Archive for the ‘lion’ Tag

Friday Foto Talk: Shooting Sunrise & Sunset, Part III   2 comments

The cholla and joshua trees are highlighted as the sun sets over the Mojave Desert.

The cholla and joshua trees are highlighted as the sun sets over the Mojave Desert.

This is the last of three parts on the subject of photographing at sunrise and sunset.  Please read Part II, as this post follows directly from there.  We left off covering tips and hints on how to best capture images shooting (I) into the sun and (II) at an angle to the sun.  Now let’s talk about how to…

III.  Shoot away from the Sun

With the sun over your shoulder, you should be able to simply point the camera and shoot.  You can even shoot in program mode without problems.  There is very little challenge with metering, and this is because of that wonderful golden and easy light known as front-light.  This is when sunlight tends to illuminate and reflect off of everything pretty much evenly.  As such, it’s a great time to shoot wildlife or people in the landscape.  Getting catch lights in their eyes is easier for one thing.  Just don’t make them squint (the people that is, well maybe the animals too).

Houses over the water in the Columbia River in Oregon have beautiful views westward to the setting sun.

Front-light:  houses over the water in the Columbia River in Oregon have beautiful views westward to the setting sun.

Alas, there is one issue with this mode of shooting.  It couldn’t be a total walk in the park, else it wouldn’t be worth doing, right?  When the sun is very low (which is when you want to shoot because the light is best), you will often find that your own shadow, and the shadow of your tripod, disrupts your foreground.  Sometimes when this happens I will set the camera’s self-timer on 10 seconds and then run out of the picture.  It’s much easier to use Photoshop to clone out the shadow of a tripod alone than the shadow of fat old me.  An alternative solution is to find a shooting angle where you are low enough, or at a slight angle to the sun, so that your shadow isn’t in the picture at all.  This will be made easier if you aren’t shooting at such a very wide angle (greater than about 35 mm.).

The evening frontlight is beautiful at base camp on the evening before climbing Island Peak in the Everest region of Nepal.

The evening front-light is beautiful at base camp on the evening before climbing Island Peak in the Everest region of Nepal.

Unlike other shooting angles, shooting away from the sun will often free you from the need to use a graduated neutral density filter (grad. ND).  See Part II of this series for an explanation on how to use a grad. ND filter.  You might still need to use one however if the sun gets low enough so that your foreground is in shadow while your background or sky is still brightly illuminated.  Even when you have a nice even front-light, the sky could be covered with a bright white clouds, making the use of a grad. ND filter necessary.

To see if you need to use one, just compose your scene and shoot.  Then check the LCD to see if your highlight warning (blinkies) is causing large patches of sky to blink.  You do have the highlight warning turned on don’t you?  Check your camera manual to see how to turn it on.

While you may not want your own shadow in the photo every time, the occasional interesting shadow adds to a front-lit sunset scene, as here in Leon, Nicaragua at the church La Recoleccion.

While you may not want your own shadow in the photo every time, the occasional interesting shadow adds to a front-lit sunset scene, as here in Leon, Nicaragua at the church La Recoleccion.

If you do have the blinkies, you know you need to decrease your exposure.  If you are in aperture priority mode, decrease your exposure compensation in 1/3 stop increments until you get the blinkies to stop (or be limited to mere slivers).  In manual mode adjust the shutter speed to shorter times in 1/3 increments.

Mount Hood is glowing while the foreground grazing sheep are in shadow, so a graduated neutral density filter was necessary.

Mount Hood is glowing while the foreground grazing sheep are in shadow, so a graduated neutral density filter was necessary.

After you get rid of the blinkies, look at the camera’s LCD to see if the foreground is too dark (you can also take a look at the histogram to help with this).  If the foreground is too dark, zero your exposure compensation and shoot with a grad. ND filter.  Then check the LCD again.  This might be a time when you can use that 2-stop (or even 1-stop) filter.  But I’ve found that if a 1-stop filter is called for, that usually means that I can apply the same thing in Lightroom (or Photoshop) after the fact with no loss of detail in the highlights.  Save your money and get 2-stop and/or 3-stop grad. ND filters for more extreme contrasts.

