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South Africa: Last ORYX Photo Tour of 2022 to Londolozi & MalaMala Game Reserve with Daniel Bailey

2022 has been a remarkable year. It saw me finish up my time as a permanent lodge-based ranger and photographic guide at MalaMala Game Reserve in South Africa. A remarkable destination, where I worked for the past seven years. For those new to the ORYX blog, and not sure as to my background in March I joined ORYX and started my new role as an ORYX Photo Tour Leader. It has been an unbelievable adventure from the start, with a lot of new mind-blowing experiences, truly wild destinations, spell-binding wildlife, and of course amazing guests that make this all possible.

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As 2022 comes to an end its time to reflect on what has been a whirlwind adventure through most of southern Africa and further afield. Notable trips have been the opportunity to guide and travel alongside guests to iconic wildlife destinations such as Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park, Botswana’s Okavango Delta and Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park, Madagascar and then to return to South Africa’s Sabi Sands, a place I still identify as “home”, visiting old friends both man and beast, in what I strongly advocate as one of the finest wildlife and photographic destinations in Africa.

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I cannot state how grateful I am for the opportunity to live out my dream of being an ORYX Photo Tour Leader, with the ability to travel to the world’s finest wild locations to guide, teach and add value to my guests’ individual photographic journeys and safari experiences. I would like to thank Marius Coetzee for the opportunity to join the team and my fellow ORYX colleagues that ensure all the finer details are met behind the scenes to deliver world-class photographic and holiday experiences for ORYX guests. Then most importantly I would like to thank my guests for the trust to have me as your ORYX guide and accompany you on these incredible tours. This would not be possible without you and your belief in ORYX and our guiding, photographic tuition, ethics, and values.

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On the 11th of December I set off on my last scheduled safari for 2022 season. A carefully designed Private ORYX Photo Tour to two of South Africa’s most famous game reserves in South Africa, Londolozi and MalaMala. I met my guest, close friend, and travel companion at Cape Town International Airport for our onward journey to the Sabi Sands. Together we have traveled extensively through Southern Africa this year. We have experienced some of the finest wild spectacles imaginable through Zambia and in South Africa. It was special to end of the year at Londolozi and MalaMala. A “homecoming” of sort for both my guest and I. MalaMala is where we first met, I was then a ranger, and now has come to be a great friendship, and the prospect for many new wild adventures to still come. Thank you for the trust and the opportunity to be your ORYX Photo Tour Leader. I am eternally grateful and look forward to all the future trips.

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We planned to return to Londolozi and MalaMala to enjoy the incredible wildlife spectacles on offer on these two iconic properties. There is a leopardess called the Three Rivers female who is territorial between Londolozi and MalaMala. To ensure the best chances to track, find and spend time with her we opted for three nights at Londolozi and four nights at MalaMala. She is a mother to a young male cub that was born in July 2021 and now just shy of fourteen-months old is potentially on the verge of gaining independence. Having traveled and guided my guest on multiple trips to MalaMala we have encountered these leopards on most of our visits, and it has been a blessing to watch them together, their trials and tribulations and ultimately grow and thrive. This is the Three Rivers females first offspring, and it is remarkable that she has done such a phenomenal job of raising him into now an impressive, powerful young male in a very competitive, high predator-density area.

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It has been a pleasure being able to follow the life story of these leopards from the very beginning. I was lucky enough to find the den site of the Kikilezi female, back in April 2016 where she gave birth to two cubs. Of this litter, the female cub become the Three Rivers female. She was orphaned at thirteen months of age when her mother, the Kikilezi female was killed by lions, the Kambula pride and Southern Avoca males.

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The Three Rivers female defied the odds and survived. She established a territory and by five years of age had her first litter of cubs. She gave birth to two cubs near the MalaMala airstrip towards the end of July 2021. I was fortunate to witness her carrying one of the cubs to a new, safer, den site. She walked over three kilometers to hide the new cubs in Rattrays Camp, underneath the patio of Room (Khaya) 1. From that point forth it was a pleasure to watch the cubs grow, and eventually explore new areas along the Sand River. Unfortunately, the female cub didn’t survive past five months of age and disappeared. It has been very a special opportunity to see the Three Rivers female successfully raise her son to this point and soon to independence.

