I thought I’d share a short slide show of images from our safari to South Africa.
I thought I’d share a short slide show of images from our safari to South Africa.
Humble apologies to my gentle readers. Due to travel to the Midwest, Christmas and a nasty cold I have fallen behind in my postings. However, I’m back with the final day of our South African Safari.
We awoke on this, the 12th, and last day of our safari with both a sense of sorrow and relief. Sorrow because we did not want the experience to end. We had seen so many incredible sights and animals in the past 2 weeks and yet it was time to go home. Home to our own bed and our own wildlife (our 3 cats, Casper, Jasmine and Bosco).
It was an absolutely beautiful morning with golden light. The animals seemed to be energized, everything was moving. We almost immediately passed some rhinos grazing in the field. As always, they were accompanied by oxpeckers. With their bright bill and eyes I never tire of looking at them.
Our ranger headed the land rover toward the river to see if the overstuffed lions we observed the previous day were still there. He was driving at a pretty good clip as we passed a watering hole with a grey heron in it. The light on the pond was incredible. The water looked like liquid gold. We were yelling at our driver to stop but he kept going. We finally got him to stop and back up so that we could get the shot. It was worth it.
Leaving the heron behind we found a spotted hyena, sculking through the tall grass, that clearly had the scent of something. We continued on to the river and sure enough, the lions were still there. Still looking over stuffed and lethargic. It was clear that we would see no action out of this group today so we moved on.
Click on any image to enlarge it. Hover over an image to reveal the caption.
When we left the lions it was still early, about 6:40 am. We sighted a small herd of impala and then some steenbok. Steenboks are really cute but hard to photograph. They are very shy and hide when approached. However today we were lucky. The steenboks chose to hide in the tall golden grasses that lined the road. With the beautiful lighting that we had that morning we got some wonderful shots of steenboks backlit by the morning light and surrounded by the dry golden grass.
We heard via the radio that there were leopards in the area and headed off in the direction of where the reports were coming from. It took about an hour to get there and find the leopards. There were 3 of them, 2 males and 1 female. According to our ranger the female also had one or more cubs although they were hidden. We got there just after the female and one of the males had a fight. Apparently the male was interested in mating and the female was most definitely not interested. In this case the male came out on the loosing end.
The bloodied and beaten male attends to his wounds.
We continued to track and watch the leopards for almost an hour. The other male was also interested in mating but the female continued to show that there would be no fooling around today. It was fascinating to watch the interplay between the male and female and how the female controlled the situation even though she was much smaller than the male suitor.
And thus ended our 12 day safari. We had to head back to camp so that we could catch our flight to Johannesburg. However, our adventure was not quite over yet. From Johannesburg we would fly to Cape Town for a 3 day visit to this jewel of the African coast. During our visit there we would see penguins, fur seals, whales, sharks as well as visit incredible wineries and some of the most beautiful coastline I’ve ever seen. Stay tuned.
As we roll out of bed this morning we realize that this is our last full day on safari. Hopefully it will bring lots of exciting new discoveries.
We headed down to the river. Our ranger had heard there were lions there that had made a kill the night before. What a sight. I have never seen a group of lions with such extended bellies in my life. They could barely lie on their stomachs. Most lay on their backs with their feet extended in the air. Needles to say they weren’t very active. Comical but not active. We hung around for about 30 minutes photographing these lethargic beasts before moving on.
Driving around we spot a few zebras. Zebras are among the most beautiful of Africa’s animals. However, they photograph much better on the savanna of Masai Mara that the brush of the lowveld. It doesn’t help that this is the dry season and there is no green to contrast with their beautiful stripes. It does give an idea of how well the zebra’s stripes can serve as camouflage under the right conditions. We were also fortunate to spot a couple of endangered ground hornbills.
We headed over to a large water hole and spotted a hyena, and before we knew it there was a whole pack of them, including a couple of youngsters. We parked the land rover and watched these guys cavort in the water and chase each other for over 30 minutes. The main behavior of the pack seems to be checking out each others genitalia. The hyena is unique in that the female has a pseudo-penis. The female is also slightly larger than the male and they live in a female dominated pack. It was also astonishing the number of vocalizations that these animals made. It was downright noisy.
