Tag Archives: field guide

Ancient Art: Malilangwe’s primitive paintings

November 14, 2012 - Conservation,Did You Know?,History,Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve,Safari,Singita Pamushana Lodge

Singita Pamushana Lodge is located in the Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve; 130 000 acres of wilderness in the southern corner of Zimbabwe. It is a spectacularly diverse and beautiful piece of Africa, and is also home to nearly 100 rock art sites that date back more than 2 000 years. The careful protection of these sites is a key part of Singita’s conservation philosophy, and allows this ancient artwork to be preserved for future generations to enjoy. Head Guide at Singita Pamushana, Brad Fouché, shares his knowledge on the subject.

The area around the lodge is known for its lush mopane forests and majestic baobab trees, as well as a range of magical sandstone outcrops where most of the San paintings are located.

Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve Rock Art 1

In Zimbabwe there are 15 000 known rock art and engraving sites, of which many are unique to the country, with little or no other examples found in the rest of Southern Africa. The three different groups of paintings found at the reserve are from San or Bushman hunter-gatherers, Iron Age farmers and Koi Koi/Khoekhoen people.

Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve Rock Art 2

In addition to professional research undertaken to locate Stone and Iron Age rock painting sites in the area, field staff and guides at Singita Pamushana have recorded a great many other examples. No less than five recording projects have been conducted on the reserve in the last decade, and a total of 87 sites being recorded, with surely many more as yet undiscovered.

Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve Rock Art 3

Some of the unique rock art that can be found here includes:

* Five extremely rare bi-cephalic (double-headed) animals, of which only two other examples have been discovered in Southern Africa.
* Fly whisks, which are relatively common in San rock art and were used only during the “curing” or “trance dance”.
* Two examples of formlings, a term coined by ethnologist and archaeologist Leo Frobenius to describe “large forms, shaped like galls or livers, into which human figures are painted”, and unique to the whole of Zimbabwe. Their meaning however remains poorly understood.
* Various animals, including elephant, rhino, hippo, buffalo, giraffe, hartebeest, wildebeest, zebra, roan antelope, sable, kudu, impala, wild dog, baboon, aardvark, ostrich and unidentified birds of prey.

Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve Rock Art 4

Find out more about the inspiration behind Singita Pamushana Lodge, one of Africa’s best-kept secrets, and read our latest Guides’ Diary from the area, written by field guide Jenny Hishin.

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The Lion’s Share

November 13, 2012 - Conservation,Kruger National Park,Safari,Wildlife

Lion

The northern part of the N’wanetsi concession, in which Singita Lebombo Lodge is situated, is wonderfully isolated and bursting with undiscovered wonders. Heading up into these territories can be very rewarding, as the landscape changes dramatically, offering a variety of exciting game-viewing opportunities. The elusive black rhino, cheetah, sable antelope and nomadic lions are often encountered in this remote part of the bush.

Jackal

It was very cold on this particular morning, with the Lebombo Mountains engulfed in thick cloud cover. We set off along the Mozambique border, heading through the mountains, and noticed a number of vultures in the distance. The cooler weather meant they may just be resting, although there was also the possibility that they had located food, meaning there may also be predators in the area.

Hyena

We picked our way closer through the dense bush and began searching. The roads were narrow and the vegetation almost impenetrable. Suddenly we were confronted with the thick smell of death, indicating that there was indeed something lifeless nearby. A number of vultures swiftly flew up from a rotting acacia and I knew, judging by the smell, that it was a large animal.

Fresh kill

We eventually found what we were looking for; a large buffalo bull had been challenged by to two male lions. The odds were against the bull due to the sheer size of the predators and, judging by the scars that covered their faces, these lions had fought and won many an epic battle. The tracks showed that it had been a long and grueling clash, ending in a drainage line where the massive bull succumbed to these tenacious predators.

News of the dead buffalo had traveled, and though the vultures were first on the scene, we soon caught sight of hyena and jackal, all fighting for scraps and avoiding confrontation with the protective cats.

Hyena

Check back regularly for more stories from field guide James Suter as he explores Singita’s private reserve in the Kruger National Park.

