Author Archives: Toft Photo Safaris

Recent Trip Report: Pumas in Chile

Pumas Quest 2016 — Toft Photo Recent Trip Report

It’s was a short one week turnaround after a month in Africa to tracking Pumas in Patagonia, but I hoped my new titanium hip and I were prepared for it! Just a short background on this trip. I’ve been hearing about Pumas in Patagonia for a while now and the thought of reliably seeing wild Pumas on foot finally made me go to Chile last April, 2015 to see for myself. I had a great scouting trip in 2015 with many Puma sightings in terrific landscapes and kept my fingers crossed for my first official Puma Quest tour in April of 2016.
Pumas in Chile

After some travel delays for half my small group (due to an airlines strike), we all reached our destination in the beautiful Torres Del Paine NP. Three of the clients had already spent their first afternoon with a very well-known Puma named Hermanita and were beaming with excitement during our first breakfast together. Yes, I certainly was very happy for them, but three of my other clients had not seen their first Puma yet, so after a quick bite, we hit the van for a short ride to a good location to start our “Puma Quest”. One of the huge advantages we have over some other company’s running puma trips in the area is our “three-spotter team”. An hour before my clients and I leave the hotel, our team of experienced puma spotters have positioned themselves on hilltops in a per-determined location to start the process of finding a Puma for the day. This first morning proved the effectiveness of this system as it need every other morning on our trip — within minutes of putting on our photo packs and starting to hike, we receive a radio call from the spotters giving us the good news that a Puma has been spotted and we should get our butts there ASAP!!!! What a great radio call to get! We don’t have any easy stroll to our first puma however…after about an hour of quite difficult walking and hiking, we reach a rocky cliff overlooking a majestic mountain lake and lay eyes on our first Puma for 2016 (well, four of us do! As I mentioned, three of the clients had their first puma the afternoon before). As we approach, the Puma is walking along the rocky cliff and finally settles into a little cave to relax. Here we stay for the next 3 hrs. watching a very tranquil Puma sleeping. Yes, Puma watching has very exciting moments — and also a lot of very boring moments! Pumas, like other cats, sleep a ton! We actually spend some time in the afternoon photographing another Puma that wonders into the area near our sleepy cave sleeping Puma and finish the day back with our young male Puma who wakes up and gives us some very nice images at the last light of day. A great start for our Puma Quest 2016 trip!

_H7Q7496FinalFinalOur second full day has us back to the same area we were on Day 1 and we get our first Puma contact within 20 minutes walk from our vehicle! We all get some very nice images as we follow her coming from a distance directly to our location. This is the very relaxed super star Puma “Hermanita” again which makes following her at close distance very easy since she is totally obvious to our presence. After about 3 hrs. of watching and following Hermanita, she finally lays down to have a catnap. During her nap a couple guanacos have wandered into the vicinity and start to feed 200 meters from our sleeping cat. Yes…things get very interesting – very quickly from this point on!!! We position ourselves on the other side of the guanacos, just in case our super star decides she is ready to eat. Hermanita does decide she might have a go at one of the guanacos and begins her slow, cat-crawl stock. My group is completely in awe at what we are witnessing. When she gets within 15 of her prey, Hermanita makes a rush at the fleeing guanaco and pursues her quarry for about 50 feet before she breaks off her attack. Wow!!!! We all couldn’t believe that we just witnessed a Puma hunt!

That same afternoon we decided to move positions and spend time at a lake which I had great success photographing a mother Puma and 7 month old cubs last year. Once again upon arrival at the lake a Puma had already been spotted by our advance Puma team and off we went. Upon reaching the white lava rock which surrounds the lake we look down and see our Puma. Wait…what is the small tan object next to her? It’s a Puma cub! And over there in the bushes, another cub, and another! Quickly the cubs retreat into the foliage as the mother Pumas moves off a short distance and lays down. EH7Q1701This we find out is the same relaxed mother Puma that I photographed last year in this same location, but with her brand new set of cubs! How lucky could one group yet? We figure the cubs may be just under 2 months of age and are still quite nervous to be out and about with mom. Over the next couple days we see the family at a distance but never quite get in a terrific situation for photography. Our group realizes that we are just super lucky and privileged to be able to see this young Puma family in the wild.

