Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Grant's Game Drive Highlights

The following are a few game drive highlights of the last couple of months.

Spotties Mating
On one early morning drive in February. we heard funny noises in the bush. We went to investigate and their the honeymoon couple was, deeply in love. :) This was the first time I have seen Hyenas mate. Afterwards he went to a nearby mud hole and cooled down.

Lions and Wildebeest Bump Into Each Other
That was pure accident. We followed the pride of lions in the road, they were playing, never in the mood for hunting. All of a sudden the wildebeest appears around the corner, what a surprise. They immediately went into hunting mode, the wildebeest froze so did the lions. He took off like a bullet and the lions wondered what went wrong with this platter!
As I say to my guests "always expect the unexpected when you are in the African bush!"

Rhino Killed by Elephant
On the 31st of January we discovered a rhino that was killed by an elephant south of Tlou Dam. The tusk went through the one kidney. The fight looked like it probably took place around the water and while trying to escaped the elephant pinned the rhino down. The lions found it before we did and according to the maggots it was about a week old. It is clear that when Africa's largest mammals collide you better not be in the way.

We had the most awesome lion sightings for at least a week.

Hope you enjoy the stories and sightings. Keep a look out for some more!! Remember that you can view or purchase these and other images by visiting the Photo-Africa Download Centre!

Written by Grant Marcus

(To view more of Grant's images or to contact him, visit his page on Photo-Africa!)

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Grant Has Added Over 70 New Images!

Grant Marcus has just added more than 70 new images to Photo-Africa. I will be categorizing the new images in the next two days so make sure to visit Grant's page on Photo-Africa soon!

In the meantime here are a few of the new images.

Love this shot of the Wild Dog drinking. Very clever use of the reflection in the water! You can see the two dogs in the water but not behind the drinking dog. Great shot!! :)

A few of the other new images are included below!

Make sure to visit Grant's Photo-Africa page by using the link on the right hand side. These and the other new images will be uploaded by Monday!

As always I look forward to hearing from you!


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Leopards. Wild Dogs. Magic!!

Even though the quantity and quality of sightings have definitely been picking up over the last year or so, sharing time with a Leopard in Madikwe is still a very special sighting!

To say that events at the Royal Madikwe waterhole yesterday was 'action-packed' would be a serious understatement! Could write a book on all the detail but here is the (very) short version as told by various (very lucky) observers who saw the story unfold in front of the Royal Madikwe lodge:

  • Early morning a black rhino comes to drink. Lots of baboon calls in the background.
  • Out of nowhere four Wild Dogs come running down the ridge and chase a female leopard, that up until now has gone unnoticed, up a tree. (We know her, but where are her cubs?)
  • Dogs stop in for a drink and after a while there are about fourteen Wild Dogs at the water.
  • After chilling for a while the leopard tries to get down the tree, but Wild Dog disagree and chase her right back up. Baboons still going mad in the background.
  • After loosing interest in the leopard, the Wild Dog chase and kill a young female impala in front of Suite 4. (By now the Royal Madikwe staff and builders are blown away and not sure where to look anymore!)
  • After finishing the impala in under 10 minutes the Wild Dog pack decided to move off and disappear in a southerly direction.
  • This gave the leopard a chance to come down her tree and move over to where her impala-kebab has been waiting since that morning.
  • After feeding in the tree for a good 30 minutes, she descends again and disappears into the thickets. Probably off to find her cubs.

Unbelievable stuff! Now I was only to get a few images of the female in the tree, but what a day!!

As I am now sitting here at Royal, the crows have moved in for a free meal but we know she is still around. We had a brief visual early this morning and will keep our eyes open until late tonight. Perhaps we even get a quick view of the two youngsters... Beats a movie any day!!

I will find out if any of the other guys on Photo-Africa got any images of the eventful day and will then post them as well!

As always I look forward to hearing from you!


Monday, April 21, 2008

Neal Fischer - New Photographer

Neal is currently working in the Madikwe Game Reserve and over the next few days I will be loading his images onto Photo-Africa and the Photo-Africa Download Centre.

Neal focuses a lot on the smaller things and there is normally more then meets the eye.

