Posted by Wild4 Photo Safaris on 1st Jul 2014
This will be our 4th year of running photo safaris to the world famous Mala Mala Private Game Reserve in South Africa and it has been a real privilege to have been lucky enough to spend time with the animals in this reserve, especially the Leopards.
Through my experiences in the african bush, there is no better place on the planet to photograph Leopards in the wild. I have certainly photographed Leopards in all the locations I run tours to, but the average hit rate when it comes to quality sightings of Leopards is bye far the highest at Mala Mala.
Being able to follow these magnificent cats off road and having the flexibility that Mala Mala offers when it comes to length of time spent with the animals, has allowed us to get some great photos of these Leopards and more importantly it has enabled us to spend time with them and observe their secret lives and interesting behaviours.
Over the last three years and a total of 17 visits to Mala Mala, I have photographed 21 different Leopards (6 of these were small cubs) Many of these Leopards I have seen multiple times and it is always great to see an individual that you have photographed before. I can't help but wonder what they have been up to during the time since I last saw them. Dodging Hyaenas, Lions and other Leopards, interacting with females or males, all the hunts they have embarked on and the successes and failures. All of this as a solitary animal !! (for the most part)
So on that note I wanted to share some of my favourite leopards that I have encountered at Mala Mala in this article.
First up is the legendary "Airstrip Male". On my first few visits I saw this stocky male a lot and he became my firm favourite. He has character and a face of a seasoned boxer !!
This shot was taken in March 2013, and a huge thanks goes to Yuri who got us into a great position down at the causeway and we waited for the leopard to walk down towards us.
Next up is the "Bicycle Crossing Male" or the "Bike" for short. He is believed to be the father of the "Airstrip Male". My encounters with this Leopard were always close to Rattrays Camp. Thanks again for a great angle Yuri
The "Tamboti" female is a beautiful leopard and very photogenic. My first encounter with her was back in 2011 when she was mating with the "Airstrip male". This photo was taken in April 2013 and she had recently been seen with two small cubs. Pieter our ranger did an excellent job to get around her for a great angle as she watched some Impala in the distance.
The "Newington male" a large male with a characteristic damaged left eye. On this occasion he gave out a half hearted roar, almost as if he did not want anyone to hear him. To our surprise - and his, another male leopard arrived on scene, the "Princess Alice Pans male" and he showed submissive behaviour towards this larger and older male.
Noldy the master tracker !! thanks for finding this leopard barely 10 minutes after we left camp.
The "Daughter of the Matshipiri female" is rather elusive. She is strikingly beautiful and on this occasion she chased a tree squirrel around a Marula tree determined to catch the small prize. The squirrel got away ! Thanks Brendan for getting us here just in time before we lost the light.
The "Princess Alice Pans" Male is a large older male who has held his territory for many years. The dark rings around his eyes are the tell tale sign that this leopard has been around the block a few times. On this occasion we followed him as he walked out onto the sand river, bent down and picked up the remains of a kill and walked back to the safety of the tall reeds to consume his prize.
Thanks Brendan for the awesome effort to get us out onto that sand bank and back !
The "River Rocks Male". On this occasion we found him resting up in the tall grass and waited until he decided to move. We then followed him for a long time as he walked on game trails and on the road. Brendan did a superb job of getting us multiple photo opportunities and walk - bye's.
The "Ostrich Koppies Female". On this occasion we found her in a small riverbed with her cub who unfortunately died shortly after this photo was taken. She has the look of a seasoned campaigner with tattered ears and experience written all over her face. Noldy - thanks for getting us to spend so much time with this leopard and her cub, what a treat it was, especially when the Airstrip Male arrived on the scene too.
The "West Street Male" - a very handsome Leopard, big and strong, just coming into adulthood. He is one of the most photogenic male leopards I have encountered. On this occasion we found him walking down one of the river roads and Noldy did such a great job of getting round him numerous times to position us for the front on shot - thanks Noldy !!
The "Emsagweni female" On this occasion we found her in a tree with a pack of Cape Hunting Dogs beneath her. She had an impala kill which had been stolen by the dogs. She watched them from her safe vantage point waiting to seize an opportunity to run in and pick up any left overs. Thanks for another great sighting Noldy !!
If spending quality time with Leopards is on your wish list, observing their interesting behaviour and getting great photos of them in a wild environment, Mala Mala is the place !
Leopards are of course a highlight at Mala Mala, but it is also home to the rest of the Big Five as well as Cheetah and Cape Hunting Dogs. The beautiful Sand River flows through this amazing place and so bird life is top notch too.
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We couldn’t have enjoyed our trip with Wild 4 more. We were made to feel extremely welcome right from our very first e-mail contact, something which continued throughout our trip and beyond. We’d like to thank Stu, Justyna, Ann, & John for being such wonderful and enthusiastic hosts. Being looked after by such a friendly and caring family was a delight and we were very reluctant to leave after two weeks. Stu is a very knowledgeable, hard-working and helpful guide, always on hand with useful pointers and offering us plenty of encouragement to experiment with our photography. Having a whole row each of a specially adapted safari vehicle was a real find, ensuring we didn’t miss out on any of the action. Being able to stay out in the bush all day was also a real bonus. While many other vehicles drove off after only a few minutes, we were able to spend hours observing groups of lions and other wildlife. As this was our first African safari, Stu suggested we spend the first few nights at the Big Cats reserve and this proved to be a magical experience, with some great close-up action that resulted in some beautiful shots. It is a great place to hone your existing skills & learn some new ones. Given the opportunity we would go again tomorrow without any hesitation. Simply perfect!
Arnoud & Lynsey Van Foreest, NETHERLANDS
Any aspiring photographer who has not yet been on a wildlife safari should join a WILD4 with Stu and Justyna Porter. You will be guided by a graduate professional photographer who is also a highly-qualified South African field guide. Stu's knowledge of photography and his understanding of African wildlife are exceptional. He is also blessed with an amazing spotter's eyesight. I often thought to myself, how on earth did he see that! As each day begins all these talents are passed on with sincerity and quiet enthusiasm to each photographer's needs. Nothing is ever too much trouble and his positioning of the vehicle for the best light and animal profile is always his first consideration. On our tour there were times for laughter and many times when action and adrenalin ran high. Any successful safari is only as good as its backup team. This family company is most ably supported by Stu's wife Justyna who is the drive behind the scenes and efficiently arranges the accommodation and all the logistics. Stu's mother, Ann Porter provides excellent food for the day in the park and around the campfire at night. Both are qualified field guides and their spotting abilities add greatly to each day's safari. This particular trip was most rewarding in both personal and photographic terms and one of the best we have ever enjoyed. Sincere thanks to you all.
Slim & Barbara Callaghan, UK