Doug Croft from the USA shared his MalaMala experience – and fantastic photos – with us.
“I visited the reserve in July with Wild4 Photographic Safaris as the last stop on their Lions and Leopards of MalaMala tour. My journal entry for 14 July begins, “Wow! Best day ever!” Here’s why:
It began with a very cold early morning drive to see the Cape Hunting Dogs at their den. Our trip was first halted by a family group of elephants on the track, seemingly uninterested in moving so we could continue on our mission to see the dogs. Soon after we made our way past the elephants, we came upon a group of white rhino just rousing from a night’s sleep. Then as we slowed to see a small herd of cape buffalo, our ranger, Gary, said, “we’ve already got three of the big five and we’re not even trying.” The day was starting out well.
It was quiet when we arrived at the dog’s den site but that soon changed. The hunting party returned. The pups poured out of the den and mayhem ensued. The decibel levels rose as quickly as the dust cloud as the hunters regurgitated meat from the kill to feed those left behind. Pups and adults alike begged and fought for scraps in a sort of rehearsed chaos. It was a rare and special scene, which gave our shutters and memory cards a real workout. I think I speak for all when I say we were very blessed to witness this event.
If it had ended there, it would have been a truly excellent day, but we hadn’t even had breakfast yet!
We made our way back up to the river and found a scenic spot to stop and eat. We had just begun to set up when both Gary (ranger) and Stu (guide) stopped and said in unison, “Leopard!” (the rest of us, of course, had heard nothing). Given the choice of continuing with our breakfast or finding the leopard, we made the prudent decision and threw the food back into the truck. Gary found tracks just down river and followed them to a gorgeous female leopard. We watched her for a while as she wandered and marked her territory. She soon made her way down to the river, waded across and out of view in the reeds on the other side.
As we ate breakfast a few minutes later, we realised that we had a chance at the Big Five before lunch. All we needed was lions. The pressure began to mount on ranger Gary but he seemed very calm. What we didn’t know, but he did, was that the Eyrefield pride had a buffalo kill not far from where we were and that the Big Five before lunch was in the bag (plus he pretty much controlled when we could have lunch).
While watching the lions at the carcass, we marvelled at a place that could provide such an abundance and variety of wildlife all in the span of one morning. We had seen each of the Big Five, and six of the Super Seven, along with hippos, crocodiles, waterbuck, nyala, kudu, the ever-present impala – and seemingly hundreds of species of birds. Incredible doesn’t even begin to describe it.
To continue the theme: If it had ended there, it would have been a truly excellent day, but we hadn’t even had lunch yet! The best was yet to come…
The afternoon took on a more relaxed pace and we eventually ended up back at the buffalo kill watching the Eyrefield lions. Soon after we arrived, two of the lionesses got up to begin a walk-about. They had both eaten so much that they could barely move, but made their way up the hill and across the airstrip as we followed along. After a humorous mishap with Stu’s GoPro camera, we found that we had lost track of one of the lionesses. Gary soon heard in his headset that she had been spotted heading toward what was thought to be her new den site. Eureka!
Just as the sun was setting, we arrived at the den and had a very few minutes to enjoy the highlight of a day (and trip) filled with highlights. The three newest members of the Eyrefield pride, just weeks old, were teetering around in the sand. There is nothing as cute as a tiny lion cub! We watched in awe as the lioness turned from fearsome predator to gentle mother suckling her cubs. Too soon she carried them one by one into the den and out of our sight.
Thus ended our first full day at MalaMala!
p.s. We rounded out our “Super Seven” the next morning before breakfast, with a cheetah sighting up at Clarendon – simply amazing!”
Thanks very much for sharing an amazing day with us, Doug!