To view more of Neal's images or to contact him directly you can link to his page in Photo-Africa by using the links on the right handside.

I look forward to hearing from you.


By Request - Cheetah Images

A few weeks ago I had a request for some Cheetah Images so here goes. The following images were all taken late last year.

I did the following two images in Sepia to try and capture and remember a particularly sad moment. The male that is laying down was around 14 years old and visibly in bad condition - old age. This was the last time he was seen alive as he passed away a few days later.

It is always sad to see but perhaps we can rejoice in the fact that he had a very long life and died peacefully from old age.

The current Madikwe population consits of two (perhaps one) males so if I am lucky enough to get another chance to photograph them I will post more images of these amazing cats!

As always I look forward to hearing from you.


Sunday, April 20, 2008

You are NOT a dentist!!

I have been to the dentist many, many times in my life but you seriously do not want me to do any root canal work on you. Surely you would not even completely trust my 'professional dental opinion' on what, why and how of the dental world?

Why is it then that some people rate themselves as 'experts' when they come to the bush? Don't get me wrong, anybody can read a book or two and have quite an 'informed opinion' but surely there is a line.

I am not saying that qualified / experienced field guides know everything but surely they have a slightly more 'educated opinion' then visitors to Game Reserves (or at least I hope so... but that is a whole different discussion!)

I believe that everybody can learn something from everybody else - especially in the natural world. There is just too much information and details out there for any one person to know it all so why challenge everything that gets said with a 'I-got-this-from-a-book-that-was-published-in-1980-knowledge'??

It is a privilege to be out in nature and share all the magical moments so why does everybody not just do exactly that... share. Moments, images, info?

I truly believe and feel that we can all learn so much more, whether through an educated, experienced guess or friendly, open discussion rather then try and have an old fashoined 'pissing-contest' as to whose knowledge is the best. The field guides out in the field are there because of a passion for what they do. A love for a nature. If everybody could be open-minded and share information and their passion in a constructive way perhaps we could create an all round better understanding of the fragile sense of nature.

So... to all the 'Fanie Veld-Kenners' out there - next time why not take a moment to listen and (hopefully) learn to what nature can teach you - there is ALWAYS something new to learn. Even if you knew something, isn't it nice to hear someone elses take on it?

Alternatively, keep on living in a world where giraffes hunt in packs and lions pull people out of moving vehicles but remember... You are NOT a dentist!

Anyway, just a couple of random thoughts! :) I absolutely love what I do and along with that comes the sharing information, the resonsibility of trying to correct misconceptions and the challenge of creating a better understanding of the natural world around us.

Until next time, I look forward to hearing from you!


Friday, April 18, 2008

Red-Billed Firefinch

I was taking some pictures around the Royal Madikwe swiming pool when this little Red-Billed Firefinch (Lagonosticta senegala) landed a few meters from me. I just had enough time to get about 3 shots before he took off again.

This is the only Firefinch in the region with a reddish bill and rump. They mostly feed on seeds but also eat insects closer to their breeding time. (for higher protein intake).

For the next two weeks I will be guiding at Kukama (also in Madikwe) and will hopefully be adding many new images as time goes on.

As always, I look forward to hearing from you.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Gerry Has Added Over 50 New Images!


I have just added over 50 of my latest images to Photo-Africa.

Visit the Photo-Galleries & Download Centre to view these and other images! Keep an eye on this Blog for Updates on new images. Grant will also be adding many new images soon!

As always, I look forward to hearing from you!


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Free Photo-Africa Desktop Downloads!

For the next 14 days you will be able to download the following Free Desktop Images from the Photo-Africa Image Galleries & Download Centre!

Lion in Sunlight by Grant Marcus (Download Key - 7B97D3271D5A)

Lions in Grass by Gavin Tonkinson (Download Key - CC6763D8EE64)

Lion Eye by Gerry van der Walt (Download Key - 4B6708A80DC6)

To download your Free Photo-Africa Desktop Image:

  1. Visit the Photo-Africa Image Galleries & Download Centre
  2. Navigate to the Download Dock
  3. Enter the Download Key for the Free Desktop you would like to Download

If you have any questions, please give me a shout!

Enjoy and we look forward to hearing from you!