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The three nights at Londolozi delivered many special experiences and wildlife sightings. Reports were that the Three Rivers female was in oestrus and had been seen on MalaMala mating with the Maxims Male Leopard. She had was now back in the recurring period of sexual receptivity and fertility otherwise, known as, heat. Her son at this stage was reaching fourteen months of age. He is already a large young male and quite independent, for what may still be considered a young age. Young leopards can gain independence anywhere between sixteen and twenty-two months of age. They are solitary cats and there are a lot of life lessons required to be learnt in this period of time. From stalking, hunting, making a successful kill and avoiding the constant competition against other often larger predators. Young males often leave their mothers at a later age as they have a more difficult road to independence, with othen increased competition against larger, established, male leopards in the area. Once independent they find their way through their nomadic years before they become big and confident enough to take on a territory of their own and with it rights to mate with receptive females. The young male may yet stay with his mother for another three months or swiftly gain independence if she does indeed fall pregnant. For now he is still dependent on his mother, but is growing into an impressive young male.

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On the first afternoon drive at Londolozi we explored the Sand River where we viewed herds of elephants and a small group of Cape Buffalo bulls. After which we encountered a female leopard, the Nhlanguleni Female, with an impala kill hoisted in a tree.  She was a stone throw away from the Londolozi camps. She was very well fed and resting. Since she wasn’t moving much we took the opportunity to experiment with some high-key photography, deliberately overexposing to bring out details in the shadows of our subject on an overcast day, and tested out, and got my guest comfortable using her new flash. We experimented with the basic flash settings and how to use flash for different scenes.

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It was nice to sit with a relaxed, habituated leopard again, it’s always a privilege to be in the company and to have them completely as ease. We sat with her for a while hoping she may start feeding or descend the tree. Alas, she didn’t move a muscle expect for when an irate Smith’s Bush Squirrel started alarm called at her for commandeering it’s tree. The leopardess didn’t look like she was going to move until night fall so we opted for the opportunity to go in search of other wildlife whilst we had the light. On this first afternoon and into the evening we encountered two more leopards. We briefly saw the Nkoveni female leopard crossing over the boundary and into MalaMala. Funny, how the roles were reversed this time around! The after a short break we encountered an impressive male leopard, the Senegal Bush Male. It was great to see thus leopard as I hadn’t seen him for quite some time when he shifted his territory onto Londolozi in late 2019. We followed him on his evening patrol, at night we observed him scent marking, and rasping “roaring” to advertise his presence and territory.

The next morning we left camp at sunrise with the plan to go in follow up on the last position of the Nhlanguleni female, as we arrived we noticed a leopard in the tree but there was nothing left of the impala carcass. As the leopard turned to face us, we realised it was too large for a female and that in fact the Senegal Bush male had either claimed the remains of the kill during the night or had come to investigate the tree due to the scent of the carcass and the Nhlanguleni female. He quickly descended the tree, but unfortunately despite our best positioning opted to climb down the opposite side of the tree. Thus, meaning we didn’t capture any images of him climbing out of the tree. After viewing the leopard for a short period, we decided to continue on with our drive.

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We took a turn into a well know Spotted Hyena den site. On arrival we were welcomed to the sight, of a number of adults, eight 6 month old cubs on top of their termite mound. The cubs quickly climbed down the termite mound and came to welcome us! They are very inquisitive and often will come and investigate the Land Rover. They often sniff and investigate all the smells on the Land Rover Tyres. There were eight cubs sniffing around the tyres, and at stages seeing if the tyres were a chew toy! It is a wonderful experience spending time at a Spotted Hyena den site and something one should always try to do on safari. The adult spotted hyena often have a bad reputation and spending time with their offspring will often soften even the harshest critic. They are clever, inquisitive, and undeniably clumsy and incredibly cute!

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We decided to go in search for the lions. There had been four Ndzhenga males and five lionesses on a giraffe carcass the previous few days. There wasn’t any meat left at the carcass and we observed vultures clean up the last scraps and Spotted Hyena crush through the last remaining bones. Amazing that a 1,100 kg animal can all but completely disappear! Nothing goes to waste. We briefly saw the lions lying up in the shade but with such full bellies, and the meat sweats we decided to let them rest and digest! They were not moving anywhere until nightfall. We decided to stop for a morning tea and coffee break. Whilst having our morning coffee we hear on the radio that the son of the Three Rivers female leopard had been found in the one drainage line. We went in search of him but he had apparently been stalking a herd of impala in the area. We search the area of his previous position but to no avail. We decided to head back into camp and try our luck in the afternoon.

