It's always good to take stock of the experiences and moments one has shared at the end of a long year of safaris. Its something I've done to an extent in the past but I really wanted to share some of the spectacular safari highlights of 2019 with you all.
I think that 2019 has to be one of my greatest years of hosting safaris to date given the number of new and exciting destinations that I was privileged enough to explore and share with guests. The images and moments we shared in these new and exciting destinations have confirmed that what we do as a company really does have the ability to change the way that people see the world.
It's not just a tagline. It's a fact.
So, without waxing lyrical, here are some of my personal safari highlights from what has been an exceptional year of safaris by all accounts.
The Lion and The Sky - Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania
This was such an incredible moment. The day started with soft rain falling on the Banda (house) that we were staying in at the beautiful Beho Beho Camp. The soft rain persisted for most of the morning, as did we, before eventually evolving into a rather heavy downpour right at the moment that we had set up for a coffee break.
"Would you like to head back to camp or shall we wait this out?" I asked the guest I was hosting on this Private Guided Safari. "We are here for a good time, not a long time" was the response so we waited it out and, about 45 minutes later, we were rewarded with a sighting of the Beho Beho pride. The storm had passed and they were active.
The dominant male (yes, despite his scruffy and underdeveloped mane, this is a mature and dominant male lion) strolled up to the palm thicket, rubbed his neck against the fronds and proceeded to mark his territory - not unexpected and an amazing photographic opportunity in itself.
He then pushed his way between the fronds and disappeared into the thicket. Immediately I could see the potential, all we needed was for him to NOT settle down in the thicket.
"Pull back, include the rich blue sky and palms in the background incase he comes back out..." I said.
My words weren't even cold and sure as nuts, there he was.
I'm a fan of showcasing animals in their environment but its not always easy. In this instance the colours, contrasts and iconic elements of the region (the two dominant palms species) came together to provide what I consider to be an iconic image from the Selous Game Reserve.
Click here for more information on our Ruaha and Selous Safari offerings.
Eye Contact - Odzala-Kokua National Park, The Republic Of The Congo
My time spent in Odzala was a trip of many firsts for me. My first time in the Congo basin, my first time in the forests of west Africa, not to mention my first time seeing the Western Lowland Gorilla.
Our original itinerary had us spending two mornings tracking the two habituated groups of Gorillas which had their territories in the vicinity of Ngaga Camp. Trekking here is pretty easy from a walking and elevation perspective with the biggest challenge coming in the form of the dense Marantacae which grows on the canopy floor. Whilst our two treks were successful and saw us spending 2 hours with the groups as they payed, climbed trees and foraged, we hadn't quite struck gold from a photographic perspective.
A short chat saw us all reach agreement that we should roll the dice on a third and final trek on our last morning at Ngaga before heading to Lango Camp. It was on this final morning that we encountered both groups at the base of a fruiting Treculia tree in the middle of the forest. Our final sighting had it all, action, interaction, youngsters, and this. Eye contact.
It really is hard to describe how one feels when you lock eyes with these animals. It really is a moment where you simply have to put your camera down and just be present - something we did as a group and the memory will remain with us forever.
The experience is made even more special by the fact that only 4 guests, a local guide and local tracker are allowed to visit each group in a day. Odzala offers a Gorilla trekking experience second to none in my opinion.
Click here for more information on our Odzala Expeditions.
A Forest Giant - Odzala-Kokua National Park, The Republic of Congo
No surprises that I had to include two images from our time in Odzala - believe me I'd love to include more but there's still so much more to share!
If this elephant looks different to you thats because its a Forest Elephant. Loxodonta cyclotis.
This image was captured on our final afternoon spent cruising the Lekoli river and was arguably one of the most incredible sightings we had of Forest Elephant during our expedition. We had slowly made our way downstream to where the Lango Bai spills out into the Lekoli River. We parked the boat on a sand bank and started as short walk to get a view into the entrance to the bai, hoping for some Forest Buffalo. We had hardly left the side of the boat (wading waist deep in water) when our guide spotted this beautiful elephant bull making his way out from the tree-line.
We waded closer before stopping and sitting chest deep in the water as he walked past us. He was aware of our presence and gave us a bit of a mock charge before retreating into the forest.
