Shares Three Separate Leopard Sightings at Elephant Plains:

 

After a long break we have the greatest pleasure to be back – yes, this time we are at Elephant Plains! The break was long, but now that we are here, it feels as though we were never away.

 

We scrambled onto our vehicle for our first game drive. Filled with expectation we set out, and soon found fresh tracks that had been left by a male leopard. We managed to find him just as he neared a water hole. He first paced around a little and crossed the dam wall.

He scent marked as he made his way along, then made our day when stopped for a drink. With the dam so close by one might expect him to take a few steps and drink from that large expanse of water. But no, he preferred to lap from a small puddle.

Then he moved into a thicket, and just as he disappeared, a hyena arrived to check what was going on. As he found nothing exciting to attract him, he quickly lost interest and left again to scavenge elsewhere.

 

We continued and although we saw a herd of elephants, we didn’t stop because they were quite obscured by trees and foliage. Plains game could be seen everywhere, including impalas and some really magnificent kudu.

 

When we received a report about a female leopard we headed in that direction to see what she was doing. We found her posing beautifully on a termite mound, and as the sun started to creep towards the horizon we positioned ourselves to capture that magnificent sky as a backdrop. We managed some really excellent close ups and portrait shots as she sat there, surveying the area. And when the light waned, our flashes and then spotlights gave us even more memorable shots.

As darkness overtook the area, it was time for the leopard to go about her evening business, and she stood up, looked around intently, and then she spotted a Scrub Hare that looked like a promising dinner. She hunted it for a short while, but gave up when her prey eluded her again and again. She disappeared into thick bush, and we turned towards the Lodge.

 

On the way back we found another male leopard. As he was asleep and showed no signs of waking soon, we decided to return to the Lodge for welcome pre-dinner drinks and a wonderful meal under the stars …

 

An Unbelievable Tug-of-War, Followed by More Unbelievable Scenes AM and PM! …

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Wim Shares His Day from Elephant Plains on the Sabi Sand Photo Safari:

When we started our morning game drive we went straight to where we had left the three leopards with the impala kill – but Hukumuri, Xidulu and the cub had relocated elsewhere. We decided to try and find them, and set out on a search along the fence line and yes! Our instincts and our tracker’s sharp observations meant that it didn’t take long before we found one of the three cats. Hukumuri sat placidly on top of a termite mound.

The magnificent male leopard sat on the mound looking down, but showed no sign of action. Wondering what captured his attention we positioned ourselves to watch – and we were perfectly in place, cameras ready, when a warthog family bolted out of their burrow in the termite mound. One movement brought Hukumuri up and at one of the Warthogs. A huge fight erupted, but the leopard would not release his firm grip on his prey’s neck. And the noise! The drama alerted a nearby hyena, and then the scene exploded with added drama.

The hyena grabbed the rear end of the warthog, and we watched in amazement as a tug-of-war developed between the two powerful predators. We almost forgot to capture the moment on camera. Hukumuri managed to get the warthog onto the ground, while the hyena started to eat the still writhing kill. Then Hukumuri started to feed as well, and we were stunned as leopard and hyena, heads alongside one another, fed together! Unbelievable! The two, like best friends, sharing a meal?!

At one point the hyena grabbed a chunk of the carcass and Hukumuri took that moment to grab the kill and drag it to a tree. He jumped into the tree – and fell crashing to the ground. He tried again, and crashed again. The carcass was just too heavy. The leopard checked the hyena and seeing that his opponent/friend was occupied with his chunk of the kill, Hukumuri decided to select a more suitable, sturdier tree. After dragging the carcass to the tree he looked at it, probably pondering his chances, but decided not to hoist the warthog up into the branches. Instead he settled at the base of the tree with his kill. We waited to see if he would actually take it up at some stage but by the time we had to leave he was still on the ground.

