Just another Kalahari morning

  • 6
    Shares


I’ve been putting this off for too long…so here it is. The story of the hunting lions in the . Fasten your seatbelts – Date: 29 November 2012 – Location: – It was a morning much like any other morning in the . Yet it would turn out to be a morning so unlike any other morning in the . Sure, this happens all the time…but rarely does it happen in a setting like this, in light like this and at close range like this…it all came together.

Let me start at the beginning…because there are a few key elements to the story which highlights why it all came together so nicely. We had stayed in Twee Rivieren (the main rest camp at the entrance to the Park) for the first 2 nights of our week-long stay, and had been blessed with very good sightings of , Caracal and . We then headed up the Auob river to stay in Mata-Mata for what should have been 4 nights before we had to return to Twee Rivieren for another 2 nights…but after 2 days we decided to swop out our nights there to return to Twee Rivieren earlier. Why? The Auob river was bone dry. Actually, drier than bone dry. There was very little activity up that way, and we felt our chances for good sightings would be better in the south…and boy would we be glad we returned when we did!

We arrived in Twee Rivieren on the afternoon of the 28th of November, and after doing a short afternoon drive up the Nossob river towards the Leeuwdril waterhole we came across a pride of 5 lions resting under a tree…3 females and 2 males. They were being generally lazy and besides moving up to the dune for sunset, didn’t do much at all before we had to leave to make the camp gate closing time.

Just another Kalahari morning – Nikon D3s, Nikkor 500mm f4 VR-II

Just another Kalahari morning – Nikon D3s, Nikkor 500mm f4 VR-II

My friend Hendri Venter was also at the sighting, though he was camping at Rooiputs, a camp further up the Nossob from this spot. We actually expressed the hope that they would move south towards the Samevloeiing waterhole and make a kill there during the night. Samevloeiing is a waterhole at the confluence of the dry Auob and Nossob riverbeds, and is about 3km from Twee Rivieren. This spot where we saw the pride that afternoon was about 8km from Twee Rivieren along the Nossob riverbed.

Anyhow – it was evening and it was morning…we got up at the crack of dawn and rushed to get everything ready for our short morning drive. I was on holiday in the Kgalagadi with my wife, our nearly-2-year-old daughter and our 4-month old son…so our drives were never too long – just enough for me to get some photos in that glorious Kalahari light, before we usually returned to camp to swim, rest and play with the kids. Just as we were about to leave, I saw legendary Kalahari pro photographer and coffee-table book producer Hannes Lochner driving past us towards the gate. I jokingly told him that he needs to go round up the animals for us…

We were all packed and shot out of the gate – first of all the residents of Twee Rivieren – no mean feat considering we had to bundle 2 young kids and their packages of toys and blankets into the vehicle…

We drove out towards Samevloeiing…and boy were we in for a treat. I noticed Hannes’ Land Rover parked right across the waterhole. As we drove up beside him, he showed me the pride lying on the open plains across from the waterhole…

Just another Kalahari morning – Nikon D800, Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8

…one of the males was also lying down a little further away…with a for company…

Just another Kalahari morning – Nikon D3s, Nikkor 500mm f4 VR-II

At first I thought it was strange that Hannes had parked so far from where the pride was lying…and then I saw this lioness right on my 3 o’clock!

Just another Kalahari morning – Nikon D3s, Nikkor 500mm f4 VR-II

What’s more, I saw two measly-looking young Eland antelopes a little further to my right…

Just another Kalahari morning – Nikon D3s, Nikkor 500mm f4 VR-II

At this point I just knew we were in for something special – whether they make the kill or not – just SEEING this unfold in front of us was a bucket-list experience for me…if things go well we could possibly watch lions plan a kill, stalk and execute it and feed all in the space of one morning!

It was slightly overcast on the horizon, so we had nice soft light with a hint of dawn colours – I had to push the ISO on my cameras a bit though! Luckily my Nikon D3s and D800 can handle low light photography very well.