After the hyenas moved on we joined up with others from our group for our morning bush breakfast. These brief interludes each morning were highly civilized and gave us a chance to get to know our rangers and trackers better. And besides – they make great coffee!
As we wound our way back to camp we saw a crested francolin, a yellow billed hornbill, a warhog and a Nyala taking a rest in the shade. A pretty good morning overall.
Lunch was a special treat on this day. Our host at King’s Camp, Tristan, is the proud keeper of an African Wildcat. As this was our last lunch at King’s Camp he promised to bring the cat out for us to see. I wasn’t sure what an African Wildcat was but I was looking forward to seeing one. It turns out that the African Wildcat, to my eye, is indistinguishable from a common tabby. And for good reason. The house cat was probably domesticated from the African Wildcat about 9000 years ago in the fertile crescent of the Middle East. If you’d like to know more about what domestic cats have in common with the African Wildcat click here.
The weather was stunning as we left for our afternoon drive. We observed giraffes, including a young giraffe, more zebra and saw how birds can protect their nests by building them inside of a very thorny Acacia tree.
The afternoon, however, belonged to the elephants. We followed a large herd through the trees, brush and river bed for close to an hour. Our ranger, Remember, and our tracker, Elvis, did a good job of keeping us positioned to get some great shots. I never tire of watching these incredible animals.
Once the elephants had finished with us we drove to the river where a large concrete dam had been built years ago to control the flow of the river. There lying on top of the concrete, basking in the golden glow of the setting sun was a beautiful leopard. He seemed completely unconcerned with anything other than having a comfortable nap. As the sun set we could see hippos swimming in the river and shore birds on the river bank. One last surprise awaited us as we exited the area. A scrub hare was laying by the road, just waiting for us to take its photograph. A lovely way to end an exciting day!
It seems that all the conservation news is bad these days. Loss of habitat, climate change, poaching, etc. So occasionally when there is a bit of good news I like to celebrate it. After all, the subtitle for this blog is “Inform and Inspire.” Well we got some good news last week from the African Elephant Summit in Gaborone, Botswana. At the summit meeting governments of states where the illegal ivory trade occurs pledged to take “urgent measures” to try and stop the illegal trade and end poaching.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, “2011 saw the highest levels of poaching and illegal ivory trade in at least 16 years, with around 25,000 elephants killed on the continent, and it says 2012 showed no signs of abating.” Furthermore, “eighteen large scale seizures of more than 40 tons of ivory had been recorded so far this year, which represented the greatest quantity of ivory seized over the last 25 years.”
“Our window of opportunity to tackle the growing illegal ivory trade is closing and if we do not stem the tide, future generations will condemn our unwillingness to act,” Botswana President Ian Khama told the summit.
“Now is the time for Africa and Asia to join forces to protect this universally valued and much needed species,” he said.
The governments in attendance published a list of Urgent Measures to be taken in 2014. This list was agreed upon by key African elephant range states including Gabon, Kenya, Niger and Zambia, ivory transit states such as Vietnam, Philippines and Malaysia, and ivory destination states, including China and Thailand, said the IUCN in a statement.
Probably the most urgent of the 14 measures classifies wildlife trafficking as a “serious crime.” According to the IUCN, this will unlock international law enforcement cooperation provided under the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, including mutual legal assistance, asset seizure and forfeiture, extradition and other tools to hold criminals accountable for wildlife crime. In other words, It won’t just be the Kenya Wildlife Service going up against international criminal cartels.
Will this action by the African Elephant Summit and IUCN put an end to poaching? Of course not. Poverty, greed and corruption, as well as increasing demand from Asia for ivory are strong motivators. But this action inspires hope that the number of needless deaths of elephants will decline. And that will be something to celebrate.
Side Note: When I was in South Africa in October I was reading an investigative article about the use of powdered rhino horn in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). In this story the investigator made undercover purchases of powdered ivory at traditional ethnic pharmacies and chemists shops in Asia. He then had all the samples tested by DNA sequencing. The result – not a single sample was authentic. Elephants and rhinos are being killed for their ivory and yet what people in Vietnam and China are buying is fake. It would almost be funny if it wasn’t so painful.
