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Trip Report - South Africa: Kruger, Kings Camp, MalaMala

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Oct 17th, 2007, 10:14 PM
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Trip Report - South Africa: Kruger, Kings Camp, MalaMala

Trip Report: South Africa: Kruger, Kings Camp, MalaMala, Sep 2007

We started planning this safari in November 2006 for Carolyn (my sweetheart), my sister Pat and myself. This would be my fourth African safari, the third for Carolyn but the very first for my sister. She was very excited about going since the beginning and especially so as we got closer. We met at JFK airport on Sep 1st and boarded SAA for flight into Johannesburg. Patís one checked in bag arrived JNB fine, mine and Carolynís did not. We filed a lost luggage form with SAA and the clerk said donít worry it will come into JNB the next day and he was correct. Lost luggage was a common theme at camps. Every camp we were at there was always someone who was waiting for their lost luggage. We finally got out of the airport around 8pm and took the short little shuttle ride over to the Southern Sun International hotel for the night.

A few words if you will about the cameras we used and posted photos. Carolyn used a Canon S3 for still and videos, Pat used a Canon S2 for stills and videos. I had my Nikon D200 with 70-300mm VR, Nikon D40X with 18-200 VR, and Canon S2 that I used only for videos. Plus another bag of electronic support kit. We did not take a laptop computer. Would have been ok with me if someone else wanted to carry it. I backed up camera memory cards two ways, on an Archos hard drive and a PD70X hard drive. On line are about 40 of our photos at http://tomgraham.smugmug.com/. The top left thumbnail, SAFARI SEP 2007, will get you into the photo folder. There are also photos from our other safaris here.

HOEDSPRUIT area, before KRUGER. Next morning it was back to JNB airport and Avis to pickup up our rental car. Since there was three of us and we would be driving a lot in Kruger I wanted a medium sized car with large windows and setting a bit high on the road. We got a Subaru smallish SUV model. It was fine except that the back side passenger windows went only about half way down. A bit of hassle for the photographer sitting back there. On the drive to Hoedspruit lunch was at Dullstrom. At Hoedspruit we had reservations for two nights at the Zuleika Country House. A very nice place with a few bungalows out in the country about 10 miles from Hoedspruit. We called SAA about our lost luggage and they said it was found and would be at the Hoedspruit airport the next day. Carolynís was, but mine wasnít, mine came in the following day. On the morning of Sep 4th we went on a bush walk accompanied by a lion. This was an early morning bush walk (followed by breakfast) at the Tshukudo Lodge near Hoedspruit. Our lion companion was named Chobe a female about 16 months old. And Chobe had a companion dog and another handler. The ranger leading the walk said that Chobe had been rescued as a cub and, raised along with her dog friend. Soon Chobe would leave the bush walk thing and go to a zoo environment. He said that lions when they reach about two years of age become very uncontrollable and can no longer be trusted out on walks. So thatís what the walk was, about two hours of watching Chobe walk with a few photo opportunities. We saw no other animals of interest. That is until at the end of the walk when the ranger took us into a large fenced area that had two nice male cheetahs and female king cheetah. Yes a king cheetah, it has a different and denser pattern of black spots, very pretty.

That afternoon we drove over to the nearby Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre. Also known as the Cheetah Project. For $15 (each) we were toured around in a open safari type vehicle and saw about 12 cheetahs in large fenced in pens. It was feeding time (time varies from day to day) so we got to watch our guide toss in chunks of meat. That was it. We saw no cubs, petted no cheetahs, nor had our photos taken with a cheetah. Next day mid morning we took a boat ride tour in the Blyde River Canyon. Nice two hour excursion on the lake in back of the dam and an unusual view of the famous Three Rondavels. A quick lunch in town, stop at the airport to get my finally arrived bag and we were on our way to Kruger.

KRUGER. Not a long drive (hour or so) from Hoedspruit to the Kruger Orpen gate. Got to Opren gate after 3pm and we had to still drive to camp Letaba (120Km) before it closed its gates at 6pm. Which still allowed a little time for game stops. Working out of Letaba for four nights we were out of the camp gate close to when it opened at 6AM, breakfast at another camp, e.g. Olifants, Mopani, Satara, back about 1PM for a small lunch. Back out at around 3PM and back in at 6PM gate closing. And dinner at the campís small restaurant. You are your own guide and are required to stay on established roads. For our self guiding drive we stayed within the area from Mopani camp north to Satara camp south a total distance of 150Km or 100miles. Mostly though it was around Letaba and- Olifant area. Just south of camp Olifant the main road crosses the Olifant River. It is a fairly long bridge, perhaps 300 meters and you are allowed to stop on it and get out of your car. We did every time and always saw elephants and crocodiles below us. An unusual viewing perspective, fascinating. In general, the park was not busy, few cars on the road.