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A Haven for Hippo

November 08, 2012 - Conservation,Kruger National Park,Safari,Wildlife

The place to be in winter when looking for game in the bush is along a watercourse, as these areas are always teeming with a variety of wildlife who visit from miles around. We set out on foot on a lovely, cool morning with the hope of finding a large pod of hippo and some great photographic opportunities. I very quickly found a well-used hippo path which we jumped onto, making our way towards the river.

Hippo at Singita Kruger National Park

I was really interested to see the size of the hippo populations in the larger pools that normally remain filled until the summer rains come. There were plenty of indicators that many of these animals had now returned to the river. Being nocturnal feeders, they head back to the safety of the water as soon as day breaks and the sun’s rays strike the now harsh savannah. Following their huge tracks, we drew closer to the river, always mindful of our position as the last place one wants to be is between this massive beast and its water. Hippo, like most wild animals, are unpredictable so we approached quietly and vigilantly, ears pricked and eyes strained for any potential danger.

Hippo spotting at Singita Kruger National Park

Another factor I was considering was the abundance of predators, as well as elephants, which all made full use of these pools. We had come across fresh lion, leopard and rhino tracks just minutes into our walk and all this was evidence of this area being well used by these dangerous species.

Determined to find the hippo that were clearly in no shortage of supply, we proceeded towards the lush banks of the drainage that supplies water to the grateful beasts that are so dependent on this precious resource. Suddenly we had our first visual of a large bull leaving the water, fortunately on the other side of the bank and walking directly away from us. He was apparently completely unaware of our presence, even after the noisy baboons gave away our position. I was however happy to have them around, as in this thick area they would provide us with warning should a predator be approaching. Although the hippo in this area were usually to be found in abundance, this male was alone. He had obviously been ousted from the rest of the pod, and would have to settle for a shallow, muddy pool, which he would have to make the most of until the next rains.

James Suter, field guide at Singita

This meant we would have to head downstream and it also meant we would have to walk through very dense bush between a ridge and the water, keeping our wits about us.  Leaving the male to his business, and feeling slightly sorry for this lone creature, we made our way down the narrow hippo path and headed cautiously along the eastern bank of the river. A swish of movement caught my eye as an animal sped up the ridge; I was sure it was a leopard. This was confirmed minutes later as we found the tracks of a young female.

Female leopard tracks at Singita Kruger National Park

While examining the tracks, we heard the faint sound of a hippo calling in the distance, confirming we were headed in the right direction. After some time, we rounded a large bend in the river and were rewarded with the sight of a large pool, a gem, absolutely full of hippo. We approached slowly as they vocalized – a sound only hippos can make! It was amazing to soak up the spectacle of this fifty-strong pod, which included the dominant male, females and some youngsters. In the morning light, it was a magnificent scene.

A pod of hippo basking in the morning sun

Hippo at Singita Kruger National Park

Keep following the James Suter blog series as James explores Singita’s private concession in the Kruger National Park, tracking wildlife through a daily expedition of adrenalin.

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Shooting in Monochrome – Rhino Road

November 05, 2012 - Conservation,Sabi Sand,Safari,Wildlife

There is a term photographers use called “leading lines”. This refers to a line cutting through an image, such as a road, fence or river. It draws the viewer into the image and, if done correctly, can tell a great story. This image has meaning to me because I feel it shows the hard road rhinos have ahead of them, fighting a lonely and difficult battle against poaching. This single rhino on a winding road portrays that to me.

Once again, the clarity slider came into effect here and it gives great texture to dark-skinned animals. I try to crop my images as little as possible as to not lose size and quality, and this is an important factor to consider. Always try and think about the final image you want as you take it, and avoid cropping as much as possible in post processing.

I lightened the road in the foreground to give more emphasis to the rhino, and decided not to darken the edges as I wanted to emphasize the sense of space and isolation of the subject. The motion in the front left leg is important as it shows the rhino is active and busy walking down the long and winding path. All these subtle elements combine to make a big, sometimes subconscious, difference in the end.