On the afternoon safari we went to search the last know area of the son of the Three Rivers female leopard. We search the dry river bed and we dropped our tracker off on foot to follow the tracks. We got a call stating that he had found him. We were so excited to finally see him. He was moving around close to a herd of impalas. He posed nicely for us allowing us to capture some images and video footage of him. It is amazing to see how much he has grown since our last visit in April. He is becoming an impressive young male leopard. He is actually huge for his age. I guess that is thanks to good genes from his presumed father the Maxims male leopard. He eventually went to rest at a series of water holes and was watching a herd of impala in the distance.

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His cover was blown by a Natal Spurfowl as it moved around him alarm calling and he showed his displease by growing at the bird. We spent a memorable afternoon in his company. Whilst watching him we heard the lions start roaring at sunset. We opted to leave him and went to go and find the lions. We found two of the Ndhzenga male lions start their evening patrol. We watched them wake up, roar and start moving northwards down one of the road systems. It was a special experience to have lions walk past within a few feet of the open land Rover. These walk-bys never get old! There roars echoed through the night air and is a very powerful experience. It has to be one of my favourite sounds in the bush! They eventually moved east and onto MalaMala so we settled for a Gin& Tonic in the bush at last light and then made our way back to camp for the evening.

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The following morning we set off to explore the northern section of the Londolozi traverse. We crossed the Sand River and headed into the north-western section of Londolozi. We explored the Manyelethi River, we drove through the magical Leadwood forest and even stopped to climb up one the rocky outcrops know as Ximpalapala Koppies. It was great to explore a new area and the view from Ximpalapala Koppies was worth the short climb and little bush walk excursion. We enjoyed a nice sighting of a herd of elephants cross out of the treeline and move past our vehicle with a new member of the herd. A special sighting of a new-born calf that must have only been a few days old.

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This morning the Three Rivers female leopard had been found by one of the other guides, she was quite far west and within the territory of the Ximungwe female. She was lean and looked hungry. She must have split from the Maxims male during the night and finished her bout of mating. She had apparently been mating with the male for the previous five days so we were so relived to now see her on Londolozi. The plan had fallen into place. It was a huge success, to see and photograph her again. I love it when a strategic plan, comes together! It was a joy to see, follow and photograph her again after a short absence. I believe we have seen her on all three of our Photo Tours this year! She was active and on the move, climbing fallen over trees, and ascending termite mounds searching for any potential prey. A memorable moment was when she ascended a large termite mound. We managed to position the Land Rover to make the most of a beautiful summer backdrop of the green foliage. Shooting deliberately, at the largest aperture to create a desired soft green bokeh. Photographing leopards in summer is such a joy as their golden coats look lovely complimented by the greenery.

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She picked up on the scent of the Senegal Bush male and climbed into a Marula tree, where he several days earlier, had an impala kill. She investigated the different scents from within the tree. This offered some great photographic opportunities. The weather was once again overcast so we had nice soft lighting. Great for portraits, as there are no harsh shadows and were able to create some wonderful high-key imagery of her in the fork of a the Marula tree. After she descended the Marula tree we watched her walk through a large grassland whilst a tower of Giraffe followed her every move. She slunk into a treeline and we opted to let her be. We collected our breakfast that was delivered to us in the bush and stopped in the Maxabene drainage line under ancient Jackalberry trees for our meal. It is always nice to eat breakfast out in the bush and offers especially safari enthusiasts and photographers the flexibility to make the most of the sightings and time on hand. After breakfast we returned to camp. We had scheduled two hours, in the Londolozi Creative Studio. My guest and I sat at our allocated Apple iMac to upload, review, and conducted a Lightroom editing session on the images captured thus far. We reviewed, and worked through the different images, in order to gain a better understanding on composition, how to improve images with desired camera settings, new techniques, and the went through the positives and limitations of using flash and were to focus for the next game drives.