What day 10 lacked in variety it made up for in quantity. One again we started the day by tracking a pride of lions on the hunt. It was clear that they sensed nearby prey but we never figured out what they were after. We stayed with them for over 30 minutes and they stalked through the dry grass before moving on.
Click on any image to enlarge it.
We explored the veldt for about 40 minutes before coming upon a few elephants at a watering hole. Unlike yesterday the light was good and we stopped to watch these magnificent animals.
We moved on but almost immediately came upon the rest of the herd. For a moment we thought we were going to see a scuffle as two males challenged each other. However, the smaller of the males showed good sense and backed down.
We drove ahead of the herd and parked at a second water hole and waited. Within minutes the herd arrived and began to fill up. Along with the herd was one baby elephant. It was so young it had not yet learned how to use its trunk to drink. It was so cute as the baby got down on its knees to drink water directly with its mouth. The adults kept the baby surrounded at all times in what was clearly a protective maneuver. There was lots of other activity around the water as well. There was some pushing and shoving by some of the elephants. Some waded directly into the water while the others remained on the bank. This continued for about 30 minutes. Then the herd reversed course and headed back into the bush.
With the departure of the elephants we resumed our search. We came across a few Cape Buffalo. I must admit that I find these beasts fascinating.
After about 50 minutes of exploration we found a leopard hidden in the bush with fresh prey. (An antelope or Impala I think.) We watched as the leopard ripped the fur from the carcass and then tore in to the meat. Despite the grisly scene in front of us you could not help but admire the beauty of this animal.
Our afternoon drive began with more elephants. It was probably part of the same herd that we saw this morning. We grabbed a few shots and moved on.
We decided to see if the leopard from this morning was still there – and she was. She was still working over her prey. A somewhat older cub briefly made an appearance but then quickly disappeared back into the bush.
As we drove around we spotted a few rhinos but not much else. Finally, around 5 pm, we came across a pride of lions. They of course were doing what lions do best – rest. We watched them lay about and groom each other. Then slowly they started to show some signs of life, eventually heading over to the water for a drink. By this time the sun was down and it was starting to get dark. (i.e.: some of the following shots were taken at ISO 12800) We left them as they were getting ready for their evening’s adventures.
When we rolled out of bed at 5:00 am on day 7 we had no idea what an exciting and interesting day was in store for us. As usual, we were on the trail before 6 o’clock. It was a beautiful morning and the light was magnificent. We had barely gotten out of camp when we came across a small herd of impala. Even though we had lots of impala photos the light was so golden we had to stop and snap a few photos.
Click on any photo to enlarge
We left the impala behind and headed down to the river. As we were crossing the river we spotted two saddle billed storks a couple hundred yards away. We had only seen these birds once before, and that was 2 years ago in Kenya. They are tall, colorful and spectacular. We watched and photographed them for over 30 minutes, although it seemed a lot longer. It was fascinating to watch them catch fish and then toss them down their throats. While watching the storks we also spotted some three banded plovers and Pied Kingfishers.
Leaving the storks behind we began to explore and see what else we could find. It was only 7 o’clock and the light was still good. As we drove under a tall tree a Vervet monkey issued warning calls. We drove through an area of rocky outcroppings hoping to spot leopards. Instead we spotted something ever less common, a Klipspringer (rock jumper). The Klipspringer is a very small antelope that has adapted to the rocky outcroppings as its home. He was very cute as he stood proud on the edge of a boulder surveying his domain.
Shortly thereafter we came across another pride of sleepy lions. We watched for a short time and realized that this group had no intention of moving anytime in the near future so we left. Our ranger Ross mentioned that a rhino had been killed by a poacher the day before and the rhino’s horn sawed off. We asked if the rhino was nearby and if we could see it. We took off for a short drive. We spotted conclusive signs that we were getting close.
We arrived at the rhino carcass and got to witness first hand the horror of poaching. The rhino was killed, the horn sawed off and the animal left for dead. It also appeared that one leg had been cut off, for reasons unknown.
688 rhinos have been killed in South Africa in 2013, half of those were in the area of Kruger and Mala Mala.This one made it 689. To find out a bit more about this incident take a look at my blog of October 14th.
