Tag Archives: Spotted Hyena

Maasai Mara 2019: Day 1 of 7

We have recently returned from our second trip to the Maasai Mara region of Kenya, where we undertook an intense week-long wildlife photographic safari in June of 2019.

This is the first article in a series of articles, in which I will provide a day-by-day account of our sightings, images and experiences during this trip.

After two long flights to Kenya, we rested at our hotel in Nairobi during the day of our arrival, and in the evening, we met for the first time since 2015 our go-to photographic safari leader, Mario Moreno of South Cape Images, to discuss the exciting adventure ahead over a nice dinner of steak and an Argentinian malbec.

This was the beginning of our third trip to Africa, our second trip to Kenya, our fourth wildlife photographic safari, and our third wildlife photographic safari with Mario.

We were heading back to the Mara North Conservancy, nearly four years to the date on which we first visited the Mara.  It was very familiar, but it was also very new in some ways, as the trip would reveal over the next seven days.

After landing at Mara North Airstrip, we were met by our guide Francis of Elephant Pepper Camp, who was also our guide during our first trip.  It was great to see him again, and he had prepared brunch for us, which was soon followed by the commencement of our first game drive.

On that first game drive to camp, which can take 20 minutes or three hours, it did not take long before it became apparent that this was not going to be a short drive.  Nature, not us, is the shot caller, and nature had something it wanted to say.

Soon after boarding our private 4WD, a short distance south-west of the airstrip, we encountered cheetahs.  Not even ten to fifteen minutes into our first game drive, we had already encountered one of Africa‘s spectacular species of big cat, and not just one cheetah, but four: a mother with three cubs.

The mother cheetah is known as Amani, and she has three sub-adult cubs of around 12 months of age.

Here is an image I captured of one of Amani‘s cubs:

Amani's Cub

Amani’s Cub

While sub-adult cheetahs quickly grow to the size of an adult cheetah, the distinctive feature which identifies a cub (either very young, or sub-adult) is the mantle — the wild tuft of hair along the back of the head and neck.

The mantle serves two purposes: it assists in camouflage, and makes the cub resemble a honey badger, a species of animal most wildlife would happily avoid.

We spent most of this game drive with Amani and her cubs, but also encountered vultures nearby, and spotted a few baboons, a wildebeest, a topi, and some helmeted guineafowl (affectionately known as Maasai chickens) on the way to camp.

After a fantastic first drive with the cheetahs, we arrived at Elephant Pepper Camp, an outstanding luxurious eco-lodge in the Mara North Conservancy.  It is nestled amongst a distinctive ‘X’ cluster of elephant pepper trees, just south of the C13 road between Mara Rianta and Lemek.

It was great to be back at the camp.  Since we were last there four years ago, its operation has been taken over by Elewana, and the camp is now run by Tom and Alison, who we got to know during the week.

We met Tom and Alison, and went through the formality of the briefing given to guests upon arrival.  Much of the camp was the same as it was when we were last there, but there have been some good changes and enhancements, too, such as AC power in all tents, and wireless Internet access throughout the entire camp.

Shortly afterwards, we sat down to lunch.  As it was the first week of the season, the camp had only just opened, and we were the first guests.  We had the camp to ourselves for the first two days and nights before other guests began to arrive on the third day.

Lunch at Elephant Pepper Camp was superb as always, and we were joined by either Tom or Alison, who attend all lunches and dinners with the guests.

Already we had a great story to relate, having spotted Amani and her cubs early into the trip.

After lunch, I set about my highly disciplined ritual of transferring the images and videos from the flash cards to my laptop and backing them up to an eternal hard disk.  It is very important to ensure that there are at least two, or preferably three, copies of one’s images and videos.

Fuelled by the obligatory glass or two (or three, perhaps) of Amarula, which was my habit at Elephant Pepper Camp last time (and a habit into which I easily and happily fell again this time), soon enough it was time to head back out into the plains to see what the afternoon and evening would bring.

Shortly into the afternoon game drive, we encountered two magnificent elephant bulls on the open plains north-west of camp, not far south of where we had first seen Amani and her cubs earlier in the day.