Rhino Road by Marlon du Toit

Marlon du Toit thrives on adventure and has a deep connection with Africa and its beauty. Growing up near the Kruger National Park he was immersed in nature from a young age and is now a professional field guide at Singita Sabi Sand.

His eye for capturing split-second moments on camera is astonishing, and after years behind the lens, we thought we would give our readers some of his ideas for taking the perfect wildlife photograph when out in the bush. This is the last post in this particular series, but please check back regularly for more of Marlon’s wonderful photographs and expert advice.

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An Elephant’s Playground

November 01, 2012 - Conservation,Kruger National Park,Safari,Wildlife

Dumbana Pools is a well-known pool situated along the N’wanetsi River in Singita’s private concession in the Kruger National Park, and treasured by all the animals that inhabit the area. It’s a refuge for hippos throughout the year and a source of life for the animals during the dry and unforgiving winters.

While driving in the area along a track that runs parallel with the river, I noticed a great deal of elephant tracks heading down towards the pool. Turning the vehicle off, I heard a great deal of commotion ahead of us in the water. At this time of the year during the colder months, many of the elephants spend the majority of their time seeking refuge in the Lebombo Mountains feeding on many of the evergreen shrubs and trees. They do however make the daily journey towards the N’wanetsi River to fill up on water, which they are so dependent on. We were in the right place at the right time and the wind seemed to be in our favour. The decision was made to take a closer look on foot.

I knew this was going to be one of those incredible moments. With my heart beating at a slightly abnormal pace, I left the comfort of the vehicle and headed quietly to the bank of the river. I knew immediately that this was a massive herd of elephants, as the numbers of the tracks together with the noise coming from the usually tranquil pools were clear giveaways.

As we approached the river and got our first visual of the pools, I was astounded to see the sheer size of the herd. The hippos looked on in despair as these animals made sure that this was going to be a day-out to remember and had turned the body of water into a playground. We watched as the youngsters played, always under the careful watch of the females and they all quenched their thirst, consuming hundreds of liters of water and cooling themselves in the heat of the day.  We gained such pleasure watching the herd indulge in this precious resource and the excitement experienced by the youngsters, the trials and tribulations of living in the bush were all forgotten in this moment.

Finally the matriarch decided it was time to attend to more important matters as they were now hydrated and so it was time to head east towards the mountains. A quick decision was made, and we decided to hold our ground and stay put – as we were completely sheltered and still had the blessing of the wind in our favour; we were close but they would not detect us.

The sounds were tremendous as the herd of around fifty elephant crashed through the water towards the riverbank, leaving the hippos in peace and the pool with a little less water. Exiting the water, their next move was to make use of the abundance of red earth, with their trunks they tossed it over themselves, and soon they disappeared into the mountains in an almost mystical illusion.

Keep following the James Suter blog series as James explores Singita’s private concession in the Kruger National Park, tracking wildlife through a daily expedition of adrenalin.

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Shooting in Monochrome – The Big Tusker

October 26, 2012 - Conservation,Sabi Sand,Safari,Wildlife

I am in love with large elephant bulls with beautiful wide tusks. These old bulls are rather “easy” to photograph, as they tend to be more relaxed than the younger bulls. They just have this presence about them and if you can capture that you would have done well. To get this particular shot I had to get close, real close. It was shot with a 16-35mm lens and to create that slightly out of proportionate effect you need to be close. Now don’t go out there and have yourself trampled by a big ellie! Always be careful when in close proximity to these large animals.

Everything works for me in this image. Once again it was a cloudy day and it brought out the texture and folds in the elephant’s skin and trunk. I brushed the elephant separately and used a lot of clarity and contrast on him to emphasize that without making it look too unnatural. The scratches on his ears simply add character and I love it. I also appreciate how the tusks push forward almost giving you the feeling of being stabbed in the eye! That is thanks to being near to my subject with a wide angle lens.

