A few weeks have passed since I returned home after the highly successful Predators Safari Workshop tour in South Africa. To me, this visit was like coming home – every time I visit, I take a few days off to spend amongst the lions, leopard and other cats either on a scouting trip or on a workation (working vacation).
This note covers the equipment I took along, the details of the trip and the experience and will include images of what we saw on this predators safari.
Clothes Packing and more
Early spring weather in southern Africa tends to be cool in the morning and evening, especially as experienced when on the back of an open safari vehicle. During the day, a light shirt or a T-shirt are great for the mild conditions. As laundry services are included in the package, I find that it is possible to spend a week in the bush with just a couple of pairs of light weight pants and shirts, and a windbreaker for the wildlife viewing in the mornings and evenings. Shoes clothes and other gear was packed into a flexible waterproof travel bag. I also pack an empty backpack to carry the loose items one needs on the back of a safari vehicle. I didn’t forget the other essential items such as a wide rimmed sunhat, a beanie, a headlamp and sun protection for skin and lips.
Professionally, I shoot Canon and use a Fuji XT-1 to take behind the scenes images. Whilst on a safaris, the first days I dedicate my time to addressing guests’ photo needs. As guests become more self-sufficient and require less intervention from me, I will also start taking photos at the sightings. On this trip I took a Canon 1DX and for the first time a Canon 5DSR camera with assortment of lenses. I found the 5DSR to be an excellent camera up to about ISO 800 – higher than that the image noise starts showing more than I like. I had the long lens set on the 1Dx and the 24-70 or 70-200 on the 5DSR.
I packed a Gura Gear Bataflae 26L to take as a carry on with, incredibly, all the following gear:
- Canon EOS 1DX Pro Body
- Canon EOS 5DSR Body
- Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4X Lens
- Canon EF 16-35mm f4L IS Lens
- Canon EF 24-70mm f2.8L MKII Lens
- Canon Ext EF1.4x III Tele Converter
- Hoodman Camera Loupe
- 4 Variable Neutral Density and polarizer filters – 82mm and 77mm
- Spare Batteries for the 1DX and the 5D
- Intervalometer with cable release
- Think Tank Card Pouch with assorted 64 and 32Gb CF Cards totaling around 300 Gigabytes
In a roll-on case, also taken as a carry-on, I loaded
- 15″ Lenovo with Lightroom CC and Photoshop CC with the Nik Plugins
- External WD My Passport Ultra 2Tb USB3 disk drive
- Fuji XT1 and accessories
- Power paraphernalia – cables, battery chargers for the 1Dx and 5D, iPhone and iPad
- Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM
- Lexar USB3 CF and SD Card reader
Guests traveled from the USA and Canada in time for the introductory meeting on the first night of the workshop. It was the first time in South Africa for all the guests – we had a good meeting with many questions on local-custom being asked and answered.
The itinerary of the workshop was as follows:
- Meet in Johannebsurg – overnight at the Mondior Hotel near the OR Tambo Airport (Johannesburg)
- Fly from Johannesburg to Skukuza (45 Minutes) and stayed at Kirkman’s Kamp for 5 days
- Road transfer from Sabi Sands to Timbavati by road (2 hours)
- Fly from Hoedspruit to Johannesburg (1 hour) and stayed in Ngala Camp for 4 days
- Return home or start an add-on tour.
I chose this routing as it provided a 5 / 4 day split between the two camps as leopards are more predominant in the south (Sabi Sands) and the other predators further north (Timbavati).
We had some great sightings of leopards on the first day. The next two days they were nowhere to be found, not only by us but also by the other guides and rangers operating in the area. However, on the last day we had ample opportunity to take in the great sight of a good leopard. Besides the illusive leopards, we saw a pair of playful lion cubs with their mother and a rhino mum with junior. The presence of many mammals and birds gave the guests many opportunities to make some excellent images and get a feel of nature in its natural state.
On one of the evenings we ventured out of the camp under the watchful eye of the ranger to photograph stars. As there are no factories in the area, the pollution levels are incredibly low. The sparse population and few lights all contributed to a great star photography environment – we’ll ignore the effect of mysterious animal sounds emanating from the pitch darkness…. The guests remarked that the animals looked relaxed – they see vehicles every day which neither harm them nor provide them with food. Over the years this daily scenario has become a ‘natural’ occurrence and does not have any impact on the animals.
We saw a crush of rhinos on the island (a sand bank in the middle of the Sand River) wallowing in a muddy pool no further than 30 feet from the vehicle. While always aware of our presence, they moved on from their bath scent marking their territory. These were magnificent-looking animals – built like tanks but ever so vulnerable to poachers and purveyors of horn.
Also on the island, we came across a large lone elephant making its way through the scrub in the direction of the enormous 700 year old Syringa Fig tree. Earlier that afternoon we had seen two guides heading, on foot, in the direction of the tree with a picnic basket. Concerned that they may be surprised by the large bull we headed in the same direction. From a distance we could see the elephant stretched out to gather low hanging fruits off the tree. On closer inspection we saw a small table with bottles and snacks for us. It was a relief to notice the elephant ignored our sunset cocktails and moved along unfazed by our proximity.
The accommodation was superb as were the staff looking after us. The food, always plentiful and delicious saw some of us doing extra workouts to avoid putting on pounds and inches.
After five nights we transferred northwards to a lodge in the Timbavati. The road trip was peppered with sightings of antelope in the reserve. As we passed poor urbanized areas, it was instructional for the guests to see how the citizens live and the harshness of some places which have yet to be provided with running water and electricity.
The nights were comfortably cool but the days were warm. We had occasion to see a pride of lions – 3 males, 6 females and 8 cubs, the youngest of which was only an estimated 4-6 months old. The interaction saw them playing with each other and even the youngster was seen trying to mimic the elders by calling in the cutest of baby (lion) voices.
A spotted hyena in the area put on a splendid display while we photographed her. When we went to the den we found a rather bored pair of hyenas but no cubs. We were told by the rangers that an elephant had died of natural causes and could be found in the river bed. We left early and found one lion feeding at the site and a wake of vultures congregated on a tree waiting for the spoils.
The highlight of the day was when we found a pack of about 30 painted dogs (aka wild dogs). At first they appeared dozy but in almost a flash they were off on a chase to feed on impala. These animals seem to have inextinguishable energy – some run at full speed towards their prey while others in the pack take a more circuitous route to corner their target. We witnessed the chase and some guests were able to make images of both prey and pursuer in flight.
Perchance, a leopard was in the area and had made a kill shortly before the pack of dogs arrived on the scene. We could see the leopard trying desperately to make itself invisible while not losing sight of its meal.
But to no avail – soon the dogs were on the scent of the dead impala and the leopard was being chased up a tree. We waited in the fading light to see the pack feed on the carcass of the impala. One of the dogs left to fetch the younger pups and on arrival they kept themselves at a distance until the adult dogs had had their fill and moved away.
This safari workshop produced a variety of good sightings and photo opportunities, with the painted dogs and the leopard at Ngala being the highlight for me.
We left late the next morning content with the experience and a pocket full of images. The chartered flight got us to Johannesburg in an hour with some guests departing that afternoon to the US. The others had more excitement ahead – an add-on tour to the Tiger Canyon leaving the next morning.
I am itching to go back on the next Predators Safari Workshop in October 2017. Sign up below if you would like information on the next Predators photo safari.