We had a brief look at the first elephant bull, before heading towards a second elephant bull not far away.

Mario is a big fan of capturing almost symmetrical, frontal images of approaching elephants, so Francis positioned the vehicle such that the elephant was heading straight towards us.  He kept walking, and we snapped away furiously as his imposing presence dominated our viewfinders.

Here is one of the images I captured:

Mighty Elephant Bull

Mighty Elephant Bull

Once he got close to our vehicle, he veered left and walked in front of us at a distance of only one or two metres.

This big tusker is a magnificent, healthy elephant who has the Mara plains at his disposal.

Less than ten minutes after I captured my final image of this elephant, we encountered Amani and her cubs for the second time!

They were in the same location where we had first encountered them four hours earlier.  As cheetahs can travel considerable distances in a short period of time, it was nice to find them again so soon.

My guess is that they spent the entire time resting.  There is no telling whether they hunted or not, but they had not recently eaten, so any attempts at hunting would have been unfortunately unsuccessful.

Here is an image I captured of Amani resting on a mound and surveying her territory for potential predators or prey:

Resting and Surveying

Resting and Surveying

We spent a around an hour with the cheetahs, during which time I had the opportunity to capture a clean image of Amani as she rested on a mound in the afternoon, soaking in the sun’s rays.

Amani

Amani

Eventually we decided to move on, heading west-north-west towards the Mara River, and soon encountered a banded mongoose.

After a few quick shots, we continued on, and spotted two male waterbuck and a small group of females in the open, just south of the Mara River.

Having photographed only female waterbuck in South Africa, we briefly stopped, where I was fortunate to see this impressive male standing out in the open, staring straight at me:

Male Waterbuck

Male Waterbuck

While many people visit Africa to see and photograph the big cats, there are many species of antelope to be seen and photographed, and these animals are just as important in the ecosystem as the predators, with their own stories to tell.

I am quite partial to a good antelope image, and as these animals are quite skittish and like the cover of thickets, capturing a pleasing image of such an animal is not always easy.

In this case, I was fortunate that the male waterbuck was out in the open, clear of distracting foliage, and that he was staring straight down the barrel of the lens.

The resulting image is pleasing to me, as it places this waterbuck in his environment, and his impressive stature stands out.

Late in the afternoon, we slowly began making our way in a south-easterly direction back to camp.  Less than ten minutes later, we experienced our first lion sighting of the trip, and again, it was during the first day of this trip.

We encountered some members of a familiar pride: the Cheli Pride.

The Cheli Pride is a dominant pride of lions which inhabits the area near camp in the Mara North Conservancy.

We had seen lions from the Cheli Pride four years earlier, when it was quite a large pride, consisting of 27 members or thereabouts.

Things have changed somewhat, with the pride being apparently smaller, and quite a lot of disruption having taken place.  The pride still exists, but rather than being one large pride as it was four years ago, there appear to be various off-shoots from the main pride.

On this drive, we encountered a female who was resting out in the open during the late afternoon.

Cheli Pride Lioness at Rest

Cheli Pride Lioness at Rest

Very close to where she was resting, a large male lion was taking shelter in a thicket.

While I did photograph the male, the busy setting was not great for photography, and even though nightfall had not yet arrived, it did not look like these lions were going to become active, so we moved a little further south-east towards camp, and encountered another female and a very young cub in a thicket.  The cub looked to be around six to eight weeks of age, and was the youngest lion cub we had seen in the wild.

Some 40 minutes later, we were further south toward camp, when we encountered a young hyena sleeping on a mound.  After spending a few minutes there, and determining that the sky was unfortunately not ideal for any landscape photography, we headed back to camp for dinner, drinks and a debrief before bedding down for the night, as an early start the next morning awaited us.

Saturday, 1st June, 2019 had been a fantastic first day in the Mara, with not one but two sightings of the same family of cheetahs, an impressive big-tusker elephant bull, a great photographic opportunity with a male waterbuck, and our first encounter with the Cheli Pride lions, including a tiny cub.