Slowly the antelopes started walking towards the road (where we were parked, obviously), not noticing the stalking lioness. Now they had caught the attention of the other lions…

Just another Kalahari morning – Nikon D3s, Nikkor 500mm f4 VR-II

Just another Kalahari morning – Nikon D3s, Nikkor 500mm f4 VR-II

They moved ever closer to us, and to the waiting lions…by this time I was thinking the hunt would not happen. Surely on an open plain like this, with nothing to hide behind, the Lions would be seen by the Eland and they would run away before the Lions could get close enough?

Ever closer they came…I saw the opportunity for some unique photos and braced myself to get the timing just right. Shallow depth-of-field, check!

Just another Kalahari morning – Nikon D3s, Nikkor 500mm f4 VR-II

Just another Kalahari morning – Nikon D3s, Nikkor 500mm f4 VR-II

As the two antelopes walked STILL closer to the lions without even blinking…I saw a chance for a split-second photo…

I turn my camera to portrait mode to try and capture something of the lovely dawn sky in the background…pre-focusing on the lioness I waited for the exact moment…

CLICK-CLICK-CLICK
I fire three shots off.
I just HAD to look at the viewfinder to see if I nailed it.
I did. Look at this…
I firmly believe a good photo needs no description, no explanation, it will tell the viewer the entire story, and if possible leave the viewer with more questions. This photo does that – and I view it as one of the best I have captured in my brief photographic career. I also included this photo in my “best of 2012” collection posted hereon the blog.

Just another Kalahari morning – Nikon D3s, Nikkor 500mm f4 VR-II

But doing a quick review of the image at this moment was a rookie mistake. Yes, I make rookie mistakes frequently, especially when I highly anticipate getting a specific shot. Ouch. At the moment I review my shot – the chase starts!! I quickly turn my camera around to landscape orientation and start tracking the running lioness…locking focus quickly and capturing a lovely sequence of running images…

My rookie mistake had cost me the “takeoff” or “launch” of the lioness…but there’s no use in crying over spilt milk.There’s just something about a lion at full speed. I’ve captured photos of cheetahs sprinting and running with their lithe bodies, but a lion is different. There’s a power and presence here that was missing with my running photos.

Just another Kalahari morning – Nikon D3s, Nikkor 500mm f4 VR-II

Just another Kalahari morning – Nikon D3s, Nikkor 500mm f4 VR-II

Just another Kalahari morning – Nikon D3s, Nikkor 500mm f4 VR-II

The moment they were past us, I saw them jump on the unfortunate Eland behind our position…and then the white dust enveloped them in an impenetrable cloud…

I quickly swung the vehicle around and pulled into a position that would give me a head-on vantage point with a relatively low angle for the ensuing struggle. My eyes could see there was something in the white dust-cloud but I couldn’t make it out, much less take a photo. Then the dust started clearing quickly. I eventually discerned something through the viewfinder and locked focus…

This is the scene that emerged…

Just another Kalahari morning – Nikon D3s, Nikkor 500mm f4 VR-II

As usual the lionesses did all the work…but as soon as the buck was down, the males moved in (one of them was sleeping way at the back up to this point)…

Just another Kalahari morning – Nikon D3s, Nikkor 500mm f4 VR-II

Lion dynamics seem so unfair…but it’s been this way for a looooong time. The Eland was still alive and kicking at this point, the male moved in before the female had strangled it properly…but then he also didn’t finish the job. Instead he proceeded to play with it like a housecat would with a mouse it had caught…it was fascinating to watch…

On a processing note: I found these dust-filled images tough to process so that it shows the correct colour and mood as I remember it. The natural contrast picked up by the camera was quite low so I tried not to boost it too much.

Just another Kalahari morning – Nikon D3s, Nikkor 500mm f4 VR-II

One of the females decided to try her luck and came to “ask permission” to join the game…

Just another Kalahari morning – Nikon D3s, Nikkor 500mm f4 VR-II

The answer was “NO”…

Just another Kalahari morning – Nikon D3s, Nikkor 500mm f4 VR-II

The other male (the sleepy one) had strolled up by now and the two of them started finishing off the Eland. I know these images are upsetting to some, but I do like the fact that there’s no real gore and guts involved here yet – just the playing out of one of Africa’s oldest dramas.

Just another Kalahari morning – Nikon D3s, Nikkor 500mm f4 VR-II

The morning sun started to break through the clouds now, providing some welcome light that added a different mood to the scene.

