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My best ever game-sighting day on safari (so far)


johnkok
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My best ever game-sighting day on safari (so far)

Part 1

 

I thought I'd start my journey here on Safaritalk with a personal safari highlight. It's not so much a trip report as a recounting of a great safari experience I had. I have had many special moments on safari. But as far as an entire day goes, there is this special one. It was my best ever game sighting day, and has yet to be bettered. By the time this day rolled around, I had already been on many trips, stayed at numerous camps and gone on loads of game drives. This one was in Savanna Lodge in Sabi Sand, with Neil Whyte, a prize-winning photographer as our ranger and Julius as our tracker.

 

Perhaps as a prelude of what was to come, we had had this sighting of a leopard on an evening game drive the evening before. A lip-smacking prelude, so to speak.

 

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That day was a 13th, but it sure was my lucky day. It held many firsts for me. It started slow, and was not promising. Rain was expected. Now this was a safari first, but not the kind that I wanted. The early morning was dull, overcast, and it really did look to be raining quite soon. Being July and winter, it was also rather cold. However, Neil did ask, rather needlessly, "A couple of leopards have been sighted mating in the area. We cannot be sure where they now are this morning, but we could go looking for them if you like?"

 

"Proceed forthwith, Ranger". Having never sighted mating leopards before, it was all I could do not to shiver with anticipation. Or maybe it was just the cold.

 

First up, and barely minutes out, we met this cutie and Mommy, towering above it. What more cheery a welcome can one have?

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But it was a quick Hello and Goodbye sighting, as we figured we had a date with leopards.

 

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Well, as you no doubt have it from my build up and the title of this little narrative, Neil and Julius found the amorous couple within fifteen minutes. Here he is, giving me in the vehicle the once over. Maybe he was thinking "Oh, good! The Chinese take-away has arrived".

 

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And here she is, looking quite the femme fatale. We got to know her quite well later, as she led us on a merry dance all over the park on a different day - but that's another story.

 

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Seeing a male and a female leopard together was a first for me. It could not have been any clearer how much bigger a male leopard is compared to a female. I was rather surprised actually.

 

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Just look at the size of him next to her in profile. On average, males are supposed to be about a third heavier. This one looks to be twice her size.

 

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I don't know what she sees in him. He looks a bit of a thug next to her. But perhaps I'm too harsh. Who knows what two or three days of creating future generations will do to one's good looks? Or maybe it's because of his dexterity.

 

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Or his laid-back cool.

 

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As for their carryings-on, it is rather like most cats I am told. Each encounter lasts only a few seconds, followed by brief rest periods of some minutes. She then takes the initiative (again) and slinks up to him, slapping his face with her tail, or brushing provocatively (some might say seductively) against him as you see here.

 

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In any case, with that come-on, he soldiers-on. In other words, the couple couples.

 

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Of course, with two wild cats, you'd expect some fireworks. So, with much hissing and snarling, he does give her a "kiss".

 

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And then, in typical "loves 'em and leaves 'em" cat-style, he disengages. And when he does, he does so in a hurry. In what seems like one out of three times, she turns around and smacks him one across the head. Neil, our ranger, told us it's because the leopard's penis has reverse barbs and it hurts the female on withdrawal.

 

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I can't say if he wears those scars on his face with pride, but he does put on some pre-emptive moves now and then.

 

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In this one, he seems to be giving fair warning "Don't you smack me again!"

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If you were ever wondering about certain other physical attributes and proportions (perhaps some particular body parts, say), I can offer you this view.

 

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Occasionally, he lounges back in full cool mode,

 

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while she walks away, does her thing, and checks back to see if he's up for another session.

 

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Then it's stir, and repeat.

 

We weren't the only ones with front row seats. This Chacma baboon family was in a nearby tree watching the performance too. Mrs Baboon in particular seems rather bemused.

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After hanging around them for about 45 minutes, we decided to move on, and see what the day would bring next. By now, I had had shots of all sorts of angles of the couple in flagrante delicto, all sorts of close-ups, wide shots, portrait mode, landscape - I had about a thousand shots in the bag. I was quite the happy camper, forecasts of rain all but forgotten.

 

So we left, and in not more than a few minutes, they appear, hustling along towards the leopards we had just left.

 

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More to come :-)

 

John

Edited by Game Warden
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Fantastic photos John,looking forward to the rest :P

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John, thanks for this - it's great! I really enjoyed your narrative (and needless to say the pictures too). Very lucky indeed to spend that much time with leopards with an unobstructed view.

 

Cheers

 

ps - maybe I'll have Chinese takeaway for lunch today - you've planted the seed.

