Tag Archives: Leopard

The Wild Cats of Tenikwa

There are a number of nocturnal animals in South Africa that are very difficult to see in the wild.  Unless you live on a farm, or are willing to pay exorbitant prices to take a night drive in a game reserve (which is actually not a problem for foreign tourists with our favourable exchange rate), your chances of seeing them are very slim.  Rob and I have been fortunate enough to spend a lot of time out in the bush and have been on a number of game drives at night so we have seen a few of the nocturnal cats.  However, it is not ideal to photograph them in the dark.  It was therefore with great delight that we received a gift from family members, Mick and Jo (www.lookatbowen.com) of a photographic safari at Tenikwa, a local wild cat rehabilitation centre.  Situated a few kilometers east of Plettenberg Bay on the Garden Route, Tenikwa is about forty kilometers away from our home in Knysna.

Cheetah

Not only were we given the opportunity to see many beautiful animals in daylight, but it being a photographic tour, we were privileged to have our own personal guide.  He went out of his way to ensure that we were able to get the best shots of the cats by removing obstacles and coaxing them out of their hiding places with food.  Obviously this isn’t the best way to see wild animals, but it’s a close second and it gave us a chance to add their pictures to our portfolio.

Walking the big cat!

Our tour started off with an opportunity to take a cheetah for an early morning walk.  We were given instructions on how to handle the animal so as not to startle it in any way and to keep up with him if he picked up his pace.  I never imagined that I would one day walk a cheetah on a lead – definitely an unusual experience for me!

Carakul

We’ve yet to see a Carakul in the wild, so it was great to be able to photograph this magnificent animal in a decent setting.  This is the largest of the small cats and has a somewhat strange-looking body, with hind legs that are slightly longer than the front legs and a shortish tail.  This is the only cat that doesn’t have any spots at all.  Farmers don’t like Carakuls as they prey on livestock and can be a nuisance.

Serval

This Serval chased after a stick in a kitten-like fashion when our guide tried to get it into a position for photographs.  Servals are hunted mercilessly by our indigenous folk for tribal customs and practices, which is such a shame as they are so beautiful.  We couldn’t photograph the African Wild Cats, because, unlike the Serval, they were very shy and wouldn’t budge from their cosy spot in the bush (isn’t that just typical of a cat!)

White Lion

The white lion is not a nocturnal animal, but it is unusual and this was a particularly beautiful young male specimen.  He almost looked like he could have been the family dog – part Labrador!  I must admit that a white lion is not my favourite.  Rob and I love to see lions in the wild, especially the gorgeous black-maned ones that lie in the red dunes of the Kalahari.  Many legends abound about the white lions though, and if these myths are to be believed, then these lions are very special.  They don’t do well in the wild and will mainly be found in private reserves or rehabilitation centres.

Leopard

We’re always excited to see leopards and the one at Tenikwa was very photogenic.  We were grateful that our guide was able to bring him out into the open as he was fast asleep when we arrived.  One can’t help feeling sorry for these animals being kept in captivity – the ideal is always for them to be able to enjoy the freedom that they were born into.

All in all a super morning enjoying God’s creatures and getting some nice photos for our collection.  Thanks again, Mick and Jo, it was great!

Tour Guides – A Curse in the Parks?

I often think that the blogs I’ve written for Wilkinsonsworld make me sound a bit like Pollyanna – always enthusing about the fabulous times that we’ve had and the wonderful birds and animals we’ve seen.  I do see our adventures like this, but today I’m going to remove my Pollyanna cap and have a gripe about the manners of some folks in game reserves.  As I said in my previous post, we have recently visited Kruger National Park where we had the good fortune to come across a brilliant leopard sighting.  Sadly, the selfishness and bad manners of some people was evident here.

Leopard - Kruger National Park

We happened to drive up to an area where a tour guide in a safari vehicle had taken up pole  position (on the wrong side of the road) in front of a leopard.  We have no problem with that at all.  Other vehicles had also driven up to the site from both directions.  The tour guide had three guests in his vehicle who spent over forty minutes photographing and videoing the animal.  Cars were backing up and still the guide did not move off giving everyone else a chance to see the prized animal.  He was not parked in and could easily have reversed away.  Eventually someone else had the foresight to make a bit of space so that four vehicles ahead of us could edge forward slowly, take some photos and move on.

