Sabi Sand 2022: Day 4 of 7

It has been a while since I continued writing this day-by-day account of our time in Sabi Sand Wildtuin.  Indeed, much has happened since then, with another international trip and a domestic trip, as well as a return to routine and normality.

To re-cap our third day, it was one of highs and lows, with the low point being our sighting of a very unwell lion who likely did not survive, and the high point being the intensity of female leopard Makhomsava capturing, killing and devouring a scrub hare right in front of us.

As usual, the day began very early, and after a quick morning coffee and brief chat with Gabe and the other guides, we climbed into our 4WD and headed into the bush.

We headed west, past the lodge's airstrip, and after a brief sighting of a steenbok, we ventured further westward to a hyena den which is located five minutes from the lodge.  While we had visited the den during the previous day, we did not capture any images, but during this visit, it was a more interesting experience, as the cubs were out and about, and there was some interesting interaction taking place.

One of the cubs was quite close, and I had to capture a tightly-framed image of the cub.

Image: Youthful Innocence

Youthful Innocence

While hyenas tend not to be most people's favourite species of African wildlife, they are interesting, social creatures, as well as being feared apex predators.  It is worth spending time with them in order to watch them interacting, and they are especially active when hanging around other apex predators in order to steal a kill.

On this occasion, the hyenas were playful, and I witnessed and captured two hyenas interacting with each other.

Image: Roadside Conversation

Roadside Conversation

In this scene, an older hyena and a much smaller cub look like two men having a conversation at a bus stop.

We spent around ten minutes watching and photographing the hyenas before moving on in a southerly direction.

While driving along one of the roads in the reserve, Gabe spotted a grey penduline tit.  This is a very tiny, fast-moving, flighty bird, and Gabe was extremely excited to see one.  He wants to capture an image of one, but it is very challenging, and this particular bird was not interested in staying still for long enough.

I personally did not even try, as the light was dull and glary, the bird was tiny and flying all over the place, and the conditions were not favourable at all.  Mario might have landed a reference shot, but such conditions do not make for great images.

After some joking around, once Gabe settled from his excitement, we moved on, spotting a squirrel and a grey duiker.  I have yet to capture an image of a duiker.  These small antelopes are also quite skittish, and suddenly reach great speeds as they escape a scene.

Around 45 minutes into the drive, we encountered a bateleur perched in the open on a bare tree branch.  While I captured some images, the low angle from which I was shooting, combined with the bright backlighting of the grey sky, again did not make for great photography.  Still, it was nice to see this medium-sized eagle out in the open.

After spending a few minutes with the bateleur, we continued, on, spotting a nyala, before encountering a Swainson's spurfowl on a tree branch, not far from the Manyeleti River, and south-east of the lodge.  This species of bird was new to us, and I captured an image or two which might be worth publishing.

We headed east, spotting a male waterbuck, and then moved north-easterly, heading towards Arathusa Safari Lodge Airstrip, and spotting a female steenbok.  I captured some images of both antelopes, but the images were not fantastic.

What was fantastic was our encounter with a new (to us) male leopard called Tortoise Pan.  He is a large and imposing male, who was born into the Londolozi Royal Family of leopards in 2016, and when we found him, he was located just to the west of Arathusa Safari Lodge Airstrip.

Tortoise Pan was the third unique leopard that we had encountered in Sabi Sand Wildtuin, on what was now our sixth leopard sighting over four days, with at least one per day.  These were some impressive statistics so far!

As leopards tend to do, Tortoise Pan was quite active, and was moving around, so we had to follow him through some thick scrub, which two other vehicles were also trying to do.

Occasionally, he came out into the open, which for us, was always the prime opportunity to capture a more pleasing image without distracting branches in the way.  I managed to capture an image which shows how impressive and experienced he is.

Image: Experienced


Even though Tortoise Pan was six years old at the time of our encounter with him, he has clearly seen some relatively recent battles, and as seen in this image, he has some injuries near his right eye.

At one point during our time with Tortoise Pan, a hyena materialised.  The hyena was probably hoping that Tortoise Pan would lead him to a kill, or make a kill which the hyena would attempt to steal.

I always find the differences between male and female leopards to be quite noticeable, with the males being larger, stockier, and having very thick necks.  Tortoise Pan is certainly a big boy.

Tortoise Pan was heading due east towards the airstrip, and Gabe took the opportunity to get ahead of him so that we could approach him possible entering the clearing.  We were in the open, but the leopard did stay close to cover.  We did manage to capture some images of him with the dense bush behind him.

Gabe decided that we should have a coffee break, so we headed a little south of the airstrip, and pulled up at a tree on the side of the road.  Gabe and Colbert prepared the food and drinks, and we all stretched our legs after having experienced a fantastic sighting with an impressive male leopard.

