Photo Safari: Patrick Cooper | Zikomo Safari & Marula Lodge | 20 - 26 July 2016

28th July 2016

Another week of safari has come to an end; this time round our time was split between the excellent, remote Nsefu Sector and the wonderfully game-rich central area of the South Luangwa NP. I was joined by Patrick Cooper, a Kiwi on his first safari to Africa with a couple of weeks of Botswana safari already under his belt. I knew that Luangwa was going to need to pull out all the stops to impress him, and that certainly seems to have been the case!

Almost before we were out of Zikomo Safari Camp on the first afternoon, I spotted a Vulture with a very full crop. While there were no other vultures visible, I knew that there was a chance that this one had gorged itself on something large. So I followed the direction of the vulture and soon found another, and another, and finally a tree-full of vultures!

Approaching carefully (a tree-full of vultures suggests the predator may still be on the ground nearby) we found a large lion feeding on the remains of an Eland kill! His brother and a female were resting up nearby. Interestingly, a herd of giraffes were standing close showing great interest in the lion....giraffes are inquisitive creatures and not at all scared by a bloated carnivore!

Completly unconcerned, the bull giraffe observed the male as he tried to get the rest of the scraps from between the ribs!

As the rest of the herd of giraffes moved off, we drove around ahead of them to get the best lighting to take photos as they approached us.

Using a shallow depth of field gives scale and depth to the image.

Early the following morning we followed lion calls and tracked down the two large males to the spot where they had decided to rest for the day. The lighting was pretty special and when the males got up and walked past the vehicle, we could only hold our breath in excitement.

That evening, when the light was dropping, pukus lead us to a leopard who was patrolling his patch. While quite large, he is actually a youngster - revealed by his pink nose and scarless face and ears. He was a little timid to begin with but settled down by the end allowing us to get some beautiful photos of him as he passed by.

The early morning light in Nsefu area is outstanding, so we made a point of being near the beautiful Lunga Lagoon at the best time of day. Elephants were drinking and an arched tree gave us a nice background, but I couldn't help snapping a simple shot of the trees reflected in the water too!

If you have a subject in the shade with a bright sky behind, it's tough for a camera to handle. One option is to expose correctly for the subject and accept that the sky's details will blow-out to white. This can be especially effective if your subject is immediately identifiable. We spent some time with this male giraffe, snapping shots as the oxpeckers danced around on his neck. At one stage, we were no more than 10 feet from him and he seemed completely unconcerned!

It's all about the composition in images like this - without the oxpeckers, and particularly the position of the one in flight, this image would be flat and bland.

Late in the morning, we spotted some lions resting on a shelf in the shade. We went closer to identify them, but decided that we would do better returning in the afternoon when the light would be more flattering. In fact, we couldn't have asked for a better situation as the youngsters basked in the afternoon light and occasionally interacted.

Three true brothers from the Tena pride bask in the afternoon light.

On our last morning, we headed north to explore the Hot Springs, but were repeatedly delayed by great sightings! First it was two large male lions (the Tafika males this time, not the Tsetse coalition males who we had seen earlier in the week) and then by a brilliantly behaved leopard. We spent nearly an hour with her while she patrolled her territory and spray marked repeatedly.

The Hot Springs gave us 800 buffalo, wildebeest, reedbuck and buckets of birds, but arriving late meant the light was pretty tough so we just enjoyed the views! Following tea-break, we took a speedy drive down to the central area of the park, to stay at Marula Lodge and see what Nature would give us there!

It turned out that Nature would smile up on there as well; Patrick regularly claimed that his ju-ju - African medicine - was responsible! We left camp early in the afternoon - as I always do - and were first to a wonderful sighting of a leopard in a tree with her cub. She was feeding on an antelope leg, and when she started to come down, the cub joined her and they posed momentarily on a low branch.

The following morning, we set out to find them and were delayed by a scuffle between a hyaena and a young elephant...which chased the predator until he moved quickly on!

We found the leopard and watched as she hunted for a while, but the rising sun and alertness of the antelope prevented her getting lucky that morning.

That afternoon, I decided to explore further north into the park, and as the sun was going down, we found lions resting in the sand river bed. They got up soon after we arrived, started to hunt, and quickly set their sights on a warthog. We had barely enough time to drive round to their position before they caught the warthog and dragged it down! The rest of the pride joined soon after and we were treated to the snarling, grunting, roaring noises of 7 lionnesses and cubs feeding on a young warthog. The light was poor, and the grass was long, so I left my camera on my lap and just watched in astonishment from 5m away as the lions rendered the pig to nothing in around 20 minutes.

Patrick had seen one of my images of giraffes crossing the river and asked if there was a chance of seeing a repeat. Here followed one of the most extraoridinary events of the week! I told him it was rare but we planned to get to the most likely spot at around 08.30 when game begins to come and drink. No sooner had we stopped than a bull giraffe appeared in our vision, about 800m from the river. He headed straight for the water and strolled right in! I couldn't believe our luck!

Getting correct focus in this situation is crucial. One slip and a focus point placed over the head of the giraffe would pick up the beach way in the distance. So in this case, focusing on the water where the giraffe's legs enter the river is the safest bet.