"It is not what you look at, but what you see."

The above quote by philosopher Henry Thoreau captures what I believe to be one of the biggest challenges to both photographers and field guides alike.

It is unfortunate to see how many field guides today give in to the pressure by guests to race from big sighting to big sighting. Sure, seeing any of the Big 5 is, and always will be an amazing experience, but there is so much more to nature then these iconic animals of Africa. In nature everything is connected, yet sometimes we have to wait for a while to see it. Experience it. Become a part of it.

Have we as a species lost the ability to look at nature creatively? Emotionally? Have we become so impatient that we cannot wait to see how nature’s story unfolds but rather jump to conclusions that fit in with our own preconceived ideas of how the tale should end? Is the combination of impatience and the lack of creativity causing us to get even further removed from nature then we already are?

Wildlife Photographers are faced with the same challenge, or shall I say predicament. Ansel Adams said “A photograph is usually looked at - seldom looked into.”

Anybody with a half-decent camera can capture great images of animals in the wild. Nature presents too many moments for this not to be possible. However, it takes a great deal of creativity, patience and emotion to capture something that is not just a nice picture, but an amazing image!

I think therein lies the challenge. To capture the creative and emotional side of nature. Something we look at all the time, but we do not always see. Obviously the technical side of an image will always be important, but if you are able to capture an emotional moment you are on the right track.

Amazement. Horror. Disbelief. Awe. Mischief. Joy. Serenity. Exhilaration. Defiance. Pity. Pride.

There lies the challenge. There lies the possibility for images that can convey a small piece of the magic that nature presents to us every day. As a photographer you have to react to your subjects and attempt to capture images that you can ‘feel’. Working in the field, this can become quite difficult as you do get emotionally involved with many of the animals that you see on a regular basis but to convey that emotion and beauty to someone looking at your images... that is the goal!

The sobering reality is that many species are going extinct and natural wilderness areas are declining almost on a daily basis. How much time will we have left to try and capture the magic? The beauty? Nature?

I hope that for as long as I am in the privileged position to photograph nature I will be able to do some justice to the creativity and emotion that we should not only look at...but see. Let us hope the following quote is not a subtle prophecy for the future of not only wildlife photography, but the passion that sustains the underlying magic we capture in each moment.

"Perishability in a photograph is important in a picture. If a photograph looks perishable we say - Gee, I'm glad I have that moment." ~John Loengard

As always, I look forward to your thoughts.


Old Fashioned Cluelessness


Adele and I got back to Madikwe yesterday after spending some serious time in the car. Just trying to get out of Johannesburg is quite a mission with all the ‘load-shedding’ – the term coined by Eskom to describe their inadequacy at supplying power even though they new this situation might arise as much as 12 years ago!! Anyway, this egg cannot be unscrambled now, so we are all just supposed to ‘deal with it’!

On route to Madikwe we passed through all the normal small towns, but the final one before you get to the Madikwe Game Reserve is truly one that time forgot... and I do not mean this in the romantic sense. I am all for small towns that retain the quaint feel of yesteryear, but damn!! Not going to carry on with this chain of thought as it will only lead to a place of old fashioned cluelessness, no social skills and old men wearing very tiny, tight denim shorts!!

Moving swiftly along... I will be updating various parts of Photo-Africa this week so keep an eye on this Blog for all the latest images and information!

As always I look forward to hearing from you!


Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A Morning With Ellies

The day started off with the sound of the Wild Dogs running past the lodge, but the morning belonged to the Ellies!

As we were waiting for the guests to come down for breakfast a very large breeding herd arrived at the lodge's waterhole to join the lone bull that was hanging around for most of the morning so far. Fantastic spectacle!! There were more then thirty elephants drinking and splashing around.

There were at least three very, very young babies in the group and this made for some quite aggressive behaviour between the various females in the group. At one stage one of these females charged and knocked one of the young males off his feet when he got to close to her baby.

The youngest ellie in the herd could not have been more then a few weeks old and never ventured too far from mom! Great to see a herd with all the different ages mixed together! Young males play-fighting, youngsters suckling from mom and the whole bunch of them in and out of the water.