We thought the sighting was over and were celebrating what we had just experienced with fist bumps and, I'm not lying, there were even tears of joy.
As we made our way back to the boat the bull suddenly re-appeared. He was making his way towards the river again and before we knew it, we were seated chest deep in water photographing him cross back through the river.
The distant background, low angle, unusual species and whole experience make this a firm favourite moment for me and I know for a fact that my guests feel the same!
Click here for more information on our Odzala Expeditions.
Desert Dwellers - Hoanib River Bed, Namibia
How can Africa's giants exist in one of the worlds harshest landscapes? They adapt.
Desert adapted Elephants are found in only two locations in the world; in Mali and in the northern reaches of Namibia. In Namibia one can find them along the dried up riverbeds and the Honaib River bed is without a doubt the best place to see these magnificent creatures in the most amazing environment.
Much debated has been had over whether these specially adapted Elephants should be classified as a completely different species or not, but for now they are considered the same species as an African Elephant but with adaptations.
These ellies appear leaner and taller due to their diet and have bigger feet than other African Elephants. The larger size of their feet allows them to walk with more ease across the very soft desert sand, an adaptation that is useful when you consider that fact that these Elephants have been known to travel up to 200 kilometres (124 miles) in search of water.
Desert adapted Elephants only drink water every 3 - 4 days which is a massive reduction when you compare them to the Elephants in Etosha that drink up to 200 litres of water per day. Unlike most other Elephants, the Namib Desert adapted Elephants very rarely destroy or rip up the trees or plants they are eating, choosing rather to be able to return to the plant in the future.
This small herd was seen on our final morning at Honaib Skeleton Coast Camp. The light was soft, the wind had kicked up some of the fine dust to add a touch of drama to the scene, all we needed to do was capture the moment.
What makes this image even more special for me was that in the first half of the year I had seen the "stock standard" African Elephant which we all know, the Forest Elephant (a new species for me) and then the famous desert adapted Elephants of Namibia. A true privilege.
Click here for more information on our Desert Wildlife of Namibia Safari.
King of Chitake Springs - Mana Pools National Park, Kenya
Anyone who has visited Chitake Springs in Mana Pools National Park will appreciate this post. The lions of the region are ever present but seldom scene. Their roars echo through the dry river bed at night, confirming that one should be tucked safely into one's tent as they take on the night shift.
I've visited Chitake every year since 2016 and despite having fresh spoor around my tent and shower station, have only ever caught a glimpse of a shy lioness making her way out of the riverbed early one evening.
Imagine my surprise then when our local guide called me over as we were about to start our decent into the source of the Chitake Spring. "Look over there" he said calmly as he handed me the binoculars. "Lions have killed a young elephant on the edge of the Spring".
"I count about 19 of them".
I almost fell over. The sun was rising but the ghosts of Chitake would have no place to retreat and hide with a meal of this size in their possession.
We spent the next two and half days with the pride as they fed on the young elephant. They gradually grew more comfortable with our presence on foot and the initial growls, tail flicking and odd charge soon became things of the past.
This particular image was taken one afternoon as the pride members tucked into the shade provided by the steep cliffs. This young male took a brief moment to pause and watch a Hooded Vulture taking flight and gave me the ideal opportunity to capture this frame.
The background, for those who have been, is unmistakably Chitake and I love the way that this male seems to almost blend into it, even though this was captured in broad daylight.
Seeing the lions that I had heard and spent ages trying to track down on foot was incredibly satisfying and a real privilege.
Click here for more information on visiting Chitake Springs
The Big Reveal - Mara Triangle Conservancy, Kenya
The image and title say it all and, if you haven't already done so, I'd suggest you check out this post which shares the highlights of the 11 hours leading up to this exact moment.
Have you read it yet? If not, please do!
Over and above ALL of the other highlights of this day, these were the smallest lion cubs I had ever seen.
The emotions I felt were very difficult to describe but rest assured this moment has left a lasting impression on me and every one of our guests.
What a day.
You can see how these tiny cubs grew throughout the season as they feature quite regularly in the Guide Edition of our Top 100 Images from the Masai Mara post.
Now I know that this image wont resonate with everyone.