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In the afternoon we set off to go in search of the Three Rivers female leopard with the hope that maybe she had reunited with her son. That afternoon the weather turned and we experienced an awesome summer storm. We battered down the hatches, put on our waterproof ponchos and embraced the rain. There was an incredible thunder and lightning display as the eye of the storm passed through Londolozi. We got catch in a heavy downpour! However the rain didn’t last long with only fifteen minutes of heavy rain. It was exciting and at the same time so beautiful. The scent of petrichor filled our noses and the bush came alive to bird song, cicadas and frogs. We continued our search for the son of the Three Rivers female. We couldn’t track the mother due to the heavy rain, as streams now flowed down the two-tracks. We found the young male curled up underneath a little bush. As we watched him the sun broke through the clouds and a beautiful double rainbow appeared. It was the most magical setting. We even go a brief moment when the young male leopard shook off his wet coat, and walked a short distance under the arch of the rainbow! Unfortunately I didn’t have a wide angle lens and didn’t wish to change lenses due to the wet conditions. We managed to capture a few iPhone images and video! The video below however doesn’t do the scene justice! I guess you’ll just have to join me on an ORYX Photo Tour in summer to either Londolozi or MalaMala and experience it for yourself!

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We decided to leave the son of the Three Rivers female to himself after he settled in a thick patch of grass. There wasn’t any clear sign of his mother so we opted to go to another leopard sighting. We made our way at sunset to the Ximungwe female, she was with her sixteen-month old son. They were feeding on a Grey Duiker carcass in a Marula tree. We watched the Ximungwe female, and her son known as the Ntomi male  feeding on the carcass. We watched her descend the tree and watched him skilfully ascend the tree to feed on the last remains of the meal. We experimented with flash photography in to capture the leopard in the tree and the stunning sunset in the backdrop. We tried to capture a nice silhouette of him descending the tree but had no luck as he opted to sleep in the tree after his meal.

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On our final morning at Londolozi we headed back to the last area of the Three Rivers female. We followed her tracks and found that she had reunited with her cub at some point during the night. We spent the majority of the morning tracking her. The track sin the sand suggested that she had come to greet her cub, after which she moved off. He followed her for a bit but eventually they split. The tracks suggested that the Three Rivers female had moved back east towards MalaMala. There were lions in the area and we saw two Ndhzenga male lions and five lionesses. They were resting in the morning sunshine and appeared to have eaten a meal during the night. The track of the young male leopard were lost in a drainage line so we didn’t find them together on our final morning at Londolozi. None-the-less it was still special to see both of them separately. We were hopefully that we may encountered them again as we had four nights to look forward to at neighbouring MalaMala. We decided to go an explore the western section of the Sand River and stopped for a memorable breakfast, parked on a granite boulder in the middle of the watercourse at Taylor’s Crossing. It was a beautiful, peaceful setting in which our guide and tracker set up breakfast and coffee on the table attached to the Land Rover’s bulbar. We took off our shoes, dipped our toes in the crystal clear water flowing over the rocks around us, and enjoyed a delicious breakfast spread. Surrounded by flowing water, birdsong and the great company and hospitality of guide, Shadrack and tracker, Geshan. It was the perfect way to celebrate the wonderful time spent together at Londolozi.

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With the onset of the summer rains the bushveld is starting to look vibrant again. The storm, rain, thunder and lightning and the culminating rainbow were undeniable highlights of the experience at Londolozi. The distant growl of thunder and the smell of rain are always a possibility this time of the year when one heads out into the bush. And, with a bit of luck, you may find yourself with a leopard, lion or cheetah amongst all the activity. The transfer to MalaMala saw weather improve with nice warm days on the cards with the temperature slowly rising over the course of the week to a sweltering 37 degrees Celsius.

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Over the course of a few days the bush became alive. There were new shoots of lush green grass shooting up all over the place, budding colourful wildflowers, waterholes and puddles filled with the song-sharing choruses of frogs, and an abundance of birds with the return of the summer migrants. The songs of the Woodlands Kingfisher’s ring throughout the day and night and alongside the calls of Burchell’s Coucal and Bushveld Rain frog announce that summer is in full swing.

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The changing of the seasons are always my favourite time of year to be in the bush and this last trip for 2022 just further cements this viewpoint. The safari experience is just so much richer and I personally find it far more appealing photographically. This is often dubbed as the “emerald season”  on safari as everything is a backdrop of emerald green foliage. It can sometimes be more challenging but the risk of getting wet is definitely worth the rewards!