A cold front moved in during the day, and it was lovely and cool when we set out for our afternoon game drive. We found Tiyane, the female leopard, close to the Lodge. She joined up with her cub, and the two walked over to a waterhole where they drank together. Such special photos of the two drinking together! Then they played as they returned to their resting place. They crept, pounced, groomed, rolled, groomed more, and continued.

Then Tiyane and her cub spotted something and cornered it! Wow! What an incredible day this was turning out to be … It was a civet! The leopards started to fight the civet, and we could not see how it happened, but somehow the civet escaped. The leopards started to walk through the bush again – and then stopped. What was hiding there? The civet again! The confrontation started again, but it appeared that Tiyane viewed this as a game, and the civet escaped again.

The two leopards moved on, posed for us a few times, and then disappeared into thick bush.

Just then we heard of a pride of lions nearby … six females and eight Cubs. We reached them about 30 minutes before sunset and spent a delightful time watching the cubs as they played. They tumbled, suckled, tried to growl, caught anything that fluttered or moved, and just gave us a heart-warming time.

Before we returned to the Lodge we decided to check in Hukumuri. His kill was finally up in the tree, and we were able to photograph him feeding and then he sprawled on a branch, looking every bit the proud predator that he is. He looked so regal!

So after that incredible day with amazing interactions between different species, whew! What can we look forward to in the morning …

Three leopards together …

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Wim Shares His Day from Elephant Plains on the Sabi Sand Photo Safari:

 

The heatwave decided to hang around a bit longer – and as always it is a mixed blessing. Temperatures with very little wind meant that plenty of fluid was needed for anything living, making sightings near and around waterholes a certainly.

We looked around in the morning, and photographed general game like impala, giraffe, zebra and of course we saw plenty of elephants.

After a while we found three leopards – Xidulu, a leopard mother with her cub, accompanied by Hukumuri, that huge, handsome, powerful male. We could see a kill in a tree that probably belonged to Xidulu and cub, and all three leopards lay within a twenty meter radius under the tree. It was great to see all three together, and the magnificent male gave us plenty of photo opportunities when he moved around quite restlessly.

Because it was rather hot we returned to the camp for refreshments and aircons.

Our afternoon game drive started with a visit to various waterholes. We knew that elephants and buffalo would take full advantage of any water and mud, and of course each waterhole had either elephants splashing and drinking, or mud-covered buffalo lying there and turning occasionally when the mud dried, to immerse themselves in cool wet mud again.

We returned to the three leopards just before sunset. Hukumuri was high up in the branches of the Marula Tree with the kill. He just lounged there on a branch, with a violet and pinkish-orange sky behind him. What a picture! The sunset was quite stupendous, and we remained with the handsome leopard until dark. At one stage he kept our cameras very busy when he made a show of coming down from the tree. He also moved the kill around from time to time. He picked up the whole impala carcass each time, stood there and looked around for a more suitable position where he could stash it securely.

Our vehicles then elected to go in different directions. One vehicle came across a large pride of lions and shortly after, they completed the Big Five tally for one game drive when they spotted some Rhinos.

The second vehicle visited the Elephant Plains open area where Tiyane lay on a termite mound, relaxed and enjoying the evening before she started her busy nighttime patrol, perimeter checks, and maybe even a hunt – all the leopard nocturnal tasks.

 

Tomorrow we would like to catch up with the three leopards again …

A Rough Night For Impala …

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Wim Shares His Day from Elephant Plains on the Sabi Sand Photo Safari:

The open clear skies and hot weather is back! And added to that there is no wind. But the up side is that we see plenty of animals especially as they arrive thirstily at the waterholes.

So when we left the Lodge in the early morning darkness we went straight to a nearby waterhole. There were elephants all around the open area, the waterhole, and surrounding the camp.

During the night hyenas had caught an impala, but unusually did not finish feeding on the carcass, so they must have had something else to eat, maybe a second impala, as they looked quite full, and when we arrived we found the clan resting around their kill, but there was no attempt to eat anything.

