On the three previous occasions that we have spent a week on photo safari at Little Bush Camp we have seen some pretty awesome stuff, but on this fourth occasion animal sightings got so crazy that on the last drive I dubbed it the “Magnum Opus Safari”. It was that good.

I mean, not only is it a privilege to see leopards in the wild, but to see no fewer than 5 different leopards, including some cubs and a newly independent juvenile successfully hunting down a scrub hare (then playing with its food!), is really something quite remarkable. If that wasn’t enough we got to see a mother leopard in a tree with her cub eating off a fresh impala kill the mother had made the night before and then bore witness to one of the great tribulations of the bush, them losing that kill as it fell out of the tree and into the grateful jaws of a spotted hyena who had seemingly appeared out of nowhere.

We had all kinds of weather on this safari too. From mild, beautiful days to incredible 42˚C heat, to wind that chased every living thing from our view, to rain and mist and then sunshine again. We saw a pack of belly-engorged hyenas fighting over the meagre remains of yet another kill stolen from a leopard. There was also a cheetah giving chase to a duiker at dusk. We sat in a river bed watching a troop of baboons playing (and procreating). There was a night-time incident between a side-striped jackal and a honey badger that we accidentally came across on one drive. Other nocturnal animals that we got to see included a civet and a bush baby. I think we also saw a caracal but I may have been delusional at that point, such was the level of excitement we had over the course of the week.

Then on the final drive of our safari, while unsuccessfully trying to track another leopard, we got word on the radio that African Painted Wild Dogs had been sighted on the far eastern boundary of the reserve. What transpired next was a combination of Formula 1 meets World Rally Champs. I was in what I began calling the “Disney Seat” (aka back row) of the Land Rover and had to hold on for dear life as we sped off in that direction. It was pure adrenaline as we came across these highly endangered wild dogs and their pups. There are only something like 350 of them left in the entire Kruger National Park, so for them to have wandered onto the adjoining Sabi Sands was a true blessing. We watched the pups playing in a meadow while the adult dogs went off looking for breakfast. A few minutes later one of the adults returned to the pups, regurgitated something and they all took off at speed. We followed them (me bouncing along in the back) to where the adults were feverishly devouring an impala yearling they had taken down minutes earlier. It was a frenzy, an absolute frenzy and it took the dogs less than half an hour to demolish the entire animal!

I made video a priority at great sightings on this trip. My thinking was that I stood a better chance of taking something away from the sighting if I had it on video than if I was using a series of still frames where so much more could go wrong – missed focus, missed moment, bad exposure, etc. This turned out to be a good decision because looking at some of the action stills I made, I definitely did better on the video side of things. Of course it’s in our photographic DNA to want to get great stills of a great scene, but with the video improvements we’ve seen over the past 4 years since we first started coming to Sabi Sabi, it makes a lot of sense to also explore what these new cameras are capable of video wise. I discovered that the Olympus E-M1 is great at video. It holds focus very well in challenging situations and the image stabiliser does an excellent job of keeping things steady when you aren’t using a tripod. With a good lens and a fast aperture, you’re pretty much good to go with video on the E-M1.

However, in spite of the Olympus E-M1’s ability to make good HD video, I now find myself being inexorably drawn towards the Panasonic GH-4 and its 4K video engine. Yes, I know in the past I have said I have no need for 4K video and to be honest I am pretty happy with the 1080p stuff (since that’s all my current monitors will support), but the GH-4 is a giant, Godlike machine amongst videographers, so if I am going to make video a bigger part of what I do on these safaris, this would be the logical weapon of choice since it fits very well with my micro four thirds family of lenses. Damn GAS. We’ll see how this plays out, because the one thing that stands between me and the thought of becoming a video guy is that little thing that prevents me from showing you all the video right now: editing skills. That’s a giant beast to tame and I’m not quite ready to announce myself as a video shooter until I have some idea on how to handle the post aspect of production.

For now though, I will share with you just a few of the many stills I am happy I got on this safari. Make sure you click them to view large versions. We’ll definitely be going back to Sabi Sabi next year for another week of this animal mayhem. Dates still have to be finalised by Pepe, but it’s looking likely to occur in late September or early October. We already have at least half the 6 available suites spoken for by returning Safarians, so if you’d like to join us all you have to do is shoot me a PM or email and I’ll send you the necessary booking forms.

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The juvenile leopard I am now calling Bunny Chow* takes a bite out of his well earned lunch

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Little Bush female and her cub eating their breakfast, moments before it dropped and the hyena below scooped it up as its own

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A bloody-faced hyena stops eating his stolen kill momentarily to assess whether the aggrieved Little Bush female leopard is coming after him

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Hyenas slather over a stolen kudu carcass

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Hyena silhouetted by a tracker’s spotlight

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The sunrise in the bush

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The Painted African Wild dogs

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Satisfied Safarians!

* Bunny chow is a local dish found in Durban, South Africa. It is a quarter loaf of white bread where the inner bread is scooped out and replaced with an Indian curry of your choice (not an actual bunny!). It’s delicious, especially when eaten on the hood of a parked car at un-Godly hours of the night.