New Life – Buffalo Birth by Rudi Hulshof

Editor’s note:
The following images are graphic in nature and contains scenes of an animal giving birth.

The 29th of February is a day that only comes around every 4 years, when the Leap year is upon us.

The 29th of February 2016 though, is a day that I have waited for my entire photographic life.

Rounding a corner on a road adjacent to the Majestic Timbavati Riverbed late in the afternoon, I decided to push the vehicle’s nose towards a known pool of water that has been one of the very last available thirst quenching spots for the animals here in the Thornybush Game Reserve at Royal Malewane Lodge where I am a Wildlife Photographic Guide.

Hoping to come up with a Leopard that has recently been seen devouring the fast dwindling supply of Catfish that have been flopping around in the mud, my disappointment was evident when I laid eyes upon a small group of Buffalo that had taken up refuge in the cool muddy pool.

Disappointment soon turned to excitement as I noticed a particular Cape Buffalo Cow lying on the sand bank, with a distended rear end, and the first signs of foetus hooves protruding along with an amniotic sac.

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Huge elation spilt over me as I had never seen a Buffalo birth before, and greater was the elation that I had my camera, along with my Sigma Lenses to try and capture the miracle of life unfold before me.

At first I was using the Nikon mount Sigma Global Vision 150-600mm DG OS HSM I Sports lens, which gave me the ability to capture real close up detail of the entire process that I wanted to document. Getting the detail of the protruding hooves was one of the first images that I managed to take, but the versatility of the lens, was a great asset, being able to pull back on the Zoom, to get the entire animal into the frame to create a better perspective of the scene unfolding before me.

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The Buffalo Cow moved between the dark mud and lighter coloured sandbank a few times, sitting, lying, then standing again, trying her utmost to get the small calf out. The sun and clouds were not playing along, and to ensure that I could maintain great good quality images without needing to push my ISO too high, I was in the fortunate position to be able to swop lenses and pop on the Sigma Global Vision 120-300mm f2,8 DG OS HSM Sports Lens with a maximum aperture of f2.8, enabling me to utilize the low light conditions to the best of my and the camera’s ability.

This helped extend my sighting to the point where I was fortunate enough to witness the actual birthing process, along with the afterbirth care from the Mother, as she caringly licked away the afterbirth, and all possible smells that could attract predators to the area.

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Youngster, who was now wobbling about, was in a bit of a predicament, not being able to stand in the slippery mud, and a tense time followed, until the newborn calf got to its feet and made progress towards the edge of the mud pool where I eventually left it, along with the proud new mother and a large Bull that had taken up residence alongside the new family.

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My guests and I left the Buffalo to proceede to a spot in the dry riverbed where a celebratory sundowner drink was planned. The day could not have ended on a higher note when the sun broke through the clouds and colours one can only wish for, illuminated the sky. Having such a wide range to choose from, I again needed to change lenses, and what luck to have had my Sigma 35mm f1.4 Art Series Lens with me, that allowed me to capture the incredible sunset that followed.

Seeing new life is an absolute honour, but being able to capture it on camera is a dream for many proffessional wildlife photographers, and the general public alike. Thanks to my Trusty Sigma lenses, I have been able to fulfill one dream, and share it with the world.

I am looking forward to all the remaining photographic goals and dreams yet to be completed.

Rudi Hulshof is a wildlife photographic guide at Thornybush Game Reserve at Royal Malewane Lodge. Follow him on Facebook and Instagram for more inspiring wildlife photography.