It was fantastic to be back in Mara, a familiar place with new stories to tell.  This trip had taken some time to materialise, but finally we had returned to a place we love to be — one with many more great sightings ahead of us.

Stay tuned for our adventures on day two.

More Photographic Highlights from Motswari

During our time in South Africa, and in the Motswari Private Game Reserve in particular, I shot so many images, and even now, barely over two months since we were there, I am still processing and uploading images.

While I have detailed our adventures in the Timbavati here on this blog, in some cases I have not had images ready, and as many photographers know, sometimes an image’s potential only becomes realised some time after having captured it.

Given that I have published a few more images since I verbally and pictorially recalled our adventures, I thought it would be a nice opportunity to provide a few photographic highlights that were previously missed.

So, here are ten photographic highlights, in order of capture.

 

1.  Eye of the Leopard

Eye of the Leopard

Eye of the Leopard

The title Eye of the Leopard is homage to the awesome National Geographic documentary of the same name, shot by Beverly and Dereck Joubert, featuring the life of Legadema, a young leopard in the Okavango Delta in Botswana.

The leopard in my image is Makepisi (which means “hat” in Shangaan).  I captured this image of a leopard on the first game drive we took in the Motswari Private Game Reserve, which is located within the Timbavati region of greater Kruger National Park in Mpumalanga province, South Africa

 

Makepisi was the very first wild leopard we encountered.

We spent quite a nice time in close proximity to Makepisi, watching, photographing and videoing him.

I also shot video footage of Makepisi.

 

2.  Leopard of the Night

Leopard of the Night

Leopard of the Night

A magical sighting of Makepisi male leopard at night on our first night of our African safari adventure in the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, greater Kruger National Park, South Africa.

As the light fell, Petros, our tracker, brought out the spotlight so we could continue to view and photograph Makepisi as the sun set over a beautiful African savannah landscape in Mpumalanga province.

We saw Makepisi twice during the trip, and he is a special leopard we will always remember.

 

3.  Spotted Hyena

Spotted Hyena

Spotted Hyena

One of the few hyena sightings we had during our stay in the Timbavati.

The spotted hyena is a predatory carnivore which inhabits the bushveld.  It loves to steal the kills made by lions and leopards, and will even terrorise leopards in order to steal their kills.

 

4.  I Spy with My Little Eye

I Spy with My Little Eye

I Spy with My Little Eye

Around 15 minutes after we encountered Rockfig Jr female during our second game drive in the Motswari Private Game Reserve, something caught her attention.

Rockfig Jr got up from the termite mound on which she was resting, and headed over to a thicket, where she keenly watched a bachelor warthog which we had also seen, and which was perhaps 50 to 100 metres away.

There was a possibility that Rockfig Jr would attack the warthog and provide herself a nice breakfast, but instead, she sat watching intently.

She soon returned and came extremely close to us.  At one point she was less than two metres behind our open-top Land Rover.  I was perched in the rear part of the vehicle, and it was the closest I had ever been to a leopard.

 

5.  Stare of the Wildebeest

Stare of the Wildebeest

Stare of the Wildebeest

This was one of the earliest sightings of wildebeest in the Motswari Private Game Reserve.

 

6.  Headbangers

Headbangers

Headbangers

Two male impala engaging in sparring.  These two were not at war, but were engaging in play-battle.  Were a dominant male to encounter an invading male, there would be a much more intense battle for dominance.

 

7.  Giraffe Grazing

Giraffe Grazing

Giraffe Grazing

Africa‘s tallest mammal, munching on some delicious leaves.

 

8.  Timbavati Queen

Timbavati Queen

Timbavati Queen

One of the two Jacaranda Pride lionesses we encountered on the morning of our third day of our safari in the Motswari Private Game Reserve.

 

9.  Ximpoko Yawn

Ximpoko Yawn

Ximpoko Yawn

It was early in the evening when we had encountered two large, dominant male lions of the Timbavati, who had of recent times been causing quite a stir in the region.

After a long, hot day resting, the Ximpoko and Mabande males were still somewhat tired and prone to sleeping.

At one stage, Ximpoko yawned, and I captured it.