Layering and gorgeous vibrant colors are possible in front-lit landscapes such as this one, taken at sunset along the Columbia River.

Layering and gorgeous vibrant colors are possible in front-lit landscapes such as this one, taken at sunset along the Columbia River.

I hope you liked these posts.  I really would like to see your efforts, so make sure and post some sunrise or sunset photos and comment with a link.  I meet quite a few photographers who think sunrise and sunset are over-done.  But I actually think they just don’t know how many different types of photos can be had at these times when the light is at its best.  It really is about more than the sun, much more.

Wildlife are excellent subjects when shooting away from the sun.  Here in Kruger N.P., South Africa, a lion's mane picks up the gold from a sun that has just broken the horizon.

Wildlife are excellent subjects when shooting away from the sun. Here in Kruger N.P., South Africa, a lion’s mane picks up the gold from a sun that has just broken the horizon.

I also hope you enjoyed these images.  Please be aware that they are copyrighted and not available for free download, sorry.  If you’re interested in purchase of any of them, as fine-art prints or as high-resolution downloads, simply click on the image.  Once you are at the screen-filling image, click “add this image to cart”.  It won’t be added to your cart right away; just click the appropriate tab to be shown pricing for the image.

A wet meadow in the western Montana high country greets the new day.

A wet meadow in the western Montana high country greets the new day.

Please contact me if you have any questions.  Thanks for looking!

The time just after sunset is often the most atmospheric time to shoot a picture, as proven here in Cambodia.

The time just after sunset is often the most atmospheric time to shoot a picture, as proven here in Cambodia near Angkor Wat.

Kruger National Park, South Africa   Leave a comment

A lion in Kruger National Park pauses just as the sun breaks the horizon & lights his profile.

 

My Africa series continues with South Africa.  This is the country I first flew into, landing in Johannesburg (Jo’burg) only to immediately get lost driving my rental car through the sorts of neighborhoods where the world’s highest carjacking rates are.  There I was actually stopping to ask groups of young men on the street for directions.  Since I am writing this, you know I survived.  I had planned to visit Kruger, one of the world’s most famous National Parks, straightaway.  But instead I spent two months in Zambia, Malawi, Botswana & Zimbabwe.  Now, with some experience under my belt, I returned to Jo’burg and prepared to head to Kruger.

A baboon in Kruger National Park, South Africa, has an expressive face.

I had arranged for reservations in the park, ahead of time, through the Park’s website.  At Kruger Park’s camps, one has the choice of a nice but simple room or chalet, and a campsite.  For the former, reservations are necessary.  For the latter, it is not strictly necessary during the quieter periods.   I visited during a slower period, but still found plenty of other people, especially compared to some of the parks I had already been to (Kafue, Nyika, Hwange).  With this park, it is very wise to not visit during a busy period, which includes the height of summer (their winter) in July/August, nearly all of December, and other holiday weeks besides.  Check South Africa’s school and government holiday schedule on the web.

Many tourists fly in to the airport near the Park where they are picked up for their stay at one of the private lodges in Kruger or one of its satellite reserves (Sabi Sands, etc.).  But I am firmly in the budget traveler category, so I rented a car at Jo’burg airport, piled my stuff inside (including my well-used pup tent) and headed out.  Note that Kruger’s roads are generally excellent and do not require a 4×4.  A simple sedan will do, and they are relatively cheap.  Also note that drivers in South Africa do not like to travel at less than 90 mph unless they are forced to.  Be prepared to put the pedal to the metal or get good at pulling aside to let them pass.

After spending the night at a little B&B in Malelane just outside the southern gate of the same name.  Although I was told I needed reservations before I showed up at the gate, the truth is you can get the staff at the entrance to set you up at a camp if you arrive with few plans.  Just make sure, once again, that it’s not during a holiday period.  I drove right into the park, took the first turn toward the west, a well-graded gravel road, and began right away to see animals.  I saw a baby giraffe, a white rhino with her baby (image below), elephant and more.  I was stunned at the diversity.  Another thing I didn’t expect was the beauty and diversity of Kruger’s landscapes.  The southwestern corner, around the excellent Berg en Dal Camp, is hilly and rocky, with gorgeous landscapes.

