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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My 3rd trip with Wild 4 was one to remember (well, they all are !!). The wildlife in Tanzania put on a show for us from dawn till dusk. Cheetah's, lion prides, leopards, the birth of a gazelle and zebra. Migrating herds of wildebeest and zebra's - this trip had it all !, Superb locations, great accommodation, amazing food and unique scenery. I'll definitely be going back with Wild 4 ! What sets Wild 4 apart is their attention to detail to support photographers and videographers. Small groups, very well selected locations, high quality camps/lodges and well trained guides makes for a very well organised and intimate photographic safari experience. They provide not just a beanbag, but a beanbag 'system' for each photographer !. They provide panning plates, a unique custom designed photo/video support system for their vehicles in South Africa that includes support for Wimberley heads for large lenses and other features designed by an experienced wildlife photographer. The Wild 4 team understand the needs of photographers on safari, I can't recommend them highly enough for your African wildlife photographic experience.
Murray Richards, Australia
My wife Joanie and I joined Wild4 for the Best of Kruger and Big Cats in August of 2014. It was our very first trip on an African safari. I’m a serious amateur photographer and my wife’s a non-photographer but both of us enjoyed the trip thoroughly ! To this day, we still regularly recall the highlights of sightings and events fondly. True to Wild4’s brand promise, Stu Porter delivers maximum photographic times spent chasing photo opportunities out in the field - out 6am as soon as the camp gate opens and back only 6pm when the gate closes. Having no more than three photographers on each of two jeeps allows every photographer immediate access to both sides of the vehicle. Stu always knows where to position the vehicle for the best vantage points. Every day has its highs – big cat chases and kills, grazers sparring, herds of elephants and buffaloes appearing from nowhere at water holes... Thanks to Stu and the enthusiasm and knowledge of experienced senior guide Mike Lentz. Camps in Kruger are basic (by first world standards) but hey this is a safari ! There’s the important benefit of being only a short drive away from dams, good spots to catch the first light when the sun rises. This is important as the gates do not open till 6am so there’s little margin for being late. I had the opportunity to experience first-hand, the Wild4 team’s dedication and commitment to a successful photo trip for guests, beyond the call of duty. The Wild4 team helped solved a major photographic equipment problem. Early afternoon on Day 5, the lens AF motor on my 400mm telephoto lens failed. This was really a disaster on a trip like this, as (like everyone else) I had a spare camera body but not a spare super telephoto lens ! The other lens I had was a medium telephoto zoom, hardly a lens to use with tele-converters. Murphy’s Law indeed ! This happened with seven more days to go ! I enquired with Stu about hiring a lens from the nearby towns. Stu sprang into action immediately whilst still on the afternoon game drive - got his back-office team to make enquiries back in Nelspruit town. This was something new to the Wild4 team as they never had to hire a lens but they found a lens on the same day, a 200-400mm that’s also ideal for safari. The lens had to be dispatched from almost 200 km away and Mr John Porter helped to drive south to collect the lens sooner. I had the use of this lens by the morning of Day 7, with one-and-half day “downtime” in a remote location. Service excellence lived by as a core value indeed. After eight nights I left Kruger National Park with the feeling that I was just warming up and was leaving too soon. I would have gladly extended a few more days if that was possible. But we were bound for the next destination. I notice Wild4 has not been static. More new trips were added. I see the enterprise is growing fast ! Joanie and I are now looking forward to a trip to Kenya, again with Stu and the Wild4 team.
Steve Seow, Singapore