On one of the days near the lake we also see and photograph this mother Pumas older cubs from last year. These two brothers are about 1.5 years old now and will likely be parting ways to lead their solitary lives very soon. I couldn’t be happier about our Puma Quest tour for 2016 and can’t wait to return in April of 2017! Will this mother Puma still be with her yearlings?? Will Hermanita make a successful hunt in front of us next year? Will we see the two male brothers in their own territories? How many new Pumas will we see???

Recent Trip Report: 2016 Botswana Photo Safaris


Botswana is a destination I’ll be very happy to visit every year for the rest of my life! I was fortunate to have two groups of wonderful clients this past March, one for my usual Botswana Photo Safaris itinerary and the other with a special Bots/Namibia tour.

Looking through my select images from our first camp, Chitabe Lediba Camp, I find wonderful leopard images, a pair of majestic male lions, a larger pride of female lions and older cubs, Cheetahs stalking, large herds of Impalas running (captured as slow shutter blurs, which is my favorite!), Zebras in amazing morning rainbow-fog light, dwarf Mongoose pocking their heads out of a termite mound, and Hippos with hundreds of Egyptian Geese in the same small pool. Yes, it’s been another great start of another great Botswana adventure at Chitabe! Four days in Botswana feels like a year of experiences!

On to our next camp is in the heart of the Okavango Delta, which puts us closer to large water features that surround Vumbura Plains camp. The only large predator that we missed at Chitabe was Wild Dogs. We were actually on the trail of a pack on our last morning at Chitabe, but needed to leave before we caught up with them. So to everyone’s delight, we had our first pack of Wild Hunting Dogs on our first afternoon drive! After watching them sleep for about two hours (not so exciting), but when they get up, perform their greeting ceremony and trot off to hunt…now we are talking exciting! I’ve tried to describe following a pack of Wild Dogs as they hunt before and it never seems to convey the adrenaline rush and excitement of the real thing — go figure!

Anyway, imagine traveling 20 mph off-road through every kind of habitat (water, mud, mopani scrub…) and trying your best to keep your eye on a least one dog as they trot, split and run in and out of tall grass and bushes working on scaring up some likely prey animal (which is usually an Impala, Kudu, Stein Buck, Reedbuck, or other antelope). When the prey animals find out the dogs are on the hunt all chaos breaks out! Impalas start running and pronging (unusual running/jumping which shows their fitness to the predator) in all directions with the dogs quickly coming on and seen from all angles trying to bring down their prey — now this is just an amazing thing to witness. Keep in mind that this whole time you are also crashing through the bushes at 20 mph trying to stay up with this action! This hunt ends with the pack feeding on a young Common Waterbuck as the mother antelope watches from 20 meters away. Real nature isn’t cruel or nice — it just IS. Yes, it’s a tough scene to watch for some, but when you realize these predators are coming up on denning season (and Wild Dogs eat meat), something has to die for these guys and for the next generation of Wild Dogs to exist.

More tranquil and beautiful scenes also await us at camp Vumbura, like the herd of glorious elephants we see crossing the flooded channels as we head to camp on that first afternoon. Or, the Leopard we see head down the tree he has been resting in for the past 3 hours (yes, we waited!) right at the perfect last 5 minutes of sunset — glorious! We are in the right spot and at the perfect time! This is what being on a photo safari in Africa is all about — patience and knowledge giving us great luck!

A couple other notable sighting and photo ops include Kudu after Kudu jumping over a river, Red Letchwe running and jumping at full speed through the open water of the Delta, a Hammerkop bird catching and eating a large frog, large herds of the rare and elegant Sabal Antelope, and pairs of endangered Wattles Cranes feeding in the marshland. Ahhhhhh Botswana!

For our last stop we head north out of the Delta to our last camp Kings Pool in the Linyanti. This is another great location to spend time with my favorite African animal, the Painted Wolves or Wild Hunting Dog. And spend time with them we do — tons of time with more crazy hunts and terrific behavior from these highly endangered predators. We also slow down and spend quality time with pods of Hippos as they jostle each other and gap mouths wide in threat to the humans on the bank of their pools. Elephants and Giraffes also delight us with their parental care and unworldly proportions and shapes! The diversity of Africa never fails to delight me!

Ok…is it March 2017 yet? I want to go back to Botswana! Come join me!

NOTE: we currently have an open cabin in each of my Botswana 2017 departures! Registration ends May 31, 2015. REGISTER NOW!!

Wild Puma Hunting a Guanaco

Puma Hunt from J Lab Media.