Every drive we saw elephants, giraffes, buffalo, zebra and of course impala. Twice we found ourselves in the midst of an elephant breeding herd of about 60 elephants. We found them on both sides of a back dirt road and they slowly came around us, gathered on the road in front and walked on. And once in the midst of a large herd of buffalo and zebra surrounding us. Kruger is a very good place to see these grazers and browsers, just as good and maybe even better than the private Sabi Sand private reserves. These animals seem to favor the more open grasses like Kruger. We saw no leopard nor rhino. We saw lions twice, flat cats. Both times we ďfoundĒ them because another car was stopped and looking. Both times the lions, three of them, were close to the road but still half hidden by bush. On the primary Kruger road there was an under road culvert/drain pipe and apparently it was a den for hyenas. There were about ten hyenas there of all ages, adults and pups, sunning one morning.

This was our second time beginning our safari at Kruger and we like it. It gives you a few days to relax after a long flight. (Although driving may not be too relaxing for some people). And if there should be a problem with flights coming over then you have only missed time at Kruger. My sister of course loved it. Who hasnít heard of the famous Kruger and this was her first time seeing all of this wildlife in the wild. She was ready and willing to game drive any time, all the time. Well, except for taking time out for souvenir shopping for at least 30 people back home.

Part two Ė Kings Camp and MalaMala
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Oct 17th, 2007, 10:17 PM
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Trip Report: South Africa: Kruger, Kings Camp, MalaMala, Sep 2007
Part two
KINGS CAMP. September 9th, the early morning drive from camp Letaba via Kruger Phalaborwa gate to Hoedspruit took a little less than three hours. Breakfast at Hoedspruit then went to Avis rental car office at the airport. A young fellow from Avis rode with us for the easy hour drive to Kings Camp. He then returned the car to Avis. We were warmly greeted at Kings Camp to begin our five night stay. I must say up front that all, and I mean all, of the staff at Kings Camp are very friendly and helpful. You really feel like part of a family with them. Camp manager Warren is to be congratulated in creating an atmosphere where everyone is smiling and offers to assist you before you have to ask. And I must make special mention of the camp chef Himler. He was there when I was at Kings Camp in May and I told Carolyn and Pat the I hoped he would be there for us three. They were skeptical I think of how good he is but after a couple of days they believed me. Chef Himlerís preparation and presentation of his menu is gourmet. It may not be the largest selection as at some other camps but donít worry you will love what ever is on his menu. Carolyn and Pat took photos of most every dish he served, no more need be said.

Anyway, Kings Camp is in the Timbavati private game reserve which borders Kruger and maybe 20 miles north of the famous Sabi Sand reserve. Kings Camp has about ten huts scattered over the grounds and they are colonial British decorated, spacious and very comfortable. Itís a small camp so nothing is more than a minute walk away. Basic daily schedule was morning coffee/tea until 6:30AM, game drive to about 9:30AM, back for breakfast. Lunch served from 2PM until 3PM. Game drive from 3:30PM to about 7PM. Drinks (included) at about 8PM with dinner following shortly. Dinner was in the boma (buffet) or dinning room (menu). One night dinner was a bush brai (buffet barbeque) out a couple miles from camp.

We saw lions and leopards on more than half of our game drives. The highlight of lion sightings was that one morning our guide Warren (yes, the camp manager) and our tracker found lion and buffalo tracks inter mixed on the dirt road. We tracked and within half a mile there was a buffalo being eaten by the small lion pride. The buffalo was probably killed within the last couple of hours. We saw these lions again feeding and on other occasions just being ďflat catsĒ. We also saw one time another lion pride that had five big cubs of five and seven months old. As for leopard sightings, we saw one evening the large resident male leopard, Mangajani, with an impala kill high in the tree as it was getting dark. The next morning we returned to find Mangajani still eating it. A couple days later we watched him chase up a couple of scrub hares (but did not catch them). He then wandered into another camp, Gomo Gomo, as it became dusk. Warren stopped at the campís office to tell them.

