AG Secret Season Safari

Birds, wild dogs, leopards and Scott in the Kruger

Original Source: yearinthewild.com

Olifants Camp is probably the beginning of the northern part of Kruger, and so although it’s a big camp, there are far fewer tourists here than at Lower Sabie and Skukuza. It’s a function of wildlife numbers too – this is where the vast mopane shrubland begins, and consequently there are fewer numbers of herbivores, although all the same species do occur here.

You never quite know what you’re going to see. One week it is quiet and then suddenly you can see everything in ten minutes. That’s the allure, the promise, the flirt of the bushveld and Africa’s wild places. And it’s why these places are so intoxicating… because there’s always the hope and chance of seeing something spectacular.

It was quiet for me, up to a point, then we spotted… (that’s a hint right there) …a leopard (spotted, of course).

There she (or he? - I couldn't tell) lay - dappled and dignified. If lions are the kings of the beast, leopards are the princes. This adonis was lying in the mopane woodland just south of Letaba camp. Late afternoon. © Scott Ramsay

There she (or he? – I couldn’t tell) lay – dappled and dignified. If lions are the kings of the beast, leopards are the princes. This adonis was lying in the mopane woodland just south of Letaba camp in the late afternoon. © Scott Ramsay

Chilling. Baboons know how to chill! © Scott Ramsay

Chilling. Baboons know how to chill! © Scott Ramsay

An unusually cold snap passed through Kruger while we were at Olifants. These tree squirrels huddled up and used their thick tails as blankets. © Scott Ramsay

An unusually cold snap passed through Kruger while we were at Olifants. These tree squirrels huddled up and used their thick tails as blankets. © Scott Ramsay

After a few days of seeing very little I started to learn to appreciate the little things, and I suppose the more time you spend in Africa’s wilderness areas, the more you learn, because it’s inevitable that sometimes you’ll just not see: leopards, or lions or elephants, but there is so much else to see, and smell, and hear, and touch and taste. I think that’s when you become a true bush lover… when it doesn’t matter that you don’t see the traditional crowd-pleasers. Having said this I did see one or two leopards even if it was a dry spell for spotting wildlife.

It's good to know that sometimes, the animals are still in charge. Late one afternoon, as I was making my way back to Letaba Camp, rushing to make the closing of the gates, I saw a whole lot of cars on the side of the road. And yes, there was the leopard. Through my 500mm lens, I had a great view. The light was perfect, the composition good, and the leopard very photogenic, as always. Except, for twenty minutes, he didn't move his head once to look at me. So I took a great photo of a leopard which never looked at me. I think he was fed-up with all the attention. But I grudgingly respected him. © Scott Ramsay

© Scott Ramsay

It’s good to know that sometimes, the animals are still in charge. Late one afternoon, as I was making my way back to Letaba Camp, rushing to make the closing of the gates, I saw a whole lot of cars on the side of the road. And yes, there was the leopard. Through my 500mm lens, I had a great view. The light was perfect, the composition good, and the leopard very photogenic, as always. Except, for twenty minutes, he didn’t move his head once to look at me. So I took the above photo of a leopard which never looked at me. I think he was fed-up with all the attention. But I grudgingly respected him

I must still tally up my predator sightings, but I think I saw more leopards than lions while in Kruger. Most sightings are like this, though. I took this photo between Olifants and Satara. This female leopard was about two hundred metres from the road, in this leadwood tree. It's not a great photo but it represents reality...most of the time, these cats are quite happy to be far from the road, and only a few are habituated to vehicles. Interestingly, according to researcher Mitch Reardon, your best chance of seeing leopards is near tar roads that lie alongside riverine areas, because the individuals whose territories cover the tar roads and river dongas are used to vehicles and consequently won't run away too quickly. © Scott Ramsay

© Scott Ramsay

I took the above photo between Olifants and Satara. This female leopard was about two hundred metres from the road, in this leadwood tree. It’s not a great photo but it represents reality. Most of the time, these cats are quite happy to be far from the road, and only a few are habituated to vehicles. Interestingly, according to researcher Mitch Reardon, your best chance of seeing leopards is near tar roads that lie alongside riverine areas, because the individuals whose territories cover the tar roads and river dongas are used to vehicles and consequently won’t run away too quickly.

