Nothing feels like coming back to the bush after a couple of weeks off. The first game drive is always filled with a mixture of excitement and anticipation. I am in the enviable position of watching a lot of these animals go about their daily lives and time off is like missing your favourite soap opera for 2 weeks – you wonder how the main players are fairing in the never ending game of life. The start of this cycle has been no different. With some trepidation I jumped on to my land rover in the company of MJ and Marge from the USA and Rodney and Jenny from SA. Both groups were regular safari goers and shared my excitement as we ventured out into the bush to catch up on the storyline. A huge thank you to all 4 of them for being so enthusiastic, great company and for making my job easy!
Some things never change – rhinos (white ones at least) are so numerous in our little corner of paradise that it is not unusual to see in excess of 10 of these endangered prehistoric remnants. Many rhino sightings greeted us, including a plethora of calves, always entertaining in their shenanigans! Our rather over populated male contingent is still actively searching for mates and I was lucky enough to capture this one after a mud bath, including a fork tailed drongo flying alongside him ready to snap up any insects flushed from his path.
|Male rhino shining after his mud bath along with his fork tailed drongo companion|
Elephants have long since been my favourite animal to watch in the bush. Their expressions are so emotive that it is easy to understand why they have been classified as more intelligent than dolphins. At present we are being graced with multiple herds meandering through Sabi Sabi’s reserve and 3 or 4 sightings in a drive is not unusual. One such herd was busy feeding close to the road when a curious youngster boldly walked over to a few metres from the car to investigate us. His periscopic trunk actively searched the air for more clues as to our intentions but he soon settled down to feed on the round leaf teak next to us.
|Young male elephant sniffs us intently, safe is the knowledge that back up is waiting behind him should he bite off more than he can chew!|
The main characters in our 24 hour soapy are always the cats. Our female and cub (although at 16 months he is almost as big as his mother) look like they have permanently returned to Sabi Sabi and we have had many sightings of them the past few days. We were lucky enough to see them on a grey duiker kill one night. Although the visual was poor, the adventure in trying to weave through the thicket of protected tamboti trees made the whole scene worthwhile. The following night we picked them up leaving the now finished kill and I got a chance to put our new lens to the test with some spotlight photography. Somehow they are always much more impressive to me bathed in the spotlight like a movie star. It allows the eye to concentrate solely on them and really appreciate the natural beauty and grace that they ooze from every rosette!
|Young Nottens (as she is known) sets out on another hunt|
|Young Nottens (foreground) and her 16m old cub share the spotlight as they leave the site of their last kill|
|A face in the darkness....|
|The cub (Selati Male) watches his mothe leave as he is once again left to his own devices before the next meal is served|
The highlight of tour encounters of them was undoubtedly the events that unfolded on our last morning. We managed to locate the young male sleeping on top of a termite mound enjoying the first warm rays of the sun. Soon after we arrived, a rhino and her 3 month old calf entered the stage. At 16 months, he is still being provided for by his mother but it is imperative that he develops the skills necessary for him to fend for himself. This is achieved in one way: practice, practice, practice! A 150kg rhino baby may seem a little excessive to some but not to our budding young hunter! We watched mesmorised as he slinked off the termite mound, hugging the grass, stalking closer and closer to his thick skinned adversary. At about 5 metres he lay flat in the grass to wait for the perfect moment to strike. The calf must have smelt him and tentatively moved forward to investigate. At a distance of only a few centimeters, the leopard leapt up from his hiding place, swatted the calf across the nose and disappeared in a flash of gold and black. The calf shrieked in panic and the mother rushed to his rescue, but the tiny tormentor had long since sought cover and watched as the mother huffed and puffed trying to find the source of her calf’s cries. After a lot of posturing, they both bade a hasty exit, thankfully not taking out their frustrations on us as they crashed past us a few metres away! The leopard, unperturbed by the mammoth task ahead of him, merely watched from the safety of the bushes before continuing his challenge. It all happened too fast to get off any shots but I know Marge got some great video footage that I hope will be able to make a guest appearance in a future entry! The young leopard clearly has some skills already but must work on his prey choice in the future…
We also had multiple lion sightings and I am happy to report that all 10 cubs are alive and well (albeit somewhat illusive to find at times!) The best sighting came about one morning as we left the lodge. Phios, my tracker, adeptly spotted some fresh tracks on the road and we set about tracking their progress. After establishing that no spoor lead away from the block they entered, we ventured in on foot and promptly found a mature male, a juvenile male and young female lying in the grass. Thankfully the vegetation was on our side for once and we spotted them from a good distance away and thus avoided any early morning pant changing! We stayed with them until the sun rose sufficiently to illuminate their muscular bodies and were rewarded with some perfect light.
|Young female lioness from the Ifield pride stretches her legs in the morning sun under the watchful gaze of the dominant male|
|Perfect light allowed me to pick up the life in those eyes!|
The same group was spotted that evening and I was again able to get some great shots with the aid of the spot light as they started moving out on another evening’s hunt.
|The dominant male from the Ifield pride following the rest of the pride as they set out on another hunting expedition|
|The young Ifield male focused on the evening's tasks ahead|
Other highlights of the return to work included a rare sighting of both porcupine and civet. Oh, and I forgot to mention that winter is most definitely here!!!! Morning drives are accompanied by 3 layers of clothing, wooly hats, gloves, hot water bottles and blankets. Not to mention weeping eyes and seeing your breath in front of your face! It’s seriously cold but such a beautiful time – the cool, crisp air seems to really bring the mornings to life. However, once the sun comes up it’s a different story and I managed to get sun burned one morning….will my English skin ever learn!?! All in all, it’s GREAT to be back but let’s not forget the biggest news – I get married in 25 days to the love of my life! What did I do to deserve such an amazing life?!?