 

Boomslangs are highly venomous snakes native to southern Africa, here emerging from a tree in Kruger National park.

I continued to explore the southern part of Kruger over the next 6 days.  I stayed at Skukuza, Lower Sabie & Satara Camps, plus visited Oliphants.  I liked Skukuza (for animals) and Berg en Dal the best.  I wished I would have stayed at Oliphants – it is perched spectacularly on a high hill.  Satara is a nice big camp as well.  Lower Sabie really squeezes their campers in.  I rose very early every morning, and was out on a game drive by 5 a.m. at latest.  One morning, from Lower Sabie Camp, I was the first car out when they opened the gate.  Shortly a few vehicles started following me (I go slower than most), so I impulsively turned onto an empty road.  Nobody else followed, and I kept going as the dim dusk light gradually improved.

Then I saw something in the road ahead.  It looked at first like small boulders lying there, but there were no cliffs around – flat as a pancake in fact.  As I got closer I realized I was looking at a dozen or so lions just lying in the road, all females and youngsters.  I stopped a hundred meters from them, but they had heard me.  A big female was the first to rise, quite reluctantly, with a lot of stretching and yawning.  She then took a long pee, forming a lake on the pavement.  The others slowly followed, the babies very cute as they yawned.  I drew closer.  The sun was breaking the horizon, but I was unable to get the photos I really wanted, as they were rapidly melting back into the bush.  Now I turned and noticed a couple other cars had showed up.  Beyond them, I saw a big male sauntering down the road.

I waited and he passed within a few feet of me, pausing briefly as the sun cleared the horizon and cast a golden light on him.  He gazed at me briefly, then continued his slow pursuit of his pride.  He was majestic, and I a nice portrait of him (above).  Note that these photographs are available for licensing via download, or purchase as framed or matted prints.  If you click on one of the images, it will usually take you to my website, where you can make a purchase.  If you click an image that does not take you to my site, you are welcome to download that image for personal use only.  Thanks very much for your respect and interest.

 

Near Skukuza Camp, there are several kopjes, which are large rocky outcrops that stand up above the surrounding bush.  One such kopje was the site of my first leopard sighting in Africa, and it was special.  I was alone at the base of the rocks as dusk deepened.  I was really pushing it, since at Kruger it is illegal to be outside the camps after sunset.  It was the type of environment where you cannot help but think of leopards: plenty of rocky hiding places amongst the large granite monoliths.  I was just about to give up and race back before they closed the camp gate when a leopard just trotted up the dirt road.  I watched as he gracefully probed the forest near the road for prey, his long tail waving in the air above him.  He was the most gorgeous animal I had ever seen.  My picture was not the best, because of low light, but it means a lot to me.

A leopard stalks the bushveld in the early evening at Kruger National Park, South Africa.

 

A lioness stalks impala (who are unaware of her) in Kruger National Park, South Africa.

This spot became my lucky kopje.  Next morning early, I was once again alone, very near where I had spotted the leopard the previous night, when I felt a strong urge to stop and wait.  As I backed into position near an opening in the bush, a lioness abruptly rose from right beside the dirt road, only a few meters from me.  I had passed without noticing her crouching there.  Lions blend in so well with the tan grass of the bush.  She proceeded to stalk some impala who were clustered in trees just below us.  I watched for a good 40 minutes until a couple other cars showed up.  As I pulled away, I was happy that my normal routine of late-sleeping night-owl had been turned on its head in Africa.  The early bird gets the wildlife sightings.

I saw much more at Kruger, all of the Big Five several times over.  (The Big Five are Elephant, Buffalo, Lion, Rhino, and Leopard.)  But those experiences at the kopje were probably the most memorable.  I also took a night drive, which I highly recommend.  Guides working at Kruger are extremely professional and good at what they do.  You are not allowed to do night drives on your own, and lions, wild dog, and other animals are much more active at night.  They often use the roadways as trails at night.  Many other animals (such as the honey badger and civet) you will only see at night.  Later, near the southern part of the park on a dirt road, I saw the rare black rhino, two in fact.

