Tag Archives: James Suter blog series

Wonders of the Bush

September 11, 2012 - Conservation,Sabi Sand,Wildlife

One needs to be careful not to get too caught up in chasing down the big five; this can be both frustrating and very time consuming.  Take time, stop, and listen, or you could miss the sound of the honey guide’s call directing its hungry companion to a sticky feast, or forgo a sighting of nature’s waste army, the humble dung beetle with its polished armour.

Often, when you stop pursuing certain animals, they have the uncanny ability to somehow find you, usually at the most unexpected moments. This being said, tracking is one of the most exciting and crucial aspects about working in the bush. It plays a huge role in both the rangers’ and trackers’ daily routine. The tracker that I have most often worked with, Given Mhlongo, would get off the vehicle at every opportunity. I could see it in his eyes, the surge of adrenalin when we came across a fresh set of lion tracks.  There is always the exhilarating rush of tracking a potentially dangerous animal and the satisfaction of eventually locating it.

The African bush has plenty to offer, a spectacle through a magnified lens: from the herds of impala, the impatient baboons, the shy zebras, to the sun-worshiping reptiles and insects that parade the scorched earth. Even something as simple as watching the sunset set the sky ablaze accompanied by the soft, whistling bird song is a moment to be forever lodged in the memory bank.

Spending time in the bush is an unforgettable experience and it is interesting how Sinigta guests very quickly adapt and are able to spot things that would have been impossible to see on the first day of their safari.  I am often astounded how people from an urban environment are able to connect with the bush and improve their own knowledge. This is when things become interesting and one begins to understand the more discreet behaviour traits of certain species on closer inspection.

The Sabi Sand area is known for its big five sightings, but what really struck me on this last trip was the abundance and diversity of all species from the birds to the large herds of antelope and elusive reptiles. We as guides often joke that it is sometimes harder to find a common zebra then a shy leopard in the Sabi Sand region.   Here, not only were we able to locate and come face to face with the big five but were also able to experience Africa in its vast, untouched glory that really impacts you; to dine at the buffet of nature’s offerings

All images and commentary by James Suter – Field Guide who is trekking across Singita reserves this year to document wildlife and their activities.

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Seeing Spots

August 21, 2012 - Conservation,Sabi Sand,Wildlife

There is nothing so remarkable as arriving at the Singita Sabi Sand and encountering a leopard on the first night.  This was the case during my recent visit.  It had been a brief but rewarding sighting as a male leopard walked within a couple of feet of the Land Rover. They are such marvelous animals to watch in their natural environment. Even after spending years observing them, I still have to pinch myself, as it’s barely possible to believe that you can be in such close proximity to them in the wild.

Leopards are not only renowned for their beauty but their incredible strength combined with stealth, making them the ultimate killing machines.  Power to weight they are the strongest cat found in the world.  The male leopard we located was large. There are records of leopards this size hoisting antelope even young giraffes into large trees.  I was anticipating the opportunity of witnessing this in action, as it had been a while since I last saw this raw strength in motion.

Leopards will often hoist their kill, regardless of the size of the prey. This is mainly to protect it from scavenging predators, which are in no short supply in this area!  A short distance from a sizeable drainage line, a small duiker dangled awkwardly in a large tree.  It was rather a macabre sight to see this dead animal wedged between branches, ten feet in the air but not an uncommon visual in the Sabi Sand vicinity and this could only be the work of a leopard.

He had to be close by, the kill was fresh, blood was still trickling from the antelope’s nostrils; my heart started to pound. We scanned the area with painstaking precision, knowing how difficult it is to spot this master of disguise. Patience paid off and eventually I found the leopard seeking shelter from the blistering heat.  It was lying in long grass and with its unique rosettes it was almost impossible to see.

Now the waiting game started. I had seen the leopard and this was good enough by anyone’s standards, but to see it scramble up the tree and claim its prize was what I was after.  I made myself comfortable and positioned the vehicle close to the Apple Leaf trunk where the duiker had been stashed.  It was going to be a good while before the temperature dropped, and I could see the leopard was in no rush to expend any unnecessary energy.

After a good two hours, I heard the leopard coming up behind the vehicle; grabbing my camera I braced myself for what was going to be an incredible show. The animal gracefully leapt into the tree and claimed its trophy.  Almost immediately and on cue, three hyenas, ever the opportunists, scavenged morsels that fell from the tree while the complacent leopard fed.

