YearInTheWild

Kruger from the air

Original Source: yearinthewild.com

I spent the past week at Malelane and Berg-en-Dal camps in south-west Kruger and at Skukuza, the biggest and most famous camp, further north. It’s been a pretty quiet week in terms of spotting plenty of wildlife, but I did have two amazing experiences. 

The first was spectacular just because a leopard was involved (anything is guaranteed to be spectacular when a leopard is involved). On a sunset drive with field guide Peter Zitha, we spotted a big male leopard on the side of the road, gnawing on an old impala carcass. We watched him for a few minutes, when he got a huge fright, and bolted up the nearest tree and out of the bushes came five marauding hyenas. We watched the imperious leopard perched in a thin, dainty tree, looking irked as he stared contemptuously at the hyenas below him. After half an hour or so, we left the scene, to leave the leopard and hyenas to sort things out for themselves.

The look of a seriously irritated leopard. But I'd be too, if I had my dinner stolen by five hyenas!

Yum. The old carcass of an impala must taste like well-cured biltong.

Yum. The old carcass of an impala must take like well-cured biltong.

The look of a seriously irritated leopard.

Then, this past weekend, I had the privilege of flying over Kruger with, Major-General Johan Jooste, the chief of anti-poaching who has been contracted for five years to sort out the rhino poaching scourge. I interviewed the general in detail,  you can read my interview with him here. After spending a day with General Jooste and his team, my overall impression is that he is a man with a plan, and knows exactly what has to be done to sort out the poachers. He instills confidence, he is experienced, he is decisive, he is a team player, and he is an excellent communicator. It was a privilege to spend time him and his team.

In the chopper alongside General Jooste was pilot Iain de Beer, and Otch Otto, a senior member of the anti-poaching task force. We flew for most of the day, with the general as he visited, several section-rangers, who are spread out over the 20 000 square kilometre bushveld wilderness. The conditions were terrible for photography – probably the worst possible light! Cloudy, grey and dull with slight drizzle. Nevertheless, it was a highlight of my career, and it was special to see one of Africa’s most famous national parks from the air.

We saw plenty of ellies, a few rhinos, some lions, and of course lots of plains game, including a herd of about 600 buffalo! Enjoy the photos from the flight below as well as some others from my second week in the park.

General Johan Jooste (left) flying with pilot Iain de Beer

General Johan Jooste (left) flying with pilot Iain de Beer

The herd of about 600 buffalo that we saw while flying over Kruger

The herd of about 600 buffalo that we saw while flying over Kruger

The buffalo were spooked by the helicopter, although they tried to run, they refused to leave the mopane woodland and go into the adjacent grassland. They probably felt they were safer within the woodland.

The buffalo were spooked by the helicopter, although they tried to run, they refused to leave the mopane woodland and go into the adjacent grassland. They probably felt they were safer within the woodland.

The rivers of Kruger flow mostly from west to east, and are the lifeblood of the reserve. In winter, they dry up to leave beautiful, sandy river beds. From the air, they provide visual interest in a landscape of endless bushveld.

The rivers of Kruger flow mostly from west to east, and are the lifeblood of the reserve. In winter, they dry up to leave beautiful, sandy river beds. From the air, they provide visual interest in a landscape of endless bushveld.

A big tusker, spotted from the air in the SANParks chopper

A big tusker, spotted from the air in the SANParks chopper

A big bull elephant, parading his enormous self.

A big bull elephant, parading his enormous self.

One can see how wide this river CAN be in times of flood. During dry season, the rivers narrow dramatically.

One can see how wide this river CAN be in times of flood. During dry season, the rivers narrow dramatically.

Three ellies, in typical open woodland and savannah in the central area of Kruger

Three ellies, in typical open woodland and savannah in the central area of Kruger

Hippos make for the water, as the chopper flies over.

Hippos make for the water, as the chopper flies over.

The rivers at this time of year are drying up quickly, but there was still water in this one.

The rivers at this time of year are drying up quickly, but there was still water in this one.

There are always lions around.

There are always lions around.

It's so hard to keep the eyes open.

It’s so hard to keep the eyes open.

A brother and sister near Skukuza, enjoying the early morning rays.

A brother and sister near Skukuza, enjoying the early morning rays.

Klipspringer in the early morning light, near Skukuza

Klipspringer in the early morning light, near Skukuza

A female kudu snacking.

A female kudu snacking.

A brief glimpse of a hyena in the early morning.

A brief glimpse of a hyena in the early morning.

I came across a group of wild dogs, but there were so many cars, that I left the scene earlier than I would have liked. It's the one downside to visiting the south of Kruger at this time of year. There are so many tourists, that sightings can become congested.

I came across a group of wild dogs, but there were so many cars, that I left the scene earlier than I would have liked. It’s the one downside to visiting the south of Kruger at this time of year. There are so many tourists, that sightings can become congested.

A martial eagle perches on a marula tree.

A martial eagle perches on a marula tree.

Elephant textures.

Elephant textures.

A white-bellied sunbird savours the nectar of an aloe.

A white-bellied sunbird savours the nectar of an aloe.

A spotted eagle owl.

A spotted eagle owl.

The early morning walks at Berg en Dal are great. The scenery is among the best in Kruger for walking. Here guides Rasta Nkuna and Peter Zitha take in the views.

The early morning walks at Berg en Dal are great. The scenery is among the best in Kruger for walking. Here guides Rasta Nkuna and Peter Zitha take in the views.

Up close to a red-billed hornbill

Up close to a red-billed hornbill.

It was full moon while I was at Malelane Camp, and it was also a "super" moon, so the moon seems a bit bigger, apparently, because it's at its closest point to the earth on it's ellptical orbit around our little planet.

It was full moon while I was at Malelane Camp, and it was also a “super” moon, so the moon seems a bit bigger, apparently, because it’s at its closest point to the earth on it’s elliptical orbit around our little planet.

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Scott Ramsay

Photojournalist Scott Ramsay spends most of each year exploring Southern Africa's protected areas, taking photographs and interviewing the experts who work in the protected areas.Through his work, he hopes to inspire others to travel to the continent's national parks and nature reserves, which Scott believes are Africa's greatest assets, and deserve to be protected at all costs not only for our own survival, but for their own sake. For more, go to www.yearinthewild.com or www.facebook.com/yearinthewild. Partners include Ford Everest, Goodyear, Cape Union Mart, K-Way, Globecomm, SANParks, CapeNature, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and Eastern Cape Parks.

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