When the herd eventually moved off after more then an hour, two of the oldest males stayed behind. You could almost see their sense of relief that all the females and 'noisy children' decided to move on.

As the guests sat down for breakfast, one of the the old guys came to enjoy the Red Bushwillow right next to the breakfast deck. Some nervous guests, very excited kids and great images!!

Anyway, now I have another hundred or so images to work through... The plan is still to get most of them loaded by the end of the week!! Gonna have to get busy!

Until next time!


Monday, April 7, 2008

Lions, Tigers & Gorillas

The last few days have again been incredible! Damn you gotta love this job! :)

I am currently freelancing at Royal Madikwe and the owner is out for a week's visit. On the first evening we go out for a short drive and find the Dipelo pride very close to the lodge. Initially they were 'flat cat' but after sitting with them for about 15 minutes they started waking up. The late afternoon light was perfect as the four lions started getting active! It was some of the best interaction I have had the pleasure of viewing and the fact that they were a mere five meters away, bathing in perfect late afternoon light! Brilliant!

After they got mobile, and walking so close past our vehicle that you could hear their breathing, we continued to follow them for about another hour. The light was fading fast so the photography part of things got a little bit difficult, but they kept our complete attention as they were obviously hungry and on the hunt. They made one attempt to go after some impala, but they did not even come close.

After sharing almost two hours with these lions, we decided to head back to the lodge. Amazing sighting.

Chai (Royal Madikwe owner) and his family spent the previous week in Uganda tracking Mountain Gorillas (more on this and tigers later), and they were looking forward to sleeping in for a change. Now we know the Dipelo's were on the hunt and we know where we left them, so that next morning Dinamosi (my tracker and great friend) and I decided to go tracking the lions to see whether they had a successful evening.

It was amazing to hit the road with Dinamosi at 06h30 that morning and it did not take us long to pick up the tracks from the previous evening and after a while we were following very fresh tracks weaving in and out the road. We had to do some foot-work from time to time to keep up and it is an amazing feeling walking into the fresh morning following the tracks of Africa's largest predator. Somewhere between excitement and scared but always addictive! As we were driving slowly along one of the larger game drive roads the tracks stopped. Nothing.

We stopped to have a closer look and found that they doubled back on themselves. As we were walking back on the tracks we found two of them sitting on a small side road about 40 meters away. Right, back to the vehicle and move in for a closer look. They were moving into the thickets and after a little bit of serious off-roading we caught a glimpse of them running away from us... or towards something?

We turned around and as we got back to the road we saw the kudu go down about 30 meters ahead of us right next to the road. It was a clean takedown as the kudu must have been feeding in the thickets and definitely did not see them coming.

So here we were, just the two of us and no guests, watching lions do what they do best. The mother had the kudu by the throat and the youngsters were trying to get a hold of it anywhere they could. It was a very big kudu that they had taken down and the struggle lasted for almost 15 minutes. We watched the story unfold for about two hours before we headed back to the lodge to have another look at the videos and images we got of the Dipelo pride and their latest prey. Unbelievable scene and this is the second time in 3 weeks that I shared in their story.

One of the most amazing feelings is when a lion has it's prey in it's jaws and looks straight you. There is a sort of defiance in their look. Victory. Even relief. You feel like you are sharing a secret with them that all of nature knows about but nobody speaks of. It IS difficult to watch a scene like this but at the same time a privilege. If you have had the chance to witness something like this you will know what I mean.

Anyway, moving along. Yesterday I added, or shall I say confirmed, two more items on my 'Things To Do Before I Die' list. Now unfortunately this list could also be called 'Things To Do Before THEY Die'.

Mountain Gorillas and Tigers.

We watched Chai's videos of his recent visits to Uganda and India to go and view these to critically endangered species. The footage and images are unreal and it is such terrible thought that they will not be around for much longer. The beauty and power in both these animals is almost a direct contrast to the fragility of their future.

If I think of how someone feels when seeing a lion, leopard or rhino for the first time, I can only imagine what it must be like to see these iconic animals, gorillas and tigers, in their natural environment... for the last time.

Do we what it takes to save these species? How long will they still be around? Can we stop, or at the very least delay the inevitable?

Whatever the answers to these questions may be, I will see these animals, and capture their beauty before it is too late.