It was a special moment: one hour of pure bliss where nothing else mattered but the shared company of a wild animal, watching this leopard feed while being surrounded by hyenas in the middle of the African bush. It’s moments like these that you hold on to for the rest of you life.

James Suter, Field Guide, exploring the terrain of Singita Sabi Sand.

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The Shumungu Pride

August 17, 2012 - Conservation,Sabi Sand,Wildlife

While driving along the Sand River, I overheard via my radio, a conversation between two guides. They were referring to a lioness that had put her life on the line by chasing off one of the large male lions from the coalition. She was protecting her cubs and this was her duty. Anyone who has ever been confronted by a lioness with cubs present will agree that they are a force to be reckoned with and require the upmost respect. I admired this lion for standing up to an animal twice her size and hoped I would have the opportunity to meet her.

I later found out she belonged to the Shumungu Pride, which spend a fair bit of time within the Singita Sabi Sand reserve. Not long after her interaction with the male lion, the pride had been reported heading east toward the southern boundary of the Singita property. This particular area is breathtaking, where the thick bush gives away to vast, undulating plains. This was an ideal place to spend some quality time with this pride, and due to the topography I felt we had a great chance of locating the animals.

We set out with high expectations, teaming up with two other guides who were also interested in finding the pride. Starting off from Singita Ebony Lodge we headed for the general direction where they had last been spotted. Teamwork is beneficial, often essential as both the guides and the trackers will work together with radio signaling to make the tracking exercise more efficient.

One of the trackers had located fresh tracks of the pride heading east and now into the heart of Singita’s concession.  Now the pressure was on! The lioness needed to gain distance away from the male lion, to ensure the safety of her cubs. It was still a rather cool morning; this meant they could cover ground rapidly and we would need to work quickly.

After some time tracking the cats, the temperature started to rise and the tracks headed towards one of the few densely vegetated patches in the area.

We headed in the direction of the thick bush and to our delight saw a mother and cub. I knew instantly this was the brave lioness that had so courageously fended off the male lion. The two were still in the open but heading for the thicket a hundred feet ahead. The female was calling; she could only be calling the rest of the pride and we knew from all the tracks ahead they were not far ahead of her.

Suddenly the excited family greeted her low calls; all members greeting one another like they had been apart for a lifetime. It was a great moment and special to see the affection between pride members.  They really are social cats, sharing incredible bonds. Family comes first as the brave lioness had demonstrated that very morning.

James Suter exploring Singita Sabi Sand this week.

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The Coalition

August 14, 2012 - Conservation,Sabi Sand,Wildlife

I had heard many stories about a new coalition of male lions that had now made their presence felt on the Singita Sabi Sand property. They had already killed one of the Mapogo, a famous coalition of brothers that had established themselves well before my time at Singita.

I was really eager to see these males in action and had been enquiring where would be the best place to start to try and locate them. Unfortunately they had spent the last couple of days outside the Singita property and I thought I would not have a chance to be introduced to this now infamous coalition. On one particular morning we were contacted by a guide in the west who informed us that the males were heading in our direction.  The lions had been following a large herd of buffalo in the hope that they may pick out a straggler.  The excitement started to build.

I first got a glimpse of these animals near a small pan where they had settled as the temperature had started to rise. Unfortunately they had given up on the buffalo they had been trailing, as it was now far too hot for them to maintain pursuit. I was amazed how beautiful these particular lions were, with very few battle scars and long handsome manes. Deciding that they were not going to move for some time, I left them and determined I would return at a later stage when the temperature had dropped.

Later on in the afternoon they were located north of their previous position, very close to the Sand River. I was excited as they had steadily been moving in this direction and I knew there was a possibility that they may cross the river and what a fantastic sight that would be. It dawned on me that I had never experienced a lion crossing the Sand River and what a spectacle it was as they made the first tentative steps to cross. The brothers disappeared and continued to head north once on the other side of the river.  I watched their distinguishable silhouette fade into the distance, elated that I had gained the opportunity to cross paths with the Kings of Sabi Sand.

James Suter exploring Singita Sabi Sand.