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The time at MalaMala was once again top-draw in terms of a safari experience. We were guided by my good friend, ranger Piet Van Wyk. Our friendship and co-guiding, alongside Piet only enhanced the MalaMala photographic safari experience. We started off with a great sighting of the Island female leopard resting in a Jackalberry Tree. She was draped over the branch, sleeping. She was cloaked by a curtain of green foliage and despite not seeing her face we captured some wonderful images of a leopard in its environment, It is always special to see a leopard in a tree especially in an ancient Jackalberry hugging the bank of the Sand River. The special part of the sighting was that some lucky guests even had to drive directly underneath her, in order to park the Land Rover and the viewing point. She is a relaxed female and didn’t even pay attention to the excited tourists driving below her!

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In the late afternoon we spent time with a resident troop of baboons on the iconic structure that is West Street Bridge. A huge bridge that spans across the Sand River and the gate way to the good-life! We crossed and explored up the length of the watercourse. We planned to head towards Campbell Koppies to try and see a rare nocturnal bird. Each year the spectacular Pennant- winged Nightjars arrive during the summer months. The males grow out two long tailing pennants, or streamers if you will, of which they display in flight like rhythmic gymnastics in order to attract a female. At dusk the male birds begin the display, calling in flight and showing off. We parked and enjoyed a wonderful sighting of a single male flying around the Land Rover. It is quite an unique experience, angelic if I may say! These birds are extremely difficult to photograph, yet my guest managed captured some great images. My safaris focus on both the big and the small! There is so much to experience, let alone photograph whilst on safari and it helps to have a guide willing to take the opportunity to show one the rarer, and sometimes even more exciting and beautiful unknown creatures that call the bush home. Yet, it did get exciting after viewing the Pennant- winged Nightjar as we were not far away from a pride of lions. The Nkuhuma pride, 3 lionesses and their seven cubs were hunting impala and zebra. It is a surreal experience sitting in complete darkness surrounded by lions and listening to the frantic foot fall of hooves as the prey tries to evade the predator. On this occasion the lions were unsuccessful in their hunting attempt.

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The next morning we headed out at dawn and as we crossed the Sand River on route to the Causeway we took note of drag marks in the sand. The drag marks were of a large Nile Crocodile, with the tail dragging in the sand and its monstrous feet propelling it through the sandy riverbed. We tracked the huge reptile and noticed that it had entered the river upstream from the Causeway. We stopped on the causeway and smelt carrion, and next second we noticed the huge Nile Crocodile surface with the remains of a carcass firmly grasped between its jaws.

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Whilst we watched the Nile Crocodile and slightly smaller one appeared and together they started eating the remains. The was not a lot left, but what was noticeable were two rear paws and a tail. We eventually figured out that due to the level of decay that it was a Spotted Hyena. It was a very unique sighting and we were in awe as the crocodile’s started death rolling in order to rip chunks of meat of the carcass. The sheer size and muscle of these “dinosaurs” used to snap the jaw shut, with a bite force of 3000 psi (pounds per square inch) was truly incredible. This was by no means a normal sighting even for MalaMala standards! We spent close on two hours watching the crocodiles feed and whilst we were watching the crocodiles two lionesses approached and investigated the scene before swiftly moving along.

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As if this morning could get any better –  the sun was shining again, after what was a wet weekend. The elephant sightings as a result had been a little quite. With the warm sunshine and rising temperatures it meant a lot more elephants would be out and about. Leaving the tree lines to seek water from the Sand River. We had a wonderful sighting of a large herd of elephants, drink and cross the Sand River a mere few feet away from our vehicle. This is my one of my favourite sightings in the bush. I love show my guests, and allow them to spend time with elephants.  It is spell-binding to watch them in the Sand River, whether they drink, bath, play, dust – all completely unperturbed by our presence is absolutely priceless! It is an experience – as well as photographic moment you’ll never forget!

In the afternoon we went in search of a female cheetah and her two four month-old cubs that had been seen earlier in the week. We search but to no avail until we received the call on the radio that two leopards had been found very close to where we were. We abandoned our search for the cheetah and made a b-line straight for the leopards. There was a male and female together and they had an impala carcass in a Jacket Plum tree. The male was the Ngoboswan male, and the female was the Sibuye female. The male was feeding on the carcass in a tree, whilst a Spotted Hyena waited at the base of the tree. The female was resting close by in amongst some granite boulders. Eventually, the male finished feeding and descended the tree and went to rest on a large granite boulder. The female approached and she attempted to entice the male into mating. He however, wasn’t in the mood and showed his discomfort! He was full and wished to simply rest. They were a mating pair, and it was likely that they would be together for as long as the carcass lasted. We enjoyed the sighting and captured some images before deciding to leave them in search of the cheetah and her two again. We didn’t find them that evening and decided to stop for a sundowner and enjoy the last part of the evening.

