There are two reasons that I considered myself to be both blessed and privileged during my days as a lodge-based safari guide. Firstly, I got to wake up on a daily basis, excited and incredibly passionate about my work. Few people are able are able to articulate what their passion in life is, and perhaps even fewer are able to say that what they do for a living, is in fact their passion. Too often, peoples passions are sidelined for more ‘mainstream’ job opportunities (perhaps out of a desire to conform with societal norms), and their true passions are brushed aside as weekend hobbies, or ‘nice to have’s’. Thankfully, I recognized early on, that mainstream didn’t make me happy, wasn’t where I wanted to be, and that I needed to take the opportunity to follow a passion. That anxious riddled leap of faith into the unknown, although frightening at first, is the best decision I could ever have made for my own self preservation.
The ‘fluffy’ stuff aside, the second reason I considered myself privileged, and the primary reason for this blog post, were the incredible sightings I was exposed to on a regular basis out in the bush. I cannot recall the amount of times I referred to sightings as “once in a lifetime” moments, only to be blown away by another once in a lifetime sighting merely days later. The frequency with which safari guides are exposed to mesmerizing animal interactions and rare behaviors is astonishing, and something you never really get used to.
The safari lodge industry is generally divided into working cycles of six weeks on, working every single day including weekends and public holidays, followed by a much needed two weeks leave – an 8 week cycle in total. And the industry average that guides stay in their line of work (although it is increasing), is generally 2-3 years at most lodges, and perhaps 3-5 years at more high-end exclusive lodges. With the norm of two game drives per day, and at some lodges even a walking safari in between drives, that is a LOT of hours spent out in the wilderness. It is therefore no surprise that guides have seemingly endless stories of exciting moments and memorable sightings with guests.
During my relatively short time as a photographic guide at Londolozi Private Game Reserve, I was exposed to countless special moments, and a handful of incredibly rare sightings. The most difficult part, was trying to narrow it down to my top 3 sightings. But, after much deliberation (mostly around defining what made each sighting so special to me), I have gone ahead and outlined my 3 best sightings for you, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed being in the moment at the time.
Lion Pride, Hippo and Rhino
The top of my list, is undeniably the unusual interaction between a pride of 21 lions, a hippo and a white rhino bull, all within half an hour of each other, and along the banks of the mighty Sand River. It was my guests second last morning drive and we had not yet seen lions. Having spent a few hours the afternoon before tracking fresh signs of a pride in the area, we decided to head out earlier than normal the following morning, in the hope of finding the pride that we had been looking for.
Thankfully, luck was on our side, and after returning to the same area, it didn’t take us long to track and find the pride consisting of 14 cubs, 4 adult lionesses, and 3 of the Majingilane males, 21 lions in total. There were quite literally lions everywhere we looked.
The morning light was as golden as we ever could have hoped for, and we just didn’t know where to point our cameras. The 1.5 hour sighting consisted of a white rhino bull chasing one Majingilane male and a few cubs, an angry hippo bull charging three overly inquisitive cubs, lions play fighting with each other, and a lioness climbing to the top of a set of rocks like something straight out of a Lion King scene
Leopard Cub Cuteness
A close second, would have to be the moment that we followed a female leopard back to a suspected den site where we thought she was stashing two tiny cubs. Days of patience paid off, when upon arrival at the site, we heard the short, deep grumbles from the female, calling her two young cubs, indicating to them that it was safe to leave their hiding spots. We were there to witness the cubs coming out to greet their mother.
The Dream Shot
Although I am sure I had better sightings photographically speaking, I’ve chosen this sighting purely on the basis of the incredibly story that went along with it, and I’d like to elaborate.
When I first started guiding at Londolozi, I had noticed a brilliant photograph hanging up in the Londolozi Creative Hub captured by fellow ranger at the time James Tyrrell. It was a photograph of a leopard known as the Inyathini male as he jumped from one rock to another, over a pool of water at a place appropriately named ‘Water on the Rocks’. Not only was this something incredible to witness, but James had captured the moment excellently.
The leopard was bathed in golden morning light, and his reflection in the still water in the foreground added a mesmerising element to the photograph. Ever since that moment, I had envisioned capturing a similar image (of any leopard) at the same spot.
Over the year and a half or so of guiding at Londolozi, due to the fact that it was an area of overlapping territory for a few leopards, I viewed numerous individual leopards at this very spot either just passing by, resting in the shade, feeding on hoisted impala kills nearby and even drinking water, but on none of these occasions had I witnessed any of these leopards walk over, or jumping across the rocks in the middle of the pool of water like I had seen in the photograph.
I had eventually accepted that what James had witnessed was incredibly rare, and I had started to give up on the idea of capturing a similar moment. That was until the unthinkable happened!
On one particular morning, heading into the deep southern sections of Londolozi, my tracker and I agreed that checking the area around Water on the Rocks would be a good area to begin the search for a known female in the area. On the way there, I had began the conversation with my guests about the sheer beauty of the area we were about to explore, and I even went as far as to explain the dream photograph that I had in mind, all the while hoping that we would find the female nearby. We arrived at Water on the Rocks and there was no sign of any leopard. I got out the vehicle and used the opportunity to demonstrate to my guests the type of photograph I had envisioned if a leopard was to walk across the rocks.
We decided to move on and broaden our search. Around the next corner, staring directly into the rising morning sun, my tracker pulled off an incredible spot of a leopard about 150 yards away. We drove a little closer to see which leopard it was, and to our surprise, it was the Inyathini male and he was walking directly towards us. After watching him pass the vehicle, we turned around and began to follow him as he made his way back towards where we had just come from… Water on the Rocks! For a moment I thought to myself, “Could this be the day?” Without wanting to get too excited and to avoid any disappointment I tried to remove the thought from my mind. We continued to follow.
The leopard made his way down towards the water’s edge and crouched down to drink. He had a full stomach, indicating that he had finished off a kill recently and we watched and photographed as he drank, his reflection in the still water adding to the beauty of the scene.
He stood up after drinking, let out a few rasping territorial calls, and made his way toward the rocks in the centre of the water source. I scrambled to position the vehicle in the event of him crossing, and we waited with bated breath as he stood on top of the rocks and began to cross… this was it, the day had come!
My guests and I scrambled for our cameras, and the leopard crossed the rocks right before our eyes and we had captured the moment exactly as I had imagined it.
He walked off into the shadows, still calling, the noise reverberating throughout the drainage line and we all sat in silence, still unable to register what we had just witnessed.
We had captured my dream photograph!
Share this Post