Good light and good times

30 09 2014

So often on safari you find yourself in the most glorious afternoon or morning light with no animals to photograph. The opposite also applies, where you find yourself with a leopard, tiger or any other animal for that matter, and the light is horrible. Only on a few occasions, do all the right variables come together and produce a magical sighting!

We were on a photographic safari recently, and had the good fortune of spending a couple afternoons with a small family of cheetah. The mother and three eighteen month-old cubs were on the move, looking for something to chase. The mother had a different agenda to her three boys. She had the unenviable job of trying to feed four large cheetahs, while the young lads were just keen to chase anything, and try their luck at hunting. They had caught and killed their own prey before, but that must have been luck, because from the chases that we saw it didn’t look like they knew their trade very well.   The family spotted a herd of wildebeest and zebra at the far end of an open area – perfect terrain, but not perfect prey. The zebras were way too large, even if all four cheetahs pooled their efforts, so they were out the game. All except two of the wildebeest were fully-grown, also effectively taking them out of the question. The only real options for the hungry cheetahs were the two sub adult wildebeest hanging around the edges of the herd. All four cheetahs were stealthily moving in, when two of the young males started chasing each other. The mother sat down patiently, and waited for them to finish their game of tag. Eventually, they remembered what they doing, and re-focused on the matter at hand. They covered the distance between themselves and their quarry with ease, almost fooling us into thinking they were on the right track when all three just burst with excitement and ran at the herd. They had no real plan, they just ran. They chased the confused wildebeest all over the clearing, in all directions. As embarrassing as their attempt was, it was wonderful for photography, because for around ten minutes (a cheetah chase usually only last about 10 seconds if you are lucky) we had three cheetah chasing wildebeest around, in the open, in the afternoon sun! The shutters went crazy trying to pick up as much of the action as possible – this was camera heaven!

They came nowhere close to actually catching any of the wildebeest, but they would have learnt a few hunting lessons, number one being patience.

To join me on safari, click here!





2012 in review

31 12 2012

Thanks to everyone for all the support during 2012!

I have put together a quick collection of highlights from the year for you, and want to wish you an incredible 2013 with plenty of good sightings, all of them in great light!

To join me on one of these amazing safaris, click here





A little teaser

17 10 2012

Having recently come back from Kenya, and having witnessed the most incredible wildlife spectacle first hand, I thought it was only fair to share with you some of the madness!

I will be leading The Great Migration Safari again next year, and am already looking forward to getting back amongst the tens of thousands of wildebeest as they gather on the banks of the Mara River waiting to cross, as well as all the predators that roam those beautiful, wide open plains.  The photographic opportunities are endless, as animals seem to constantly fill the viewfinder of your camera.  It really isn’t fair that one place on earth can have so many animals, with so much diversity!  It is a photographic safari like no other.

It does all come down to the famous crossing of the Mara River though. There is something about that experience which is quite difficult to explain – you can watch it on TV a hundred times, but you will never get the level of panic at each crossing.  The wildebeest herd is extremely sensitive, which seems odd given that they are not the sharpest animals around, and even the slightest disturbance will turn the mega herd around, delaying the crossings.  They seem to do their best not to cross, but the overwhelming instinctive drive eventually pushes them to do it. The tension that emulates from the herd is palpable, as they pluck up the courage to start the crossing. Eventually, one brave/stupid/pushed wildebeest makes the leap of faith, and is rapidly followed but the rest of the herd.  The tension climbs to a maximum in seconds as literally tens of thousands of wildebeest and a few hundred zebra hustle to get across the most daunting challenge that faces them on their yearly migration.  Add a crocodile to the mix, and the panic reaches melting point.  The wildebeest do their best, but many succumb to the strong current, and even stronger crocodiles.  The only way to truly understand what happens each year, and what has happened for millions of years, is to experience it.

Have a look at the little teaser I have posted for you, which should whet your appetite! If you would like to join me on next year’s safari, click here!





