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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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
We have a particular affinity for bird photography, but also enjoy the African game animals. I'm pleased to say we are all thrilled with the entire trip. Stu met us at the airport on day 1, and what was to have been a quick couple hour drive to camp, took all afternoon until sunset, we found so many things to shoot. Then we wanted to do something slightly off the itinerary on day 2, and Stu again accommodated us. It was like that throughout the entire trip, the Porter family was very accommodating. Even though we were in a big national park using public facilities, the Porter family made us feel like we were in our own private game reserve, and the animals were there just for us. Stu's local knowledge of the birds and game is just great, he's a walking guide book. And because he's in Kruger so often, he knows where the best spots are. Also he knows all the other guides, and they share information. And most importantly if you are considering a photo safari, Stu is an accomplished nature photographer himself. He knows the light and how to position and approach for the best shot. He knows what photographers want and how to get it. The experience might be quite different if just any guide were to drive you around. And having a spotting vehicle out searching for game really helped us see some extra animals we wouldn't have seen. The results were outstanding. We saw and photographed all the of the big five, and several seldom seen animals totaling 33 mammal species and 164 bird species. All in all, the trip was great!! highly recommended!
Con Foley, USA