It has been a busy week. Last weekend we were in Cape Town, Rob and I, staying in Constantia with my mom: high tea at the Cape Grace Hotel, on a perfect afternoon at the V&A Waterfront, was a treat for us all. Sunday it was brunch with old friends Ian and Pam at the Gardener’s Cottage in Newlands – golden sunlight streaming through oaks, the blue outline of Devils Peak giving way to the bluer sky beyond.
Monday was business: meetings with colleagues from UCT and the Harvard Kennedy School, decisions to be made with a provincial government department. Then a flight back to Johannesburg, on Tuesday night, to finish writing up a six-monthly report on our programme for a steering committee meeting next week.
And then, late this morning, after I had sent off the agenda and report and various other docs came a message on WhatsApp: the Madikwe gang has secured a booking for our next safari (as our overseas friends and family like to call it) for next year, for four days in October.
I didn’t consult with Rob – I simply replied ‘we’re in.’ And here are some photos from this year’s visit to Madikwe to celebrate.
Life goes on, and then it gets better.
We were returning from the far side of the Madikwe Game Reserve, after dark, after a long drive to see the wild dogs. As we neared our lodge the ranger shone his light on this owl – a Great Eagle Owl, he said.
I checked the SASOL Birds of South Africa yesterday, after processing this photo, and (bird expert that I am not) thought it was a Spotted Eagle Owl, not a Great – though still great to observe, in the darkness, staring down at us with those huge yellow eyes.
So I posted the image on the BirdLife South Africa FaceBook page, with a request for help with identification.
‘Definitely a Spotty,’ was the birding consensus.
‘A blinded owl,’ said some wag.
From the sublime (black-shouldered kite stooping, early morning, sunlit) to the frankly scatalogical: rhino pooping.
Like many of us, I have seen more rhino poop on my many game drives over the years than you can shake a stick at, as the saying goes – but I have never actually caught one of these beasts in flagrante. Madikwe, of course, with its many treats and surprises, would be the place to do so – and indeed, we came upon this leviathan on the job, one sunny afternoon, and I simply had to take photos.
We were out early one morning, in the open Landcruiser, on a game drive in Madikwe, when suddenly I saw this black-shouldered kite stooping, hovering over one spot, then moving away a bit and stopping once more to hover, the rising sun under its wings – a moment of real beauty, edged with menace.
I grabbed the Nikon, with the still somewhat unfamiliar 200-500mm lens, and fired off a series of shots – handheld, from the back of the safari vehicle.
Would like to do better, but ok I hope for a first effort.
We spent about two hours, I guess, that bright winter morning in Madikwe, waiting our turn to see the two cheetahs, and then moving with them, in careful stages, as they worked their way through the tall grass in an easterly arc around the flank of an approaching herd of grazing zebra.
It seemed at one point (I think I have said this before, in a previous blog) that they would make a run at a young one, but they gave it a pass. And then, finally, they saw what they wanted – a young zebra foal with its mother. We watched, as the cheetahs watched, the foal feeding from its mother, and then trotting after – and suddenly the cheetahs were off, and we were off too, crashing through the grass and thorn trees in a wild, careening blur of sky and foliage.
By the time we came across the pair of hunters the foal was already dead, the cheetahs at its throat, making sure of it. It was all very intense, both the still waiting, and the mad chase, and then the kill and the aftermath. These twenty one images – both individually and in their cumulative effect, I hope give you some sense of it.
We came upon this male lion and a female resting in the shade on one of our game drives in Madikwe…
Two more black and white images in the Madikwe lion series.
Towards the end of our game drive, one evening at Madikwe, we pulled up on the opposite side of a large waterhole, across the water, and watched as a herd of elephants with their babies trooped in, and frolicked and drank, and then, on some invisible signal, turned and filed off again, as the sky turned from pink to purple and the shadows deepened.
This African buffalo is calm, content, almost insouciant in the afternoon sun, by the water, snuffling in the deep mud for whatever it is that buffaloes snuffle for.
Tough as nails, too, these animals – no easy prey for a predator.
The African wild dog doesn’t always get a good press – it hunts its prey in packs, tirelessly chasing until the animal stumbles in exhaustion, and has the somewhat repulsive reputation of ripping it to shreds, even whilst its victim is still alive. The wild dog moreover has the fearsome jaw, and sharklike rank of serried white teeth, that nightmares conjure. Yet it is also beautiful, social, intelligent – and endangered.
These images, a mix of black and white and colour, convey, I would like to think, something of the quite profound ambivalence – fear, revulsion, admiration – I felt when close up to a resting pack in the early evening light in Madikwe.