Trip Report: Kruger Photo Safari 1-6 December 2016

Johan van Zyl All Authors, Johan 2 Comments

During the first week of December 2016, 4 guests and myself headed towards the Shinshangeni Concession in the southern part of the Kruger National Park.  This area, like most parts of South Africa, have been severely hit by droughts, with a lot of the animals, more typically your grazers, starving to death.

As we enter through the Crocodile Bridge gate, I was stunned at how green it was and how much the water had risen, it was almost like there was a sigh of relief in the area, like the tension of the droughts had broken.

We took a slow drive towards Shishangeni, which is the main camp, where we were met by our Guide Sifiso, who gave us a quick rundown of the plans before heading to Camp Shawu, our home for the next 5 nights.

Before we got to Camp Shawu we had seen big numbers of Elephants, Rhino’s, and abundance of general game like Impala’s, Wildebeest, Zebra’s etc.


With everyone super excited to get going, we quickly dropped off all our luggage, got the camera’s, had a quick bite and it was time to explore this amazing concession.  We had a few “targets” that we wanted to achieve;  For some it was photographing a Leopard in the wild, for others it was to see Cheetahs, and a few people wanted to hone in on their photographic skills.

To our almost disbelief, by the time we got back to the lodge we had seen about 5 White Rhino’s, A Female Cheetah with her 2 Cubs and then to top it off A Male Lion on a Buffalo kill.  We could not have asked for a better start!

The Game viewing throughout the week just continued to get better and better when…

A radio call had come in, there was a Leopard in a tree not too far from where we were…  The excitement was electric, one of my guests had never seen Leopard in the wild!!  We all agreed to pack our camera’s away as we headed straight to where the Leopard was seen.

Although the view wasn’t great, some element of pressure was off, as at least if worse comes to worse, we got to see a Leopard on the trip.  Little did we know…

Arriving back at the lodge I can clearly remember feeling a buzz as we met at the dining area for a quick drink before dinner.  Everyone was over the moon and super excited about what they had just witnessed on safari.  That feeling on satisfaction is something that has never become dull for me and is the part that I most enjoy about Guiding.  The look of excitement, joy, content, and being overwhelmed when someone photographs their first animal in Africa, or sees their first Lion or Leopard, THAT for me is priceless.

The early morning calls of Francolins and Guineafowls, Fish Eagles and Hadeda’s, a clear reminder to all that we were in the bush, away from civilisation.  We decided to go look for the Leopard we had the previous night, to see if we can get some better images of him.  Arriving back at the same tree, there was no evidence.

No sign of him, just he’s left over Impala carcass stuck in Knobthorn.  Sifiso was convinced the Leopard was still around and wasn’t going to give up that easily.  After driving around for a few minutes, we found him, in a Marula tree probably a few 100 metres from where he had been the night before, but this time the photographic opportunities were incredible!!

We waited patiently for most of the morning for him to come down the tree, but clearly the shelter and comfort of lying in a big Marula tree was far more appealing.

We will try again in the afternoon we all agreed.

With our plans in place for the afternoon, we set out on a slow bumble to where the Leopard was, hoping to get our timing just right so that we arrive at that same Marula tree, when the sun was about to set.  We had numerous Elephant and White Rhino sightings on the way, and even came across a Black Rhino with her Calf!!

When we arrived at the same tree where we were the morning, we found the Male Leopard, who probably moved a few centimetres during the day.  The sun was going down, the light was fading…  Eventually our patience paid off as he slowly started getting up, stretching every now and then.  Push your ISO’s right up to 4000 or even 5000 but make sure you have a fast enough shutter speed to capture him coming down!

He sat, contemplating on whether to get down or not for ages and unfortunately for us, by the time he did come down, it was way to dark for us to get a clear image, but the sight will never be forgotten.

Our Leopard expectations have been fulfilled, with all my clients getting amazing images, it was time to head back to camp.

Again as soon as we thought sightings could not get any better, the Shishangeni concession and our Guide Sifiso delivered.

One of the highlights that stand out was a sighting we had of a Female Cheetah on a fresh Zebra Foal kill.  Scared that Vultures might get to it as soon as the day started warming up, she pulled the carcass to a nearby bush, keeping it out of the sun and also out of sight.  Power is not really something you associate with Cheetahs, but the strength this Female showed to move the carcass, left us in awe.

Our last evening drive was another memorable one.  Sifiso recommended we go looking for the Male Leopard that has been in the area, again.  It didn’t take us long to find him, again resting in a Knobthorn tree, not the best photographically, but our patience as it so often does, was about to pay off.  He eventually climbed (more like fell) out of the tree and posed for us in every possible position you can imagine.  On top of rocks, in the open plains, it was incredible.

Another successful day, another incredible sighting, more incredible images and memories.

Being very spoilt this week, one thing we struggled a little bit with was finding Lions.  Not that it really mattered, we had such amazing sightings, but a pride of Lions in the morning would really top it off…

A 4;15am (jip you probably guessed it) a pride of Lions were calling right in front of camp.  Overwhelmed by excitement everyone was out of bed and at the main lodge at least 15 minute earlier than usual, eager to try and find these Lions.

As it turned out we didn’t have to look too hard, the Pride was at the waterhole right in front of camp.

Trying to delay our departure to the very last second, it was eventually time to leave the Lions and head back to camp for a quick breakfast, team photo, last minute checks and then be transferred back to Shishangeni for checkout.

Another incredible week with amazing people and memories made that will last a lifetime.

Thank you very much to everyone at Shishangeni and Camp Shawu for making this Safari a success, I can’t wait to return in June 2017.

Why not join me?


About the Author

Johan van Zyl


The opportunity of visiting some of the wildest, undisturbed areas and sharing my passion for wildlife, conservation and photography with like minded people is a privilege that I am forever grateful.

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