The rhino carcass had already been partially eaten by scavengers. When we arrived there were just a few vultures present. Then a leopard showed up to help himself to a piece of rhino flesh before heading off to the bush. With the leopard gone the vultures moved in with a fury. It was fascinating to watch nature at work. As the following photos show, there were times when so many vultures were fighting for food that you couldn’t see the carcass.
If you would like to really see what a feeding frenzy this was you can check out some video of the scene on YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IbfbbSrrMJ4
We spent over an hour at the site. It was one of the most meaningful and relevant experiences of the trip in many ways. But it was time to move on.
As we started exploring again we came across a waterhole with an Egyptian goose and a hippopotamus immersed in green slime. Not real photogenic so we moved on. We also found some wildebeest, an elephant and a male and female kudu in the brush.
Our next discovery really impressed me. I am always astonished at how good our rangers and trackers are at spotting hidden animals. As we were driving along the trail at a pretty good speed, Ross all of a sudden pulls over by a tree and holds up his hand for silence. He takes out his binoculars and stares intently into the tree for a few seconds and then turns to us, points and says “white faced owl”. And sure enough, hidden in the branches of this dense tree was a smallish owl. The owl flew from place to place in the tree before settling down. It took us a bit of maneuvering to finally get in position where we could get a photograph of it. It was gorgeous with white and grey feathers and bright orange eyes
.As we started to make our way back to camp we came across a herd of Cape buffalo. These animals are interesting. In the two trips that I’ve taken to Africa the Cape Buffalo has shown the temperament of a cow, yet it is renowned to be among the fiercest of animals. I guess I should be happy I haven’t seen that side of their personality.
We had seen a record number of species during the morning drive. Fifteen different animals by my count. We had also seen nature in action as the vultures moved in to clean up the rhino carcass. Could the afternoon possibly keep pace?
Shortly after taking off we “bumped” into a grazing white rhino. You can get pretty close to these guys as long as they are not defending turf or females. This is why the recent announcement by the Dallas Safari Club that it was going to auction off the trophy rights to kill a black rhino (endangered, only 5000 left in the world) makes no sense. It takes no great skill to kill a rhino. You drive up to it and shoot it!
After leaving the rhino we sighted a herd of elephants in the river bed and headed off in that direction.
The herd included elephants of all ages and sizes. One was so young and small that it had not yet learned to fully control its trunk. Mom was going up the bank by the river and junior was trying to follow but couldn’t quite make it. Mom had to turn around and pull him up the bank with her trunk.
There were a number of large bulls that looked menacing and some teenagers that tried to look tough. We did see a couple of males fighting over a female. It wasn’t a death match but it wasn’t play time either.
After leaving the elephants we spotted a leopard, who for the most part was content to just lie in the grass. We watched and tracked it for about an hour before moving on.
Even though we had seen a number of male kudus we hadn’t yet captured a really great photo of one. It was just about 5 pm, an hour before sunset and the light was great, when we spotted a beautiful male. We started to follow him and managed to get a great shot that took advantage of the “golden hour” lighting. We also captured another lilac breasted roller in this same light.
In the morning we found a pride of sleepy lions. We decided to check up on them before returning to camp, hoping that they were awake and ready for action. While we caught a few nice portraits in the golden evening light, most of the lions were still catching zzz’s.
Thus ended day 7. As the sun went down we caught one last photograph in memory of a great day.
Day 3 rolled around and it was another great day in the bush. Within the first hour we had already seen and photographed impala, a crocodile, a malachite kingfisher, an Egyptian goose, a fish eagle, a lilac breasted roller and a spotted hyena. Not bad for the first hour.
Click on any image to enlarge
Then Richard got a call on the radio that one of the other rangers had spotted a female leopard with 2 cubs. The opportunity to see leopards was one of the primary reasons that we had come to South Africa, so we were very excited.
When we arrived at the location we found out that the cubs were hiding and that mom was out hunting. This was disappointing because the rules in the preserve state that if cubs are unattended you can only stay for 10 minutes. To hang around longer than that might draw attention to the cubs and put them at risk from other predators. However, just at that moment we saw some movement and up popped one little head. The cubs were moving. For the next 5 minutes or so we got to watch as they climbed around on the rocks and through the heavy brush. These two were just beautiful. However, we had to leave.
