Klaserie River Sands

Touched by Lightning

Blogging, I guess, is about sharing your experiences, opinions, joys and worries. However it is strange to unravel these feelings to an unknown reader. 

My simple premise in the upcoming remits is that if you have navigated your way this far through the cloud, we must share similar interests; it will almost be as if I am talking to myself. Recently I was told, from one open-topped game-viewing vehicle to the other as both were parked watching a 60-strong breeding herd of elephants, that Prince Harry was in the tabloids having just been photographed naked. If you have to wonder which I considered more interesting – a naked prince or 60 naked pachyderms – then read no further.

© Pete Oxford

© Pete Oxford

I and my South African wife and photographic partner, Reneé Bish, are ‘photographers-in-residence’ in the stunningly beautiful, provocative and awe-inspiring setting of Marataba. This 16 000-hectare private reserve that has no fences between it and the surrounding 80 000-hectare Marakele National Park in the Limpopo Province of northern South Africa. Part of the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve, this is a Big Five park, and it’s stunning. Most of my blogs will grow from here. We want you to share our lifestyle and the experiences of what its like to truly live in the bush, with no TV, dreadful internet and no 9-to-5 schedule. I would also introduce you to some of the very special characters with whom we share our lives.

© Pete Oxford

© Pete Oxford

Let me start with Lightning. Named for the bolt-shaped row of spots across her forehead, Lightning is a female about three years old. I think she knows me. When we first came to Marataba (then called the Marakele Private Reserve) in January 2012, the guides from the only lodge to service the property (Marataba Lodge www.hunterhotels.com) saw leopards regularly but briefly. As part of our raison d’detrewe are to try and habituate the animals. With no guests, an empty vehicle and the luxury of time on my side, I have spent countless hours in Lightning’s presence. She has become very used to me. I talk to her continuously. A little while ago she came to our back yard with an unknown male leopard and killed a doe impala 50 metres from our door. The male became aggressive and would not allow her near the carcass, so she took sanctuary in a low tree not two metres from my front bumper and waited it out. Suddenly a male bushpig, with zero hesitation and pumped with testosterone, charged in from nowhere and chased the male off the carcass, quickly coming back to feed on the kill.

© Pete Oxford

© Pete Oxford

I was astounded at the pig’s bravado. I moved in close to get a shot of the animal, with its extra-long head, flat nose and oversized Mr Spock-like ears, but my vehicle proved too much for it and it ran a short way off. Lightning seized her chance, running in and grabbing the impala. She hoisted her prize deftly into a scrubby blue thorn tree. The pig, realising his mistake, ran back as the rear hoof of the impala was tugged a few centimetres out of its reach. My white knight (actually my green vehicle) had saved the day for Lightning. Since then, our relationship has been truly cemented.

Recently it was even more gratifying to come home one evening and find Lightning staring at me from not three metres away, through plate-glass French doors. I switched on the lights, inside and out, and she watched me as I walked down the hall. Then she jumped into our river bushwillow a mere metre from the braai. I hope that the relationship continues, but I’ll keep you updated …

© Pete Oxford

© Pete Oxford



Pete Oxford

British-born Pete Oxford has been a resident of Ecuador, South America, for the past 27 years. He and his South African wife and photographic partner, Reneé Bish, have been regular and frequent visitors to southern Africa for the past two decades. They are presently based in the Marataba private concession in Marakele National Park, Limpopo province, where they work as 'photographers-in-residence', documenting both the treasures and the rebuilding of the contractual national park. The Oxfords' work has appeared in magazines around the world, including Africa Geographic, Time, Smithsonian, Life, BBC Wildlife and National Geographic. The couple has published 12 books. Pete is a founding fellow of the prestigious International League of Conservation Photographers, has been represented 10 times in the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards and was recognised by Outdoor Photographer Magazine as one of the top 40 most influential nature photographers in the world.

Africa Geographic