Just another Kalahari morning – Nikon D3s, Nikkor 500mm f4 VR-II

I won’t blabber much more. Most of these photos needed no explanation to begin with – but I do love telling the stories of these encounters almost as much as photographing them, so excuse my indulgence. I’ll post some more photos and let them speak for themselves. Suffice it to say that the 2 males left very little for the females to eat, and thereafter the jackals took over. This pride made 2 more kills during the next 2 days but none of them were close to the roads and none of them provided such a sighting for those who were lucky to be there.

Just another Kalahari morning – Nikon D3s, Nikkor 500mm f4 VR-II

Just another Kalahari morning – Nikon D3s, Nikkor 500mm f4 VR-II

Just another Kalahari morning – Nikon D3s, Nikkor 500mm f4 VR-II

Just another Kalahari morning – Nikon D3s, Nikkor 500mm f4 VR-II

Just another Kalahari morning – Nikon D3s, Nikkor 500mm f4 VR-II

There you have it! I hope you enjoyed reliving this sighting with me. I’m pretty sure I won’t see something as great as this as thorough (start-to-finish) as this for a long time.

Morkel Erasmus

Morkel Erasmus

Since picking up a DSLR camera for the first time, a little over 3 years ago, Morkel has been invigorated with an unbridled passion for the photographic art form. He has grown at a tremendous pace and put immense energy into the creation of his images. He absolutely loves spending time in the wild places of his native Southern Africa. From a young age he has been visiting legendary wildlife and outdoor locations, including the Kruger Park National Park and the Drakensberg Mountains, with his family. Now that he has found a way to share the natural beauty of his homeland with the rest of the world he is regularly out on photography trips. An Industrial Engineer by profession, and an accomplished artist in genres like music and poetry, Morkel has always enjoyed whatever allows him to express his creativity to the fullest. Photography turned out to be the perfect "marriage" between his engineering brain and artistic soul. "I hope that in some way I can raise awareness through my imagery of the plight of not only our wildlife but also the fragility of the last remaining wilderness areas that they call home.” Morkel was recently honoured for his commitment to his craft by receiving a "Highly Commended" for one of his images in the 2010 BBC Veolia Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. He is based in Mpumalanga, South Africa and even though he prefers going on safari with his family and friends, Morkel also leads the odd photographic safari and has recently begun presenting workshops in post-processing techniques.

Morkel Erasmus

Morkel Erasmus

Since picking up a DSLR camera for the first time, a little over 3 years ago, Morkel has been invigorated with an unbridled passion for the photographic art form. He has grown at a tremendous pace and put immense energy into the creation of his images. He absolutely loves spending time in the wild places of his native Southern Africa. From a young age he has been visiting legendary wildlife and outdoor locations, including the Kruger Park National Park and the Drakensberg Mountains, with his family. Now that he has found a way to share the natural beauty of his homeland with the rest of the world he is regularly out on photography trips. An Industrial Engineer by profession, and an accomplished artist in genres like music and poetry, Morkel has always enjoyed whatever allows him to express his creativity to the fullest. Photography turned out to be the perfect "marriage" between his engineering brain and artistic soul. "I hope that in some way I can raise awareness through my imagery of the plight of not only our wildlife but also the fragility of the last remaining wilderness areas that they call home.” Morkel was recently honoured for his commitment to his craft by receiving a "Highly Commended" for one of his images in the 2010 BBC Veolia Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. He is based in Mpumalanga, South Africa and even though he prefers going on safari with his family and friends, Morkel also leads the odd photographic safari and has recently begun presenting workshops in post-processing techniques.

Share this post with your friends

  • 6
    Shares


Facebook Comments

3
Leave a Reply

Please Login to comment
avatar
Glenn Bartley

Morkel, congratulations on your success in “Most Popular and
Widely-Read Articles in Feb 2013” –
https://focusingonwildlife.com/news/most-popular-and-widely-read-articles-in-feb-2013/

Nan Rosset

magnificent Morkel… just magnificent *clap-clap*.

magnificent Morkel… just magnificent!

Nan Rosset
Nan Rosset

magnificent Morkel… just magnificent *clap-clap*.

magnificent Morkel… just magnificent!