Thereís a nice water hole at the edge of the camp and one night our dinner was interrupted by lions coming to drink. Also one afternoon a large bull elephant had a nice drink and shower there. On every game drive we saw elephants and buffalo. Smaller breeding herds of elephants and all sizes of herds of buffalo. We saw rhino on probably four game drives. Saw hippos a couple of times at a distance, a serval cat one evening, and baboons now and then. Zebras and giraffes were often seen as will as kudu, steenbok, bushbuck, waterbuck, kudu. Every game drive was enjoyable and we always looked forward to the next one. All three of us very much enjoyed Kings Camp and Iím sure we will return. (I hope Himler is still chef there!!)


MALA MALA. On September 14th Carolyn and Pat after the morning game drive took a shuttle from Kings Camp to the Hoedspruit airport where they then started flying back home. I took a short 15 minute flight from the nearby airstrip over to the MalaMala airstrip. This would be my third stay at Mala and my longest at six nights. I met my ranger Rob and the first question I asked him was how were the Eyrefield pride cubs. Great news, there were still nine of them, four about two months old and five about three months old. The morning had been overcast cloudy and I really hoped that the sky would clear and we would find the cubs on the afternoon game drive. Rob said that much of the time they are difficult to find since they hide out a lot in the tall thick reeds of the Sand River. But that afternoon the skies cleared and we found the cubs. All of them along with their moms, in the Sand River just outside of the reed bed. Wonderful to see, the lighting and setting for photos was acceptable, not great. Still I had both Nikons firing away with the Canon S2 doing videos. I saw the cubs three other times, wish it had been a couple more times. Twice again at the Sand River bed this time with their dad, the Rollercoaster male, who was sleeping. Their moms we supposed were out hunting (or sleeping). And saw them once again at a giraffe carcass where the cubs were nursing. The whole pride also there. I have about 11 photos of them at my Smugmug photo site.

Anyway, did I mention that for that afternoon game drive I had a private vehicle? Just as luck would have it, then and the next morning also. (But not thereafter). I was ďupgraded from Buffalo (Main) camp to Sable camp for the next five nights but I stayed in my same hut (number 11). Daily routine for was wake up call at 5:30AM, coffee and start game drive by 6:30AM. Back for breakfast about 9:30AM, lunch at 1PM or so, tea/coffee at 3:30PM and game drive until 7-8PM. As most others have said, the meals are very good, perhaps not gourmet, and cokes, beer, wine, liquor is not included in the room rate. At Sable camp dinner on around three occasion I/we had the pleasure and honor of the company of Nils Kure, head Mala ranger and manager at Rattrays. Nils is great to talk with, he has a million interesting stories. He also has a wonderful book, his writing and photos, ďLiving With LeopardsĒ and I brought a copy home with me, autographed of course. The book has sold fairly well and may go into a second printing. It is still available new on Amazon but at a very premium price, if youíre going to be at Mala get one at the souvenir shop and get his autograph of course.

Back to game drives. The next morning (my first morning) was overcast skies, but I did have the vehicle to my self. Ranger Rob suggested we go down south to near Kirkmans were there was a giraffe carcass being eaten by lions and hyenas. Shortly on our way we came across the Bicycle Crossing male leopard. Rob called this in and we followed him for awhile until lost in very thick bush. Rob mentioned that yesterday there had been no ranger sightings of leopard at Mala. A most unusual day at Mala, no leopard sightings!!!! We saw Kirkmans camp and nearby the giraffe carcass on the road. Five hyenas were eating it and kept raising their heads and looking one direction. That direction was towards the river where the lions had gone down for a drink. In about ten minutes we could see a lioness coming in from the left side but the hyenas had not yet seen her. The lion charged roaring and the hyenas scattered yelping. The hyenas stayed back and watched until another lioness came up and then the hyenas left the vicinity. The lions began feeding. On the way back to camp we saw five rhinos in two groups. That afternoon five British, adult family, joined our group with Rob. They were good vehicle and meal companions.

Other game drives. Every one was interesting. But still the overcast skies would come and go making good photography nearly impossible. Twice we followed Eyrefield pride starting to hunt at dusk. At another giraffe carcass near Rattrays we watched a hyena and leopard both feeding on the carcass. One on each side. This was the same carcass that we saw the Eyrefield pride at basically sleeping and the cubs nursing. The view of the carcass was difficult with brush obstructing. And, the Styx pride eating a zebra that they had killed the night before. Cheetahs, saw two cheetahs, brothers atop an old termite mound, again over cast skies, not good lighting for photos. At the Sand River a big bull elephant with huge tusks drinking. While driving in the Sand River bottom Rob spotted a water monitor lizard, he jumped from the vehicle and grabbed it by its tail and held up for us to see. An impressive reptile but it was not very happy. We followed the Styx lion pride going out to hunt at dusk. Good viewing of a honey badger that had just caught a small snake so it let us watch it some. But in the grass, hard to see and photograph. After it finished eating it let us know its displeasure with our interrupting its dinner by mock charging the vehicle!! Honey badgers are fearless, known to chase lions.