The sky is also important to me. Notice how on the original image below you don’t notice much in terms of cloud cover. Thanks to shooting in RAW format I managed to gain back detail in the sky, something you will not be able to do when shooting in JPEG. This is important to consider as you will not get the best of your images in JPEG format. RAW simply is the way to go and will allow you more freedom when processing. Overall I am absolutely in awe of the “largeness” of the big bull as he fills the frame. It shows power and absolutely screams of Africa.

Marlon du Toit thrives on adventure and has a deep connection with Africa and its beauty. Growing up near the Kruger National Park he was immersed in nature from a young age and is now a professional field guide at Singita Sabi Sand.

His eye for capturing split-second moments on camera is astonishing, and after years behind the lens, we thought we would give our readers some of his ideas for taking the perfect wildlife photograph when out in the bush. Follow the Singita blog for more of Marlon’s tips for black and white photography in the wild.

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On Foot with Big Cats

October 24, 2012 - Conservation,Kruger National Park,Wildlife

One’s first thought when thinking of the N’wanetsi concession in the Kruger National Park is the sheer size of the area; 33,00 acres to be precise. It’s a magical place and I made sure that a decent amount of our time spent there was on foot, exploring this unique area and all it had to offer.

One of the most exciting encounters was being on foot with eighteen lions and when there is nothing between you and a number of unpredictable cats, it is an intimidating but somewhat addictive sensation. Tracking them is a different story and can often be a frustrating experience, but can also be an incredibly rewarding exercise involving some skill and often a little bit of luck.

We hit the tracks early one morning with the assistance of one of the trackers, Daniel Sibuyi. We started following the tracks that were from the previous night and in a rather isolated area of the concession. Looking at the tracks, we knew that they belonged to the Mountain pride, due to the number of tracks that littered the area (this is an extremely large pride of lions). The tracks were relatively fresh and we knew we were hot on the trail of these animals.  The exercise had begun and we were determined to find them.  What an exhilarating feeling tracking a pride of lions through the heart of Kruger National Park, predicting the animals’ movements and trying to utilize and apply all the skills we had learned over the years.

In winter the bush turns an arid brown, with the grass at shoulder height making it very difficult to spot these animals as they seem to vanish into the colors of the environment. This makes tracking a little more interesting and enriches the already uneasy atmosphere.

After three hours we became slightly despondent as the tracks were all heading in different directions and it seemed that the pride had split up while hunting the night before. We were now walking through thick bush, the grass meeting us at eye level in certain areas, walking slowly with every step – careful not to miss any signs of these predators lurking nearby.

After totally losing their tracks, we needed another plan. We needed to start thinking like these lions, which may sound a little odd but none the less, an effective method. This area was desolate with very little surface water, so our best option was to head towards the area where water is found in the hope we might locate signs of the pride.

After investigating a warthog’s den, we crossed an open area when I noticed the flick of an ear. Picking up small movements like these becomes second nature when one has worked in the bush for some time and I was happy to know I still retained my “bush-sense.” We stopped immediately, raised the binoculars and there they were, the Mountain pride. They seemed reluctantly satisfied with our distance, so we kept it that way and made no attempt to approach any closer. All of them with heads up, staring at us in an unnerving fashion. I decided to not think about what the scenario could have been, if we had bumped into them in the thick grass, just meters behind us. It was our first encounter with these animals since we had arrived two days earlier and I was happy to see the pride again and even happier that it was due to some great teamwork and perseverance. With abundant excitement and a feeling of accomplishment we made the long walk back to the vehicle to call in the sighting.

James Suter, Field Guide, exploring Singita’s private concession in the Kruger National Park, South Africa.

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Shooting in Monochrome – Leopard Portrait

October 19, 2012 - Sabi Sand,Wildlife

I absolutely love eyes. It’s said that eyes are the windows to the soul and I believe it also applies to animals. Wherever possible, always try and capture the eyes, the essence of that animal. It will immediately capture the viewer and engage them.  It also adds that human element or emotion and will make the world of difference. In Lightroom you can isolate the various colours from oranges to blues and brighten or darken them with striking results. Once again the clean background here is essential. I darkened the blue background to make this female leopard stand out more. Her whiskers are a key element and it shows her focus as they stand out against that clean background. I used a fill-brush to work on her exclusively and brought her out with highlights and clarity sliders. The eyes I worked on separately and tried as best to lighten them and to create that glassy feel.