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Once again the next morning the game plan was to try and find the cheetah! We set off and on route saw the leopards at the same location with their impala carcass. We search the majority of the early morning but didn’t find the cheetah! We did however see two lionesses of the Kambula Pride and their two sub-adult cubs feeding on fresh Wildebeest kill. The sighting was incredible as the one lioness carried the new born wildebeest carcass and gave it to her cubs. It was an incredible powerful sight to see the lioness carrying the new-born wildebeest carcass in her mouth. Once the two cubs got a hold of the calf they fought over it like a rag doll! Yes, undoubtedly it can be tough to observe! Some moments were difficult to watch and photograph! A reminder and lesson that life is tough, and often short, especially in the wild. The wildebeest and her calf provided a vital meal for the lionesses and their growing year-old cubs.

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In the afternoon we searched the western parts of the reserve for any sign of the Three Rivers female leopard. We didn’t see any clear signs of her movement! She had been mating and therefore was hungry, so we presumed she had made a kill on Londolozi. We found the last little remains of an Impala carcass in a Sausage Tree veery lose to Rattrays Camp onlong the banks of the Sand River. We scratched around the area and eventually the Island female appeared out of the vegetation. She looked as if she herself had come across the old carcass. She scanned the tree, and walked slowly past along the bank of the Sand River. This offered some nice photographic opportunities.

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She eventually dropped down into the Sand River to drink water. The great thing about MalaMala is the freedom to offroad and drive withing the Sand River. We raced around, bumped into an impressive “tusker” elephant bull. We slowly went past as not to disturb him and in time crossed the water channel to position the Land River with the best vantage point of her drinking head on. We captured some great images of her lapping up water! We noticed that she was also in her later stages of pregnancy as she was huge! She will most likely give birth very soon! After she quenched her thirst she settled in the river bed to rest.

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We opted to spend time with the large elephant bull. He walked down into the river bed past the leopardess. It is one of my favourite pastimes to spend time with large elephant bulls that and relaxed in humans presence. We spent time with him as he bathed, drank and eventually crossed the Sand River within a few feet of us! As the sun set we decided to have a sundowner and an snack in the Sand River.

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On our last full day we decided to head to the southern part of MalaMala and explore to area with the hope of finding a pack of African Wild Dogs, we found their tracks but unfortunately they had run off the MalaMala transverse. They heard them made a kill and we could hear them feeding on what we can only guess was a Grey Duiker! Sometimes that’s just the way it goes! Not often but sometimes the wildlife isn’t on MalaMala! From hear we went to explore along the Sand River. We had a great sighting of the Sand River pride of lions resting on a picturesque granite boulder in the middle of the river. It was a beautiful scene with from what I gathered, eighteen lions resting on the rockface. The Sand River pride and the two Southern Avoca males. It was an picturesque “animal in their environment” scene and I think the technique of stitching multiple  images, into a panorama later on Lightroom was the best way to portray the scene. Especially since I was shooting exclusively with a fixed 400mm prime lens on this morning! It is a great technique and offer a great depth of field that you wouldn’t be able to replicate on a wider angled lens.

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After the lions we tracked and found the Tengile female leopard with the help of a irate Crested Francolin. She had been seen early on the drive by another vehicle in the Sand River. She was left moving and contact calling for her two cubs. By the time we had found her, she was resting, enjoying the shade. It was getting sweltering hot 34 degrees Celsius and she would have to find her mischievous cubs later that afternoon. We captured one or two images of this striking leopardess with her head up, monetarily showing off her ice- blue eyes.

