During our trip to South Africa I rented a lens from Borrowlenses.com in order to bring the ‘action’ closer to me. The lens I rented was the new Tamron 150mm – 600mm and it certainly did the trick as I found myself able to zoom in tight and bring the animals right to me. For example, in this image the cheetah’s were probably 20 or 25 feet from our safari vehicle but because I had the long lens I was able to zoom in tight and frame this shot perfectly so that this guy and his brother were both in the shot as the sunset over the horizon. I intentionally let the light leak into the frame as I wanted the image to be warm and for the sunset ‘feel’ to be established without actually bringing in the sky. I did have to wait several minutes with the camera up to my eye for the cheetah in the front to do anything interesting but finally he looked towards us and yawned – clearly he was ready for us to move on as well.
With a body type like a tall camel and spots like a cheetah the giraffe – despite its height was surprisingly elusive in the wild. You’d think that spotting their heads above the trees would be easy but alot of times they have their heads slightly bowed as they are constantly eating. However, when we did find them they tended to be in tight knit groups with a couple of adults and baby/small giraffes with them. They were more skittish than I expected and often took off when the safari vehicle would stop a little too close – they were surprisingly fast.
Our guide did use the giraffes to track the lions though since you can follow their eyes to locations of dangerous predators – which for adult giraffe is really only a lion. Smaller giraffes are hunted by other big cats – like the cheetah – but once they are of substantial size they are a tougher target unless the cats are extremely desperate.
Giraffes in South Africa
I took a lot of pictures of giraffes but I liked this one because of the openness of space behind it them heading into the distance. There is really so much land out there supporting the wildness of all these species. It was a great experience to watch the animals behave in the wild compared to just seeing them in a zoo.
While in Phinda our driver/game tracker was able to locate two cheetahs out hunting and we followed them for a bit – hoping to see some action on the trip. We kept a respectable distance to allow them to do their thing but ultimately they wound up just heading up to a lookout point and waiting for the sun to set – whether they were going to hunt later is something we weren’t able to witness. As they strolled over to an elevated position we watched just how relaxed they were as if they didn’t have a care in the world. Unfortunately, the cheetah is on the ‘vulnerable’ species list so while technically not ‘endangered’ they are on their way. It isn’t for lack of effort by South African officials and fortunately for them game drives like ours and people who are truly interested in seeing them aid in their recovery. However, our guide explained that relative to other ‘big cats’ cheetahs are just a disadvantaged species and despite their speed are unable to overcome both poaching and competition with other big cats – lions, leopards, etc… – which have done better in what is an ever shrinking ‘wild’ footprint. Phinda is a private game reserve and as such has a vested interest in protecting them. I believe they have 33 cheetahs spread over 175 square kilometers and the trackers/guides keep a close watch on them.
Downward Facing Cheetah (Phinda Game Reserve, South Africa)
This cheetah made me feel lazy just sitting in the safari jeep as he practiced some high intensity yoga in the late afternoon heat of Southern Africa. Shortly after this house cat like pose he and his brother started over to a termite mound where they waited for the sun to set and the tourists to leave so they could go about hunting.