In a Quiet Corner of Africa

 
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It was an incredible day out in the African bushveld, a rewarding one for any wildlife photographer. We spent most of morning with one of the most majestic Elephant bulls I had ever seen and a large lethargic pride of lions. They were heading to a nearby waterhole to wash down the previous night’s meal, something which was quite apparent just by their engorged midsections. After a few hours enjoying their company, we decided to head back for lunch, rest up and get an early start to the afternoon. 

As with any safari, lunch is a calabash mixed with savory food and tales of the morning’s sightings and as is often the case, these tales dictate the agenda for the afternoon’s game drive. During this particular lunch, we heard numerous reports of a sighting of Cape Hunting Dogs, and a rare sighing like this naturally sparked our interest. Not only are these beautiful predators highly endangered but they are also incredibly photogenic. They had not been seen for the past fourteen days, so this was an opportunity not to be missed. 

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Our excitement was frenetic, we hastily finished our lunch, and headed to the far end of the reserve, to the area where they were last spotted. The only caveat to this was that it was a really long drive to get to the last known location of the dogs. Therefore, to improve our chances and get there with enough time to search the area, we would have to forego stopping at other sightings along the way. At times when on safari, it is necessary to gamble, occasionally an incredible sighting warrants you to forego the opportunity to spend time in the company of equally amazing but more common creatures. This was one of those instances.  With no guarantees, armed with just our camera gear, hope, anticipation and tunnel vision, we began our bumpy journey in search of what we thought would surely be the highlight of the day.

After about an hour or so we reached their last known location, and after searching for just a few minutes we found them enjoying an afternoon siesta not far from where they we last spotted. It was weirdly comforting knowing that we weren’t the only ones’ laboring in the scorching African heat. We were the first ones here, but we knew that with a sighing this rare, it wouldn’t be long until we were joined by others eager to get a glimpse of these rare dogs. It was however, apparent that these masterful predators were quite happy to spend the rest of the day sleeping in the shade of a cluster of acacias. So, we decided to explore the rest of the area and rejoin them before sunset, hoping that they would be more active as the temperature cooled. 

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This was another decision that paid off, we rejoined the wild dogs right as they ended their siesta about thirty minutes before sunset. The scene was incredible and we were rewarded with some special moments in the company of these beautiful creatures right before they began their trek into the bushveld for the night’s hunt. As we watched the last of those beautifully painted bodies disappear into the golden light of another flawless African dusk, we were sure that nothing could top the incredible sightings of the day… little did we know, Africa was saving something truly special for us, something that would eclipse all else. 

Now that the dogs had left us, and the last rays of light were on the horizon, we decided to look for a suitable area to enjoy a sundowner before beginning the long drive back to the center of the reserve to our lodge. It had been an eventful day, dinner beckoned and not to mention, an opportunity to brag about the incredible time we had in the company of those awe-inspiring dogs.

Our tracker and guide, Justice, found the perfect spot for a sundowner, a beautiful clearing with a spectacular view of the sunset. We were still ecstatic from our wild dog sighting and kept replaying the moment they went from a sleeping pack to one with on a mission. Not dissimilar to the way we searched for them after lunch. As the sun finally began to summit to another African evening, Justice turned to us, and with a youthful smile said, “There is a river very near here that I would love to show you, it’s very special to me because it’s very close to where I first worked in the park, it will only take a few minutes and then we can head back to camp”. “Spend more time out in the wilds of Africa? Twist my arm why don’t you!”. So, we packed up the remainder of the drinks and snacks and headed out. 

The fact was not lost to us that this was a remote part of the reserve. Other than the wild dogs, who have a large range and seem nomadic in nature, we hadn’t seen much other wildlife in the area, so we weren’t expecting any more wildlife sightings. Per usual, Justice was spot on with his time estimate, it was barely five minutes before we reached the river. When we got to the river, he drove us out on to a little crossing, wide enough to accommodate the land rover but not much else, so that we could get a better view of this serene river, before the last remanence of light was lost. 

As we looked out onto the river, we were all instantly awestruck, amazement filled the air and silence swept through the rover, for mother Africa had lifted the veil on her final act of the day and revealed one of the most beautiful sights we had seen. 

Here, out in this remote wilderness were two of the most beautiful elephants I had ever seen, swimming, splashing and simply enjoying the cool waters of this exquisite river. There were no other elephants around, so were these two beautiful beings simply lovers, siblings, or perhaps just old friends? This I do not know, but what I do know is what I saw before me, two sentient beings, enjoying the cool waters of a beautiful river for the simple pleasure of doing so, while in each other’s company. The moment was so incredibly beautiful, these two elephants, these “animals” were displaying an incredible level of euphoric happiness and love. They were in all actual fact embodying the definition of humanity. I sat there and watched these two beautiful beings teach me about love, peace and happiness, by simply enjoying each other’s company. See, it was in this moment, in the company of these two majestic children of Africa, that my lifelong belief was simply reaffirmed, the belief that every creature deserves peace and deserves freedom… a freedom to simply be. As I watched them I felt a sorrow over come me, knowing all that our species has done to theirs. I watched them and fell in love even more so with their kind. I watched them and realized that nothing matters but freedom. I watched them and learned, that sometimes a picture is perfectly beautiful, but sometimes a picture is meant to tell a perfectly beautiful story.

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As a wildlife photographer and artist, you are always striving to capture images that are not just incredible in subject but also aesthetically beautiful. You are essentially trying to create works of art. So, you are always chasing the perfect light, the perfect angle, the perfect frame… However, when out in the wild, there are moments of magic, so incredibly surreal and spellbinding in nature that they transcend mere aesthetics and transport you into a realm far more beautiful. For me this was the story of one of those moments… The light had pretty much gone and the angle was not perfect, but the moment was beautiful, captivating, emotional and surreal. It defined the beauty of a sentient being, living wild, living free, simply living. It was here, in this quiet corner of Africa , that she showed me, she was still able to cast her magical spell on me, and make me feel like I was experiencing her beauty again for the very first time. 

As we drove back that evening, we didn’t say much to each other, there was no talk of lions, wild dogs or even elephants, there was simply silence… but it wasn’t a “bad” silence, it was more of an awestruck appreciative silence. I like to believe that in that silence we were all thinking the same thing, which was simply… “Wow, Africa” 

 
Faizel Ismail