These are MUCH less common than white rhinos, and the two species’ behavior differences are much greater than their physical ones.  If you are charged by a rhino, it will most likely be a black rhino.  One of the pair I saw, in fact, made as to approach me, trotting a few paces before just staring at me.  Later, as I lay on the road (illegally – you are not supposed to get out of your vehicle at Kruger), trying to photograph a dung beetle busily rolling his dung ball, I looked up to see my friend the rhino, this time alone.  As he walked down the road toward my vehicle, I walked (quickly, trying not to run) toward him to beat him to my car.  I made it with room to spare, but he had definitely caught my scent.

 

I crossed out of Kruger on a bridge over the Crocodile River, after a memorable week in this beautiful park.  On my way to Swaziland (the “kingdom within a country”), I stopped on the bridge and watched (what else?) a large croc  basking on some rocks below.  I recalled being told by experienced Africa travelers that Kruger was too touristy and developed a park to be worth a visit.  You will definitely see more cars and other tourists in Kruger than you will in, say, Kafue N.P. in Zambia.  But Kruger’s beautiful landscapes, its diversity of wildlife, and its sheer size (I only saw a fraction of the park in one week) make it a very worthwhile destination.  And to seal the deal, it offers all of this at a relatively cheap price.  Take the dirt roads, get up very early, nap in the afternoon, and stay out until the gates close.  You will see all of the African wildlife of your dreams, from big and mean loners (below) to cute families (bottom).

A black rhino approaches for a closer look in South Africa’s Kruger National park.

A family of vervet monkeys stick together in Kruger National Park, South Africa.

Botswana   Leave a comment

A young male Nile crocodile basks on the banks of the Chobe River in northeast Botswana.

When travelers finally reach Maun, jumping-off point for safaris in Botswana, they are understandably eager to visit the Okavango Delta and its bordering reserves to the north.  But a great option if you have the time are the Kalahari and other areas to the south and east.  A visit to “the Pans” (Makgadikgadi and Nxai Pans) is easy to combine with the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, and this will expose you to ecosystems that could not be more different from the Okavango’s wetlands.  Of course, there are plenty of guided options here.  Any internet search will turn up places like Jack’s Camp, a fly-in camp deep in the Kalahari that includes guided walks with the San people (less correctly called Bushmen).  But Jack’s is pretty expensive.

An African hornbill perches over my campsite at Makgadikgadi Pans National Park in Botswana.

Cheaper and easier is simply traveling by bus to Gansi (pronounced Hansi), a center for San culture southwest of Maun.  Use one of the more moderately priced lodges here (such as the excellent Grasslands) as a base to tour the Kalahari in the company of San who will show you their unique ways tracking and survival.  There are, as far as I know, no San remaining in the Kalahari who live as their ancestors did.  But many groups now residing in or near Gansi are only a decade or less removed from a hunter-gatherer existence.  Even if you don’t walk with the San, traveling through any area south of Maun means you will overhear the characteristic “click” language of Botswana’s Kalahari natives.  I listened for a long time to a group gathered by a campfire; after a while it began to seem normal.

It is arguably easier to visit the Kalahari (as well as the Pans) by simply driving yourself.  If you can share with two or three other travelers, this might be the cheapest option as well.  Arrange to rent a 4×4 ahead of time, or by visiting the rental car company offices across the road from the Maun Airport once you’ve arrived.  You can either rent a vehicle with camping equipment, or rent what you need from Kalahari Kanvas, located a couple hundred meters down the road that runs along the airstrip.  Be sure to rent or buy at least two 5-gallon containers, one for water and one for petrol or diesel.  Both fresh water and fuel are in very short supply away from major towns in Botswana (not kidding, you will run out of gas on a lonely road if you do not bring at least one 5-gallon can).  I rented a 4×4 Toyota Hilux pickup.  It ran about $125/day, but was probably the toughest 4×4 I’ve ever driven.

