This is the first installment of safari updates from the Sabi Sands of South Africa. I am on a 3-day pre safari with two of my customers, and at the end of this pre safari I will begin two back-to-back safaris, each with 11 travelers. My goals for writing these daily safari updates are:
- To explain what we are seeing and photographing each day
- To explain some of the camera equipment used and any thoughts around them
- To show a day-in-the-life on one of my African photographic safaris
- To create a diary for my travelers, so they won’t have to keep up with what we saw each day
So, here goes!
This morning we left the D’Oreale Grand Hotel in Johannesburg, and were picked up by my good friend Gordie, who runs a hospitality transfer business. Gordie took us to the hanger where our flight would take us to the Sabi Sands. We checked in, if you can call it that, and boarded our Pilatus PC-12 aircraft. 50 minutes later we landed at the Mala Mala airstrip, and my good friend and head ranger Matt grabbed us and took us to our camp for the next 3 nights. Every time I visit Mala Mala I make sure that Matt is my main guide, and this trip is no exception. We grabbed a nice lunch on the deck, got settled into our rooms and then took off for our afternoon game drive.
The weather this afternoon was almost perfect at around 75F. When I left home in Houston it was already getting into the 90’s each day, with an average low of the mid 70’s. I am not a fan of hot and humid places, and it was great to be in such great weather.
We had heard about a pair of leopard cubs from the Kikilezi female leopard, and made sure that we went straight for the place where they were last seen. It is important to be sensitive around any young cub, and since their mother wasn’t around we didn’t want to stay very long at all. If anything bad happened during our brief visit, the cubs would associate the event with the presence of a vehicle, and would forever be shy around them. We did spot the two 6-week old cubs, and for a quick reference I have included an image. It isn’t a great one, but the purpose of the images on these updates is to illustrate what we have seen out here.
After our brief visit with the leopard cubs, we drove along the edge of the Sand River to see what was out in the open and easy to photograph. We happened on a small congregation of bull elephants, drinking and sparring at the waters’ edge. I love any animal that is near water, especially if there is interaction with the water (drinking, splashing, etc) or if there is a reflection. Or both! We took some shots and decided we would head down to the southern edge of Mala Mala where some wild dogs had been seen a few days earlier.
When we got to the southern edge of the property, we had to bushwhack our way through very very dense brush in an attempt to locate where we though the dog den might be. We had another vehicle in the area, and he was able to triangulate and figure out the location within an hour. We stayed a fair distance back from the den, and we only saw one adult female near the entrance. Awesome! This is the key to great wild dog photography, as you know where the epicenter of activity is coming from. All hunts begin and end from the den. We didn’t stay long, as it was obvious that the other adults had already left to go hunting, and there wasn’t much to see. We needed to make sure the dogs weren’t spooked by our presence, and staying back to observe and come back another day was the best approach.
We headed back to camp after dark, as it took a while to find our way back to the road from the dense brush. The temperature quickly dropped and my vehicle mates and I all had huge smiles on our faces from our first game drive of the trip.
Nikon D800, 300mm f/2.8, 1/3200 @ f/4, ISO 400. Hand held
Elephant in the Sand River
Nikon D800, 300mm f2.8, 1/640 @ f/5, ISO 400. Shot from a bean bag
View of the same elephant in the Sand River
Nikon D800, 300mm f/2.8, 1/1000 @ f/5.6, ISO 400