when everything goes your way…
A summary of the first two ODP Safaris-trips to Elephant Plains in 2015
When I entered through Gowrie Gate at the northern tip of the Sabi Sands Game Reserve on the 4th of April, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Instead of seeing lush, rejuvenated veld, which I’d hoped had recovered after last October’s massive fire, I drove into a Lowveld winter – the grass was dry and golden and the red bushwillow leaves had changed from green to yellow, orange and brown. Only along the few drainage lines and small riverbeds were signs of the verdant vegetation you would expect to see after the summer rains.
“We’ve hardly had a drop of rain this year”, explained Dawie Jacobs, one of the rangers at Elephant Plains Game Lodge, upon my arrival at camp. “But hey, it should be good for game viewing! Visibility is good and the receding water levels are attracting more and more animals with every passing day.” Dawie was wrong. Game viewing wasn’t good; it was exceptional! Over the next eight days two groups of ODP Safari clients experienced wildlife photographic opportunities that exceeded everyone’s expectations, including mine and that of my co-photographic guide for the trip, Brendon Cremer.
We had a total of eighteen leopard sightings of eight different individuals, including three big males: Tingana, Mvula, and Anderson, arguably the biggest leopard in the whole Sabi Sands. For many the highlight was watching Anderson hoist a sub-adult impala ram into a marula tree right in beautiful light, after giving us more than enough time to get our camera and flash settings correct. Those of you who have been lucky enough to witness anything similar will attest to the fact that it isn’t often that things line up so perfectly. The action can happen in the blink of an eye, or not at all if a pesky hyena spoils the party before the carcass can be hoisted. Sometimes it simply happens on the wrong side of the tree, but this time luck was on our side.
Not only did we watch Anderson hoist his kill, but he also fed where we could photograph him, descended in good light, and lay on a termite mound like a paparazzi-loving male model. The quality of the sightings on this trip was enough to blow my mind.
Other unforgettable leopard sightings included Shadow and her cub being chased into the trees by a spotted hyena, and Nsele bumping into a fully-grown male lion at Rhino Pan. Yes, we saw lions as well!
During our last safari in October 2014 the lions taunted us with their roars, but never entered the property. This year we saw no less than 23 of Africa’s largest cats. First there were the Tsalalas, a small pride of seven that posed for some backlit photos near Kraaines Waterhole. Then we found the Breakaway Pride – thirteen beautiful lions drinking in front of Simbambili. Last, but by no means least, we found three dominant, black-maned lions on a buffalo kill. Even though they hid the carcass out of sight, we were fortunate enough to watch them walk back and forth between the kill and a nearby waterhole, allowing us to get some fabulous photos of them walking towards us.
My personal highlight was undoubtedly watching the expression on Dereck and Jenny Hindry’s faces when we found Salayexe, a female leopard, in a tree on the final afternoon drive. Dereck and Jenny have been dreaming of this sighting for many years, and to be able to take stunning photos of her as well was an enormous cherry on an already delicious cake.
You too can join us on safari in this astounding reserve. Simply visit the ODP Safari – Elephant Plains page and pick the dates that work best for you. Believe me, it’s one for the Bucket List!
The animals in the Sabi Sands are extremely relaxed. Decades of eco-tourism have made most of the lions, leopards and other predators (not to mention the rest of the Big Five) very habituated to human presence, especially when you’re in an open game drive vehicle, and you can often pull up right beside them. As a result, you’ll use your shorter lenses, like a 70-200 mm very often.
Don’t leave your longer zoom- or prime lenses at home, though. There are many great portrait shots to take between 300 and 500 mm. I have found, however, that 600 mm is just too long for this reserve and clients who bring them seldom use them.
If you have one, bring your external flash, preferably with a flash bracket because we do a lot of night-time photography. Having your external flash on a flash bracket helps you not to wash out the animals’ pupils completely, allowing you to convert them to a natural, darker colour in a processing program like Lightroom.
It’s important to bring camera support as well, so don’t forget your beanbag and monopod.