Timbavati Trip Report 2023 - Mother nature's other ideas

Date 2023/06/22 08:38:58 by Darren Donovan

I have always felt, in all my time in the bush, that Mother Nature has a particularly sick sense of humor. On this particular workshop to the homely Machaton camp in the Timbavati, she again proved that she doesn't care one iota what we think we know.


Prior to the workshop, I touted this workshop as a great opportunity to photograph leopards and African wild dogs. The ecology and ethology (study of animal behavior) all pointed to the same conclusions we had. The area had a low lion density due to the low carrying capacity in the bush, which in turn results in a low prey density for lions. Therefore, the lions require a larger territorial area to meet their nutritional needs. This, in turn, creates space for predators lower in the pecking order, particularly leopards and African wild dogs!

On the first afternoon drive, our guide Ian told us that they hadn't seen lions in 2 weeks and were seeing the dogs almost every morning as they had set up a den site on the property (unfortunately not yet open to the public because the pups are still very young). Leopards were falling out of the trees. It all made me look very intelligent; however, Mother Nature was waiting around the corner, whip in hand, to smartly put me back in my place.

The first drive went absolutely according to plan, with a young male leopard in the Shobele drainage line to the east of the camp. Being in the riverine bush on the banks of the drainage line meant there was a lot of foliage, and we had to work around it, but some good shots were achieved. And all in all, a good start.


The next morning, we went looking for the wild dogs. We found their tracks all over the place, but they had headed west into the Klaserie on their hunting trip. Then we got word that lions had been found. I silently giggled to myself as all of a sudden, my opinions looked incredibly silly! So much for a good plan. I have always felt that other predators sense when lions are around and look to avoid them. This, as it would seem, is exactly what happened!

The wild dogs kept going west, and the leopards went into hiding. However, the lions made up for it on several occasions during the 4-day workshop. The pride, known as the Western Pride, consists of 3 adult females, 1 adult male, and 7 cubs. They gave us more than one really memorable sighting, the male Flehmen grimacing a few meters from the vehicle, action at a zebra carcass, and the cubs greeting the adults. All in all, we walked away from the workshop with great elephant photos, white rhino, buffalo, leopard, and plenty of general game as well. Some of the smaller critters also caught our attention: orb-web spiders, flap-necked chameleons, and lots of birds. All in all, these varied subjects and circumstances allowed us to play with a number of different photographic techniques and ideas. Exactly what you hope for in a workshop.



Midday was spent reviewing images and editing some of the really good photos taken on the prior drives. Conversation was light and at times hilarious, and it didn't take long before everyone felt completely at home.

The organization at the camp was also fantastic. Ian, our guide, was eager to please and get us into great positions. Lizzy the chef blew us away with her homely approach to lodge food; we could not complain (the prego rolls for one lunch were absolutely the highlight).

All in all, it was a tremendously fun and successful 4 days in the Timbavati. I really can't wait to get back next year!


Text & Images by: Darren Donovan