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Trip Report: Big Cats and Tuskers Photo Safari – Part 1

Gerry van der Walt All Authors, Penny 3 Comments

The Big Cats and Tuskers Photo Safari is without a doubt one of the most varied and dynamic Wild Eye safaris that we run to date. Being able to go to various Kenyan destinations and their uniqueness is partly one of the reasons why the excitement I feel during the weeks heading up to it turns on like a timer.

There are other reasons you ask? Oh most definitely.

Let me tell you…

Landing in the Mara Triangle on the morning of the 5th of February, our safari official kicked off after we fought the airplane’s propeller-made wind to get our luggage and head to our vehicles with the help of the Wild Eye East Africa team and Gerry who were there to greet us when we landed.

A mid-length game drive took us into the forest cover along the Mara River to the camp we would be calling home for the next few days. Along the way of course, the Mara pretty much gave our guests a massive welcoming by giving great sightings plains game, huge herds of elephants and pockets of lonesome buffalo. Although big cats are the main focus of the Mara part of the safari, our guests arrived at the camp with huge smiles and expectations exceeded.

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One aspect we pride ourselves on is offering the personal touch to our guests, and our East Africa team more than excel in that department. Friendly and warm welcomes to our guests, Dickson and the team made everyone feel at home as we settled in for lunch and Gerry brought us up-to-scratch on the basic activities for the next few days.

Changing into cooler clothing (it was pretty damn hot already), we started our afternoon game drive. The lush and long grass was a stark contrast to the short, heavily grazed grass that some of our guests saw during the migration last year.

Our first sighting was of two black rhino looking alert as usual, while elephants and plains game were further in the background. God I love the Mara.

As the afternoon approach, massive herds of elephant came out of the forest thickets along the Mara River into the grassland in waves. These big creatures kept our attention for a while as seeing them in vast open grasslands amongst other animals in quite a unique sighting to East Africa.

Oh, and did I mention that they are free-roaming elephants as well?

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As you can imagine, the photographic opportunities are varied. You can pull out and capture the vast herds with the forest in the background, create simple composures, or go closer and capture moments between the elephants. We spent quite a bit of time with this family as we explored the different shots.

Over the radio, I heard one of the guides casually mention that there was a sighting of lion. But let me just be clear, it wasn’t just any lion… it was the infamous and very majestic male Scar lying with a female he had been mating with for a couple of days.

And we were off! Lying in the distance was a very typically lazy male lion (aka Flat Cats, as our East Africa team calls them) with the female alert and looking like she was interested in some warthogs in the distance. Although the sighting was not a very great photographic one, it was still great to see and experience!

And no. Scar didn’t move a muscle. The majestic King was a very tired one indeed.

So we headed back to camp where we were surrounded by the sounds of the Mara, grunting hippos and whooping hyena as we settled in for sundowners and dinner.

© Penny Robartes - Wild Eye

“Jambo” came the friendly morning call that meant it was time to get up and get ready for the new day. After a cup of coffee and a snack, we all gathered our camera gear from the media tent and started our new day in the Mara.

The rising sun gave a beautiful golden rim light on some male Impala testing each other’s strength while seeming oblivious to anything around them. But thats why I said ‘seeming’.

Suddenly the bachelor herd split up and ran around in panic. Some of the larger males use this as an opportunity to give one more prod here and there, but the commotion was undeniable and something had caused it.

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We turned a corner and and what we saw was just fantastic!

A mound covered in lions. Lions ranging from adults to cubs seemed to overflow from this particular mound on this particular morning.

You can be sure that camera’s were firing away at this pretty unusual scene. It really was absolutely stunning and the amount of them enable us to really focus on them and think about what exactly about the scene is making us want to pick up the camera. Is it because it is a scene that one has never seen before? Is it the intimate interactions and moments that were happening within the whole? How are going to capture it? What technical settings and compositional elements are you going to use to further highlight your vision?

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These were just some of the questions I asked my guests to consider as we pulled up to the scene. By starting to take note of what you want to capture, your image will be stronger as not only do you have a vision but you will then think about the ‘how’ you can create it.

This sighting just got better and better. The cubs were very focused in a certain direction, so when we turned to look and see what had capture their attention, we saw a female lioness walking towards them from a distance. As if by silent acknowledgement, the cubs suddenly sprang up and ran towards the approaching female where avid attention was paid to all parties.