Leopard - Kruger National Park

After a long wait we got in front of the leopard and were then totally parked in so that we didn’t have the option to either move forward or backwards to allow others to enjoy the spectacle as well.  The safari vehicle remained put blocking our way.  Eventually the driver reversed, turned his vehicle around and proceeded to block the road again as he pulled up alongside a colleague in another vehicle and showed off his photographs with no thought to anyone behind him trying to get past.

I wonder if there are any unwritten rules of etiquette in game reserves whereby people look at animals for a reasonable time, take their photos and then move on to allow others the same privilege.  A “stuff you” attitude is really not in the spirit of the game, as everyone there is dying to see something special.

Leopard - Kruger National Park

There is a 50km speed limit in the park and we often found that when tour guides got radio tip offs about where game is, they drove off at break-neck speed.  We thought we would follow one, but had to give up as he was going at over 70km and we weren’t prepared to drive that fast to keep up with him.

Another problem that we often experience (and here I am not referring only to safari vehicles), especially as Rob is a photographer, is that he can be photographing a particular scene, like a mother bird with eight chicks crossing the road, and someone will ride up and pass without any thought that they are going to scare the birds off while someone is in the middle of taking photographs.  This applies to pictures or sightings of animals as well.  It is really inconsiderate.

Here’s an interesting video on a safari guide being attacked by a leopard in Kruger National Park.  The poor animal lost its life because of him.

Is this just me, or do other people have the same frustrations in the game reserves?

Leopard Sighting in Kruger National Park

Have you ever visited a game reserve and had one of those days when you drive around for hours and see very little in the way of animals?  We had such a morning on a visit to the Kruger National Park this month.  Being early February it was oppressively hot and all sensible animals and birds were sheltering in deep shade out of sight.  After about five hours of driving along the Crocodile River Road and seeing very little other than birds, we decided to go three kilometers further and then turn around and head back to our camp at Berg-en-Dal.  It was at this point that I slowed the car right down to look into an interesting tree and I spotted a leopard climbing up the trunk.  Rob was on the passenger side where the leopard was and his camera was ready.

Leopard - Kruger National Park

What a bonus this sighting was, as leopards are nocturnal and definitely the most elusive of the Big 5 animals.

Leopard - Kruger National Park

This particular leopard was not terribly happy about us stopping so close by and only remained in the tree for about a minute before climbing down and disappearing into a thick wooded area where it was quickly lost to view.

Leopard - Kruger National Park

The whole encounter was over in a flash, but it left us very excited and feeling extremely privileged to have had the sighting all to ourselves.  All too often you have to vie with numerous other people to see an animal and sometimes you miss being in the perfect place for a photograph.  We were just so lucky!

Leopard - Kruger National Park

Leopards prefer dense, riparian vegetation, which makes spotting them rather difficult if they aren’t actually walking along the road. If they are walking away from you, it isn’t the ideal way to photograph them as you can see.

Leopard - Kruger National Park

We’ve had a few sightings of leopards in the wild over the years, but this has to have been the most exciting one yet.  Well done to Rob for capturing some lovely shots of this beautiful animal.

Camel Thorn Trees – Stalwarts of the Desert

I have to confess that I am known to hug beautiful trees.  Not wanting to appear loopy, I usually first have a good look around to make sure that no-one is watching me!  Namibia, having such a sparse population and vast areas of wide open spaces, as well as many beautiful Camel Thorn trees (Acacia erioloba), has been the perfect place to indulge this little fetish of mine.  These wonderful trees are part of this African landscape and can be found throughout the drier parts of southern Africa.

The beautiful Camel Thorn tree

The hardy Camel Thorn (Kameeldoring as it is known in Afrikaans – and which actually translates to Giraffe Thorn) is an acacia, easily recognized by its amazingly gnarled bark, small leaves and the little grey velvety comma-shaped seed pods that it produces.  It also sports rather nasty thorns, typical of the acacia family.  When in bloom, small round yellow flowers adorn the trees.