A cheetah’s pride

2 10 2012

You would think that in flat grassland, you wouldn’t be in for too many surprises, as you could see everything at a distance, and having spotted a cheetah at a good hundred meters away, I thought as much, until she came closer.

I was out on safari in Kenya, one of the largest grassland ecosystems in the world, when we spotted said cheetah.  The grass wasn’t at its longest but was long enough to hide a couple little secrets that the female cheetah was hiding.  We had stayed with her for a while, hoping she would venture a little closer to the vehicle, which she did, and were rewarded with a great sighting of her two three month old cubs!  It is not every day you see cheetah, and to see a cheetah with such small cubs is a real treat.  The cubs still had their grey mantles on (all cheetah cubs are born with a strong patch of grey hair that grows down their back, the length of their body), which made the photographs even more special.

In classic cheetah fashion, they took to rest on top of a termite mound, and posed beautifully as we clicked away.  The cubs, being cubs, didn’t sit still for very long, which was fantastic, and made for some great images.  We spent a good hour with the young family, until the mother, who was keen on hunting, led her family away out into the grassland.

For more on this sighting, as well as other great images form the safari, check out http://50safaris.wordpress.com, and www.50safaris.com!





The odds of success

18 04 2011

What are the odds of seeing a female cheetah catch three impala in three attempts?

What are the odds of photographing two of the kills in action?

What are the odds of the cheetah catching the impala behind the only Acacia tree in area?

What are the odds of the cheetah keeping all three kills?

All these questions are answered by the images below.

In an incredibly lucky streak, known now as a ‘purple patch’, I have seen a female cheetah take three impala in three attempts!

Cheetahs are not known for their dazzling strike rate, normally catching one in ten – at best, one in five, but this particular individual is setting new records.  The first time I saw her kill, (published in a previous post:  https://kurtjaybertels.wordpress.com/2011/01/11/cheetah-1-0-impala/), was when she caught a young impala right out in the open.  She had a sub adult female daughter with her at the time, so while keeping the kill, had to share it with her ravenous youngster.  The impala was quickly devoured, and the cheetah got to feed in relative peace.

The second kill was one of the sneakiest approaches I have seen by a cheetah.  She ambushed the herd while they were tucked up in a thicket – not the cheetah’s usual hunting ground.  Cheetahs prefer wide open spaces, which allow them to reach the speeds they need to reach to catch their quarry.  This record setter, however, used almost leopard style tactics, to get her within twenty meters of the unsuspecting herd.  She made the charge, heading into the thicket from the clearing, and surprised the herd at a whopping 120km/h!  The entire chase was only sixty meters in length – a far cry from the usual three to four hundred meters that the prey is afforded to try make good their escape.  The ankle tap technique used to trip up the prey was deployed, but instead of the unlucky impala falling head over heels, it spun around, and changed direction 180 degrees.  This prompted a further change in tactics from the female cheetah, who then used a ‘rugby like’ tackle, to secure her meal.  Unfortunately, given the habitat, capturing all the madness on camera was not possible.

Between these two sightings, the sub adult daughter has left her mother, which allowed the female access to the entire impala.  As per the textbook this time, she dragged the impala under a small tree, did the required look around for danger, and began to feast.  When we returned in the afternoon, she was laying about ten meters from the carcass, with a huge belly.  She had fed well, and it showed.  The young impala had done its job.

A few days later, and she was at it again.  A morning hunt proved successful.  Her choice of prey was again a young impala, which she spent over an hour stalking.  She reversed her tactics on this occasion, and stalked through the bush towards the impala, which were feeding on the fringes of the open area.  Like a bolt of lightning, she came rushing out of the bushes towards the impala, which employed their ‘bombshell’ technique, to try confusing their attacker.  Cheetahs are arguably the least opportunistic of the big cats, and single out a target before the chase begins.  In this instance, the tried and trusted bomb shelling did not work.  The female cheetah had locked onto her target, and the chase began.  The young impala used a series of tight turns to try throw the cheetah off its tail, but the cheetah, using her slightly flattened tail as a giant rudder, steered her way through the zig zagging course set by her soon to be victim.  Most of the chase was out in the open, but as luck would have it, the actual catch was smack behind the only Acacia tree in the vicinity!

