When I got the call from my friend and colleague Scotch about a brand new baby giraffe about to take his first steps I immediately turned around and starting heading that way. I had some photography guests with me and well this sounded like a great scene to capture.
We would soon find ourselves observing and photographing one of the most memorable sightings of my career! The day was not kind to us in terms of photography, the sun kept poking through but for the most part we had massive changes in light to deal with between every frame taken. Couple this with the fact that due to the sensitivity of the sighting we were not able to drive around the gorgeous mother and calf and onto the side of the better light. However upon arriving at the scene, photography issues faded and all that began to matter was what was happening right in front of us.
When we got to the location the youngster was already on his feet although swaying from side to side. His mother was amazing and I could easily tell that this wasn't her first child, she had done this before. She would gently nudge him to help him keep balance every time he looked like he was about to fall over. She carefully licked and cleaned him as he stood looking around with half open eyes at the new world that was around him.
It was the most amazing thing to watch and we sat for well over 45 minutes and just watched as this new little creature took in the views around him. Eventually he made his way, on very shaky legs, underneath his mother where he began to suckle for the first time.
Welcome to a brand new world my little friend, may it be kind to you.
When you work in the African bush day in and day out, you notice very quickly that mother nature is one harsh reality. We often see injured, weak or sick animals and for an animal lover such as myself this is never easy. Of course we get over it by telling ourselves "that's nature". And indeed it is.
The photo above is the last image I ever took of this young male and at the time I had no idea that it would be. However I knew that it was coming at some point. When I first arrived in the Timbavati he was a two year old gorgeous young lion. He had a pride around him and two loving sisters that would prove their worth time and time again. However as lion politics would have it, his pride was dismantled almost over night when two young nomadic males moved into their territory and proceeded to drive the original pride male off, kill his mother and force his two aunts to flee to a new area. It didn't stop there and sadly this youngster sustained a major injury to his leg during the event. After this we didn't see him for weeks, we would see his sisters on occasion but never him. Until one day I responded to a young male lion sighting. Upon getting there my heart sunk, there he lay basically skin and bone and in the direct sunlight on a hot day, something very strange for a lion to do. It was a sad sighting and I was convinced he wouldn't make it through the night. This was a hard thing to explain to my guests. However later that day I heard that two females had joined him out of the blue, his sisters had returned for him! Later that night the girls made a kill and the next morning we went to have a look and this is when I took the photo "Survivals Eye" which can be found in my portfolio. I have never seen a lion eat like I saw him eat that day. After this his sisters never left his side and we began to notice that his leg was recovering and he started putting proper pressure on it again, we started to get hopeful. Sadly A few weeks passed without seeing him or his sisters and when eventually they were seen again, his leg looked worse than ever. Over the next 8 months he struggled with it, all the while his sisters were keeping him feed and waiting patiently for him to catch up when they moved as well as keeping themselves off the radar as far as other lions were concerned. His leg slowly began to shrivel as he lost all muscle tone and we began to realise that his death was inevitable. He did start putting pressure on it once again a few weeks ago and I even saw him run, although slowly, at one point.
He was killed last week on the southern property of Taiwane, as finally the two older males caught up to him and finished what they started. In truth I never lost hope for him and I really enjoyed seeing him when we did. He was a gorgeous lion. However this is the nature of the African bush. A silver lining is now that his sisters do not have to keep themselves hidden and moving, they have begun to settle and roar in the east of the Tanda Tula property and already other males are starting to move in. Sometimes the birth of a new pride requires the death of an old one.
A decent water source is a hotly contested resource in the great African wilderness amongst all animals, however theses contests are fought hardest by those that rely entirely on them.
Hippos have a very sensitive and hairless skin that requires large amounts of moisture throughout the hot African day. Only venturing out from the watery safety after sunset to feed. Hippos are also fiercely territorial and males are not often willing to share a good water source with one another. This of course leads to some pretty spectacular displays of power.
On a hot February morning my guests and I were in search of a herd of elephants that we had been tracking for some time. It was getting hot and so I thought it would be a good idea to stop for a cup of coffee and a leg stretch on a nearby dam wall. There is often a hippo in this dam and so it is a good place to stop, have a cup of coffee and watch, a usually sleepy yet sceptical hippo peering out of the water. This coffee break was to be a fair bit different to others.
As I drove up onto the dam wall I noticed that instead of just one hippo there were two. At this point they both seemed to be pretty relaxed within the water not 3 meters from each other. I turned the vehicle off and was about to get out of the vehicle when suddenly the water exploded!
What followed was an amazing sighting of two African titans going to war with each other. Needless to say we did not get out for coffee but rather we sat and watched this all unfold for over one and a half hours. All of us, guests, myself and even my tracker were transfixed and the thought of elephants became a distant blur.
Time after time the hippos would launch themselves at each other. This gave me ample time to get my settings right and really get into an awesome wildlife “photo shoot”, something that doesn’t happen very often.
The energy coming out of the two hippos was incredible and relentless. After an hour neither showed any sign of giving up. Eventually though things did begin to calm down as the two beasts began to lose steam but still advancing at each other every once in awhile.
The sun was beginning to beat down on us and we reluctantly made the decision to leave the dam and head for the cover of a shady breakfast. Later that day on afternoon game drive I heard over the radio that the hippos were still at it although with what sounded like far less valour. The next morning we went to have another look, we needed closure.
I was pleased to see that the original male was still there and the other was gone. A successful defence of his water hole was complete. Where the intruder went, I am not sure.