A short time later, the two nomads got up, wandered over to another spot up the river bank and settled for a little more rest before the long night that lay ahead for them.

 

10.  Reaching

Reaching

Reaching

While we had a few elephant sightings during our time in the Timbavati, I have not published many images of elephants.

It can be hard to photograph them in clean surroundings, but this image had a cuteness factor which warranted publication.

On our final game drive in the Motswari Private Game Reserve on the morning of 7 October, 2012, we were in off-road in very thick, dry scrub, surrounded by a breeding herd of elephants.

I counted at least 11 elephants that I could see (although there were probably more); and amongst these, there were a few juveniles.

I was fortunate enough to capture this little guy reaching for some delicious leaves and twigs.

Africa: Day 5 – Final Game Drive in Timbavati and Departure to Jo’burg

After an intense fourth day in Africa, during which we saw all five members of the ‘Big Five’ (which, for those who do not know, is a hunting term, not a relative descriptor of animal size) and a decent sleep, we rose before 5am for our final day in Motswari.

We knew that we had only one game drive left, and that later that day, we would be back in Johannesburg.

We headed out before 5:30am, and quickly encountered three elephant bulls which were grazing in a thicket.  The plan for the morning was to head to a termite mound which a pack of hyenas had hijacked and turned into a den.  We would later go looking for a breeding herd of elephants.

After spending a few minutes with the elephant bulls, we departed for the hyena den, and encountered a few zebras along the way.  I shot a few images, but the zebras were in the scrub, which was not good for photography.

A short time later, we arrived at the hyena den hoping to see some cubs.  We spotted only one older hyena cub, which looked at us for perhaps a minute before disappearing into the den, never to be seen (by us) again.

We then headed to Hide Dam, where we were fortunate enough to spot a hyena cub and two adults on the muddy banks.  Here is an image I shot of the hyena cub:

Hyena Cub at Hide Dam

Hyena Cub at Hide Dam

After we left the hyenas, we spotted an African fisheagle high in the tree tops, before Petros soon discovered leopard tracks.  We dropped him in the middle of the Timbavati to see if he could track the leopard, while Chad took Mario, Xenedette and myself in search of more wildlife while Petros was scouting.

Soon enough we encountered a stunning nyala bull walking to our right.  It crossed the dirt track some distance in front of us and then continued on its way through the savannah to our left.

Here is an image of that lone nyala I captured in the warmth of the morning light:

Nyala of Timbavati

Nyala of Timbavati

We continued on, and encountered a herd of zebras.  The herd decided to walk down the road on which we were travelling, and as we continued to follow, the zebras became more skittish and ran further along the road.  We followed them for a few minutes before they continued into the bush, at which we point we headed off.

Chad’s plan was to take us to a breeding herd of elephants.  Before too long, we found ourselves literally surrounded by these gigantic African creatures.  We were slowly navigating the thick bush as we continued to immerse ourselves in the herd.  There were elephants all around us.  I counted at least eleven that I could visually identify from where we were at one point.

The Old Giant

The Old Giant

We spent around 30 minutes following the herd from within it, before heading back to see collect Petros and see how had fared in his quest to find a leopard.  Unfortunately he had no luck funding the elusive leopard.

On our way back to camp, we spotted a few white-backed vultures, more zebras, and a herd of impala drinking at a watering hole.

Soon we arrived back at the lodge.  Alas, our final game drive had ended.

We soon had breakfast and relaxed for a little before it was time to pack our gear.  We had some time to sit for a while, and during our down time, a nyala had come up to the banks of the camp, and was grazing a very short distance from where we had eaten breakfast.  We returned to the communal area where I found Mario photograping the nyala.

A little while later, two warthogs walked right through the tracks on the property, in broad daylight, completely nonplussed by the presence of ourselves and the other guests.

Our flight back to Jo’burg would be departing at around 1pm or 1:30, so we had to start making final preparations for departure, including the very difficult part of saying goodbye to Chad and Petros, knowing it would be a long time before we would see them again, and still on a high from the magic of the past four days.

