marlon du toit, wild eye, kruger park, photo safari

Trip Report: Kruger Photo Safaris, Sept 2016

Marlon duToit All Authors, Marlon 2 Comments

Few places in Africa excite me as much as Kruger Park.

I was born and raised in the region and always enjoy returning “home”. Better yet, on these photographic safaris I get the opportunity to introduce guests from around the world to this marvelous reserve.

Kruger is well loved by people from around the world, and for good reason. It’s one of the most diverse habitats in Africa and home to a huge array of animals, both big & small!

The camp we use for our Wild Eye Kruger Photo Safaris is incredible well located on the banks of a large waterhole. The amount of wildlife attracted to the waterhole is stupendous.

marlon du toit, wild eye, kruger park, photo safari

At any point in time you can see elephants, zebra, buffalo, impala, warthog, kudu, giraffe, hippo and much more. This all right from the comfort of your room.

The picture above is from September, right in the grip of the dry season. There would typically be a little more water around, but this year was drier than usual.

To get a better idea of what a typical midday period would look like, literally right from your room, have a look at the video below…

It never seems to end. At any point in time during the daytime hours, there will be an animal at the waterhole. This alone makes this safari experience so unique and different, it sets it apart from many other safari camps in Africa.

As with any photographic safari, you tend to start out looking for the big cats.

Kruger Park as a whole is well known for great big cat sightings. This region of Kruger is known for incredible lion encounters, and our safari here never disappoint. My guests got to play witness to some amazing lion sightings.

The dry conditions left buffalo weak & prone to lion predation. During the days spent on safari here in September, we counted no less then 8 fresh lion kills. The buffalo were taking a big hit from lions, and fortunately my guests got to experience this struggle for life and death in a very vivid way!

marlon du toit, wild eye, kruger park, photo safari

The lioness pictured above is a nomad in the region and has been on her own for some time now. The dry season must have been a welcome relief – hunting weak animals during the drought is far easier than summer time, when they are fit, fleet-footed and healthy.

We found her on a sub-adult buffalo kill. She had pulled this buffalo down all by herself and managed to keep the carcass from other lions and scavengers by dragging it to a nearby thicket, out of sight.

Fortunately we left very early the next morning and got to her at first light, just as she started dragging the carcass. It was an incredible show of strength and something my guests loved photographing!

marlon du toit, wild eye, kruger park, photo safarimarlon du toit, wild eye, kruger park, photo safari

You can just imagine the power it took to move such a heavy carcass. She dragged it about 80 meters, an incredible feat! We were able to position the vehicle accordingly and my guest got great images of her in action, from beginning to end.

One of the great advantages of spending time in Kruger Park on a Wild Eye safari and within a private concession, is that you get to leave camp way before sunrise.

On one of the mornings, we decided to go in search of the pride along the foothills of the Lebombo Mountains. Not 20 minutes later we spotted a large portion of the pride, including the 4 pride male lions, feeding on a buffalo bull they had killed during the night. We were incredibly fortunate to see this and to be the only vehicle in the sighting for more than 30 minutes. Only one other car later joined us, another special aspect of the private Kruger concession and the exclusivity that it offers.

marlon du toit, wild eye, kruger park, photo safari

marlon du toit, wild eye, kruger park, photo safari

Some of the large male lions had already eaten their fill and were lying some 80 meters away from the carcass, bellies full and completely at ease.

To see 4 massive male lions together in one frame is astounding!

marlon du toit, wild eye, kruger park, photo safari

marlon du toit, wild eye, kruger park, photo safari

Can you imagine how incredible this must have been for my guests!

Fortunately I got to capture some great video footage too, so have a look and enjoy the sights of this great sighting.

Such is the brilliance of Kruger.

It is such a large game reserve and anything could be waiting around the corner. The animals are relatively habituated to the sights & smells of the vehicles, and this allows for stunning photographic opportunities & experiences in their presence.

Cheetahs are another bucket-list species to be found here.

On one evening we decided to go and look around a large open area to the West of the lodge. Cheetahs prefer open space so that they can both run & hunt prey effectively, and also scan for predators intent on harming them.

marlon du toit, wild eye, kruger park, photo safari

Here we found a a mother cheetah and two small cubs! How incredible is that not?