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How good is this? Those leopards really put on a show for you, what a sighting. Beautiful photos and I enjoyed your story telling.

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Lovely!!!! Lookforward to the next segment!

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I like the humor in your narrative. And you're right, the size disparity between male and female leopards really is dramatic. Great pictures!

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oooohhhh you lucky so and so!! Great photos and I love the narrative!! The size difference really is striking! Looking forward to the showdown? Really looking forward to the next offering. Off to TZ in a week so dont hang about!! lol!!

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Having problems seeing the attachments John. Maybe its a glitch at my end...

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Having problems seeing the attachments John. Maybe its a glitch at my end...

 

Me too (although I could see them fine yesterday, and they are well worth seeing!).

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Have just sent John a message, will get it resolved :)

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Having problems seeing the attachments John. Maybe its a glitch at my end...

 

Me too (although I could see them fine yesterday, and they are well worth seeing!).

 

Game Warden

I had pasted in the text and uploaded from my PC the images as attachments. Errors on my part during editing in order to position the images in the right places made me re-do some stuff in frustration. The last I remember, I went to "My Media" and found the references to Attachments which look like this [but within square brackets - ahh the joys of posting] "sharedmedia=core:attachments:2258" instead of the earlier reference style which included their file names. So I pasted these references in the right places, did the image left, centre, right thing for some variation, tested this a few times, everything seemed hunky-dory, and clicked Post. All seemed well until your email and replies above told me the images had disappeared. Perhaps the attachments via My Media linger in your server for only a short time? Let me know if I should (and how to) re-load the images into the text.

 

Vlad the Impala

Thanks for the confirmation and the affirmation. Much appreciated.

 

Rgds,

John

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Have just sent John a message, will get it resolved :)

Further confirmation - I just went to the Attachments section of My Media and all the "text" referencing the images have disappeared.

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Re-uploaded the image attachments and re-did the positioning. Images are appearing now

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There they are. John, I just tidied up the formatting slightly. Great images :)

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My best ever game-sighting day on safari (so far)

Part 2

 

We had watched the mating leopards for quite a while. There were repeat couplings every few minutes. While He seemed to be flagging a little, it looked like She would still be asking for more for quite some time to come. So we had left them to see what else the day would bring. Overcast and dreary weather on a 13th notwithstanding, we had already had one little, cute baby elephant and mating leopards. The day was already outstanding.

 

Not long after leaving them, what should we spot but a couple of lions, hustling along purposefully in the direction of the mating leopards. They had clearly discovered the presence of the leopards, and were clearly meaning to get to them. Our ranger, Neil, said that this was a coalition of two brothers known to still be in the area.

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Would the amorous couple be so lost in their moment(s) that they would not sense the lions until it was too late? Would the baboons (the other spectators) fall out of their tree in excitement at the prospect? Would we fall out of our jeep in our rushing U-turn to get back to the leopards?

 

A moment after sighting the lions, we were back where the leopards were. The female was nowhere to be seen. She had scooted off and was watching warily from under a tree a little way off, ready to climb out of harm’s way if the lions were to head in her direction. The male was already up in the tree, and watching the approaching lions.

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This was my second ever sighting of a leopard up in a tree (I'm not counting the female in Botswana which posed so nicely for me along the horizontal tree trunk). The first had also been in Kruger, then back seven years ago on my first safari. That was in the dark of night, with lions all around us in the veld. On all the safaris in between I had been hoping and hoping for a repeat. And here it was.

 

Next thing we knew, he looks like he thinks he had better get higher up. And then he started clambering upwards again. Unfortunately (for us), he chose the side of the tree away from us to do so. And so I do not have any climbing leopard shots. Ahh - next time.

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However, here he is checking the bearings of the lions. He looks to me to be rather worried, but this makes him look like a scaredy cat, and kind of cute.

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He then decides he needs to be higher up and off he went. Again, wrong side. No shots. He stops for another peek.

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Deciding that discretion is the better part of valour, he scoots off even higher.

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He continues to look a little concerned. Perhaps he is worried what Mrs Leopard thinks of him right now. She was on the ground, but he is right up there on the skinny branches (well, relatively speaking anyway).

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Meanwhile, the action at ground level had the lions looking longingly at tree-top leopard,

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and occasionally, but with disconcerting frequency, at me!

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Anyway, with the lions having plonked themselves down for a bit, the leopard soon settled itself down, and did not look like it would be descending for a while. Maybe it was thanking the lions for breaking up his marathon mating session (and getting smacked for his troubles). Looks like a sign of relief.