For the next couple of hours we continued our explorations. Shortly after leaving the cubs we came across some steenbok, the smallest antelope in South Africa. They are also very skittish and take off quickly when approached. White-backed vultures, impala and warthogs rounded out the first part of the morning.
Each morning we would finds a nice shady spot, that appeared to be devoid of man-eating carnivores, and pull over for some coffee and a bush breakfast. This gave us a chance to stretch our legs and have a bite to eat. Our boxed breakfast usually consisted of a croissant, yogurt, juice, a few other items and coffee. It was always tasty and enough to stave off starvation until we returned for lunch.
We heard of the radio that the mother leopard had returned to her cubs so we headed back to where we had left them earlier. We arrived to find that mom was back and she had brought a kill back with her for the cubs to eat. Only mom and one cub were visible and they were both under some bushes and hard to see. We were also the 3rd vehicle on site and really could not get a very good angle to see them. We found the best spot that we could, parked and observed. Even though we weren’t in a great spot for photography we were able to watch the mother and cub interact. After a while the other cub came out of hiding and began to nurse.
Eventually mom decided to move over to a large rock and rest. She was posed perfectly for a photograph but once again we were at a bad angle. Richard put the land rover into gear and crashed through the under brush and over some sizable trees to get us to where we could have a good view.
And there she was in all her splendor. We had the opportunity to photograph her unimpeded by branches and bushes. Eventually she left. It was time to go hunting again.
The other two land rovers left first and then Richard started ours. Problem! In driving over the trees to get us into position they had wedged at an angle under the vehicle making it impossible to back up. Unfortunately in front of the land rover was a sand filled wash. If we went forward we would almost certainly get stuck in the wash, but backing up was impossible.
Richard put the land rover into its lowest gear and struggled forward. After much lurching and bouncing about we freed ourselves from the trees and dropped into the wash…where we promptly became stuck in the sand. Richard and Like tried for about 10 minutes to get us out with no success. Richard asked us to get out of the vehicle and walked us through the brush to the nearby trail that served as a road and told us to wait there for them. He then went back and he and Like pulled out a Come-Along hand winch to try and pull the land rover from the wash. I thought about asking him to leave his rifle with us but he was already gone.
So Tom, Cathy and I are left standing in the middle of the road all by ourselves wondering if momma leopard is going to return at any minutes. I was also thinking “why don’t they just call one of the other land rovers back to pull us out of the wash.” I figured that it had something to do with male bravado and a code of independence in the bush. However, having tourists eaten by leopards couldn’t be good for business.
Finally we heard the land rover start up and saw Richard come bouncing through the brush and out onto the road. On the drive back to camp I asked Richard why he didn’t call for help to get out of the wash. His reply was along the lines of what I expected. Apparently there are no consequences to getting stuck at Londolozi, as long as you can free yourself. However, if you have to call for help the leather ammo pouch that each ranger carries on his belt is replaced by a pink ammo pouch for a month!
Our afternoon game drive could be named the day of elephants. They were everywhere that we went. We did see some other animals such as nyala, cape buffalo, a maribou stork, giraffes and wildebeest, but largely the afternoon was devoted to observing elephants.
We saw several herds of elephants that afternoon. There were large bull elephants and young ones too. The young ones were cute. One was so young that he had not yet figured out how to control his trunk.
We stayed out past sunset on this day. It was already dark as we were heading back to camp when Richard stopped the land rover and turned the key off. We looked ahead of us and about 30 yards away was another herd of elephants, walking down the road directly toward us. Richard whispered to remain silent and to not move. The elephants continued to come directly toward us, lead by a large bull. As the elephants approached the land rover they split into two columns, one on each side of us. As each one passed, it turned its head slightly to look at us, and continued on. What was amazing was that this all took place in almost complete silence. All we heard was the slight rustle of grass from the elephants walking by. These huge animals passing silently by us in the dark,only a few feet away was one of the most spiritual moments of the trip.
The evening meal at camp was always an elaborate affair with gourmet food and wine. Every two or three days we would have a bush dinner to create a special atmosphere. These were indeed special (although sometimes a bit cold) and memorable.