Monday, April 3, 2023

Midsummer Mala Mala.

Our first leopard of the trip. The Nkoveni female. 
There are many criteria that define a great wildlife destination. Criteria include the size of the conservancy, whether it is part of a bigger wildlife area, whether it's a fenced or open system, the quantity, and quality of the wildlife, and the quality, interest, and enthusiasm of the local guides. All of this plays a role in the final answer.  

A close encounter, expertly handled. 

Stretching over more than 30 000 acres of South Africa’s Lowveld with only two main lodge areas spaced along 20 kilometers of riverfront of which both banks are accessible, some of the highest leopard densities in the world, numerous other predators present, an abundance of Elephant, Rhino, Buffalo and other animals, all of which being habituated, yet unaffected to the presence of tourist vehicles makes Mala Mala a strong contender for the ultimate wildlife destination.  It is certainly one of our favorites. 

Beautiful elephant bull in the striking riparian forest.

The Southern African summer is a great time to travel. Despite some obstacles such as tropical heat and the possibility of rain, summer months offer nature enthusiasts a great opportunity to explore and discover nature. Migrant birds from further up north are in the southern hemisphere, reptiles and amphibians abound and many wildlife species have their young, and overall, a time of abundance. 

Summertime is when biodiversity is at its peak with many migrant birds like this Woodland kingfisher. 

For wildlife photographers, the lush greenery presents a verdant stage for interesting captures amidst the Eden-like landscape. With this in mind, we revisited Mala Mala again in February, Yet there was the proverbial or more accurately, quite a literal storm brewing on the horizon. Predictions for one of the years tropical cyclones to hit the mainland coincided with our stay and reports of seasonal flooding and adverse weather conditions preceded our arrival. With predictions of rainy weather and limited accessibility, our hopes sunk as we arrived. Yet, soon after arrival, all fears were allayed.   The cyclone was still making it way across the Mozambique Channel and we had a green light for exploration. The first game drive produced the first leopard, arguably Mala Mala’s most iconic animal, and ended with a large elephant bull coming for a closer inspection, an encounter expertly handled by our guide, Lauren. Then it was off to planning the next day’s adventure over dinner.  

Young male lion at sunset. 

The days pretty much followed the traditional tried and tested safari schedule of waking up well before sunrise to catch the first rays of golden light and returning to camp for breakfast and then some well-earned rest. A lesson or two in post-processing followed and then afternoon tea and the evening game drive,  The drives never disappointed and we slowly racked up some great sightings which included two lionesses with small cubs, dozens of elephants going about their business, herds of buffalo lazily chewing the cud, white rhino as well as a host of other animals. Birds featured regularly in front of the cameras and a significant sighting of a Eurasian Golden Oriole got the bird nerds in the car excited.  Thankfully, our good weather luck lasted until the very last day when Cyclone Freddie, by now reduced to a tropical storm hit us, leaving us camp-bound. But going through the memories and images if one can choose one place to be hit by a tropical storm, it must be Mala Mala. The place never disappoints. 

On drive. 

Close enough?

The abundance of summer offers many opportunities to witness interesting behavior. 

Even the much-maligned Spotted Hyena makes for a striking subject.  

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