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On Arrival

August 08, 2012 - Sabi Sand,Wildlife


The wheels of the tiny plane touched down on the narrow Singita runway situated in the Sabi Sand game reserve. My heart skipped a beat and my excitement levels were in overdrive. I was back in the bush.   Stepping off the plane, I felt the familiar humid air mixed with all the organic smells of the African wild.  I couldn’t wait to jump into the Land Rover and start exploring.

Installed in one of the spacious suites at Singita Ebony Lodge, I set up my equipment and spread out onto the deck which overlooks the Sand River. There were massive floods a month before my arrival and so the river looked amazing, meandering through the lush vegetation as it flowed gently to the east. An elephant bull that had braved the heat of the day to quench his thirst at the water’s edge, greeted me. Leaving him to his business I made my way up to the top garage and the adventure began.

Before I knew it I was in my vehicle heading toward the western section, an almost mystical part of the concession, densely vegetated with large trees and winding tracks. This was the area where a large male leopard had been recently seen with its kill concealed in a suitable tree. I located the remains of the carcass, which was a young male kudu, and investigated the area. There were scratch marks left by the leopard while ascending the tree and the leftovers of the kudu were on the floor below; but no sign of the animal.  It was hot and he had possibly moved closer to the water and found an appropriate place to retreat for the day.

When it was cooler I headed back, armed with my camera, hoping to get a shot of this elusive animal. Darkness was approaching and I was worried about the fading light.

Suddenly a familiar voice crackled on the radio. Another guide had located the animal and I made my way to his position. Pulling off the track I switched off the vehicle. All of a sudden there he was – an attractive large male leopard that is regularly seen in the area. Holding my breath I positioned myself as he walked straight toward the vehicle, walking a meter from my lens showing no sign of fear. I had been at Singita for no more than a couple of hours and already spotted my first leopard. What a fantastic launch of my adventure.

James Suter, this week, trekking across the rugged terrain of Singita Sabi Sand.

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Singita Sabi Sand

August 07, 2012 - Conservation,Sabi Sand,Wildlife

I’ve recently arrived back home from a remarkable trip exploring the unspoilt terrain of Singita Sabi Sand.  Home to three Singita lodges in 18,000 hectares, the reserve’s stretches of grassland are punctuated by groves of Acacia and Marula trees.  The trip was extremely successful as the concession was teeming with game and we witnessed some incredible sightings.

Each day I captured as much of what I was seeing from the lens of my camera so I could share it with all of you.  Heading out early every morning offered prime time for wildlife viewing as it was still cool and the majority of animals were still active.  This is always my recommendation as early mornings present the most beautiful sunrises and life begins to stir as another day starts in the African bush – the odd cry of a lone hyena and the cackle of francolins signaling that the dawn chorus has begun.

Once the heat of the middle day has started to lift and ebb away, late afternoons are also a perfect time for exploration.  Between mornings and late afternoons, trekking on foot through the bush or ambling across the grasslands in a Land Rover, just with my camera and radio, I marveled at the memorable moments I experienced.  I was able to tick off the Big Five with relative ease.  The Singita Sabi Sand concession has plenty to offer and the sightings of high profile animals are unmatched. The majority of the game in this area is relatively habituated to the vehicles and this allows one to get up close and personal to a lot of these animals and have the opportunity to view them in their natural environment. If you are cautious, the game vehicles do not disturb them, and you are able to spend time with these animals without altering their behavior in any way.

I also spent a lot of time on foot as this activity really allows one to connect with the environment and appreciate the smaller unique treats the bush has to offer. Without the sound of the vehicle, you allow yourself to hear any noises that may give away the presence of an animal.

Being in the wild heightens the senses in a different way than is normally experienced back at home.  It brings a sense of well-being.  Stay connected with the photographic journals that will be posted over the next few weeks. I hope to share as much as possible with you – and hopefully inspire you to plan a bush experience soon.

James Suter – trekking across the Singita reserves in Africa.

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Exploring the Den

July 29, 2012 - Conservation,Sabi Sand,Safari,Wildlife

One of the guides informed me that there was an active hyena den site close to one of the major pans in the more central parts of the Singita Sabi Sand reserve. I decided, as it was a rather cool afternoon, to make my way toward the area and see if I would have the opportunity to spend some time with these interesting characters.