While watching the hyenas we heard about  lions fairly close by. We made our way to the lions and found them – also with an impala kill. (Impala had a rough night!). The lions fed on the carcass when suddenly one of the lionesses was off! We followed her and realised that she was hunting again. She climbed a termite mound to get a good view, spotted a herd of impala and started to stalk them.

But either she was not all that hungry, or maybe it was just too hot to go hunting, because she gave up and slumped in a shady, bushy area under a tree where she fell asleep.

Hearing that a female leopard had been sighted at Marula Bult which was very close to us we went there. The beautiful leopard was in a Marula Tree, in clear view, and we captured dozens of those iconic leopard in a tree photos.

The leopard also had a kill. In fact, she had caught the first prey earlier, went to fetch her cub to join her, and on the way she made another kill! (So – a Really Bad night for Impala!) The heat somehow makes hunting easier for those that brave the temperature. She was very content with two kills. She posed for us and gave us plenty of time for different photographic techniques.

Eventually the leopard jumped out of the tree and we returned to the Lodge to say farewell to the departing guests and to welcome the new arrivals. As one can imagine the newcomers were very keen to catch up with all the amazing action, and to start their own unforgettable experiences.

We returned to the female leopard but she had moved to a nearby dam where we located her with one of her kills and accompanied by her cub. The two cats were very, very hot and very inactive.

We went past the lions, but as they were also not moving we started to move away.

Just then one of the lionesses got up and strolled down to the dam for a really needed long drink. She looked beautiful in the evening light, with a colourful sky as a backdrop when she stopped to look around on the dam wall.

So after a very successful safari for the first group of guests, and a first game drive with plenty to see and photograph, we are back at the Lodge, enjoying our own drinks, and hoping for some overcast weather to roll in …

Update on Moyà, the Injured Female Leopard …

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Wim Shares His Day from Elephant Plains on the Sabi Sand Photo Safari:

It was still cloudy when we set out – and the overcast skies plus a light drizzle from time to time helped to cool the world substantially.

We followed some leopard tracks close to camp when we received a very welcome call. Moyà had been spotted. This is the leopard that had that horrendous injury three weeks ago, and we were pleased to hear that she was still around, and even more delighted to find her looking healthy and with that massive gash on her side healed and clearly not bothering her at all. She moved with ease, and rested next to the road.

When Moyà heard a lion roaring she got up and started to move in the direction of the sound. We followed her across an open plain, through a drainage line, and when we pulled ahead she sauntered past us without sparing us a glance.

But when she spotted a herd of impala she climbed onto a termite mound from where she scrutinised them carefully. Then she started to stalk the buck, but gave up after a while to return to her vantage point on a termite mound. Wow! Time passed so quickly. It felt like moments when we realised that we had spent the entire morning with the busy cat, collecting hundreds of superb images as she went about her business.

During our midday break classroom sessions occupied our time as we covered photographic techniques and some Lightroom editing.

Our afternoon drive started with elephants close to the camp. A huge bull elephant put on quite a show for us, and when he strolled past our vehicle, relaxed and on his way to another succulent tree, some of the Tusk guests had an experience they had not thought possible. We frequently see breeding herds, female elephants and calves of different ages, but this huge male was something different.

Next we found Tiyane, another female leopard frequently seen in this area. She was under a huge tree next to the camp. Then we spotted her cub up in the tree, feeding on a kill. The cub gave us a special treat when she picked up the remains and jumped from one branch to another. Beautiful! We were able to photograph her in midair as she made the leap, kill gripped firmly in her already powerful jaws.

The two leopards went off somewhere together. They stopped for a while on a termite mound before they ventured into a thick, impenetrable area where it was quite impossible to follow. But we had some fabulous shots of the two safely in our cameras.

Before we returned to the Lodge we did a quick loop, and came across a civet and unbelievably we saw a genet soon after.