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It had been a hot day so we set out a little later in the afternoon, We enjoyed a relaxed afternoon high-tea and set out as the temperatures started to cool. We checked in on the lions with their wildebeest carcass. They were resting and the two cubs were guarding their meal from some Hooded vultures. They were not going to get up to too much, so we continued on. With the heat we settled at a waterhole in the shade to enjoy a beverage. We had the hope that potentially elephants may come and drink. We narrowly missed a herd as we found fresh elephant dung and Copper-platted dung-beetles rolling their dungballs. This was a fascinating sighting and was a fun challenge to capture. It was also a nice way, to occupy the time as we waited for the right temperature and light to go and spend time with the mating leopards.

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The Ngoboswan male and the Sibuye female were still in the same area and they had now started mating. They were mating in bouts, sometimes three times, every fifteen minutes. We spent the rest of the evening with them as they went through multiple bouts of mating on top of picturesque granite boulders. It is always special to see a leopard.  Well let’s say that again it always special to see a leopard but even more of a treat to see two leopards together, especially when these animals mating or raising offspring. The mating is action packed as the female pairs of with a male, and then entices him to mate with her. She growls, and moves around him in a flirtatious dance, rubbing up against him, flicking him with her tail all in a bid to entice him to copulate with her. It is also a vocal affair as both are growling as they are in essence solitary cats, and the physically act of mating can be quite uncomfortable. The male often snarls and bites down on the nape for the female neck, as he knows shortly after the deed is done that she may lash out at him. From this point their o softer a dramatic leap out of her path, of teeth and claws. With a lot of snarling and hissing! We watched them well into the night and left to go back to enjoy our final dinner at MalaMala.

malamala phototography tour mating leopard
malamala phototography tour mating leopard 1

Somehow our final morning game drive had come! Time flies when you having fun and experiencing so many wonderful natural spectacles. The temperature was set to reach 37 degrees Celsius so we opted to head out before sunrise. We left camp at 05h00 am in order to beat the heat. We had a cup of coffee whilst sitting on West Street Bridge. Whilst enjoying our fresh brew we heard lions roaring in the distance, monkeys alarm calling opposite the bridge, potentially indicating a leopard moving about, and Spotted Hyena whooping. It was a joy just to immerse ourselves and listen to the bush wake up. We finished our coffee and set off to find some lion tracks, they led us eventually to the two Ndhzenga male lions. They were fast asleep and didn’t look like they were going anywhere.

malamala phototography tour sleeping lion

This is when we got a call on the radio that the female cheetah and her two cubs had been found. We quickly got into the rotation for the sighting. It was a one vehicle sighting due to the age of the cubs, we replace the ranger that found them and we enjoyed a brilliant sighting of the female cheetah and her two cubs. They were moving through some dense vegetation and therefore it was somewhat difficult photographically! The cubs were still young and it was difficult to get close to them as we didn’t wish to upset them crashing over vegetation. It was a brilliant ending to our eight-day safari.  The cheetah had given us the run around for the past few days so it was a special sighting to observe and capture one or two images of them.

The combination of a Londolozi & MalaMala photography tour was unbelievable, there is such a diversity and density of life, unlike anywhere else in South Africa. The experience, guiding, and predator sightings are world-class. The leopards seem to fall out of trees! We encountered ten leopards on this tour. The undeniable highlight being able to photograph both the Three Rivers female, and her impressive son before he gains independence. We enjoyed summer rains, rainbows and the soothing sounds of summer! We saw new life, and nearly as quickly being taken away. Lions hunting wildebeest! Newborns around every corner from impala lambs, zebra foals, wildebeest calves, to elephant calves and even cheetah cubs. We enjoyed so many wonderful moments out in nature, from the largest elephant bull to diminutive dung-beetles. The photographs my ORYX guest and I captured were testament to these two truly incredible destinations.

I hope you will join me at either Londolozi or MalaMala one of these days, and together we can explore the best of the Sabi Sands, from its spellbinding riverbeds, to ancient trees, and secretive koppies, that host an abundance of wildlife, which call this unspoilt corner of African home.

Trust me! You won’t be disappointed!

Daniel Bailey

londolozi photo safari south africa
londolozi leopard photo tour 8

Join Daniel Bailey as your Photo Tour Leader & MalaMala photographic specialist, on an action-packed, experiential photo tour to South Africa!

South Africa – MalaMala Photo Tour 2024 (1 – 6 November 2024)

ZAR109,850 / per person sharing

2 Spaces Available

For scheduled tours email [email protected]

or for private tailor-made tours email [email protected]

malamala photography tour 2

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