Driving east from Maun on an empty and excellent paved road, you first come  to Nxai Pan, with its gorgeous open landscapes and prides of lion.  There are campsites and driving loops, and it’s famous for its gorgeous groves of baobab trees.  Travel a bit further east, then drive south of the highway on 4×4 tracks across the Makgadikgadi Pans to camp amidst herds of migrating zebra (end of dry season in November) elephant, antelope and other animals.  You are truly getting off the beaten track in Africa if you do this.  A planned safari in a high-end lodge will not come anywhere near this kind of experience, and will cost you much more besides.

Not far south of the Pans lies the enormous Central Kalahari Game Reserve.  I entered from the east.  Friendly staff at the entrance station are happy to help you plan a camping loop in the reserve.  It is very different visiting this reserve at the end of the dry season, as I did in November, then it is if you go at the end of the wet season in March or April.  I was there at the hottest time of the year, when temperatures regularly top 100oF.  But…it’s a dry heat.  The grass is lower at this time of year, and wildlife is drawn to the few artificial waterholes.  So the wildlife is easier to spot.  But the green season has much to recommend it, including more beautiful landscape photo compositions along with the cooler temperatures.

Roads in the Kalahari are sandy but negotiable in a 4×4.  Remember to deflate your tires BEFORE you get fully buried in sand, and you should have little problem.  It’s worth renting a small compressor at Kalahari Kanvas to re-inflate your tires once you’re back on hard surfaces.  Also, in brushy areas approaching the Reserve, stop and pick up some firewood.  You’ll need it to cook with and to keep the animals away from your camp during the nights.  Don’t stop inside the reserve and collect firewood.  This is not because of regulations.  Simply put, you do not want to be walking around, stooping and picking up firewood, in the domain of Kalahari lions.  Speaking of brush, if you head here in the green season, expect to have to stop frequently to brush off the seeds and plant debris from your front grill.  If you don’t, you are asking to overheat.

A large female African elephant shades her baby from the direct sun during the hottest time of year in Botswana’s Chobe National Park.

 

Soon after entering the Kalahari Reserve, I saw a large lion and two lionesses (image below) in Deception Valley, a beautiful expanse of grassland.  They were lying about as lions do during daytime.  I also saw gemsbok, giraffe and springbok, along with many interesting birds.  For example, the Kori bustard is a large bird that tends to freak you out with its strange sidelong gaze as it strides purposefully through the tall grass.   I camped near Leopard Pan, alone except for hyena calling nearby.  These camps are very simple, which is to my liking.  They are quite different from camps in South Africa or Namibia, which even have restaurants and swimming  pools.  Here in the Kalahari, you get a bucket shower (if you’ve brought an extra 5-gallon jug) and a fire ring.  Sometimes there’s a picnic table (but rent a folding table and chairs just the same).  You will come to look forward to the bucket shower.  You simply fill the bucket, then hoist it on ropes to its position above your head.  Then you simply open the shower head and let gravity do the work.  So refreshing after a long hot day, believe me.

A lioness nudges her lion with not much success in rousing him. Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana.

 

A gemsbok, or oryx, gets a drink at a water hole in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana.

Traveling through the Reserve, seeing only a few other vehicles in 3 days, feeling very free and self-reliant, camping out amongst the brilliant Kalahari stars, I felt fully immersed in the great emptiness of untamed Africa.  I saw enough animals to keep me in neck-swivel mode while driving the rough roads.  There is a definite skill to be developed by anyone considering a self-drive safari in Africa, to keep your attention on the narrow track yet be able to spot wildlife.  I was mostly alone, wandering the dry landscape, spotting mirages and the long horns of gemsbok, always alert for the large, dark-maned Kalahari lion.