This photograph was taken in the last light of the day with a shutter speed of 1/100th of a second, and at 1600ISO. It was shot hand held with a 400 2.8, at an aperture of f/2.8. This is often the time most people will pack their gear away but if you can manage to capture a few more images you will be pleased at the texture and detail in this kind of light. It is perfect for conversions to black and white. Once again I darkened the edges a little to emphasize this animal and her beautiful posture.

Marlon du Toit thrives on adventure and has a deep connection with Africa and its beauty. Growing up near the Kruger National Park he was immersed in nature from a young age and is now a professional field guide at Singita Sabi Sand.

His eye for capturing split-second moments on camera is astonishing, and after years behind the lens, we thought we would give our readers some of his ideas for taking the perfect wildlife photograph when out in the bush. Follow the Singita blog for more of Marlon’s tips for black and white photography in the wild.

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The re-acquaintance of an old friend

October 16, 2012 - Conservation,Kruger National Park,Wildlife

During my time as a guide working at Singita Kruger National Park, I spent many long hours with the Xinkelegane female. She was one of the most relaxed and therefore commonly seen female leopards in the area. She was at ease with vehicles and this allowed us to closely observe her in her natural environment.  We became familiar with both her habits and movements.

One morning we managed to locate two tiny leopard cubs and immediately knew they belonged to her as she had been heavily pregnant.  She had hidden them in a rocky outcrop in the middle of her territory, taking every precaution to ensure their safety. In due course she slowly introduced them to us and it was wonderful following their progress, watching them develop their skills that would play such an important role later in life.

Now coming back to Singita’s private concession in the Kruger National Park, having not seen the cubs for over a year, I could hardly believe it when I heard one of the guides announce that he had located Xinkelegane’s young male offspring with an impala kill. Way to go!  He was now completely self-sufficient, a successful hunter, and he had brought down an impala ram. We headed to an open area which was dotted with large Acacias and a male impala kill lodged at the top of a tree was the giveaway – the male leopard was close by.

And then we spotted him, almost fully-grown.  We knew the father that sired him, and the resemblance between the two was remarkable.  He was strong and healthy and had finally grown into his oversized head, which made him appear slightly awkward in his earlier years.

Impala rams are extremely active at this time of year and dedicate a great deal of their time and energy rounding up females and fighting off other rival males. This, together with them being unusually vocal means they are targeted by most of the larger predators.

We decided to spend some time with the leopard, hoping to see him scale the tree and feed on the impala he had strategically wedged between branches.  Eventually without bother, he glanced at the impala and proceeded to climb the Acacia.

Watching him feed, I pondered on what a long way he had come and what a fantastic job his mother had done in raising him. There were plenty of close calls, but he had made it through his first year, the most challenging of all. Now I had witnessed him in all his glory, a survivor in this harsh environment.

James Suter, Field Guide, exploring Singita Kruger National Park.

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Shooting in Monochrome – Lion Grimace

October 11, 2012 - Events,Wildlife

The first thing that stood out for me was the clean background and the fact that this image was out of focus delivering more impact on the subject in focus. The posture of the lion is striking and immediately draws the viewer in, a very important factor. I cropped a little from left to right, to exclude the thicker branches in the bottom left corner. The remaining grasses are soft in texture and contrasts with the flashing teeth. The texture in the mane of the lion as well as his barred teeth makes it all work and come together. I have also darkened the edges of the image to draw attention to my subject.

Marlon du Toit thrives on adventure and has a deep connection with Africa and its beauty. Growing up near the Kruger National Park he was immersed in nature from a young age and is now a professional field guide at Singita Sabi Sand.

His eye for capturing split-second moments on camera is astonishing, and after years behind the lens, we thought we would give our readers some of his ideas for taking the perfect wildlife photograph when out in the bush. Follow the Singita blog for more of Marlon’s tips for black and white photography in the wild.

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