2017-08-27: Londolozi Game Reserve

It’s difficult to distill the last few days of my trip into a few paragraphs, because we saw so much, and had so many amazing and memorable moments, that I don’t really know how to explain it all and frankly, I don’t know if I even have the words to properly convey how it all felt.  Returning to Londolozi Tree Camp felt like a homecoming.  We were warmly welcomed with hugs, had the chance to reconnect with many familiar faces and were able to relax in what is, without a doubt, our very favourite place on the planet.

We were surprised from the outset, as we had requested our ranger from our previous trip, Dave, when we booked the trip, but then found out he was leaving Londolozi to take some time to travel. I thought the dates were such that he would be finished just before we arrived, but it turned out we were his last clients, and we had three wonderful days with him and his tracker, Judas, to explore the property.  Since we had been on safari with Dave before, he knew exactly what we liked, which was to head out and see what happens, and we did just that.  At the end of our time, Dave said he figured he had the 6 best consecutive drives of his career.  The experiences we had were just that good.

I will be sharing loads more photos from my time at Londolozi in future posts, but for now, here are a few of the memorable moments from the last stop on my African adventure.

Our first game drive, we ended up amongst two male leopards in a territory battle!  It was definitely reminiscent of our very first trip to Africa, when we experienced the same thing on Londolozi (with different leopards, of course).  We had some crazy 4×4 trekking through the bush, watched and listened to the posturing leopards until the sun was going down, and then went for a leisurely drinks stop before making our way back to camp.

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The Flat Rock male leopard walking through the tall grass as the sun was setting.  The territory battle was definitely not over at that point.

The next morning we headed out and found ourselves with two female and one male lion, and listened to the male roaring away the morning, calling to his brother who was some distance away. His brother was injured with a broken leg, and sadly, I heard has since died during a conflict with rival lions.

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Our second afternoon game drive found us having a leisurely drive around the reserve, until we heard on the radio that a lioness had been found on a giraffe kill with her two tiny cubs. As this was Dave’s favourite lioness, we went to the sighting, and as it started to grow dark, we watched the tiny cubs scampering around under the bushes, and gnawing on the giraffe’s horns and ears.  The Mom, the Tsalala tailless lioness, is one that I recall seeing on my previous trip to Londolozi.

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Very challenging conditions for capturing photographs.  I shot these at ISO 25,600 and still could have used a bit more light!

Our second morning drive, we ended up on some tracks of a leopard that was denning with tiny cubs that no one had seen, but didn’t end up finding her.  We did end up seeing another leopard and her two cubs though, and spent an enjoyable morning watching the cubs playing.  They spent ages scampering around a swampy pool, climbing on fallen trees, and attacking each other with paw swipes and tail bites.  We were even entertained watching Mom join in on the action, chasing the cubs around and pouncing through the grass at them.

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The little cub at the back always seemed to be the instigator, biting and swiping at its sibling.

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The cubs look off towards where Mom was stationed, briefly checking in before beginning the chase each other around the tree.

Our third afternoon drive was a quiet affair at the start; we enjoyed the scenery and some general game, but then came across tracks of the female leopard with tiny cubs, and began looking further to see if we could find a sign of her.  Another vehicle ended up having the sighting of a lifetime, seeing her a couple hundred meters from where we were looking, moving one of her cubs to a new den site.  We were able to drive past and see her moving one of the cubs within the den, and then set off on her hunt. Photographically, there isn’t much to show for it, but I have memories that will last forever.  After that beautiful moment, we thought we were stopping for a sundowner drink, but instead found a private bush barbecue set up for us in a dry riverbed.  Two of the camp managers, Phil and Will, were making us a gourmet BBQ dinner, while we enjoyed craft beers in the bush and lots of wonderful conversation.  We headed back to camp that evening driving beneath a blanket of stars.  It was truly a magical last night in the bush.

Our final game drive, we set out from camp and quickly came upon a small herd of elephants that had found an underground water pipe and dug it up to have a drink.  Here I had an experience with the elephants that is almost hard for me to describe.  There was a young calf, probably a year old, drinking with his Mom, and he walked over to the vehicle on three different occasions, stood right next to me, and stared into my eyes.  The look on his face could only be described as smiling.  He didn’t pay attention to anyone else in the vehicle, and went back to his Mom after each visit. I could have reached out and touch his trunk or his ear, he was so close to me.  I was awed after this, and then about 10 minutes later, another mother came by with a calf even younger, and after he took a drink, he came right over to the vehicle and looked into my eyes.  He too looked as if he was smiling, and then headed back to his Mom.  I’ve always felt very drawn to elephants and consider them to be a spirit animal for me, so this had to be one of the highlights of any game drive I have been on.

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When the young elephant kept approaching me, I could barely get a photo he was so close.  And frankly, I didn’t want to ruin the moment.  Here is the older of the two, tucked behind Mom’s trunk.

After my experience with the elephants, I didn’t think that things could get any better. Dave laughed and suggested we go look for Tamboti, the leopard we caught a glimpse of the night before, so we headed off to the area that we saw her in previously.  And there we saw her, carrying one of her cubs, moving den sites again.  We were able to follow her, find the location of the new den, and spend time watching the two tiny leopards peek out from the hollow log and play with each other and their Mom on the grass outside.  Seeing a leopard at all is an amazing experience, but to see how carefully the Mom walked along with her baby, occasionally setting it down to rest, was a magical experience.  The location we were in was very dense, so after hundreds of rapid fire photographs, we moved off to allow another vehicle the opportunity to spend time with the cubs before they settled down to sleep.

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This was a dream sighting for our ranger, Dave.  I don’t know if I was happy because I was getting to experience this, or happy because I got to watch him experience this sighting.  I think it is a bit of both, but to see someone else’s thrill at a sighting, especially when they spend every day in the bush, is truly special.

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Tamboti moving so carefully through the bush with her cub.

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Dave could not have gotten our vehicle in better position.  Amazing!

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Two tiny faces peeking out from the new den.

You’d think that would be enough, but we still had one more sighting on that morning drive.  We heard another vehicle was following up on lions calling in another area of the reserve, so we went over to give assistance.  It didn’t take very long before we found a male and female lion, obviously a mating couple, each lazing about on their own termite mound.  They periodically got up and moved to new spots and we followed along.  At one point, we parked up against a termite mound to watch them walking down the road towards us, and they proceeded to climb onto the termite mound and mate in front of our vehicle. They were about 2-3 feet from the tracker’s seat (luckily he was in the back with us).

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This was just before the bout of mating; I was sitting behind the Dave, who you can see was getting eyed up by this lion.  He walked past the vehicle so close, I could have reached out and touched his mane.

It was bittersweet having our last breakfast before heading to the airstrip and beginning our journey back home.  The only way I can make myself get on the plane, is to know in my heart that I will be back to the beauty of Southern Africa again sometime (hopefully soon!)

I can say in all honesty, if I could only pick one place to return to for the rest of my life, it would be Londolozi. It is a truly special place for so much more than just the animal sightings.

 

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One thought on “2017-08-27: Londolozi Game Reserve

  1. Pingback: 2017-09-18: Monochrome Monday – Jennifer Sawicky Photography

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