They were a little weary of the vehicle so we kept our distance and adjusted where we stopped based on their response to us. I love seeing a little “wildness” in the animals that I photograph. Too often it just seems like everything was “staged”, like the animals are just so used to it.

Here, there’s still a certain element of uncertainty in the eyes of the animals, especially those not seen daily like the cheetahs and leopards. That’s a good thing and reminds you of where you are – Wild Africa!

marlon du toit, wild eye, kruger park, photo safari

An elusive animal not often seen on safari, is the leopard.

They are loved the world over for their incredible coat. The leopard – pattern has been used by every fashion label, and the trend will likely never fade. They simply are that majestic!

This region supports a good leopard population, although they can, as with any place, be tough to find. They are so secretive and shy, and by nature enjoy spending time in thickets where it is no doubt more difficult to spot them!

Imagine our surprise when we returned home one evening, only to find a young leopardess right in front of the camp itself. She lay on the edge of the waterhole, and seemed to keen to go for a drink.

marlon du toit, wild eye, kruger park, photo safari

marlon du toit, wild eye, kruger park, photo safari

A few minutes after we arrived she stood up and moved over to the closest body of water. Considering the waterhole was drying up, very little water remained. As an effect catfish were congregating in the last remaining water bodies.

This, she was soon to find out herself.

marlon du toit, wild eye, kruger park, photo safari

Just as she was about to drink, all of the catfish realized she was there and started going crazy! Water splashed everywhere and the leopard jumped back as she was caught off guard.

The look on her face, pictured above in mid-motion, was fantastic!

She tried drinking from another section of the waterhole and found mostly mud. She then made her way into the darkness and left my guests and I with smiles on our faces. What a great sighting it had been!

There’s plenty of other animals to see here.

The region has a fantastic number of elephants. General game is abundant, especially on the banks of the Crocodile River to the South of the concession. Giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, impala & buffalo are common. Warthogs run around all over and there’s plenty smaller creatures such as mongoose, monkeys and more to see along the way.

Sadly, this region is one of the hardest hit by rhino poaching in the entire Africa.

The border to Mozambique is not far off, and entering the park via Mozambique is a popular means of poaching and they are able to make a quick getaway back into another country.

It’s common knowledge that there’s rhino in the park, so I share these images with you purely to showcase what we experienced. These are such incredible creatures and they deserve every bit of help they can get. If we do not visit the park less funds are accumulated, and less can be set aside for anti-poaching efforts.

The more we visit, the better chance of saving our rhino’s.

marlon du toit, wild eye, kruger park, photo safari

marlon du toit, wild eye, kruger park, photo safari

marlon du toit, wild eye, kruger park, photo safari

marlon du toit, wild eye, kruger park, photo safari

We were fortunate to see both black & white rhino!

The beauty of this region is it’s diversity in habitat. This allows both these species to co-exist comfortably. It’s the most special of experiences, spending time in their presence!

We also found a mother & calf, both in poor condition from the drought.

marlon du toit, wild eye, kruger park, photo safari

It’s not often than one see’s a “skinny” rhino, but she really was in poor shape.

The drought is very necessary though. Kruger Park is a massive reserve, but it is fenced. It needs management in order to keep track of animal numbers. Every 10 – 15 years the park will experience a severe drought and this ensures that old, weak or injured animals die. Think of it as a natural “controlling agent”. It’s nature’s way of keeping the balance within different environments.

Regardless, it’s never nice to see animals having a hard time.

Likely the highlight of my Kruger Safari came about early on a misty morning.

I woke up to the roars of 2 male lions at 4am. They were still some distance off but calling every 5 minutes. They were no doubt headed in our direction, very likely to enjoy a drink in front of camp.

Just as we were finishing our morning coffee, I spotted one of the males out in front of camp.

marlon du toit, wild eye, kruger park, photo safari

My guests and I hurriedly grabbed our kit and jumped into the game viewer. We joined them and what a sight we had right there infront of us.

My plan was no doubt to spend quality time with these 2 males as they seemed intent on going somewhere, and we wanted to see where this was. 

marlon du toit, wild eye, kruger park, photo safari

marlon du toit, wild eye, kruger park, photo safari

They lay down for only 5 minutes after drinking, the lodge visible behind them.

