PART TWO Mala Mala
During the much appreciated break, I should really have downloaded my photos from the morning, but I was too tired after the early start. Like my husband and the lions, I took a much needed nap! We then prepared to head out again.
After the break, we couldn’t find the leopardess or her cub. We worried that she might have had her kill stolen from her by lions, which were very much in evidence, snoozing in the warm sand of the riverbed. Were they sleeping off a feed, after attacking her and her cub to get her impala kill? Were the leopards dead?
The lions were all over the place, totally relaxed, looking quite ridiculous as they snoozed upside down.
We continued on, encountering elephants crossing the road as we eased our way along giving them the right of way. The big matriarch headed across the road peacefully, while a young male indulged in a bit of aggressive display behaviour, before deciding to follow the example of wiser heads.
Did we see this rhino here? I’m not saying where I photographed it, whether I photographed it this year, or on a previous trip to Africa. I don’t want pond scum using my website to locate rhinos for the ignorant trade based around the completely erroneous idea that rhino horn will make a blind bit of difference to your health or your sex life.
That evening we were searching for the leopardess and her cub right on dark, not sure whether they had survived the decision of the leopardess to conceal her kill in the grass, instead of hauling it into the safety of a tree. Could this lioness scent the kill?
We were just about to give up when, to our huge relief, the sub-adult cub sneaked past, so close to the wheel on my side that I barely got off a shot! Note to self – always keep an eye on your shutter speed as the light disappears, it can drop dramatically in seconds. There’s movement blur because dark was falling and my shutter speed was too slow for the conditions. However, I like how the movement blur shows his fearful, furtive body language as he tried not to be detected by the lions while re-joining his mother to feed on what was left of the impala.
We were very happy to know he had not been killed. From there we followed some amorous lions in the dark, using the spotlight for a while as the lion eagerly followed a female who was being exceedingly flirtatious.
Back at the camp, I left my card downloading to the laptop and hard drive backup. We all had a quick shower and freshened up before dinner. The evenings were very enjoyable with good company and the camaraderie of sharing our experiences with Gerry and Andrew, not to mention the wonderful rhythms of African singing from some of the staff.
Each night I re-set my settings for the following morning – nothing can be more frustrating than taking some images and wondering what’s wrong with them, then remembering you still have your settings from last night for spotlit lions or leopards! I put the batteries on to charge and quickly got ready for bed because our ever-efficient daughter was already trying to sleep! We slept soundly, despite the sounds of lions roaring in the night.
In the morning we headed across the causeway where the pied kingfisher seemed to be a permanent fixture.
Our eagle-eyed daughter caught a glimpse of a mongoose. These little creatures mostly live on insects, earthworms, birds, lizards and rodents. However, they are well known as being very good at fighting venomous snakes, particularly the Indian grey mongoose. They are wary and quick. It is rare to get a decent shot of one so I was happy with this image, cropped a lot because they are really small.
Further along was a large herd of buffalo, grazing contentedly on the riverbank, where the grass was lush and green.
They watched us carefully, deciding we were no threat. Buffalo are amongst the most dangerous animals in the African bush and fiercely defend their own. There was a mother amongst this herd with quite a young calf and she was especially vigilant.
They saw that we were no threat, and decided to head off into the bush. I noticed a small rise on the riverbank, and asked if Andrew could position the vehicle so we could photograph them jumping up it as they heaved themselves up the steep river bank in a cloud of dust.
I'm not saying where I saw this rhino, or whether this photo is from four years ago. He turned to face us, framed by spiky thorn trees which made me think of how beleaguered and vulnerable these armoured tank-like animals really are, surrounded by the danger of poaching wherever they may be. People blame the poachers, but the real culprits are those who buy rhino horn. #ifthebuyingstopsthekillingcantoo
We then came upon the lions waking up.
This lioness drew back, seemingly saying “Woah, sister! What big teeth you have!”
The lionesses sharpened their claws on a handy scratching post, just as our domestic cats will do with the furniture.
