Moments Captured at the Photographic Hide
It was in 2012 that I first heard about the photographic hide at Mashatu Game Reserve – the first underground hide built specifically to photograph animals from a unique angle. “Where is this hide? Where is Mashatu? How do we get there?” – all questions we had that day. Little did I know then, that five years later this would become my home for six years.
Life has a strange way of working out. In 2017, I landed my dream job, managing PhotoMashatu – the photographic concession at Mashatu. It has been six incredible years, with more sightings and moments than I can ever mention in a single blog post. If you have followed our blogs over the last 6 years, you would have read about some of them.
Sadly, all good things come to an end, and it’s time for me to get out of my comfort zone and move on to new challenges. November was my last month, and as a farewell I’d like to share some of my favourite moments over the last six years. This month will be my favourite hide moments, and next month will be my game drive highlights.
The king of Mashatu visits the hide
After only a month, I had my first lion sighting at the hide. This beautiful male lion casually walked in and had a long drink. Anyone that’s ever been in the hide while a lion is there, will know that feeling that he is making eye contact only with you. This particular lion was the dominant male in the central game viewing area for much of my time here, and he gave me so many amazing photographic opportunities. It was during lockdown that he was eventually ousted by three younger males. We were all so relieved to hear a few months after re-opening, that he had been spotted further east, still within the safe boundaries of Mashatu.
Perfect light, perfect backdrop and then a leopard arrives with her cubs
Not my first leopard at the hide, but certainly my most memorable. It was early morning, the guests had just arrived and were photographing the sea of guineafowls in front of the hide. The light was perfect and the dust created by the guineafowls added to the atmosphere of the morning. Suddenly the guineafowls started parting and alarm calling, and through the middle appeared three leopards – a female and her two sub-adult cubs. I only managed to capture the female and one cub in the frame, but it still remains one of my favourite photos taken at Mashatu.
Cheated out of a cheetah sighting
Cheetahs don’t usually frequent the hide, preferring to find quieter pools to drink from. You can imagine my excitement when while driving to the hide one day, I spotted a female cheetah with her four cubs heading straight to the hide. I raced ahead and just managed to get in before they arrived. My adrenaline was racing as I anticipated the photos in the glorious early morning light. They were less than a meter away from the water’s edge, when just then an elephant arrived. Elephants don’t share the water readily and don’t like cats. The cheetahs sat briefly waiting their turn, but before long the rest of the herd of elephants came in, and with over twenty elephants surrounding the water they turned and ran. I love the elephants at the hide so I won’t complain, but I did feel slightly cheated out of the first cheetah drinking at the hide.
Queleas, queleas and more queleas
Mind-boggling numbers of Red-billed queleas descend on Mashatu every year, and they arrive in their droves at the hide to quench their thirst. It’s fascinating to watch as they line up and wait, as each row of birds takes a quick sip before flying off and letting the others have their turn. Suddenly, without warning the whole flock will lift off and fly away in unison. As a photographer the opportunities are endless, and I have photographed them countless times, yet I always know there is another better photo waiting to be taken.
No blog about my highlights at the hide would be complete without mentioning elephants. Like the queleas, they arrive in their numbers and it can be overwhelming being surrounded by over 100 elephants. My advice to photographers has always been to put down the camera for a minute and just watch, mostly because it’s the most incredible wildlife experience they may ever have, and it deserves to be taken in without looking through a lens. It is also while watching, that you “see” the photograph you want to capture. I’ve taken thousands of elephant photos and it was difficult selecting just a few to share. These are not necessarily my best photos but rather moments that will stay with me forever.