By understanding animal behaviour, Gerry and I were able to predict the above meeting and prepared our guests for the interaction that was going to come. It was incredibly rewarding to see the guests in my vehicle out their cameras down afterwards and just smile at what they had experienced and captured. The above scene and interaction was a ‘wow’ moment that will not be forgotten by the guests on this safari. That is for sure.

The pride then headed off toward some mounds for a while before the the heat of the day disturbed them too much and they took shelter in some thickets. As a parting gift before we in turn went back to camp for breakfast, a typically grumpy buffalo bull charge some subadult lions and cubs off a mound where he proceeded to stand for a moment.

I have seen Topi, cheetah and the odd wildebeest stand on the mound, but a lumbering beast of a buffalo? Well I think this was also a new for him as he quite heavily climbed back down.

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That afternoon proved to be a very interesting one for all of us. We spotted a black rhino amongst some trees and spent some time with him as we played around with composition, using the environment as different frames, and telling different stories in the images we were taking.

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Our guide Jimmy is known as the cat spotter, and low and behold, I got a tap on the shoulder from him as he asked “Penny, is that a cat under that tree?”

Of course that tree had to be quite a distance away and the grass would have to be long, but through the binoculars I saw the top of a cats head with some black spots on it. A friendly debate erupted in the vehicle as we tried to prove what cat it is – cheetah or leopard. Even Jimmy chopped and changed his answers for a bit until he settled on leopard.

The great cat then stood up and moved further into the shade of the tree, and it was undeniably a beautiful and huge male leopard. This guy was built like a tank! Radioing in other Wild Eye vehicles, we soon had the whole team with us as we waited for the leopard to climb that tree.

Keeping the suspense as always, the leopard finally got up and climbed the tree before we had to head back to camp for the evening. It was a great parting gift to the guests!

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The next morning we spent more time with the lion pride as we they hadn’t feed in a few days so a hunt would be quite likely. And we were right. Although unsuccessful, it was an experience that many of our guests had never seen before, and is one that always provides a lot of adrenaline and conversation afterwards!

A treat that we always offer our Mara guests is having a full breakfast where a scene from Out of Africa was shot. The view from here is amazing and as always, our East Africa teams made it as special as always! From there on we went on the lookout for the Cheetah duo that were last seen days previously along the border of Kenya and Tanzania. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see them this time, although Sammy did use the Border Post to gain that extra visibility!

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Our last day in the Mara came to an end and the morning would see us travelling to a new destination, one vastly different in look and offering.

Enter Lake Nakuru.

This place is without a doubt a gem and a marvellous place to photograph. Yellow Fever Trees and a blue lake provide the best backdrop for any image. It is simply put iconic, dreamy, and hands down captivating!

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Being able to get out of the vehicle and walk to the Lake’s edge, or find a place to sit (or lie down) facing the Fever Trees adds such value to this safari as it provides the guests the opportunity to change the perspective of their images and from what height they shoot from.

From curious buffalo to a very curious white rhino, we literally spent hours at the Lake’s edge before wandering slowly through the interior of Lake Nakuru to our next destination.

© Penny Robartes - Wild Eye

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That about wraps up the beginning part of the Big Cats and Tuskers Photo Safari.

Wondering where the next destination is?

Well, you better keep an eye out for the upcoming Big Cats and Tuskers Photo Safari Trip Report Part 2 which Gerry will post next week.

Keep passionate and keep shooting!

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About the Author

Gerry van der Walt

I am a private and specialist photographic safari guide, public speaker, co founder of Wild Eye and wildlife photographer. Visit my website at www.gerryvanderwalt.com or follow my journey on Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and Periscope.  I look forward to changing the way you see the world! Have you checked out The Wildlife Photography Podcast?

Comments 3

  1. Trigger Long

    I just want to tell you, you & this company take wonderful pictures. I was wondering if i could use your download pictures from this website for my personal use only. I am a person who understands copyright & wound give all the credit back to you & this website. When I download a picture i make sure i name the person who took it, website, place, & date………I use them as computer backgrounds……. Please…..

  2. Pingback: Trip Report: Big Cats and Tuskers Photo Safari – Part 2 - Wild Eye

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