One of them approached so close that she filled the frame in this portrait of her battle-scarred face.
Later, dark fell, and we caught this glimpse of the queen of the night going out to hunt.
Next morning the first thing we saw was a waterbuck. My husband took a wider angle image with my second camera and 100-400 lens.
Not having my second camera at any stage of this trip because he had it, I took a portrait shot with BB, my 200-400 with 1.4 inbuilt extender. I’m not whinging though, I let him use my second camera because he is my beloved sherpa!
Next, we saw a young giraffe and its mother. Again, he took the wider angle shot.
I zeroed in on a closer version of the mother and her young one.
Elephants crossed our path – this is his shot.
I did a closer study.
We heard that a pair of male leopards were in a stand-off in another part of the park and headed over to see. The rule of two vehicles on any sighting meant that we waited until another vehicle headed off to check out something else. The old leopard king of this territory was drooling foam, which is a sign of stress. This shot by my husband illustrates that behaviour.
A young gun had come around to challenge his sovereignty. The pair of them were giving huffing grunts, posturing and patrolling.
I read a book, ‘The Territorial Imperative’ by Richard Ardrey, a long time ago. It analysed the way animals guard and maintain territory.
It pointed out that, unlike man, whenever possible animals do not fight if they can avoid it. Instead they posture and parade, hoping to intimidate the other without physical harm which can be fatal to an animal that must hunt to live.
The two of them marked territory, paced and foamed at the mouth, staring intently at each other. In the end, the older leopard backed away and vanished into the bush. It seemed that a new leopard king may have arrived.
As evening drew on, we went over to the airstrip, where lions were roaring in the dark, a chilling sound. It was a great spot to see the lions which would normally be concealed deep in the bush.
Having another vehicle with their spotlight side-lighting the lions was perfect. This suggested the outlines and made for a very dramatic 3-dimensional image. The lion and lioness were sprawled out on the airstrip, calling to each other.
In fact, the happy couple were exhausted from their marathon sexual encounter – when the female is in oestrus they mate every fifteen minutes for five days.
We had to laugh – they were so worn out from all of their hanky-panky that they could barely lift their heads off the ground to roar!
The day had come to an end. We had seen things we have never seen before. Next day we were heading off to our next destination, so we packed as much as possible bearing in mind that before leaving, we were going out on an early morning game drive.
Next day we got up before dawn as usual and headed out. We found a leopardess just waking in the early morning light.
She stretched and prepared to move off.
When she headed off straight down the steep slope Andrew followed her!
OMG that stony track was so steep, I was terrified we would flip over - but Andrew drove very skilfully and we got to the bottom. However, where was the leopardess? We searched and searched, which involved slewing about on very soft sand in the riverbed, sometimes seeming as if we might get bogged.
I’m not good at being calm about potentially getting bogged when I know I have to be flying off somewhere else in an hour or so. When we were asked if we wanted to continue searching, I made the deciding vote of ‘No, let’s go back to camp and finish our packing!’ We got back to camp and packed away the camera gear. I couldn't find a lens cap, but our daughter produced a very useful universal rubber lens cap.
I had been using the beanbags in the vehicles with great success. Gerry offered to take my tripod and gimbal back with him to Johannesburg and look after it till after we went to our next camp. We called and asked if they had beanbags in the vehicles at Tswalu. My husband was very keen to lose some weight, and I wanted to make it easier on him. I made the fateful decision to leave the tripod and gimbal with Gerry. It was going to come back to bite me, but I didn’t know that!
We posed up for a group photo by the vehicle with Gerry and Andrew of Wildeye SA, who'd made our visit to Mala Mala truly awesome, then piled in and off to the airport.
All our arrangements in Africa were made by Encompass Africa: https://encompassafrica.com.au, a team we trust who ensure everything is organised seamlessly. We have travelled with them twice and our daughter many times more!
I am not being paid to mention the people who made our trip special, I just feel that I should give credit where credit is due.