Chad drove us to the Motswari airstrip, and soon we were boarding the Cessna (incidentally, the exact Cessna 208B Grand Caravan that brought us to Motswari) for the ninety-minute flight back to Jo’burg.  Soon enough we were in the air, departing the place that had changed us; the place that even as I write this article six weeks later, still affects me.

After a short stop to collect passengers from another airstrip nearby, we were in the air again, on the final trip back to Jo’burg.

During the game drive that morning, I had badly injured my ankle as I was repositioning myself inside the Landrover.  While it hurt at the time, as the day wore on, the pain became more intense.

As I was sitting next to Mario in the Cessna, looking down over the landscape I hated to be leaving, the pain became more noticeable.  By the time we got back to OR Tambo airport, I was struggling to walk.

Back at the airport, Xenedette and I had to say our goodbyes to Mario, who was heading off to Egypt later that day to collect a tripod he had left there, before venturing to Spain.  We thanked him for the magical experience we had just had, and promised to keep in touch, which we have done.

That night we were staying again at the Protea Hotel OR Tambo.  We arrived and checked in.  After settling into our room, walking became more difficult.  We headed down to the hotel’s restaurant for dinner, but apart from my physical pain, I felt a sense of emotional pain.  The magic we had experienced over the past four days was over.  We were no longer in the company of Chad and Petros and the amazing Timbavati wildlife, and we were two again.  We felt Mario’s absence as we had dinner, as the last time we sat in that restaurant, he was there with us as we discussed the trip ahead.

By now, walking was extremely difficult, and I was starting to worry, as we had a whole new adventure ahead of us the next day.  After dinner, we retired to our room, where I continued to think about what we had just experienced.  I wrote about it at the time, expressing the feelings I felt at the time.  Some of those feelings still exist now as I recall that night.

The 7th of October, 2012, was the end of an incredible experience that even now I miss.  I continue to read the Motswari Ranger’s Diary, which is a blog written mostly by Chad, as he chronicles the daily game drives he and the other rangers take.  Reading that blog and seeing the images keeps me connected to a place that affected me strongly, as I recall our own experiences, and long for our next trip there.

The 8th of October would introduce a new chapter in our African trip, during which we would fly to Cape Town and experience people, places and adventures that were far removed from Motswari, Chad, Petros, Makepisi, Rockfig Jr, the Jacaranda pride lionesses and the Ximpoko lions that had dominated our existence for the first part of the trip.

Stay tuned for Day 6 of our African trip, and the beginning of our adventures in and around Cape Town.

Africa: Day 3 – Wildlife Abundance and a Magical Sunset and Night Sky

Our third day in Africa was the second day of our photographic safari in the Motswari Private Game Reserve in greater Kruger Park.

It started with an early rise, some time before 5am.  We were heading out on our first morning game drive, during which we would encounter lots of wildlife, and another special surprise.

The morning was quite cloudy, which on the one hand was bleak and gloomy, but which on the other hand made photography much easier due to the lower contrast.

Chad and Petros whisked us off nice and early, first encountering a few zebra in the scrub, before stopping for a landscape shot a short while afterwards.  Unfortunately the zebra were not out in the open, so landing a clean shot was difficult if not impossible.  Photographic woes aside, just to see a bunch of zebra in the wilderness was pleasant in its own right.

Our next photographic stop was for a wildebeest and some impala, followed shortly after by a lone spotted hyena who was hot on the trail of… something.  A few minutes later we encountered another lone hyena who was lazing on the ground, unfussed by our appearance.

Some twenty minutes later, magic awaited us: another leopard!

Not only was it a leopard, but it was a different leopard.  The night before, we had encountered Makepisi, a male leopard; but this morning, we had the pleasure of the company of Rockfig Jr, a female leopard who inhabits the southern part of Motswari Private Game Reserve.

What a magnificent leopard she was.

Here she is in her glory:

The Leopard Rests

The Leopard Rests

I landed a very pleasing selection of high-quality images in very soft light, and Rockfig Jr was quite the model.

Here is a close view of her profile:

Profile of Rockfig Jr

Profile of Rockfig Jr

During the time we spent with Rockfig Jr, at one point she got up, walked right behind the vehicle, and headed over to a vantage point from which she keenly watched a warthog which was grazing in open sight in the not-too-far distance.  When Rockfig Jr passed behind the open-top vehicle, I was closest to her, and I estimated her to have been only three metres away from me.