Leopards. Well, my other visits at Mala have had better leopard sightings. No classic leopard sighting of it in a tree with an impala kill. Well, guess you just canít have nine lion cubs and fabulous leopards on the same visit. But wait, how about mating leopards, that should count, right? My last night there were reports of the Tjellahanga male leopard mating the night before with an unidentified female. (Unlike lions, leopards prefer night time encounters). At dusk we found the Tjellahange male on river sand sleeping, waiting for the female to approach him. (Another custom of mating leopards, the female initiates). Two other Mala vehicles there before us left. We waited and were rewarded seeing the female come out of the river reeds and they proceeded to mate three times. Photos on Smugmug. Elephants, zebras, giraffes, buffalo were around but we had better sightings of them in Kruger. Another great time at MalaMala.

Safari summary in three sentences. Kruger is fun, worthwhile and a $$$ bargain. Kings Camp is super in so many ways and a great $$$ value. MalaMala packs the most game viewing punch. Again, photos, 40 of them, on line at http://tomgraham.smugmug.com/ click into thumbnail SAFARI SEP 2007. Photos from previous safaris are also there.

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Oct 18th, 2007, 05:58 AM
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Hi Tom

Great to hear you had a fantastic trip! Also some really wonderful photos - even though the light wasn't great! I did love the photo looking down at the ele and croc - as you say, a really unusual perspective!

I have also had a ranger leap out and grab a monitor, and it was so unexpected, that I was not quick enough for a photo, so that was a great shot. You also had some great gameviewing, so I am sure well worth the planning for nearly a year.

Also lucky that you had good vehicle companions. I have certainly had two gamedrives in a row without leopard or lion, rarely both - but always so many other things to see.

Kind regards

Kaye
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Oct 18th, 2007, 08:29 AM
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Welcome home! Sounds as though you had wonderful sightings at all locations. You took some great photos too, despite the weather.

King's Camp sounds interesting especially since it's a lower cost alternative. The hyena-lion interaction at MM must have been great--especially when you had the vehicle to yourself. And a honey badger too!

I was interested in the King Cheetah. Are those cheetahs there as rescues? Also at the Cheetah Project--will they just live there forever?

Glad your luggage issues got sorted out.

CW
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Oct 18th, 2007, 08:37 AM
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Hope the lost luggage did not cause too many problems those first days. How nice to have your sister come along with you. Seeing the animals through the eyes of a 1st timer is exciting.

You had a really good itinerary. King's Camp does seem to be winner. Nice going with the MM lion cubs. I'll be checking out the photos next.
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Oct 18th, 2007, 08:58 AM
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Great report and some outstanding photos! I also was captured by the ele/croc from above photo -- very unique perspective. Male lion with buffalo kill was another favorite of mine.
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Oct 18th, 2007, 09:46 AM
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Great report Tom! I'll have to check out King's Camp before my next trip to Kruger.
Thanks for the report!
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Oct 18th, 2007, 10:22 AM
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You certainly made good use of the light that you had. Great photos and perspectives. Everybody is seeing mating leopards! The lion cubs are so adorable.
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Oct 18th, 2007, 12:23 PM
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Tom, Enjoyed the report and photos. You have taken some very excellent and unusual perspectives and compositions.

-Granny Joan
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Oct 18th, 2007, 12:30 PM
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great report. Definitely getting me psyched as I am less than 3 months out of my own MM trip.
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Oct 18th, 2007, 01:58 PM
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CW - re the cheetahs. I asked Carolyn and Pat about what they remembered and the details are fuzzy but here is what we remember them telling us. The King cheetah is probably extinct in the wild. There are 60 of them in captivity. The King pattern is from a recessive gene. The cheetahs at the Rescue Center, we think most were rescued. They will stay in some kind of captivity forever but probably not at the Center. They have a web site that I'm sure tells what goes on there better than we remember. They have other species there, for instance, the Sable antelope which was a first for me. Here's their web site - http://www.wildlifecentre.co.za/

Yes it was great seeing the nine cubs. And great to read today that they are still doing fine. The ranger told us that the expected survival rate to adult would be only two of the nine. Sad, but if so I hope that the two are females that can reinforce the pride. The Rollercoaster male needs to stay strong for a year or better.

