Without a doubt, Malamala in the Sabi Sands reserve is one of the best places to go for big cat photo opportunities. The reserve is situated on the western side of the Kruger National Park, and the two conservation areas share an open boundary.
I visited the camp in April, travelling with just two guests on a private photo safari.
|Canon 1Dmk4, Canon 300f2.8 lens. S/s 1/400 at f/2.8, Iso 400|
Our first day did not disappoint, with a pair of male cheetah showing up late in the morning. Much later, we encountered a male leopard busy scent-marking and patrolling his territory. We spent maybe half an hour with him before pulling away as the light began to fade and he began to hunt in earnest. I always enjoy photographing male leopards, and this individual was no different, and made for a great subject.
Over the next three nights we enjoyed the Styx lion pride moving about and finally coming to rest in a dry riverbed. At one point they were high up on the bank, looking down at us in the vehicle below. It was quite an unusual sighting, and quite something to be looking up at the lions some thirty metres above us. The impressive coalition of four male lions that rule this area put in a show too. One of the males, know as Black Mane, was mating with a lioness from the Ayrefield pride.
The coalition could be heard roaring every evening, and we saw them together near the airfield. As a long-time student of lion conservation and population dynamics, I am always pleased to see large coalitions of males such as this. It indicates that the lions are benefitting from living in a stable and undisturbed environment.
|Canon 1Dmk4, Canon 300f2.8 lens. S/s 1/2000 at f/4.0, Iso 400|
A photographic highlight was locating one of the Ayrefield pride lionesses hanging out on the open banks of the Sand River, with her two young cubs. A female leopard came down a tree right in front of us and also provided good photo opportunities. Of the male lions in the coalition, one had the lightest, greenest eyes I have yet seen in a lion and he photographed well.
There were more leopards to be seen too. Another adult male leopard was found resting in a dry river-bed, and a female leopard and her cub provided us much entertainment as she attempted to locate some impala in the woodland.
|Canon 1Dmk4, Canon 300f2.8 lens. S/s 1/640 at f/6.3, Iso 500|
The impala rut was in full swing at Malamala, and it was fascinating to see the effect this had on the big cats. During rutting time, male impala spend much time making loud braying noises as part of their display.
Several times we followed different leopards after they were irresistibly drawn by the sound of male impala calling. The cats would stop whatever they were doing, stare hard, and immediately set off in the direction of the sound. At this time of year, when male impala’s blood is running high on testosterone, and they are totally distracted by mating activities, they make themselves more susceptible to predation.
Amongst all the big cat excitement, we also spent time photographing spotted hyaena at their secluded den site, as well as rhino, giraffe, elephants, waterbuck, wildebeest, kudu, impala, side-striped jackal and more.
|Canon 1Dmk4, Canon 300f2.8 lens. S/s 1/125 at f/4.0, Iso 800|
Conditions for photography were pretty decent. The sky was overcast for several of the days, and this meant that we were not faced with harsh midday light. It also meant that some of the animals stayed active for longer during the cool mornings. When it comes to photography, I will always choose overcast over clear days for those reasons.
My two clients used lenses ranging from 24mm to 400mm in focal length.
I took along a 16-35, a 70-200 and my fixed 300mm lens.
It was hard to leave Malamala, but doing so with a collection of satisfying memories to accompany the images on my memory card made it a bit easier.