So after another busy day with different cats, we cannot help wondering how tomorrow could possibly be as fabulous from all points of view …

 

Up Close and Personal with One of Africa’s Most Dangerous Snakes …

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Wim Shares His Day from Elephant Plains on the Sabi Sand Photo Safari:

Whew! The day dawned overcast and a little cooler than the sweltering heat we had experienced.

We found Tiyane and her cub soon after we left the Lodge. They were about 100 meters from the camp, and as we arrived the two leopards appeared, on their way for an early drink at the waterhole. After their drink the two started a rough and tumble game with plenty of rolling small chases and rubs. It appeared that Tiyane had fetched the cub to take it to a kill because they set off clearly heading for a particular spot. We followed the two cats across open and bushy areas as they played. The cub particularly enjoyed lurking in grass or behind a bush, followed by a run and a leap onto mom. The interaction between the two was really wonderful to watch and we were a little disappointed when they disappeared into thick bush. But no complaints! We had spent a magical time with them.

As we moved away we heard birds alarm calling very close by. It was a Black Mamba! The rangers quickly found this dangerous snake, and we approached to see the reptile. We stopped to photograph the Mamba and just then birds started alarm calling again. This time they were only about fifty meters from us, and we immediately went to investigate. Darren, our ranger, said that it was probably another snake. The birds were creating quite a fuss, and Darren was correct. A massive three meter long Black Mamba caused quite a stir. Darren, being an expert in this species of snake, grabbed it so that he could demonstrate and give us some interesting educational facts.

Other lodges sent their guests to come and see the elusive, dangerous, and very fast reptile. Getting that close with a positive interaction was very valuable and is a memory we will have for ages.

The afternoon was also much cooler, and we drove around to photograph plenty of general game until we found another leopard with her kill. She was in a thicket, but soon both she and the cub emerged to sprawl on a termite mound.

As it was quite late and time for us to return to the Lodge we didn’t wait for long – and pre-dinner drinks and a wonderful meal in the boma under the stars awaited us.

The final game drive for this group of safari guests awaits us in the morning while the incoming group should arrive by lunchtime …

 

Brilliant Sightings in Blistering Heat …

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Wim Shares His Day from Elephant Plains on the Sabi Sand Photo Safari:

Whew! What a hot day! No rain, just baking, sweltering heat … clear blue skies with temps reaching mid 40s.

Unsurprisingly our morning started fairly quietly – the animals all hid under cover to escape the heat of the sun. But when they visited the waterholes we could photograph them as they rushed to reach the waters edge and also the lovely reflections in the water as they drank thirstily. There were elephants, impala, kudu, and a stream of others.

We checked around for leopard tracks and when we received a call about a female leopard we made our way there to find her. The cat was feeling the extreme heat as she sheltered under a leafy bush in a dried riverbed. Not the best position for winning photography but everyone was pleased to see her and at least everyone came away with some reasonable shots.

We returned to the Lodge for a session on flash photography.

The afternoon was even hotter as we set out and when we saw the elephants swimming, splashing, mud-bathing in the waterhole next to the Lodge the activity looked really inviting. We could almost picture ourselves in there with the herd, splashing and cooling down! Our low angle photography of the herd turned out exceptionally well.

When a herd of buffalo arrived we tried to approach them to use the same low angle photographic techniques, but they were feeling hot and a maybe a little irritable – they were skittish and simply did not want us to venture too close.

Just then we received a call about a leopard cub. It was the cub of the leopard we saw in the morning. The cub was on a large termite mound close to where we saw the mother in the morning. The little one was a little anxious so we gave her time to settle down. She moved around the mound, first on one side, then the other, as she tried to get comfortable.

The sun was low in the sky when we received another call. Two lionesses had been spotted not far from our current position. Knowing that they would take advantage of the slightly lower temperature to head to a waterhole for a drink, we made our way to a good position for viewing and photography. Sure enough, the two lionesses visited a small dam together for an evening drink.