It's easy to combine Kings Camp and Mala, you can just fly between 15 minutes about $100. Or you could also drive between the two camps, probably take four hours, guessing. The Kings Camp web published rates are $350 pppn in September, but goes up another $100 for October-April. There is no single supplement.

It was fun having my sister, a safari newbie, along. It wasn't so long ago, just two years ago, that I also was one !!!

regards - tom
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Oct 18th, 2007, 02:22 PM
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Tom,

Thanks for the website. I'll check it out.

So sad that the king cheetah is extinct in the wild.

CW
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Oct 20th, 2007, 11:49 AM
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Thanks for all the info regarding your trip Tom. Your photos are outstanding! My fav is
MM ranger Rob with the monitor lizard (woo hoo- I think I have a case of khaki fever ) Ok seriously....the lion cubs and the ellie/croc from the bridge, but I really liked them all. Great collection. I remember seeing the King cheetah cub at Spier and it was so beautiful, sad that they are extinct in the wild.

Who did you arrange the boat ride through Blyde Canyon with? Have you figured out a way to post your videos here? I think you can download them on YouTube and post a link here.

Thanks for the tip regarding Nils book.

Kings Camp still is on my list.

Where to next? Is sis ready to go again?

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Oct 20th, 2007, 11:58 AM
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Tom,

We too talked with Nils and bought his book about Leopards with autograph. He is a delight with lots of knowledge on the leopards at MM. Highly recommend the book, too.

-Granny Joan
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Oct 20th, 2007, 02:24 PM
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Love the photos Tom. The elephant and croc is wonderful...love the perspective. And that very brave little lion cub doing his best smothering impersonation is really cute.
King cheetah are very interesting, seldom seen so thanks for posting that photo. Ok, so what's with this mating leopard stuff all you guys are seeing, huh? When is mating season and how do I get a ticket to see it .
Regards,
Eric
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Oct 20th, 2007, 03:39 PM
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Report spelling correction, near top Hoedspruit area, not Tshukudo Lodge, but Tshukudu Game Lodge.

regards - tom
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Oct 21st, 2007, 01:53 PM
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Carla - Sister is still excited about her safari even a month later. She is in the Midwest USA so I have only talked with her by phone. She has made around 50 small prints that she shows around to friends and at work. They always ask her - were you really THAT CLOSE to the animals? She says she wants to go back but in a couple of years. She has five young grandkids that she baby sits a lot for and she and they missed each other those two weeks on safari.

The Blyde River Canyon boat ride is a regularly every day scheduled tour. Pat found it on the internet somewhere and it was fun.

Ranger Rob Scott will likely still be at MM when you get there (in July?). I'm sure your khaki fever will re-occur, he is a big strapping fellow over six foot tall and great personality.

As for videos, I'm not that keen on putting them on YouTube. Why not you ask, I'm not sure. My next project is to make a "this was our safari" DVD and it will of course have a lot of video clips on it along with still photos.

As for next safari, I still thinking. Carolyn may be indirectly involved with the 2008 Olympics (her daughter will likely represent the USA in beach volleyball, she won bronze medal at Athens). And that could impact her safari budget. I enjoyed going on safari last May so I might do that again and skip September 2008. Just haven't gotten any ideas to get real excited about - yet.

regards - tom
ps - you're now at 8 months and counting?
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Oct 22nd, 2007, 11:36 AM
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Hope you are surviving the fires in Calif. We didn't make it down as far south on our trip. Made it to Big Sur and had to turn back as no rooms available. Did enjoy the coast and plan to do the southern Highway 1 another time.

-Granny Joan
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Oct 22nd, 2007, 01:11 PM
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Excellant photos Tom, thanks for posting.

As always, your shots were clear and contained unusual and fascinating material content.

I can't say that I've ever seen the inside of a gutted animal so clearly. That, and the giraffe carcass literally had an emotional impact on me. It's easy to think that safari photos can all start to look alike. Not the case at all with yours.
Well done.
Your well done report is appreciated as well.
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Oct 22nd, 2007, 01:22 PM
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HI GJ - no fires near me (Fullerton) but windy as-all-get-out Sunday. Well, maybe next time you can get down here and we can have a mini LA GTG, you, Carla, Carolyn and ???

Thanks Cybor for you kind comments. I try to put up photos that are at least a little different in some way, i.e. subject, behavior, people, lighting. "Here is an elephant in the bush, walking away" photos I don't even take. And glad you like my report, writing is not easy for me and I don't have the natural story telling flow that a lot of reports have. But after all, I'm an engineer and the writing part of my brain has stunted growth Thanks again.

regards - tom
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