Apparently I’m not the only one who loves them.  It must be the tree most favoured by animals and birds, not only for its food, but the deep shade that it offers in intensely hot areas like the game reserves.  Cattle, camels and small herbivores also enjoy eating the seed pods that drop onto the ground below.

Small herbivores enjoy the pods

The tree gets its name from giraffes that like to feed on the succulent leaves.  Their leathery tongues and lips pay no heed to the thorns as they feast on the foliage on the uppermost branches.

Giraffes don't mind the thorns

There’s no telling what you will see in a Camel Thorn tree.  We’ve been lucky enough to see it decorated by birds of every description, raptors with snakes, enormous communal socialable weavers nests, and even a leopard …

A comfortable bed for a leopard

and a beautiful Caracul having a comfortable snooze!

Where else should a caracul sleep?

The most famous Camel Thorn trees in Namibia have to be the ones found at Dead Vlei, the dry white pan surrounded by magnificent red dunes in the Sossusvlei area.  These dead trees, purported to be hundreds of years old, are a photographers delight and are featured in just about every book on Namibia.

Dead Vlei - Sossusvlei area

In Namibia most campsites are situated under Camel Thorns trees and as an added bonus, their wood is excellent for braais (barbeques).  No wonder I love them so much.  Oh, and by the way, please don’t let on about my secret fetish!

Weekend at Dusternbrook Guest Farm

One of the things that strikes us about living in Windhoek is the fact that once you leave the city you are immediately out in nature and you really don’t have to drive very far to see game  in the countryside.  We chose Dusternbrook Guest Farm for a weekend away because it is so close to Windhoek (only 50 kms) and also because, unlike a lot of other game farms, it also offered camping.

In the 1960’s Dusternbrook was the first farm in Namibia to open its doors to paying guests with a view to offering them hunting and game viewing opportunities.  This concept was so successful it spawned the thriving guest farm business that operates throughout the country today.

The beautiful old farmhouse sits on the top of a mountain with stunning views over a dry river bed and the plains below.  There is an abundance of birdlife and one is able to wander around the farm (heat permitting) on various hiking trails, which we took full advantage of.

Purple Roller feeling the heat

On our first morning we walked for about six hours, spending time at their dam where we were shouted at and followed by inquisitive baboons.  The dam is home to many birds, especially cormorants and ducks.

The dam at Dusternbrook

I was fascinated by the numbers of brightly coloured dragonflies that were flitting about and spent a long time trying to capture them on camera.

Magnificent dragonfly

That afternoon we booked a game drive and were driven into their leopard enclosure where we were able to photograph this magnificent animal up close.

Leopard at Dusternbrook

The guide fed it chicken pieces which it obviously enjoyed. Even though we were only meters away from it in an open vehicle, we never felt threatened by the leopard at all.

Leopard at feeding time

From there it was on to the cheetah area.  Cheetahs are always fun to watch as they are so agile and interact with each other a lot.

Cheetahs waiting for food

As their enclosure is very big , they would be difficult to spot if one wasn’t there at feeding time when they rush to the vehicle expecting a meal!  Later we came across a small enclosure with a little cheetah with one leg missing.  It seemed quite happy in spite of its disability.

This cheetah had one leg missing

We were somewhat disappointed with the campsite at Dusternbrook.  The camping area was fenced off and very small, especially for the number of campers that they had.  In a land where space is no problem, it feels like an invasion of privacy to be so close to one’s fellow campers.  We thought that they could have made so much more of their camping facilities.  One thing that we did enjoy about the campsite was the huge tree we were parked under.  It was home to a Pearl Spotted Owl that we picked up in our spotlight.  Owls are always welcome visitors in our campsites!

The birdlife alone is enough to encourage us to return to the farm for another visit.  It’s a photographers paradise, although a little expensive as their rates for accommodation and game viewing are not cheap compared with other places in Namibia.