Sabi Sands Photographic Safari

Leopard catching duiker… and other wonders

Original Source: yearinthewild

If I could choose to live for a year in a protected area in South Africa, I’d probably opt for iSimangaliso Wetland Park (yes, I’m not sure that Kruger would be top of my list…)

Sunrise over the coastal forested dunes.

Sunrise over the coastal forested dunes.

iSimangaliso is the country’s second largest protected area – about 3000 square kilometres – that extends in a long strip from Kosi Bay on the Mozambique border south for 300km to the town of St Lucia, where the waters of Lake St Lucia find their way into the Indian Ocean.

It was proclaimed as South Africa’s first world heritage site in 1994, and contains – supposedly – the most number of animal species than any other protected area on the continent (no doubt because of the inclusion of the marine offshore area, which contains thousands of coral and fish species, as well as its location within a tropical climatic zone – courtesy of the warm Agulhas current that pushes south from Mozambique). Hence the name – iSimangaliso – which means “place of wonders” in isiZulu.

Sometimes you don't have to go very far to find beautiful wild animals...this painted reed frog - no more than two cm long - was perched on a window frame in a house in St Lucia town. Other wildlife also can be seen in town...most notably hippos, which cruise the streets at night...so be careful when you're walking around after dark!

Sometimes you don’t have to go very far to find beautiful wild animals. This painted reed frog – no more than 2cm long – was perched on a window frame in a house in St Lucia town. Other wildlife also can be seen in town. Most notably hippos, which cruise the streets at night so be careful when you’re walking around after dark!

It’s very diverse, and includes coral reefs in a marine offshore area, beaches, coastal forested dunes, rolling grasslands, bushveld, lakes, rivers and swamps. Because of the diverse landscapes, and because it’s long and narrow with various entry points, and because it has a non-descript road network in places, it can be a tricky place to get to know.

But if you have just two days to get to know it, then the best thing to do is explore the large southern portion near the town of St Lucia. Here you are most likely to see more wildlife than further north. And there’s no better person to guide you, in my opinion, than Kian Barker of Shakabarker Tours. Kian has a background in icthyology and game ranging at the prestigious Mala Mala, and is a true student of Africa’s wildlife and natural habitat. He has lived at St Lucia for more than 20 years, and is extremely knowledgeable.

Kian knows the park so well that he can predict where certain birds are going to be perched for the night...here a quartet of tawny-flanked prinias keep warm on an unusually cool evening.

Kian knows the park so well that he can predict where certain birds are going to be perched for the night… here a quartet of tawny-flanked prinias keep warm on an unusually cool evening.

On my last visit to iSimangaliso two years ago, I went on a night drive with Kian into the park, and was mesmerized by what we saw. So this time, I asked Kian if we could go again, and I was treated to two night drives into the park.

Undoubtedly the standout highlight was seeing a male leopard stalk and kill a grey duiker. What was amazing was the leopard’s hunting acumen and forward planning. Initially we saw the leopard in the tall grass, then watched as it bolted directly for the grey duiker, but didn’t catch it.

But what Kian and I first thought was a failed hunting attempt soon turned into a brilliant example of bluff and poker. The leopard had seemed to have spooked the duiker intentionally, because instead of wasting energy on chasing the duiker, the leopard then backed off quickly, and ran a big loop back around. It was then that the leopard’s strategy had become clear. The duiker – now just wanting to get away – was running directly towards the leopard, which was lying quietly in the grass. Eventually, the duiker walked right up to the leopard! Then the leopard simply had to pounce on the poor duiker, which let out three squeals, and then it was all over. Leopards are the ultimate hunters… wow!

Here are some photos from my time with Kian, as well as a few others that I took during daylight hours.

Our first view of the leopard...hows that camouflage?!

Our first view of the leopard… how’s that camouflage?!

Yip, you don't want to be walking through long grass at night in Africa.

Yip, you don’t want to be walking through long grass at night in Africa.

On the move...the leopard intentionally spooks the grey duiker.

On the move… the leopard intentionally spooks the grey duiker.

Then runs a loop back around and waits for the duiker to come to him!

Then runs a loop back around and waits for the duiker to come to him!

The duiker draws nearer, and the leopard gets ready to pounce

The duiker draws nearer, and the leopard gets ready to pounce

Can you see the duiker behind the leopard? The leopard waited for about 15 minutes in this position, no more than a metre or two from the duiker...what patience!

Can you see the duiker behind the leopard? The leopard waited for about 15 minutes in this position, no more than a metre or two from the duiker. What patience!

Then, the kill. The leopard pounced, and the duiker was caught and killed almost instaneously...not before squealing a few times.

Then, the kill. The leopard pounced, and the duiker was caught and killed almost instantaneously.

Impressive male kudu, photographed just after sunset.

Impressive male kudu, photographed just after sunset.

The St Lucia croc centre near the southern entrance to the park makes for excellent photographic opportunities.

The St Lucia croc centre near the southern entrance to the park makes for excellent photographic opportunities.

Hungry? A croc gets stuck into its afternoon tea...chickens are fed to the crocs at the centre.

Hungry? A croc gets stuck into its afternoon tea: chickens are fed to the crocs at the centre.

Huddling together to keep warm.

Huddling together to keep warm.

Cheeky thing...a vervet monkey youngster.

Cheeky thing… a vervet monkey youngster.

A rare spot of colour in an otherwise winter canvas of muted browns and ambers. A gladiolus species enjoying the limelight of my macro lens.

A rare spot of colour in an otherwise winter canvas of muted browns and ambers. A gladiolus species enjoying the limelight of my macro lens.

A waterbuck...these antelope can challenge the male kudus and gemsbok for handsomness, I think.

A waterbuck – these antelope can challenge the male kudus and gemsbok for handsomness, I think.

So, you think porcupines are cute? Well, think again. Kian spotted this one in the grass, and I was able to get a photo with my 500mm lens. This composition of a porcupine's face leaves me a little disturbed...anyone seen Lord of the Rings? Don't you think it looks a bit like an Orck!?

So, you think porcupines are cute? Well, think again. Kian spotted this one in the grass, and I was able to get a photo with my 500mm lens. This composition of a porcupine’s face leaves me a little disturbed. Anyone seen Lord of the Rings? Don’t you think it looks a bit like an Orck!?

Cape buffalo are almost always seen.

Cape buffalo are almost always seen.

Flap-necked chameleon snoozing on a branch. While driving in the park, and shining his torch in the trees, Kian can spot chameleons perched on branches...not sure how he does it, but it's pretty remarkable.

Flap-necked chameleon snoozing on a branch. While driving in the park, and shining his torch in the trees, Kian can spot chameleons perched on branches… not sure how he does it, but it’s pretty remarkable.

A Twilight Brown butterfly: note how it is camouflaged as a leaf.

A twilight brown butterfly: note how it is camouflaged as a leaf.

Another flapneck chameleon.

Another flapneck chameleon.

A brown-hooded kingfisher on his nightly perch.

A brown-hooded kingfisher on his nightly perch.

A setaro's dwarf chameleon, found only here in iSimangaliso and in southern Mozambique.

A setaro’s dwarf chameleon, found only here in iSimangaliso and in southern Mozambique.



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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