Where else but Motswari can you find yourself three metres from a wild leopard?  It was spectacular.

Rockfig Jr kept her eyes on the potential prey she spotted a relatively short distance away, but evidently elected not to pursue it.

Way too soon, it was time for us to leave.  We had coffee and biscuits at Hide Dam, and then headed off, whereby we soon encountered a few wildebeest, followed by lots of impala.

Throughout the safari, we would encounter many impala; so common were they, that we did not bother to stop on each sighting; but early into the safari as this game drive was, we did stop and watch them for a while, during which time I captured this image of two males sparring:

Locking Horns

Locking Horns

Our next sightings included giraffes and more impala, before we headed back to the lodge for a well-earned breakfast.

We sat down to a fantastic buffet, and cooked-to-order eggs, with a variety of juices, fruits and other food available.

After breakfast, we had quite a few hours or recreation and lunch before our next game drive, which would commence at 3:30pm and see us returning for dinner after sunset.  Lunch was announced by the beating of drums and the African songs sung by the Motswari staff who brought the food.

Our afternoon drive commenced, and there were sightings aplenty, with lilac-breasted rollers, giraffes, kudus, more giraffes, our first hippo, more impala, and then finally, another surprise, and another member of the Big Five.

Chat and Petros had led us to three white rhinos: a male, a female and a calf.  Our timing was unfortunate, as the rhinos had just indulged in a mud bath, and decided to wander off.

The rhino mother and calf were heading to the river bed, which they would cross before heading up the bank and into the scrub.  We followed them and had some nice photo opportunities in the dry river bed before they soon meandered along.

Apologies for the lack of images; I have not yet published any of the shots I took during this particular rhino sighting; but they are coming in the near future.

As it was late in the afternoon, we headed off, and soon stopped for a quick sunset silhouette, and an image which captured the feel of Africa:

Sunset on the African Savannah

Sunset on the African Savannah

All this image needed was a leopard perched in the tree.  Not so lucky, I am afraid.

Shortly after capturing this beautiful sunset, we stopped for a sundowner before making our way onwards.

The next encounter was unexpected; the trackers had located yet another leopard.  This would be our third leopard sighting in barely more than 24 hours.  Not only was it our third leopard sighting, but it was the third unique leopard.  So far we had seen Makepisi and Rockfig Jr on consecutive drives.

This time we encountered Nthombi, a female leopard, who Chad had earlier heard roaring in the north of the reserve.  We found her in thick bush, and using the spotlight, our Land Rover plus two others trudged through the bush, relatively closely following her.  It soon became apparent that Nthombi was stalking a steenbuck, so we had to back off and leave her to do her thing in peace.

During our short time with Nthombi, I did snap one shot of her stalking her prey, but it was not a usable shot.  Not to worry; merely being in the presence of another leopard, and watching her on the hunt, was more than enough of a reward.  Alas, it was time to depart.

Early during our morning drive, I had told Chad that I was keen to photograph a silhouette image of a dead tree against the Milky Way after darkness had fallen.  Chad showed us a particular tree at Big Nigrescens, and said we would aim to head back there on one of our night drives.

After the excitement of chasing Nthombi through the bush, Chad drove us back to Big Nigrescens, where I exited the Land Rover and set up my gear for a long exposure.

Here was the winning image I landed:

Afrika se Nag Lug

Afrika se Nag Lug

After a few long exposures, we headed back to the lodge, where a pre-dinner drink and a delicious meal awaited us.

After dinner and discussion, we were escorted back to our rondavel and we prepared for bed, as an absolutely huge day awaited us, starting even earlier in the morning, as we had all agreed to depart at 5:30am rather than 6:00am, at which time all of the other safari parties would also be embarking on their morning drives.

Day two of our Motswari safari experience had been a fantastic experience, but the best was yet to come.

Stay tuned for the next installment, in which it will be revealed that Xenedette would receive an absolutely awesome birthday present.