Shot in Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia, Chile during our Toft Photo Puma Quest 2016, we were lucky enough to see a wild puma hunting a guanaco!

Photographing Pumas in 2016

Puma Quest

My recent scouting trip to Torres Del Paine NP in Chile was a complete success. Our primary photo query was the magnificent Puma or Mountain Lion. To follow and photograph these spectacular cats on foot was a dream come true. We saw several mothers with cubs, large male on a kill, and two ridiculously habituated sisters at close range. The scenery in this park and surrounding area was breathtaking! One of the most important factors for our success was the ability to work on a huge private ranch connected to the park and to employ talented local guides. This allowed us to follow the Pumas and not be held to recent park restrictions regarding walking off trail in the National Park.


I am planning on leading a small photography tour group (8 max) on another “Puma Quest” in April of 2016. The physical fitness level needed for this trip is high. We commonly walk 2-3 miles per day carrying all camera gear and endure cold temperatures and high winds. The dates and cost will be coming soon. Please email if you have interest in joining this Puma Photography trip for 2016!

Recent Trip Report: 2015 Botswana March & April

Botswana Photography Tours & Safaris – March and April 2015: (Two safaris included)



My recent Botswana photography tours were some of the best wildlife viewing/photography events of my 20 years visiting this amazing country! The combination of lodges/concessions provide the perfect mix of wildlife, habitat, and lodging.

Chitabe

Our first location is situated on the far south eastern edge of the famed Okavango Delta. With a large percentage of the concession having higher ground, which provides drier habitat for larger trees to grow, this is our “Leopard Spot”! In fact, our first day in Chitabe provided us with a large pack of Wild Hunting Dogs, Lions, and the elusive Leopard. And, all this was before lunch — needless to say, a very nice way to start out our Botswana photo tour and safaris trip!

Botswana photography tours and safari with Roy Toft

Back to Leopards — we had a multitude of different Leopards in our time here, including Leopards in trees, mating Leopards, mother with large cubs at a kill, and possibly my favorite sighting, a huge male leopard feeding on a Zebra. One rarely sees this combination of spots and stripes together because the large powerful Zebra rarely falls prey to the solitary Leopard. This was a case where the Zebra actually died while giving birth and the Leopard was purely in the right spot, and the right time. Other large cats kept us busy at Chitabe as well, including the resident pride of Lions and a single Cheetah.

Several of our drives were spent watching and following the always interesting Wild Hunting Dogs. These wide ranging endangered carnivores are to me some of the most exciting animals to watch on a hunt. After rising from their mid-day nap and performing their highly energetic social greetings, the entire pack trots off through the vegetation in search of anything small enough for them to take down. Their main prey tends to be Impala or young Kudu — Trying to stay one step ahead of the dogs on a hunt is what separates a great guide/driver from the ordinary! — Some of my most exciting experiences in Africa have been following these “painted wolves.” On one of our “dog” drives, the pack of 18 Wild Hunting Dogs wandered onto the bush airstrip where a small plane was parked. The dogs had obviously not seen that many parked airplanes by the way they cautiously approached this strange beast! At one point, one of the pups from last season (10 months old), crept up to the plane and pulled a red flag from the wing; puppies will always be puppies! Another Canid that we spent time with was the larger and more powerful Hyena. Often despised for their scavenging lifestyle, these capable hunters are also wonderful parents. We were fortunate to see the softer side of this carnivore when a mother with three pups trotted out from their den and proceed to nurse right in front of us! This was really special. I always love it when my clients get to see the “whole picture” when it comes to animals and wildlife. All animals have a purpose and a reason for being; why does our affection only go to the cute or majestic? Go Wild Dogs and Hyena!

Of course, we also spent a great deal of time with wonderful Elephants, Giraffe, Zebra, Warthogs, and a variety of Antelopes. Birds — what about birds? If people are not really “into” birds when they come on our Toft Photo Botswana photography tours and safaris, by the end of the trip they can easily point out the spectacular Lilac breasted Roller, Woodland Kingfisher, Saddle-billed Stork, Wattled Crane, African Fish Eagle, Ostrich, several Bee-eaters, and the list continues. It’s hard not to get excited for African birds! Snake lovers? I was able to play with a nice big Rock Python and this always makes me very happy!

