A Photographer’s Dream

Latish one afternoon while booked in at Lower Sabie, Silvia and I decided to do a “quick” loop north over the S29 gravel road, planning to return back south to the camp on the tarred H10 road.

The drive up past Mlondozi Dam was pretty uneventful, with some interesting bird sightings interspaced with numerous elephants, distant rhinos and other plains herbivores. On reaching the intersection with the tar road, I turned sharply left onto the H10 for a relaxed return drive to Lower Sabie, including a quick visit to Sunset Dam to get some shots of the hippos posing before settling down for the night. We checked our watches and found we still had over an hour and a half left to do the 12 km back to camp before the gates closed.

Less than 500 meters after turning onto the tarred road, Silvia spotted a cheetah sitting tall in the grass some 150 meters to our left. As we stopped, the cheetah started walking swiftly away from us towards the east. I turned the car around and drove back towards the S29. Silvia at that stage was not very happy, as she had wanted to take some long range shots of the cat sitting up in the long grass.

We turned into the S29 and slowly drove south for about 300m until we saw two male cheetahs emerging from the tallish grass and acacia bushes ahead of us on the right.

The two cats quickly crossed the road and approached a 3 meter tall ironwood stump about 15 meters off the road to our left. They sniffed around in the tallish grass around the stump for quite a while, before both generously started spray-marking the base of stump. When they were finished spray-marking, one cat lay down in the grass to relax, and his obvious alpha brother jumped up onto the top of the stump from which to survey his territory and complete the territorial marking procedure.

The late afternoon sun was absolutely perfect as it bathed the elegant cat in its golden glow, creating a wonderful contrast against the darkening bluish backdrop of the sky above the tree covered Lebombo Mountains in the east. A photographer’s dream setting!

The cheetah continued to pose patiently for us for quite some time, before it gracefully dismounted and joined its brother in the grass. We sat there in our car totally enthralled by what we had just seen.

After a while the two cats got up, and returned to the road to lie down amongst the various parked cars to continue grooming one another. While it was wonderful to watch them grooming each other, the setting was unfortunately not very condusive to expressive photography due to the shade and the fading light.

The driver of a car that started moving off reminded us that we only had some 25 minutes to return to camp before the gates close. There was total panic as I quickly completed the basic math in my head. Driving at the speed limit of 50 km/h would require at least 16 minutes to drive the approximately 13 km back to camp, barring unforeseen live “roadblocks” underway. We thus drove off back to the H10, and then set off south in the direction of the camp at the maximum allowed speed.

Murphy is the one Irishman I absolutely detest. In the Kruger he regularly conspires to find things or create situations with which to confirm to me why my utter dislike of him is absolutely justified.

This time was no different. It included two obstinate but pretty laid-back elephant herds hogging the road, as well as a huge female white rhino and her calf, all determined to delay us such that the guard at the camp gate literally had to wait to close the gates behind us. I won’t divulge any more lest I incriminate myself.

While we got so many wonderful images of the cheetah, due to the stressful nature of our interaction with the rhino mother and calf we missed out totally on getting any images of them. This really “hurt”, especially as the mother was a magnificent animal equipped with an about 120 cm long horn.

In the Kruger one must accept the rule that you win some and lose some.

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