However, when the leopards were scarce the birdlife sufficed…

Saddle-billed storks are not common at all, and are usually only found within protected areas. I saw plenty in Kruger, but was conscious that these birds are hardly ever seen outside of the park. © Scott Ramsay

Saddle-billed storks are not common at all, and are usually only found within protected areas. I saw plenty in Kruger, but was conscious that these birds are hardly ever seen outside of the park. © Scott Ramsay

Bateleur eagle...check out those colours. © Scott Ramsay

Bateleur eagle… check out those colours. © Scott Ramsay

Klipspringers spotted on dolomite ridges. © Scott Ramsay

Klipspringers spotted on dolomite ridges. © Scott Ramsay

Shimuwini Camp is one of my favourite places to stay in Kruger. It’s one of the so-called bush camps, and is only accessible to people who are booked to stay there. Also, the roads into camp are off-limits to general visitors, so you have a good chance of being alone at wildlife sightings.

I was very lucky here. Once again, most of my luck came early in the morning or late afternoon. After seven weeks of getting up every morning at 5, to make sure I catch the early light, I was tired! But if you don’t get up early, you’re going to miss the action! And on several mornings at Shimuwini, I was rewarded. First, a big male leopard, and then a pack of seven wild dogs on the hunt.

The second rarest carnivore in Africa, after the Ethiopian Wolf. About 5 000 individuals occur in the wild in Africa, only about 550 in South Africa, and most of these occur in Kruger. To see them in their natural wild environment is a privilege, every time. © Scott Ramsay

© Scott Ramsay

The second rarest carnivore in Africa, after the Ethiopian Wolf. About 5 000 individuals occur in the wild in Africa, only about 550 in South Africa, and most of these occur in Kruger. To see them in their natural wild environment is a privilege, every time.

They were intrigued by some buffalo dung that was very fresh. They ate some of it, then rolled in it. I presume to mask their smell while hunting, but also to supplement the bacteria in their stomachs? I need to clarify this with a wild dog expert. © Scott Ramsay

They were intrigued by some buffalo dung that was very fresh. They ate some of it, then rolled in it. © Scott Ramsay

Some wild dogs - if they've never seen vehicles or people before - are very inquisitive of cars. These sub-adults kept walking closer to me, and when I reversed, they kept on walking towards me. I guess their intrigue stems from their lack of persecution by humans, as so often happens outside protected areas. Their naive trust of humans makes such a nice change from most wild animals which are scared of humans, because we have hunted them for so long. (Although, this is one theory why Africa's large mammals have survived for so long in the modern world - because wild animals evolved alongside hunting humans, and are intrinsically wary of us. On other continents, when humans first arrived from Africa, animals had no idea that we were hunting, marauding predators, and so consequently the poor creatures  were easily wiped out by homo sapiens.)© Scott Ramsay

© Scott Ramsay

Some wild dogs – if they’ve never seen vehicles or people before – are very inquisitive of cars. These sub-adults kept walking closer to me, and when I reversed, they kept on walking towards me. I guess their intrigue stems from their lack of persecution by humans, as so often happens outside protected areas. Their naive trust of humans makes such a nice change from most wild animals which are scared of humans, because we have hunted them for so long. (Although, this is one theory why Africa’s large mammals have survived for so long in the modern world – because wild animals evolved alongside hunting humans, and are intrinsically wary of us. On other continents, when humans first arrived from Africa, animals had no idea that we were hunting, marauding predators, and so consequently the poor creatures were easily wiped out by homo sapiens.)

© Scott Ramsay

© Scott Ramsay

The big male leopard patrolling his territory near Shimuwini Camp. It's amazing how these animals melt into the bush. They disappear within a few metres of the road. I can understand why leopards are so revered and feared in many African customs. © Scott Ramsay

The big male leopard patrolling his territory near Shimuwini Camp. It’s amazing how these animals melt into the bush. They disappear within a few metres of the road. I can understand why leopards are so revered and feared in many African customs. © Scott Ramsay

A fish eagle, at Sable Dam near Phalaborwa Gate. © Scott Ramsay

A fish eagle, at Sable Dam near Phalaborwa Gate. © Scott Ramsay

There's a beautiful baobab that's easily accessible near Shimuwini Camp. But you have to be booked into Shimuwini to see it, because this is one of the exclusive bush camps in Kruger (which are my favourite!) © Scott Ramsay

There’s a beautiful baobab that’s easily accessible near Shimuwini Camp. But you have to be booked into Shimuwini to see it, because this is one of the exclusive bush camps in Kruger (which are my favourite!) © Scott Ramsay

Scott Ramsay

Photojournalist Scott Ramsay focuses on exploring the national parks, nature reserves and community conservancies in Southern Africa, taking photographs and interviewing the experts who work in these protected areas. Through his work, he hopes to inspire others to travel to the continent's wild places, which Scott believes are Africa's greatest long term assets. For more, go to www.LoveWildAfrica.com or www.facebook.com/LoveWildAfrica. Partners include Ford Ranger, Goodyear, Cape Union Mart, K-Way, EeziAwn, Frontrunner, Hetzner and Globecomm.

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