Again, she dragged her trophy towards a small tree, (not the Acacia that cost the team earlier), but was stopped midway to safety.  A large male lion had heard the commotion, and came running in to investigate.  The sound of the chase, the kill and the alarm calls from the surviving impalas alerted him as to the exact position of the carcass.  He charged in.  She heard him coming, dropped the impala, and this time used her speed to save her own life!  In a conflict situation between lions and cheetahs, the lions always win.  Knowing this, she cut her losses, and ran off.  She lost her hard earned prize, but there are always more to be caught!





An afternoon skirmish.

21 03 2011

Finding leopards and cheetahs is never easy. Finding them together is nearly impossible!
I say nearly impossible, because I was lucky enough to witness an altercation between the two spotted cats!
Initially, the coalition of four male cheetahs was spotted close to the edge of a large clearing. They were resting in the brilliant golden sunlight which made for some excellent images. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, until a female leopard was spotted moving cautiously towards the cheetah brothers in the bushes close by.

At first, the cheetahs were not aware of the leopard’s presence, and no real drama seemed imminent. The fact that there were four large male cheetahs probably kept the single female leopard at bay initially, but she did move into a position to get a better look.
In a normal situation, cheetahs are easily overpowered by leopards, and sprint away from any conflict. Being such specialized hunters, (an all out foot race reaching speeds of close to 120km/h), the cheetahs cannot afford to fight, as an injury, even a minor one, could cripple them enough to kill them.
This was not a normal situation though. The female leopard, aged at just over ten years, is an experienced campaigner, but seemed indecisive when it came time to charge in and assert her dominance. She stalked closer to the brothers, who had now noticed her, and moved forward to investigate. One of the cheetahs seemed a little more nervous than his brothers, and backed away from the fight, leaving the remaining three, closely bound, to take on the aggressor.
The show of defiance seemed to put the leopard on the back foot, and the spotted cats were temporarily locked in poker style stale mate. The leopard called the cheetahs bluff, and was out the tree and upon them in a flash. It turned out, much to our – and the leopard’s – surprise, that the bluff was backed by some substance, because the cheetahs turned the tables on the leopard, and while she was distracted by the individual she was chasing, she let the other two brothers round her, and found herself being chased!
In a few mad seconds, the cheetahs were hot on the leopard’s heels, and sent her up a nearby tree.
It was a crazy dash of spots and cats, which resulted in a few decent images.





Cheetah 1-0 Impala

11 01 2011

After days of waiting, I was rewarded with the quickest mammal action in the bush!
A female cheetah had been waiting patiently all day for the herd of impala with the babies to leave the thick bush line, and step out into the open area, where she could use her 120km/h run to full effect! She was promted by another herd of male impala, which accidently stumbled upon her and her 2 year old daughter. The male impala’s let out an alarm call, which pushed her into the chase. She ran almost callously through the large clearing, and managed to go unnoticed by the young impala, until she was in the strike zone.
The turn of speed was simply amazing, and watching her reach full speed can only be described as awe inspiring! The distance covered by the animals during the chase is also staggering! Trying to keep the camera up with the action is an interesting challenge!
The young impala made his final mistake, by trying to corner too sharply – a ploy often successfully used by impala against cheetah – and slipped, causing it to take a tumble. The cheetah gained valuble yards on the youngster, and using their ankle tap technique, completed a textbook catch.
The cheetah’s female cub, was not too far behind the action, learning as she joined her mother at the kill. Cheetah’s learn by watching their mothers, and this was a valuble lesson in patience and improvisation.
The meal went undisturbed, and both cheetahs managed to get a good feed!