Vumbura

This concession in situated in the heart of the Okavango Delta. The experience here at Vumbura is classic “Delta” with water covering a good chunk of the concession. You might be thinking that the water would hamper our game viewing, — ohhhhh — on the contrary! Our formidable “Land Rovers” turn into very capable “Water Rovers.” It is truly amazing what these vehicles can traverse. The scenery here is completely different than Chitabe, being dominated by large flood planes with grasses and islands of dry ground with larger trees. Here we see our first groups of the water adapted antelope, called Red Lechwa.
Lion Silhouette Sunset in Botswana
The large resident pride of Lions keep our shutters active throughout many of our outings. The antics of the ever playful youngsters provided hours of watching enjoyment. This pride of lions has two very impressive dominate males as their overlords. Also with this pride is a 4-5 year old male, who is determined to never leave and make a life for himself, much to the dismay of the two dominate males. When the two dominate males were with the pride, this younger male would be forced to keep his distance for fear of being attacked and possibly killed by the older males. But when the two males were off patrolling their large territory and separated from the pride, then the younger male was back with his mother, aunts, and young brothers and sisters — living the good life! These species dynamics and individual stories add so much color/texture to all of our photo safari experiences while in Africa. Our knowledgeable guides have been watching and following these cast of characters in this drama for years upon years. One of my favorite images from this entire trip came from this pride as one of the lions moved to the water to quench her thirst, just as the sun was setting! Yes — thank you photo gods!

Other notable sighting here include another large pack of Wild Hunting Dogs, Leopard, Elephants, Hippos, Zebras, Giraffe, and birds galore! Many of us also spent an amazing hour photographing this area from the air in a helicopter!

Kings Pool

This concession is located north of the Okavango Delta in the Linyanti. Another change in habitat with Mopane woodlands and Riparian (Riverfront) dominating. This is a great area for large herds of Elephants and they certainly didn’t disappoint. Images of Wild Dogs and Lions also filled our hard drives from our daily drives along the river and further afield. One morning a contact call, from a Wild Hunting Dog, was heard by our guide deep in the Mopane forest. When we went to investigate, we found a group of seven Hyena who had displaced a pack of 14 Dogs from their recent kill. The Hyena were just finishing the kill and the Dogs were trying to regroup as a pair of large male Lions came into the mix to see if they could get breakfast as well! This was very exciting! When the Lions arrived, all the Hyenas started to disperse and the Dogs looked on. Seeing three of Africa’s top predators together in one spot is something to behold!

Wild Hunting Dogs

We had another exciting predator interaction here which started off as a quick sighting of a lone Hyena running away from the trail into the Mopane. This made us think, “what is he running to/or from?” We made a plan to circle around and head into the Mopane and try and see what was causing the excitement. As we made our way through the thick Mopane woodland, we heard the alarm call of an Impala about 100 meters from our location. Changing direction and heading toward the alarm call, we roll up to the Impala and following his gaze, we see a lone leopard smelling the blood soaked ground just as a Hyena runs away with an entire Impala hanging from his mouth! Yes, this is the drama of Africa!

Do you want to hear more? Of course you do! So, we follow the Leopard as he trails the Hyena who has just stolen his fresh Impala kill. We lose sight of both the Hyena and Leopard as we navigate through the thick stunted trees of the Mopane. After 10 minute without a visual, we round a corner and see the Hyena and the Leopard pulling on both sides of the kill! The Leopard wins the brief interaction and runs off with the Impala to the closest tree and climbs it (Impala in mouth). Not 30 seconds after the Leopard has secured his prize in the 15 foot tall Mopane tree, we see three more Hyena come running into the area with salivating mouths and tails curled up with excitement! It just doesn’t get better than this! The Hyena actually try and climb the tree, without success, and decide to just camp at the base of the tree as the Leopard with prize sit patiently above. This was one of those moments where getting an “image” that conveyed this drama was impossible. It can’t always be about getting the image. We all have this drama captured in the best hard drive — our brain.

Toft Photo Safari guides for our Botswana photography safari tours 2015

I must write something about our wonderful lodges/food/guides/service. Our three lodges are simply the best that Botswana, Africa can offer! Pure rustic elegance in the middle of paradise. We are treated to the best food and service that you could find anywhere in the world! I’m serious…anywhere in the world!! Our guides in Botswana are some of the very best, they are extremely knowledgeable and they truly care about this place they call “their office.” Did I mention the wines… the great South African wines?!

March 2016 Botswana Photo Safaris Tours to be back in this wildlife rich gem of Africa!!!