Anyway, back to the here and now. I will be flying to Johannesburg on Friday for a few days and hopefully get time to work through and edit the hundreds of images I have collected during the last few weeks! If all goes to plan I will be uploading these images to the Photo-Africa Image Galleries by the end of the week!

As always I look forward to hearing from you!


Welcome to the Photo-Africa Blog!

This is a new edition to my website which features the photographic work of various Field Guides and Wildlife Photographers.

Photo-Africa has been expanding quite a bit the last few months so when you have a moment visit the Image Galleries & Download Centre and have a look at some of the most authentic African Wildlife Images around!

Current listed photographers are:

  • Gerry van der Walt
  • Gavin Tonkinson
  • Grant Marcus
  • Riaan Kruger
  • David Trevor Guest

2008 has proven to be a very interesting year so far and there is still a lot to come. Adele and I have left Royal Madikwe and I will soon be adding a whole lot more on our new venture which should be starting around June. As they say... watch this space. Then there is also our trip to Namibia in November to get married so a whole lot of stories to come!

I will be moving my Diary and Moments of the Week to this Blog which will make it easier for you to read everything in one place and also send comments and stay in touch.

In order to get this Blog on the roll (and until I find the time to write about the busy last two weeks) I have attached the last Diary entry from my website dated 25 March.

* * * Diary Entry - 25 March 2008 * * *

Lions. Lots and lots of lions. This seems to be what the last few weeks was all about. Let's start at the beginning.

After resigning from Royal Madikwe Adele and I returned to Johannesburg to settle back into our house and regroup before moving to

Djuma later in May. This left about one and a half months during which I could freelance at various lodges in Madikwe. So, first stop was Tuningi Game Lodge.

Flying into a Game Reserve is not fun!! :) This was the first time I flew into Madikwe and of course the weather had to be all upset and angry about my decision as well. Long story short - wet runway, lots of clouds, bad visibility, lots of bumping and I am not even going to get started on landing on a wet dirt airstrip while the wind is pumping as well. Give me my Land Rover Discovery any day!! :)

Once I reached Tuningi the weather did not ease up and we ended up having 220mm of rain in just under 2 days. Water everywhere! Sounds great for the bush but not so good for our drives. Madikwe has many different types of soil and many of these do not take kindly to wet weather and being driven on. Black cotton soil is one of these types of soils. Normally we would not even think of driving a black cotton road if it had more than about 20mm of rain and now we were sitting with almost 10 times that! The result was that almost 70% of the roads were completely closed and a great deal of the remaining roads required some serious negotiation in full 4x4 mode for you to actually get anywhere!

So there we are on night one, rain bucketing down and all of us disappointed that we cannot head out at 4pm. We knew that the Dipelo pride was next to the airstrip (which I survived earlier that day) as they killed a wildebeest the night before and were all still sleeping in the area. Luckily at around 17:30 the downpour eased up slightly and we decided to give it a bash even if it was just to get to the airstrip and back to see the lions. Both Gavin and I decided to leave our cameras at home due to the rain and pretty miserable light... Yeah, now you know something big was going to happen!! :)
Finding them did not take long and we settled in about 10 meters from them and watched them roll around in the grass and play around our vehicles. It is a beautiful thing to see big lions run around, playing and tackling each other. A great sighting to start our 'quick' trip to the airstrip. After about 45 minutes we all decide to head back to the lodge. These lions were not going to hunt tonight as they just finished a wildebeest that morning... or not!

As we were about to start the engines to get going, a large herd (or implausibility - yeah, that is also a collective name for wildebeest) moved south towards the airstrip. Now what? Surely the lions would not be interested in hunting as they were all still very fat from their previous meal. But nature does not follow our predetermined ideas on how things have to work and suddenly we found ourselves within 10 meters of stalking lions.

The way these large cats work together is truly unbelievable and awesome to watch. Without any signal that we could pick up, the two younger females moved sideways and around the wildebeest who were slowly grazing towards the airstrip. The mother moved in the opposite direction while the young male, stalking close to the ground, made his way slowly directly to the wildebeest.
Even though the light was fading quickly and we could now only see one of the lions, the tension was incredible! No one said a word and all you could hear were the francolins calling in the distance and the hoofs of the wildebeest who was now crossing over the airstrip.

