There is little doubt that we are in the icy grips of winter in the South African Lowveld, with both early morning and evening bringing a well-defined chill after the warmth of the winter sun. These times, however cold they might be, bring huge reward. With any challenge, you have to be prepared and armed with thick jackets, gloves, woolly hats, blankets and a much needed hot water bottle.
Winter has always been my best time for game viewing. Winter is our dry season so the weather is always dependable, the vegetation isn’t as dense and animals gravitate to waterholes and rivers due to the lack of rainfall. Photographically, this last cycle was brilliant with prolific leopard sightings in beautiful settings. It is always difficult to take good photos of these elusive cats but with the Sabi Sands having one of the highest densities of leopards in the world, you are giving yourself a good chance.
One of the best sightings I had this cycle was of my favourite leopardess, Lisbon. It was at the end of a morning game drive when we found her perched in a Marula tree. She was hunting and was using various trees to give herself a better vantage point. Like the model that she is, she gave us a variety of poses within 3 different Marula trees – a photographic dream! After an extra hour and a half out in the bush, the only reason we left her was due to full memory cards and the smell of breakfast coming from nearby Earth Lodge.
The dominant male leopard in the North, Maxabeni was not going to be outdone in the photographic stakes, he too put up a show for the guests. This brute is always on the move and he exudes a confidence that comes with being a dominant territorial male.
The Little Bush leopardess has now got two beautiful cubs which are still little balls of spotty fluff, but we hope that she is successful in raising these little gems. We assume that they are the offspring of Maxabeni, and she has been a lot more relaxed recently – maybe Maxabeni`s confidence has rubbed off on her?
It hasn’t all been about leopards, three of the Southern Pride, including Floppy Ear, have been spending their time with the Sand River males and mating on a regular basis. Could this mark the end for the Kruger male, and the start of a new pride?
The solitary male Solo made a much welcomed return and was showing no ill effects of the beating that was handed to him by the Sand River males a few months previous.
He has also be vocalising, especially in the South, maybe he is trying to reconnect with the Kruger male in an attempt to chase out the Sand River males.
Not something that usually features on highlights of most guides, but still one of my favourite animals despite their reputation is the hyena. I have had some great sightings of them, with the young adolescents being the stars. What I love most about hyenas, despite their association with death, is their curiosity. The other night outside my room, one of the youngsters had stolen my next door neighbour’s doormat and was shaking it like a piece of old zebra skin. My best sightings however were the two youngsters playing a game of hide and seek with a leg bone of a waterbuck and once that interest had passed it was bath time in a nearby mud wallow.
The beauty of this job is that no days, no weeks, no cycles are the same. Like the young hyenas, there is always something new and exciting to experience. All you have to do is be prepared to wrap up warm and Mother Nature will reward you in ways you will never imagine.