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Or maybe he’s just getting his mojo back by demonstrating his tongue dexterity,

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and practising his “Don’t I look good like this” poses, perhaps to take his mind off what Mrs Leopard was going to do to him for his leaving her to the lions, literally.

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I suppose the lions had hoped to rob the leopard of its food or to have leopard as food. But the male leopard was up the tree already, and it had been mating, not feeding. The lions soon got bored and moved off.

 

As there were no leopard kills for the lions to rob, no leopards for the lions to kill, and we were just killing time, we decided to move on too, and left him licking his wounds.

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It was only eight in the morning of that dreary 13th, and we had already had mating leopards and lions chasing one up a tree. Ranger Neil said that some lionesses with cubs had been sighted in the area. So we said, "Sure!", but thinking "Cubs? Yawn!", not to mention flat lions by this time of the morning. But we were happy campers, so we went lion cub hunting.

 

We soon found our lions and cubs. And of course, they were all flat lions - lazing around in the "late" morning (8:30am). The cubs nuzzled up to mummy for a feed and they all seemed to have fallen asleep. Nothing was stirring. Boring, boring, boring - especially after the morning's excitement.

 

Except that a few minutes later, these cuties rewarded our patience with these looks. All together now aaawwwwwww. Of course, mummy is just lion aroun’.

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Well, there’s only so much cuteness a guy can take (not to mention sleeping lions which were unlikely to be doing anything interesting for some time to come). So off we went again.

 

There was a bit of “slow” time after that, which did not seem all that slow since I was still re-playing what I had seen so far. We did visit a while with a huge tusker. Neil seemed particularly pleased to see him.

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He did give me some opportunities to try out some stuff. This one keeps reminding me of a wrecking ball for some reason.

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We also passed a Bushbuck doe, but the question of whether it was an Imbabala (Tragelaphus sylvaticus) or Kéwel (Tragelaphus scriptus) got some people into a tizzy, and not just because of its badly torn nose either.

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And then, ten minutes after leaving the cute lion cubs, less than two hours after leaving the male leopard up the tree, and before my pulse and blood pressure had returned to merely “excited” levels, we came upon this leopard cub. Neil reckoned it was about 18 months old and about ready to strike out on its own. Now my first leopard up a tree was on my first safari. It had taken seven years before my second leopard up a tree, that very morning. Here was my third, and in only two hours. And not just up a tree, but with breakfast. Was I on a roll or what?

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Well, Little Missy here (I am guessing it is a Miss Leopard) had not set up the scene for our convenience. It was hard to get to good vantage points around the tree. There were twigs criss-crossing the leopard and the impala carcass every which way. And Little Missy would fidget, move her head to rest on one side of the branch then the other, all the while without improving my shooting situation. She had the carcass behind her, draped dramatically it is to be admitted, but which made for difficult framing choices all in all. I was almost having conniptions - leopard up a tree with a kill and I was struggling to get satisfactory shots. Yes, yes - there is just no satisfying some people I hear you mutter (including eye-roll).

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I reckon it was just playing hard to get, as perhaps you can imagine from this shot.

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Just a little distance away from the tree and the cub was Mummy. She was just lying there seemingly all relaxed and content. Neil reckoned Mummy here had made the impala kill and brought it back for the cub. Apparently, being 18 months old, the cub would now warn Mummy off by growling if she came near, the ingrate (that’s kids for you).

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After this sighting, we started heading back to the lodge, passing some waterbuck along the way. Was she having a laugh?

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Was he just telling me to bugger off?

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The morning, which had been threatening to rain, finally started to spurt a few drops. We hustled back for some breakfast and some image processing. It had been an amazing morning's game drive.

 

 

In leaving Part 2, I will say that the leopard and carcass was perhaps 3-5 metres off the ground. This was a guy in another vehicle who was perhaps trying out the macro mode on his camera.

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I had not included the base of the tree in any shots I had taken as I had not expected what was to happen later that same evening. How could anyone have? Stay tuned. There's more to come which made this a truly special day for me.

 

John

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Excellent!!! Thank You for this - the pictures go brilliantly with the prose .......... Next segment, awaited!!!

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PS: My fav image from part 2 is Pic 6 - the Leopard up in a tree with a lot of Cloud bG - excellent shot!!!

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PS: My fav image from part 2 is Pic 6 - the Leopard high up in a tree with a lot of Cloud bG - excellent shot!!!

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A great write-up of a fantastic day John!!!

You have a formidable haul of quality images including some once-in-a-lifetime shots!

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Thanks to everyone who dropped by and for leaving your kind words. Much appreciated.

Edited by johnkok
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