Suddenly, and without any notice all four lions charge at the same time and from different directions. We follow the action with our spotlights and all you could see was wildebeest running away and lions coming from all directions. The two younger females flushed the wildebeest and pushed them towards the open airstrip where the mother was waiting. From about 40 meters we saw the mother make contact with a female wildebeest and in a second all the other lions joined in the dusty chaos.

We switched on our engines and drove closer to a scene which I am not sure words can explain.
To witness a kill is a strange experience. We tend to think about the whole thing emotionally and this makes it a very difficult thing to witness. The few moments from when a lion makes contact with it's prey until it is finally dead - I cannot think of the words. You feel repulsed and alive at the same time. You are torn between feeling sorry for the wildebeest and still there is a part of you that is strangely excited at the the brutal scene that is unfolding before you. You want to look away but somehow you just cannot seem to stop witnessing this cruel, yet essential part of nature.

I guess the 'problem' is that we think about the scene in an anthropomorphic way. Poor wildebeest... cruel lion. The following poem comes to mind:

I want you to feel the blurred edge
between good and bad,
to say no to the urge to look away
or to take sides...
but to give
with both eyes.

I am not sure who the author is but it describes very nicely how we should deal with a scene like that. Just witness the miracle of nature unfolding in front of you and be grateful that you can be a part of a story that has been told for a thousand years. Now before I get to carried away about the philosophical meanings of the poem and how it can relate to what we are doing to nature, lets get back to me leaving my camera at the lodge.

Six lions on a (now dead) wildebeest. They are all still panting heavily from the exertion and excitement of the kill as they slowly circle the wildebeest. From where we were watching, now a mere 5 meters away, you could see their breathe in the cold evening air as the other two vehicles lit the scene from the side.

Now I am absolutely convinced that this would have been a National Geographic front page image. :) Absolutely awesome in it's composition, feeling, lighting... Alas, I am having to keep on looking for my next chance to get an image like this! So, bottom line... ALWAYS take your camera with you! Gonna have to look into getting a waterproof / dustproof Storm Case for all my gear when I get the chance. :)

Anyway, we ended up following these lions around everyday for almost a week. Five days later they joined up with the Batia brothers who are, at 14 years old, the oldest two lions in Madikwe. They must have been spectacular in their prime as even though you can see they have had a seriously tough life, they are still beautiful specimens! In the last couple of days we saw these 6 lions play, hunt (killed another zebra) fight and of course lay around in the sun sleeping. A great week with lions and considering this all happened within about 2 kilometers from the lodge made it even better!

Now it's about 14h00 and even though we had a nice sighting of these lions again this morning, the highlight of the last two days was watching the Wild Dogs yesterday. It was amazing to sit in open clearing in the eastern side of the reserve and have these endangered animals walking around the vehicle. The highlight came when they decided to go after some wildebeest. No as they started looking at the wildebeest and going into hunting mode Dinamosi (my tracker) said that it is the first time he has ever seen them go after such a big animal.

After flanking out, and all vey focused on the wildebeest on the other side of the open clearing they started running. Awesome to see 18 of Africa's most endangered species in full flight! The wildebeest was startled and turned to run but after about 50 meters they stopped dead in their tracks, turned to look at the dogs and chased them right back! It was hilarious to see the African Wild Dog being chased across the African plains by a wildebeest who, lets be honest is not the prettiest or cleverest animal. Great scenes!!

Anyway, it is almost time to get going on this afternoons drive. Going after some big guys... elephants and rhino!

I have a LOT of new images, but still have to sort through everything so I will be uploading these around 29 March so make sure to check back then!

As always I look forward to hearing from you!


* * * End * * *

Ok, so since then Dinamosi and I tracked the same lions and found them as they were taking down a kudu. Unbelievable!! Also had leopards, LOTS of ellies and a whole bunch of interesting guests.

Hopefully more on all of this soon!!

I have just added around 200 new WIldlife Images to the various galleries so make sure to visit http://www.photo-africa.com/ as well!

As always I look forward to hearing from you!!

Until next time!