I found the small track that cut straight into the thick bush west of the pan, and headed to where I was told the den was situated.  After driving for some time, to my amazement when I rounded the bend there they were, the entire clan, all lying around a large termite mound, which they used as a den site.

The female was suckling her two younger cubs, whilst the third slightly elder cub came forward, inquisitive about my presence.  He approached the vehicle, not knowing what to make of this large solid object.  I sat there for over an hour, savoring the moment, observing from behind tinted lenses, hyenas in their natural environment.  I find people often get the wrong idea about these unusual creatures, often confusing their ungainly appearance with an animal that does nothing but scavenge.  My experience with them however is very different and I have witnessed them hunting with incredible efficiency and a galloping grace.

Stay tuned for more of James Suter as he treks through the wilderness of Singita Sabi Sand this week.

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An Unexpected Find

July 23, 2012 - Conservation,Wildlife

While driving north along the Mozambique border in the Singita Kruger concession, I suddenly slammed on the brakes as my tracker raised his hand and gestured to his ear.  We switched off the vehicle and listened in anticipation.

We made our way towards the position of where the calls were coming from and brought the Land Rover to a standstill.  I explained to the guests that we were going to leave the vehicle in order to locate whatever had disturbed the herd of impala, which we could now see from our location.

The alarming continued, but after scanning for tracks and checking the entire area we came up with absolutely nothing.  We decided to continue with the detective work and eventually stumbled across an incredible sight.  To my tracker’s horror it was something that he would rather not have seen.  As fearless as he is he did not enjoy the sight of large snakes.  A charging lion would be more acceptable.  This particular time of  year was lambing season and we could now understand why the impala were so distressed.

A Sothern African rock python had managed to get hold of a young impala and was in the process of asphyxiating it.  It had a firm grip on the animal’s leg and the lamb stood no chance.  It was difficult to digest such a tragic end to this impala, but for us it did not detract from what was an incredible sighting.

We were very careful not to disturb the snake as it had clearly fought so courageously for its food source that would sustain it through the summer.

Track wildlife with James Suter across over half a million acres of Singita reserves.  Don’t miss incredible sightings captured on video.

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The Battle of Beasts

July 05, 2012 - Conservation,Kruger National Park,Wildlife

Even within the comfort of a vehicle, a lion is one intimidating animal.  At Singita we often have close encounters with these beasts as most individuals are fairly relaxed with the Land Rovers.  They are unusually lackadaisical animals spending most of the day resting and we often forget the power these massive cats possess.

On this particular occasion, while some of the Mountain pride females were coming into season, the scene was far from lethargic. The two brothers who generally are more than tolerant towards each other were out to prove a point and brotherly love was put aside for the time being. This was serious business. The possibility to mate is every male lion’s ambition.  Some are successful and some unfortunately don’t make the grade.

It was an exciting moment and tension was thick in the air as the two males sized one another up. It was inevitable what was going to follow and before we knew it the larger lion hurtled towards his brother.  The vehicle seemed to vibrate as the two collided, with snarls and more hostility and tenacity than any I’ve ever witnessed.

The battle had begun and the victor would reserve the right to claim his female.

(Blog series by James Suter.)

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Grey Giants

June 27, 2012 - Conservation,Safari,Singita,Wildlife

Encounters with elephants are always a treasured experience.  These beautiful animals are not just impressive to the eye, but it is remarkable to witness their intelligence as well as the camaraderie and communication between individuals.

There are an abundance of elephant found within the Singita reserves due to the large rivers running through the concessions and plenty of surface water to sustain them throughout the year.  Elephants hold a special place in any nature lover’s heart; their majestic size, temperament and endearing traits separate them from many other species.

An elephant herd is an incredibly close-knit family, with members not only taking care of their offspring but also working as a unit to ensure the success of the next generation.  A female and her daughter may maintain a bond for up to fifty years and a youngster will stick to its mother’s side for up to six years after being weaned.  Without a doubt they are the most versatile herbivores with a varied diet which they may alter or change depending on the season.

One can spend hours watching them as they constantly keep one entertained with their daily activities, spending the majority of their time feeding, having to sustain their massive frames.  No encounter with these animals is ever the same and often they are full of surprises.  They all possess different personalities and will react to human presence either in a relaxed manner or sometimes with a more intimidating approach.

Keep up with James Suter as he treks through the pristine wilderness of Singita’s game reserves across Africa.


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