After our break, we headed west, back towards the lodge, encountering an elephant, a wildebeest, and finally, a female yellow saddle-billed stork at a watering hole north of the lodge, and not far from the dry Manyeleti River.

We headed back to the lodge for breakfast and a few hours of downtime, lunch and more rest before afternoon drive.

Before we knew it, we were back out in the bush.  We did not know it at the time, but Gabe was on a mission, and not even eight minutes into the drive, we had yet another special encounter after briefly spotting an elephant.

We had been taken to see the critically endangered white rhinoceros!  These creatures are awesome to see, and it had been ten years since we last saw a wild rhino.

There are two species of African rhino: white and black.  Both species are actually not named after colours, as all rhinos are in fact grey.  In the case of the white rhino, the name originates with the Dutch word wijd, which means 'wide', and which was apparently mis-translated to English, sounding like 'white'.  The white rhino is a grazer, and has a wider mouth which is suited for grazing.

Here we were, with a mother and a calf, seeing an impressive animal which is iconic.  I captured a few images, but have so far only published one.

Image: The Balance of Nature

The Balance of Nature

In this image, nature demonstrates its balance in the harmony that exists between the white rhino and the oxpecker.  Both benefit from each other's existence, and in this image, a red-billed oxpecker flapped its wings as it hitched a ride.

What this image also shows is that this rhino does not have a horn.

Only in recent years in South Africa, has there been a de-horning project in operation to protect rhinos from poaching.

While it is a dreadful shame to see a rhino without its horn, it is far better than the alternative!

Having had another look through my images from this rhino sighting, there are several images worth publishing, and it would be nice to present a few more images of these special creatures.

The afternoon drive had started with a fantastic sighting (and a relatively rare one at that), but on top of that, we were treated to another great sighting: fighting zebras!

I do not have a lot of images of zebras, as they mostly stand around doing nothing interesting.  However, on this occasion, two males were fighting for dominance and mating rights, so I captured the action.

Image: Fight for Dominance

Fight for Dominance

This was a great sighting, and I am pleased to have captured zebras engaging in a battle.  I like this image, as it tells a story of what happens in the African wilderness.

Soon enough, it was time to move on.  Along the drive, we spotted a wildebeest and another hyena, before encountering a southern ground hornbill in the northern part of the reserve, about half way between Simbambili Game Lodge and Gowrie Gate.  To us, this was a new species, and this particular hornbill was out in the open, having captured a giant African snail.

The hornbill used its bill to puncture the snail's shell, and with such force that we could hear the crunching sound from considerably further away.  It was an interesting encounter, and I captured a few reference shots, but something better was awaiting us.

Gabe headed north-east, through Gowrie Gate and towards Buffelshoek, for what would be our final special sighting of the day.

At the far northern part of the reserve, we had encountered the Imbali Pride of lions!

The Imbali Pride resides in Manyeleti Game Reserve, and on this occasion, the pride had entered our reserve.  This was our first encounter with lions during this safari, and there were

By now it was late in the afternoon, and the lions were on alert.

Here is one of the young males, who had stood up to investigate something that he had heard or seen in the distance.

Image: Watching Intently

Watching Intently

Soon, the lions began stalking.  We heard the distinct sound of distressed zebras loudly calling in the distance, and the lions were keen to move in for a potential meal.

They crossed our path and headed north into Manyeleti Game Reserve.  Unfortunately, this is where the adventure ended for us, as we did not have traversal rights in Manyeleti.

Once the Imbali Pride lions had departed the scene, Gabe drove a very short distance down the same road, and stopped at a dam for our sundowner.

We then headed south-west towards the lodge for dinner and drinks, encountering black-backed jackals, a grey duiker and a scrub hare along the way.

We had invited Gabe to have dinner with us.  At Elephant Plains Game Lodge, the guides usually do not eat dinner with the guests, as each set of guests has its own table, and the guides often have multiple parties on their game drives.

In our case, we had a 4WD for our exclusive use, so it was just Mario, Gabe, Colbert and us.  We could therefore have Gabe join us for dinner.  We wanted him to be involved in that part of the safari experience too, so he joined us.  He was also kind enough to bring his own bottle of Kanonkop Kadette 2020 to drink with us.

What a day this had been.  It had started with interesting and amusing hyena interactions, our first encounter with male leopard Tortoise Pan, a very special sighting of a mother rhino and her calf, the intensity of male zebras fighting for dominance, and finally, our first lion encounter of this trip.  Additionally, we had seen species of African wildlife that we had not encountered before, and we concluded the day over a meal with great food, wine and company.

Stay tuned for our adventures on day five, which was also abundant with great sightings and some very rewarding photography.

Published on Sunday, 19 February, 2023.