We tried several compositions and I remember commenting that it sometimes works better if animals walk one way or the other through the shot, which this giraffe was not. The moment I said it, the giraffe turned and walked back across the river to our side, giving us the chance to take photos of him moving the opposite way! Unbelievable luck! Having said that, the more time I spend in Luangwa, the luckier I get with my sightings.

Not believing it was possible to get any more luck in that area of the park, we took a drive to a salt pan that afternoon to enjoy the spectacle of hundreds of Crowned Cranes performing their mating displays. They are always shy and this time proved no exception so we snapped some shots as they flew off, and left it at that. Not all situations can work out perfectly!

Heading into the park via another route, we spotted some elephants drinking at the river. The start of the Chindeni Hills provided an unusual backdrop in an otherwise very flat area, so we took some time to enjoy the opportunity. The rest of that evening drive was very uneventful so we headed to camp to be ready for an early start the next morning.

I must admit that I was a little nervous about what I was going to show Patrick on the last morning, since we'd had such great sightings throughout! It's often the case that you have a quiet drive during a safari, and I didn't want it to be the last.

Following up on lion calls, we were lead to an open area where all the animals looked a little twitchy. Scanning with my binoculars, I found not lions, but Wild Dogs! And not only were there dogs, but they had chased a leopard into a small tree! We rushed over and spent more than an hour watching as the dogs fed on the carcass they had stolen from the leopard, and repeatedly chased the leopard into a tree when she dared to come down!

When the dogs moved off, we followed and left the leopard to try hunting again. The dogs lead us on a loop away from the open area, and then back towards it. They finally returned back to where they had started, and managed to catch an impala in the process. The unfortunate leopard was nearby when the kill occurred to had to retreat to yet another tree and observe as 11 dogs demolished an impala in minutes.

When the dogs had finished, the cat came down and collected the skin before rushing to a quiet area to scavenge the scraps! I could hardly believe what we had seen! To see dogs hunting is one thing, and to see a leopard in a beautiful open are is something else, but to see the two together was outstanding!

As other vehicles got news of the events, we decided to move off as I wanted to show Patrick a huge Baobab tree nearby. As we approached, I saw some commotion and we stumbled upon 7 lions who had killed a buffalo in the night! The two males were with them, but the light was bad by this stage, so we just watched in awe and wondered what more Luangwa could give us! It turned out that there was one more treat - at a nearby lagoon, 500 buffalo were drinking in the shallow water so were enjoyed our tea-break with the last of our big-4 for that morning!

Patrick Cooper appears to be the luckiest safari-goer in history! He certainly was fortunate, but he also brought his own good fortune as he was happy to watch anything and ready to follow-up any lead that I spotted in the bush. There was never any pressure to find sightings and in that way, I was able to do my job and interpret what Nature was offering. It was a great week and I look forward to more safaris this season!


Photo comment By Ellen: Wow, this must be the most impressive sightings report I have ever read. And I have read all of yours Ed and many many many more on safaritalk. You had one lucky client with you! This sets the bar very high for our trip to SLNP in September, I'll be happy if we are half as lucky (say wild dogs and leopard but separately ;-) )
Photo comment By Edward Selfe: Hi Ellen - thank you for your comments! Yes, he was a lucky guy! But Luangwa does offer wonderful sightings on a very reliable basis so I am sure you'll have a great time in September!! Where are you going to stay? Ed
Photo comment By Ellen: At Zikomo Lodge, then Nlonzi camp and then Kafunta (with 2 nights at island bush camp). I hope that will give us some variety of areas! I was really sad to see you're no longer listed as a team member on the Jackalberry website for Nkonzi (that's how I found your website too!) But I have the feeling your photo safaris are keeping you too busy ;-) ! The images you've captured are really stellar!
Photo comment By Edward Selfe: Hi Ellen - yes I am sorry not to be guiding at Nkhonzi any more, but I am busy with lots of other projects. I also have a chance to guide in all different areas of the park which is great. I think you have chosen a really good combination of lodges - you'll have a brilliant time. I just returned from a week at Zikomo and the sightings were excellent, ending with 40 elephants crossing a lagoon this morning. More will appear on my blog soon, so look out for it! Ed
Photo comment By Ellen cassaer: It's sad for us but great for you Edward! Very happy things are going so wel for you! (Judging by the pictures deservedly so!) If work or leisure was to bring you around zikomo (6-9sept); Nkonzi (9-12sept); or Kafunta (12-17), don't hesitate at all to drop in for a sundowner drink or a midday break, I'd love hear about all your safari adventures!
Photo comment By Ian Cross: Good grief, more on one visit with you than I saw in three months! Excellent guiding, Ed.
Photo comment By Edward Selfe: Thanks Ellen. Sadly I will be busy throughout that time but I wish you a great safari! Ed
Photo comment By Hank Tan: Great luck and an excellent job in documenting the events, as always! Your Grey Crowned Crane experience makes me drool.
Photo comment By Edward Selfe: Thanks Ian - we did have a great trip!
Photo comment By Edward Selfe: Hi Hank - it's a great spectacle in the early part of the season, but mostly finished by September. I am taking Steve Segall on safari again next week...perhaps we should have a reunion in 2017??!! Ed

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