We were still with the lionesses when we were notified about a male leopard. When we found Hukumuri he obligingly walked past our vehicle as he patrolled and scent-marked. We were able to pull ahead for walk-by photos, and he actually walked right next to us six or seven times.

When we all had superb images safely in our cameras we let him be and returned to the Lodge where we shared amazing stories, gloated over our sightings and our full memory cards all through pre-dinner drinks and then as we enjoyed our dinner as well.

Hoping for rain that may bring slightly cooler conditions in the morning – we can hope …

Celebrations in the Bush …

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Wim Shares His Day from Elephant Plains on the Sabi Sand Photo Safari:

(Photos: Representative of Sightings)

We had an exciting start to our Sabi Sand Safari – and it did not involve a game drive. The Tusk guests were all gathered on arrival at the Lodge to watch the epic Springbok vs England World Cup Rugby game. The jubilation when South Africa triumphed set a jubilant mood for our first afternoon venture into the bush and even the devastated guests from England could not suppress some celebratory feelings.

After lunch and a briefing we set out and within moments we found Tiyane’s eleven month old cub watching us from the lofty branches of a Jackalberry Tree.

The young leopard was draped over a branch of the tree, looking very relaxed.

When we left the cub it we didn’t go far before we came across a pride of eighteen lions. They were  were sprawled out over a largish area, and we photographed many smaller groups. We remained with them all for a long time as the sun approached the horizon and the golden light and the deep blue sky created perfect photography conditions for us. We concentrated on a few lionesses and their cubs placed as though posed specially for us on a big termite mound. In the foreground the small cubs gazed at us, played, tumbled over the lionesses and stopped regularly to suckle before they continued their cute antics. The whole scene was overlooked by two enormous male lions that alternately dozed and gazed around.

As the sun started to set the lions started to move. Less than two hundred meters further down the road we encountered a herd a elephants. They were not that visible in the dusky light, but what was exciting was their interest in our vehicles. They came right up to us, had a good look, and sniffed curiously at us. We sat about a meter away from them, quietly enjoying the encounter.

On the way back to the Lodge one of the guests from the USA expressed his delight with seeing Leopard, Lion, and Elephants on his first safari drive – a wonderful birthday surprise, and hopefully more awaits tomorrow ….

Hunting Wild Dogs, Hunting Leopard …

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Wim Reports from Elephant Plains on the Sabi Sand Photo Safari:

(Photo: Representative only – see videos below …)

Our early morning started close to the Lodge with a search for the local leopard and her cub. We found tracks but before we could really get into following them we received a report about Wild Dogs that had been located nearby.

3 Wim EP Movie 9fac-c9ad4eff2af7

We immediately went to the area and found the dogs with ease. It was very early morning and the pack was hunting. It was exhilarating to follow the dogs as they searched for prey and then chased several different animals. Each time the pursued animals managed to elude the hunters. The four adult dogs with two subadults and a young seven month old pup were determined to get a meal.

A pattern soon emerged. The dogs would chase their chosen prey, and when they missed, they would lie down for a short rest to get their full strength back before they started a search for the next animal to hunt. It was really exciting to watch.

We made way for another vehicle to spend some time with the dogs, and had not gone far before we came across another leopard. We followed this female as she walked along from an area called Marula Bult. Then she glanced into a drainage line where she saw some Scrub Hares and a duiker. She had quite a choice on her menu and we settled down to watch which she would choose to hunt. She stalked the animals and missed them all.

We returned to the Lodge to watch the victorious Springbok Rugby Team, followed by Lightroom and photographic tuition sessions.

As soon as we could set out in the afternoon we returned to the dogs. Their noon siesta was over and they prepared to start their afternoon hunt. We followed them as they searched for and singled out animals, but again they had no success. We followed them until they ran off into a neighbouring territory.

Our second vehicle found the leopard with her cub not far from the Lodge. The leopards had a kill in a tree, but as night approached fast it was time to return to the Lodge again, tired, pleased with another exceptional day and ready for tomorrow …