LIONS and LEOPARDS of KRUGER photo safari trip report - July 2017
Posted by Wild4 Photo Safaris on 29th Jul 2017
The first "Lions & Leopards of Kruger" photo safari began with the clients arrival at Hoedspruit airport. Due to a delay in the flight arrival time, we headed off to Ngala and went straight out on our first afternoon game drive.
There is no better way to begin a 13 day photo safari than with a visit to one of the resident Ngala Lion prides known as the Birmingham pride. A few adult females with small cubs were in the group. The pride is suffering with a bit of Sarcoptic Mange, but they looked well fed having recently finished off a Buffalo kill. Our two night stay at Ngala offered another sighting of the Lions as well as good general game sightings of Zebra, Wildebeest, Common Waterbuck and Impala. The highlight was spending time with a beautiful young male Leopard known as the Black Dam Male, he was with the last remains of his latest kill that had also attracted the attentions of a few Spotted Hyaenas.
We met the Wild4 support team at the Kruger National Park's Orpen Gate, where we transferred into our own Open Safari Vehicle and headed off into the Kruger National Park where we spent the next 6 nights split between Satara camp in central Kruger and Lower Sabie in the South. Central and Southern Kruger offered wonderful early misty mornings, a great sighting of fighting Zebra, Greater Kudu, Giraffe, Impala, Bushbuck, Steenbok, Elephants, Southern Ground Hornbills, Male Lions, African Scops Owl, Nile Crocodiles, Bateleur Eagles, Wooly Necked Storks, a Male Leopard in a Leadwood Tree, Vervet Monkeys and a Hippo covered in Terrapins !!
The highlight from Kruger was without a doubt the Leopard kill we all witnessed at the N'waswitshaka waterhole (known locally as "Watergat") As we arrived at "Watergat" we noticed an older female Leopard hiding in a small gully. She was observing Impala as they came down to drink from the waterhole. After a few "almost" moments where the Impala was just not in the right position, the female leopard launched herself at a young male Impala and brought him down in full view of us and the other extremely lucky people that happened to be at the waterhole for that very brief moment in time.
I have been lucky to observe Leopards on many occasions, but this was the very first time that I witnessed and photographed a kill from start to finish, truly a once in a life time opportunity ! It certainly took me many years to see this, but for one client with us, it was his very first safari to Africa, such is the amazing way of mother nature !
Final stop on the trip was a 4 night stay at Mala Mala Private Game Reserve. The Lion dynamics at Mala Mala and surrounding area at the moment are certainly getting a shake up with new males moving in, others trying to avoid being detected and a new group of females known as the Kambula Lionesses. Things are by no means settled and the dynamics change on a daily basis. We did get to spend time with the two Avoca Males, we saw the three Manyeleti Males, as well as the three younger Marthly Males. We were fortunate to find the two Cheetah brothers in the north eastern part of the reserve and spent some time with them.
On our way back to camp one day, we bumped into a fresh Impala kill in a Fig Tree right next to the road. The Senegal Bush Male Leopard was responsible and we watched him first catch his breath, then climb into the tree and open up the Impala carcass. We also got to spend time with the Picadilli female Leopard who had just had her kill stolen by Hyaenas, the Tree House Male Leopard was photographed on patrol one night. The Island female Leopard was seen one morning. She is now thought to have dropped her new litter of cubs, and we followed her to the Sand River and photographed her crossing over to the eastern bank.
Other animals seen and photographed at Mala Mala included a brief late afternoon sighting of some African Wilddogs (this year with no den site as a result of the Alpha female being killed by Hyaenas), African Buffalo, large Elephant & Impala herds at the river, Nyala Antelope, Three banded Plovers, Hammerkop, Tawny Eagles, Greater Kudu, Common Duiker, Klipspringers, Side Striped Jackals and Nile Monitor Lizards.
Many thanks to all the lodge staff that looked after us at each location and also to our rangers, Shaun at Ngala and Theo at Mala Mala, thank you for your hard work and patience and for getting us into sightings and spending quality photographic time with the animals. Thanks also to the Wild4 back up team who looked after us so well in the Kruger National Park.
Finally, thank you to the participants, Andy and Patrick, it was great travelling with you both and we certainly did share some great experiences and photographic opportunities - oh boy that Leopard kill !!!
Enjoy some of the photos below.
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I found Wild4 through an article in Popular Photography magazine about how to choose a photo safari. They were one of five recommended in the article. After checking them all out, I saw that Stu and Wild4 offered the kind of experience that I wanted: 1) Small groups of dedicated photographers 2) Variety in wildlife viewing 3) Tuition on photography and wildlife behavior 4) Good communication and organisation. I can say that Wild4 met and exceeded all expectations on all points (and then some). 1) We used one vehicle for three photographers. Stu is a trained photographer himself, so his goal was always to get us into the best position with the best light. Having only three on the tour meant plenty of room for equipment and the ability to shoot from either side of the vehicle when surrounded by a herd of elephants! It also gave us the flexibility to be patient and wait for the shot. 2) The three places we visited each provided a unique experience and wonderful variety in scenery and wildlife viewing. 3) Stu's tuition was excellent. It was there if we needed it but never pushed. Tips, reminders, anecdotes on wildlife behavior. All given with patience and good humor. 4) From the first email, the communication was timely & clear. Justyna was a joy to work with and handled the back-office part of the tour seamlessly. It can't be as easy as she makes it seem. Wild4 didn't provide the wildlife or the spectacular sunsets that we experienced, but they put us in position to enjoy and capture a little piece of it in our cameras and in our memories. Our Safari was amazing and I would not have changed a thing...well, maybe I would have eaten a little less. If you're looking for a Photo Safari, there is nothing to consider. Just go ahead and contact Wild4 Photographic Safaris. You will not be sorry.
Doug Croft, USA
My wife and I have been on three photo safaris with Stu. The first trip was the result of a recommendation from a friend. The second and third trips were because Stu did such a good job on the first. He is a thoroughly professional guide and offers such a terrific experience wherever he takes us. Stu shares his extensive knowledge of photography and has made it possible for us to get better photos and expand our understanding of what it takes to capture more of each photographic opportunity. It takes a special person to guide photographers around Africa, keep them comfortable, provide them with the best photo locations at the best time of the day, manage the schedules, vehicles, drivers, flights and food and still remain calmly in control. I think it would be appropriate to call Stu and ultimate professional. He is supported well by Justyna in the office and we anticipate traveling more with Wild4 in the future. You should book a trip with him as soon as you can!
Larry Jackson, USA