Then they started moving. They wasted no time apart from scent-marking some shrubs along the way, very typical territorial behaviour.

marlon du toit, wild eye, kruger park, photo safari

They then caught wind of a herd of buffalo, and what followed next was absolutely incredible!

For more on this sighting, please read the following blog…

Battle at Kruger: Lions vs Buffalo

Here’s some text taken from that blog…

“After 2 or 3 minutes they had made up their minds, and as one unit they changed their southerly course and moved straight east towards the sound of the buffalo. Now they picked up the pace and walked with even more determination. I knew this look well, I had seen it many times before. The walk they had adopted now meant business. These lions were very keen on something up ahead, and we were soon to find out exactly what they had heard.

Up in the distance we caught sight of a small group of buffalo, perhaps 80 in number. The wind was in favour of the lions and the herd of buffalo had no idea what was coming their way. They all had their heads down and were busy feeding, slowly moving to the west.

The male lions settled down some 100 meters away, and just kept watching the herd. They were analyzing each and every move, there was no doubt about that. The two males were now lying down 50 meters apart, but both were keeping an eye on one another, feeding off each others energy, waiting perhaps for the other to make the initial move. Male lions have a very strong bond, and this is most evident when they defend their territory, and when they hunt big prey.

Buffalo, was big prey!

We decided to move towards the road and whilst we waited for the lions to make a move, we would have some coffee. The buffalo herd all lied down in a tight bunch, presumably to ruminate on the food they had eaten during the morning and to get some rest. Bad move!

I had hardly poured the first steaming cup of coffee when one of the males rose to his feet, and made a move straight towards the unsuspecting herd. One look at the way he was moving – low to the ground, ears forward, eyes ablaze – I knew he meant business.

In the immediate excitement I surprisingly decided not to get rid of the coffee in the mugs by means of throwing it all into the nearby bushes, but swiftly poured it back into the flask. Just as I had finished and taken my seat, the male lion starting trotting. He was now 50 meters out from the herd and gaining speed, fast!

We started the safari vehicle and set off in the direction of the herd. The herd had now just spotted the massive male lion making a beeline straight for them, and jumped to their hooves and started running in the opposite direction. Typically, male lions won’t pursue prey for long distances, but this male lion just kept on going. Just as we got up with the running herd, we noticed in the thick of the dust, the male lion leaping through the air and on to the back of an adult buffalo! With incredible ease and certainly much power, he pulled the buffalo to the ground and swiftly moved to the back of the head and on to the throat. He had covered more than 200 meters and was intent on finishing this buffalo in rapid speed!

marlon du toit, wild eye, kruger park, photo safari

marlon du toit, wild eye, kruger park, photo safari

The buffalo managed to get to her feet again, but in no time the males were back on her and pulled her down to the ground.

The two lions were just too strong and she never stood a chance. It was a jaw-dropping event to witness, we could hardly believe our eyes.

I made sure to keep moving the vehicle in order to get us the best possible views. This really helped and my guests walked away with images they could not even have dreamed of!

marlon du toit, wild eye, kruger park, photo safari

Have a look at the video above.

She never stood a chance. It was all over within minutes. Lions typically kill large prey by strangulation, and as you can see it’s highly effective.

Kruger Park is no doubt a destination that should be on your list of places-to-visit. If you’ve already been, you will likely have booked a return trip by now.

The sheer diversity that this particular safaris offers is simply astounding! Couple that with the fantastic camp and all the game viewing done from the comfort of your room’s porch, this is no doubt a safari that you’ll grealt enjoy.

marlon du toit, wild eye, kruger park, photo safari

Thanks so much for taking the time to read through this special experience with me.

Till next time,

About the Author

Marlon duToit

Passion, enthusiasm and an unquenchable thirst to explore and introduce you to our natural world’s wildlife perfectly sums up my ambitions. I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. Through my African adventures I kept my photographic passion alive. Behind a camera aimed at a lion or a leopard is where I am most at home, my heart skipping a beat at the mere thought of it. My intention has never been solely for recognition but for the plight of what’s left of our natural recourses. Using my love and understanding of wildlife I am able to convey to the viewer more than an image or a fleeting moment. I aim to tell a story, to bring that moment alive to you and to capture your heart through it.

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