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MalaMala Game Reserve

Private Photo Tour to MalaMala : Storytelling in South Africa

Once again MalaMala Game Reserve lived up to its reputation of providing some finest game viewing opportunities in Southern Africa. The game drive excursions produced multiple memorable sightings of Africa’s most sought-after wildlife species.

On this private ORYX photo tour, I led a guest on a three-day tour to MalaMala Game Reserve, sandwiched between the Kruger National Park and the surrounding Sabi Sands Game Reserve. We had the pleasure of observing, filming and photographing Africa’s Big Five, and so much more. The focus of the trip was to experiment with wildlife cinematography and the new challenge of recording high quality sound recordings. This was the request of the client in order to broaden her methods of capturing special moments and the unique stories that play out daily in the wild. There were great moments for still photography in-between.

MalaMala Game Reserve 9
wildlife safari

On our first afternoon safari, we were no more than a stone throw away from the camp when we came across two female leopard cubs. These two cubs were approximately a year old. They were active and played on termite mounds, in and out of trees; whilst they waited for their mother to return from her territorial patrol and hopefully a successful hunt. We stayed with the cubs quite late into the evening however the mother never returned.

MalaMala Game Reserve
MalaMala Game Reserve

The first morning drive was all about lions. We spent a lot of time with two large males and three lionesses. The lionesses are part a territorial pride known in the area as the Kambula pride. The two males, are part of a coalition of four brothers, known locally as the Ndzenga males. These impressive male lions are new to the area. There were three lionesses the area and the tensions were high. The one male had paired off with a lioness in oestrus and we captured them mating on multiple occasions. The males were showing clear signs of aggression towards one another. The one male clearly showing his dominance, over his coalition member. He would follow every movement of the lioness and did not let her out of his gaze. He had undoubtedly laid his claim to mate with her.  The intimidating look in his eyes made it very clear to the other male lion that he was in charge. The aggression between the two male lions, staring each other down, allowed for us to capture intense portraits of the dominant male lion.

MalaMala Game Reserve
MalaMala Game Reserve
MalaMala Game Reserve

Later that afternoon we found a large male leopard resting in the picturesque Manyeleti Riverbed. He was well fed, after recently finishing a carcass. We had the sighting to ourselves and decided to wait patiently for him to get active. Close by, in the dry sandy riverbed, we noticed a small water hole. It was surrounded by granite boulders. We decided to invest some time with the hope he would drink from a water hole. Our patience paid off with great photographic opportunities of him walking towards our vehicle, drinking water and posing next the boulders.

We decided to leave the leopard after getting news of a pack of African Wild Dogs on the hunt. We were fortunate to follow a pack of African wild dogs on the hunt. It is always an exhilarating experience seeing this endangered species in the wild. Our ranger, Lucky, informed us to “Hold on!” It was an adrenaline filled ride, in the attempt to follow the pack on the hunt. The African Wild Dogs were successful on their evening hunt at sunset.  Whilst we were with them, they made not one, but two impala kills. One of the pack members, amidst the chaos of the hunt temporarily got separated from the rest of his pack. We managed to position ourselves at a low vantage point which offered us a great backlit opportunity to photograph him in beautiful golden light.

MalaMala Game Reserve
MalaMala Game Reserve

The next morning the pack of African Wild Dogs and clan of Spotted hyena were in front of the camp. As dawn broke, we sipped on our coffee from the comfort of the camp deck overlooking the riverbed. There was beautiful golden light as the sun slowly peaked over the horizon. There were stunning silhouettes of the Wild Dogs playing in the river. It was a beautiful sight and a great start to the day! After the excitement of following them on the hunt the previous evening, it was nice to take it slow and the decision was made to go explore the reserve. The perennial Sand River flowing through the reserve, is the main water source to the region offering great birdlife, brilliant sightings of large herds of elephants many with of young calves, Cape buffalo, and a variety of the general game species from impala, zebra and giraffe. Later in the morning we found a well-known female leopard, the Island female and her cub. They had an impala kill in a tree. The light was harsh, we captured one of two images and headed back into camp.

My guest having previously visited MalaMala Game Reserve has had the privileged opportunity to get to know, the relaxed, habituated, territorial leopards in the area. On the last afternoon drive we heard reports on the radio of an established sighting of my guests’ favourite leopard, the Three Rivers female. She is a younger leopardess and a first-time mother. On a previous trip we had the chance to see the mother with her three-month-old cub. The mother had killed a large Impala ram sometime the night before and stashed it in some dense vegetation within a ravine alongside the Sand River. We arrived strategically late in the afternoon to make the most of the evening light and the hope of seeing the two interact as the day’s temperature slowly cooled down. We were blessed with an incredible show of the now much larger seven-month-old cub playing and posing perfectly on a fallen over log. The mother eventually contact-called the cub.  She had by now moved into an open patch of grass! In awe we captured the gentle, heart-warming sight of the mother grooming and playing with her son. We eventually lost the light and not wishing to place pressure on the leopards after dark, we set off for a celebratory sun downer.

MalaMala Game Reserve
MalaMala Game Reserve
MalaMala Game Reserve
MalaMala Game Reserve

One could not have scripted a better end to our adventure at MalaMala Game Reserve. On our return leg to camp, in typical fashion, and simply not enough time we went past a well-fed pride of lions, two lionesses and their four cubs resting next to a Kudu carcass. On route back to the camp for breakfast, before our set departure we saw a wake of hundreds of vultures feeding on the remains of a deceased giraffe. It was a non-stop, action-packed, three-day safari in which we covered many techniques, from still photography, to experimenting with cinematography and sound recording. We left feeling refreshed after our safari. The trip was dedicated to learning how to capture content of life in the wild, in real time, and learn how to become better story tellers of the lives of the wild inhabitants at MalaMala Game Reserve.

Email [email protected] for a tailored experience of MalaMala Game Reserve with ORYX Photo Tour Leader, Daniel Bailey.

For information on Daniel’s scheduled group Photo Tours, email [email protected], or click here to access Daniel’s tours on the ORYX website.

I recently travelled with ORYX to the Mala Mala Private Game Reserve. I called on them at the 11th hour and they seamlessly booked and planned everything. The destination was amazing, boasting incredible sightings. I look forward to many more photo tours exploring and learning in the wild places of Africa! – JB, South Africa

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