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Winners safari for 2020 Photographer of the Year


Simon Espley

Monday, 21 June 2021

Cover image ©Marcus Westberg: Left back (left to right): Jens Cullmann, Sophie Reimann, Julien Regamey, Lizz Espley, David Rouge, William Mthetwa, Marcus Westberg. Front (left to right): Simon Espley, Mike Mkansi. Equipment and settings: Sony ILCE-9M2| 24-70mm f2.8 GM| aperture f8 | exposure 1/320 | focal length 70mm | iso 400

Imagine four exceptional and diversely talented photographers together on safari in the world-renowned Sabi Sands Game Reserve …

After an extended covid-delay, our 2020 Photographer of the Year winners joined me and my wife Lizz to enjoy their prize-winning safari in South Africa’s Lowveld – a great way to soak up some of Africa’s magic.

It was March 2021, and the bushveld was still dense after an excellent rain season – and yet the Sabi Sands was thrumming with wildlife and delivered on its reputation as predator-central.

We each brought our significant others – which meant that thankfully fireside discussions went beyond f/stop and the latest gear – although one winner brought a photographer friend. Our first game drive was a mere few minutes old when painted wolves ruthlessly dispatched an unfortunate impala a few meters from us. That emotional rollercoaster of excitement, sorrow and quiet contemplation was an apt introduction to what was an epic safari.

We were hosted by Djuma Private Game Reserve (no longer open to the public) in the northern Sabi Sands – we stayed at what was then the self-catering Tumbeta House. My significant other – Lizz – ran the kitchen for our party of eight – and we dined like royalty. Hats off to her and the Djuma staff – mere words cannot describe the behind-the-scenes action behind running an operation like this.

I won’t go into detail about our time in paradise – that would be cruel in the current covid-restricted dimension that we all are enduring. This brief selection of images pays testament to the combined talents of the diverse group but barely hints at the exhilarating time had by all.

Sabi Sands
We encountered painted wolves (wild dogs) on several occasions over the five days and spent many hours in their company. This large pack was restless, constantly calling to distant companions and trotting off on a mission ©David Rouge

Nikon D850 | lens 600 mm f/4.0 | aperture f4 | exposure 1/250 | focal length 600mm | iso 800

Of course there were elephants everywhere, and on one occasion, we were surrounded by a large breeding herd as they went about their morning. Most of the time, we put the cameras down and absorbed the close encounter into our souls – savouring every head toss, every protective mom shepherding her tiny calf away from the tussling young bulls ©David Rouge

Nikon D850 | lens 600 mm f/4.0 | aperture f4 | exposure 1/2000 | focal length 600mm | iso 320

Sabi Sands
We spent a few hours in the later afternoon with a relaxed pride of lions as they lazed around, charging their batteries for nocturnal pursuits. Shortly after sundown, the flat cats became mobile and headed into the gloom. We managed to get ahead of them as they strolled down a track and benefitted from the spotlight of an oncoming game drive vehicle behind the lions ©Jens Cullmann

Canon EOS 1D X Mark II | EF70-200 mm f/2.8 | aperture f2,8 | exposure 1/200 | focal length 200mm | iso 1600

Africa Geographic Travel
Sabi Sands
Leopards are always high on the wish list, and this dominant male did not disappoint. We spent the best part of a morning in his regal presence as he gazed through us before sauntering off on a rambling patrol of his domain ©Julien Regamey

Sony ILCE-7M3| 500mm DG OS HSM f/4| aperture f4 | exposure 1/160 | focal length 500mm | iso 320

It was a gloomy early morning, and we were listening for contact calls from a pack of painted wolves that had ghosted past us and disappeared into a densely vegetated drainage line. During our silent scanning, we noticed this pair of bateleurs observing us from their lofty perch. At one stage, the male launched and flew over us. Voila!  ©Marcus Westberg

Sony ILCE-1| 600mm f4 GM OSS + 1.4X teleconverter| aperture f6 | exposure 1/1000 | focal length 840mm | iso 1250

Sabi Sands
Early evening on our first day, we were a few hundred meters from our lodgings on the first game drive when a young impala bulleted past in frantic flight. On its tail were painted wolves who quickly caught and consumed their prey. The bloody kill scene was a few meters away in the long grass – a flurry of white tails and twittering wolves. Death came quickly for the unfortunate impala, and the wolves ghosted into the deepening darkness after the hors-d’oeuvres. ©Marcus Westberg

Sony ILCE-1| FE 400mm f2.8 GM OSS| aperture f2,8 | exposure 1/80 | focal length 400mm | iso 2000

Africa Geographic Travel

After five enriching and relaxing days in the Sabi Sand, we spent the last day of our adventure hosted by one of the most respected ladies in African conservation – a personal friend of long-standing. CEO of GKEPF, Sharon Haussmann is at the frontline of anti-poaching efforts and forging the way to cement strategic alliance partnerships between private and state landowners in this region –  including a private Mozambique game reserve bordering the Kruger National Park. Sharon and colleague Marion Bourn gave us an interesting briefing of the issues and how GKEPF is tackling them. This behind-the-scenes reveal was followed by an afternoon with Timbavati warden Edwin Pierce and his rangers at a remote outpost and a helicopter flip with renowned veteran flyboy Gerry McDonald. The rangers are my heroes in the battle to protect our wildlife from the evil ones  – they live in remote areas away from friends and family and put their lives on the line. I can never find the words to thank them for what they do.

Our last night in paradise, again hosted by Sharon, was at the ultra-luxurious Africa House – an exclusive-use and villa of Royal Malewane in Thornybush Game Reserve, Greater Kruger. Our late-night discussions under the twinkling stars about the last few days were a fitting end to an exceptionally uplifting sojourn.

Want to go on a safari to Sabi Sands? To find lodges, search for our ready-made packages or get in touch with our travel team to arrange your safari, scroll down to after this story.

Clockwise from top left: 1) A white rhino and calf. Note that both have been dehorned – part of a concerted and well-publicized strategy to reduce poaching risk. ©Julien Regamey; 2) GKEPF CEO Sharon Haussmann with Timbavati ranger Danisile Annetjie Mkansi – the first female ranger to qualify as a Timbavati K9 handler (she is also Operations Room Operator). During discussions with our group, she impressed with her passion and determination to make a real difference for rhinos and other wildlife. ©Julien Regamey; 3) GKEPF administrative support crew member Marion Bourn at her desk – monitoring security issues in the GKEPF regional footprint. ©Marcus Westberg; 4) A remote ranger outpost somewhere in Timbavati Private Nature Reserve. ©Marcus Westberg; 5) Gerry McDonald displays his skills as he takes our party skimming across the bushveld in search of poachers, rangers and rhinos. ©Marcus Westberg

Africa’s final gift was an enchanting time spent with a lioness who brought her five cubs into the open for the first time while we were on game drive in Thornybush. Prepare to be smitten by the cuteness of the following video:

WATCH: Lioness and her five cubs – Thornybush Game Reserve, Greater Kruger (1:10)


Sabi Sands
©Marcus Westberg
Africa Geographic Travel

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