Private South Africa Photo Tour with Penny Robartes – Part 2
After a phenomenal last morning at MalaMala and a delicious breakfast, we departed on our shuttle to Ngala Private Game Reserve which is a private concession located in the Timbavati Game Reserve. This area too, shares an unfenced border with the legendary Kruger National Park and therefore, animal and birdlife are prolific and rich. Ngala Private Game Reserve is home to the iconic and sought-after Big 5 along with some additional special species such as the endangered African wild dog & Pangolin.
While we did focus on taking the opportunity of photographing a variety of species during beautiful light situations (I am sure you well know that we don’t always have an iconic or much-desired specie to have during these fleeting moments), my guests were so happy to soak up the opportunities available to us and drink them all in.
Our main goal for our Ngala Photo Tour, however, was to view and photograph their white male and female Lion. This phenomenon is called Leucism and it is a genetic condition that has been documented to have occurred in the Timbavati area for many years. Leucism is a pigmentation condition where all pigmentation production is reduced/lost. This can cause white spots on fur, feathers, skin, as well as full-bodied white colouration.
I had my first sighting of a wild, leucistic Lion when I was at Ngala in 2019, which is the current sub-adult male Lion. At the time of my sighting in 2019, he was a cub of less than 6 months old. Of course, this colouring, or lack thereof, made the sighting of this cub even more special due to the rarity of this condition, and the rarity of wild white Lion. This special occurrence needed to be shared, and my current group of guests were the perfect candidates to call out to as they are absolute lover of cats. Time was of essence though as these cubs don’t often make it to adulthood due to potential complications that their colour brings out. They aren’t easily camouflaged which can make hunting a more difficult task, and as a cub, this lack of camouflage can also put them in greater danger from other predators as well as larger game such as Buffalo which despise Lion. Due to Covid, a spanner was in the works and my guests had to delay their tour twice before finally being able to come to South Africa and go on their photo tour. Since I first saw the leucistic male, a female was born a few months after him, so now the potential to see 2 white Lion was on the cards!
Upon arrival at Ngala, we quickly signed forms that needed to be signed, grabbed our camera gear and jumped straight on the game drive vehicle as our journey to Ngala took longer than expected. The afternoon light was fading fast, so time was indeed pressing. Our local guide, Barney, looked at me and said, “Shall we go see the male white Lion?”
We came upon 2 sub-adult male Lion on the riverbed in the last light. It was the white male and his sibling. These two boys have been staying together and only return to the pride when the territorial males are away on their patrols. These sub-adults are at the age where the territorial males are not tolerating their presence and will be chased away whenever the adult males see their offspring. It is definitely a cat and mouse game the young boys are playing with the dominant males! When we drove up to the white male and his sibling, their bellies were very full with food and were clearly not suffering being away from the pride members.
For me, it was thrilling to see both sub-adult males as I had seen them as cubs 3 years prior. While still developing into their muscular forms, these boys were far from gangly teenagers. They are most certainly going to be a powerhouse coalition over the coming years, and it will be very interesting to follow there journey once they are fully kicked out of the dominant males’ territory.
The next morning we made our way back towards where we saw the sub-adults male Lion. As these boys are not officially part of the pride anymore, we knew they could move on at any time and we could easily not see them for the duration of our safari. That being said, that applies to most wildlife.
Back at the riverbed, the Lions hadn’t moved very far. The white male had moved to the edge of the riverbed where some foliage provided some respite from the climbing sun, and the tan male was not far off relaxing in the sand. We left them as they were after spending some time with them and getting the shots we were happy with. Barney mentioned that a Giraffe carcass had been found which the pride members were feeding off, including the dominant coalition. We had to race there as it was quite a distance from where we were, but we all held on tight, caps were put on backwards to that they didn’t fly off, smiles and laughs erupted from us as off we went!
The main reason for us wanting to get to the scene, bar it being a pride of Lion on a Giraffe carcass, was because the leucistic sub-adult was there with the pride! She hadn’t been seen in about a week which had made the local guides think that she potentially had gone across to Kruger National Park. Excited roared in our blood as we came upon the scene, and there she was! The light was quite harsh by the time we arrived on the scene, and the Giraffe has definitely has a lot eaten from it and smelled more than a few days old, but there she was relaxing in the grass. Our second white Lion in less than 24 hours!
That afternoon we went back to the Giraffe carcass. Some of the Lion were still around including the two big males and after the sun went down, they started to feed.
The next morning was an absolute treat of note! We found a female Cheetah early in the morning before the sun truly added colour to the light. Seeing a Cheetah was a first for one of my guests. He had never seen one before, with his wife having seen her first Cheetah in the Mara with me 2-years prior when her and her friends booked my Kenya – Life of Predators Photo Tour. It was a beautiful sighting that we had to ourselves. She was in the riverbed with dark foliage behind her so she really popped from the background. She was gazing around her, as Cheetah do, until she fixated on something behind us. We turned to look at there were 2 Hyena approaching. Hyena often follow Cheetah to snatch their meal from them as they are easy to chase off, so they came closer to investigate. Literally coming within hands of her, she hissed and ran away. They followed her general direction until she lost them. We kept up with her as she walked to an open savanna grassland area where Impala could be heard and seen. We stayed with her for a long time until noting that was wasn’t going to hunt then. It was such a successful and interactive morning!
Our Ngala Photo Tour gave my guests and I some very memorable sightings and scenes over the next few days, as well as some firsts! We had African wild dogs on a kill in the very early hours of one morning, we watched a Pangolin walked away in deep grass (a Pangolin backside is still such an exciting find!), more photographic scenes with the female Cheetah, and to top it all off; the female white Lion and other Lion actively eating on the Giraffe carcass in beautiful light.
Our 10-days spent in South Africa’s top wildlife reserves came to a close. A sad farewell, but not goodbye, to my return guests came and went. A portfolio of wildlife images created, memories stored, moments remembered. It was such a fun, exciting and wild time.
Next up? Well, in less than 24 hours I would welcome my next set of guests for my ORYX Photo Tours Sabi Sand: Big 5 Photo Tour!