The Sitatunga is a rarely seen, aquatic antelope which is best viewed in the Okavango Delta. Being in a chopper with the doors off certainly helps in terms of finding the darn things (Check out this post on what its like to fly over the Okavango Delta in a helicopter)!
Those of you that have followed me for some time will know just how much a love to showcase animals in their environment and thats exactly why this image is so special to me. It falls flat as far as images showing you what a Sitatunga looks like but here's what I love about it:
- I love how the yellows and blue's compliment each-other
- I love the texture in the grasses
- I love how the grasses form a natural frame across the top of the frame
- I love the uniformity of the more open vegetation across the bottom of the frame
- I love the contrast of the ear against the body of the Sitatunga, this is a critical point of contrast in the frame for me.
I just love it ;-)
Click here for our Botswana Wilderness Safaris
Samburu National Park in Northern Kenya has always intrigued me as it is just so completely different to places like Amboseli and the Masai Mara. This dry and arid landscape is home to a host of unique species including Somali Ostrich, Grevy's Zebra, Reticulated Giraffe, Vulturine Guineafowl and so much more.
This was my first trip to Samburu and was a Private Guided Safari which ran on the back of our Mara Peak Season Safaris. In just 4 nights we had some of the most spectacular sightings including a female cheetah with 3 cubs, a lioness with 3 cubs and so much more.
Here are some safari highlights from the trip.
Back to this beautiful male leopard. Yes, this is a young male, incredibly relaxed and beautifully draped across a fallen Acacia tree on the edge of the Ewaso Nyiro River. We spent what felt like an age photographing him in the fading light but in reality it was only about 10 to 15 minutes.
I love photographing big cats at this time of the day as its one of the rare occasions that you're able to capture their eyes wide open and for me, that just makes this image all the more special.
Click here to view a sample itinerary of how you can extend your time from the Masai Mara to Samburu
Reflective Space - Amboseli National Park, Kenya
This was a very special moment I shared with two fantastic guests during the very first Amboseli and Masai Mara Safari. I've spent a fair amount of time in Amboseli over the years and no two trips are ever the same.
For those of you familiar with the region this image was taken on the causeway between Ol Tukai Lodge and the airstrip. The shallow waters stretch across the landscape to form a very shallow lake which is now completely void of any vegetation. Dramatic clouds in the distance reflected in the still waters as we watched the flamingo's in the distance.
Suddenly, a small group of zebra came walking along the causeway towards us. I very quickly anticipated what was going to happen as they got closer to us with only a thin strip of land on either side of the vehicle I knew that they had to wade into the water. The question was, which side of the causeway would they go?
We got lucky and they walked into the side where the dramatic clouds formed the ideal background and the reflection in the water was most intense.
In all my time visiting Amboseli I've never been presented with a scene like this and loved sharing the moment with our guests.
Click here to learn more about our Amboseli and Masai Mara Safaris
Essential Amboseli - Amboseli National Park, Kenya
Nothing compares to the feeling one gets when you're able to leave the relative safety of the vehicle and get down low to photograph wildlife. Unfortunately, but understandably, there aren't many places one can do this safely for a number of reasons. The Amboseli lake bed is one of the few places where you can do this safely though.
Photographing elephants or giraffe crossing the dry lake bed was a key focus for this particular safari and every morning, after enjoying spectacular sunrises on the edge of the marshes, we made a bee-line for the lake bed. We would scan the horizon line searching for any sign of the herds. With the heat haze reflecting off of the lake bed even a large herd of elephants were transformed into an almost unrecognisable blur.
On our first morning we got lucky and spent some time with a lone bull crossing the lake bed.
On our second morning we saw only general game and local Maasai with their cattle moving across the landscape.
Then, on morning three, we got lucky. A large herd with a couple of bulls in tow were crossing the lake bed. We anticipated their movements and got well ahead of them, waiting patiently for them to approach.
This was the final image that I captured during the sighting. I was flat on my belly lying alongside my guests who were, at this stage, in complete awe of what we had experienced.
So, there we have it. These are 10 safari highlights of the year. Notice that I haven't referred to them as my top 10. There are simply way too many moments that I have been privileged enough to have shared with guests throughout the year.
On that note, I'll leave you with a short safari highlights video from the team here at Wild Eye.