A more relaxing way to go about wildlife watching in the Kalahari is to park at a waterhole (which is filled by a nearby well & pump).  I sat for over an hour at a waterhole near Leopard Pan, watching a pair of jackals foraging.  I was rewarded when a herd of gemsbok showed up.  This antelope species, with its enormous horns, is supremely adapted to desert life.  The big ears, for example, aren’t only for hearing.  As with elephant ears, the animal rids itself of heat using the thin, floppy ears, which have abundant blood vessels near the cooler surface.

On my last day in the Kalahari, I passed several giraffes that were passing the heat of the day under some acacias next to the road.  When I rolled down the window and craned my neck upwards to get a better look and photograph them, one curious male slowly bent his long neck downwards to me.

 

 

A giraffe’s tongue is a wonder of nature.

He used his long tongue to reach up to his nose and gave several long licks.  Then, peering down at me with those huge eyes, he gave me a little smile.  I did not know before this that giraffe mouths commonly take on this expression, and it solidified the giraffe’s position as my favorite African animal.  I often think back on that moment, and it speaks to me of this heart of southern Africa.

If you have even more time, you can drive northeast from Maun, to the Savute.   It lies within the Chobe National Park, and has a reputation for abundant wildlife.  I saw a great variety of animals, but no cats, sadly.  The elephant were super-abundant  however.  The Savute Channel flows now nearly year-round because the pancake-flat land of this region has been slowly tilting, resulting in water from the Caprivi area in nearby Namibia flowing down to Savute.  This has also brought much more water to the Okavango Delta itself.

The dry season being at its peak when I visited, elephant had been showing up in numbers at Savute  from drier areas in the region.  Some had walked hundreds of kilometers to get to lifegiving water.  And yet, I soon began to notice many elephant carcasses, and at the campsite I asked a guide why elephants were dying with all this water and grass around.  He told me his theory, which I agree with.  The dead were made up almost entirely of young elephants.  Not babies – teenagers.  They had died, the guide said, when they drank too much water.

 

 

This reminded me of the problems we humans often have when we drink too much water.  If you drink too much without taking in electrolytes (i.e., eating), you risk a condition called  hyponatremia.   This causes your cells literally to burst, with death not far behind.  Maybe this had happened to the young elephants.  The adults are too smart to do this, and they keep their babies from overindulging.  But teenagers without adult supervision could easily get carried away when they first arrive, parched from their long trek to water.  It was quite sad, and reminded me of the trials and hardships inherent in surviving the African bush.

But despite the heat, the harshness of the terrain, the eat or be eaten nature of genuine safari experience, northern Botswana, with its diverse population and surrounding wonders, welcomes all those who make the long trek there with big curious eyes and a shy smile.

A giraffe in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana, appears to smile at me (but is merely curious).

Kafue II   Leave a comment

A warthog boar with impressive tusks stands in the forest near the Kafue River, western Zambia.

This is the second of two installments on Kafue National Park in western Zambia.  After visiting the center region of Kafue, along the main road that bisects the park, I drove up to the more-remote, northern part of the park.  I bounced down increasingly sketchy dirt tracks, crowded in by the bush to the point of scraping along both sides of my truck.  I was headed for McBride’s Camp, along the upper Kafue River.  I got a flat along the way, and thought for the second time in a week that I would be spending the night in the bush, sleeping in the truck.  It was well past dark when I finally found the camp.  A night watchman showed me where to camp, and I turned out to be the only camper.  That night, I heard the mournful calling of lions.  It just got louder and louder, until they sounded as if they were in camp.  Thankfully they proceeded right through, not bothering to check out the small tent pitched all alone among the trees.

At McBride’s Camp along the Kafue River in the eponymous national park, a black-backed barbet calls for some more to eat.

McBride’s is run by an affable ex-lion researcher from South Africa named Chris McBride.  We got along famously, the Scot and the Irishman.  He and his wife were winding up a very busy season, and I was one of their last visitors.  I was taken first thing in the morning by boat to see the two lions that had visited the camp during the night.  After that, there was plenty of time in the afternoon to swap stories with Chris, drink tea and watch the colorful birds who flew in for handouts.  I was treated very well.  The staff insisted on calling me “bwana”, a word I had only heard on old movies featuring Brits wearing those funny safari hats.  Bwana, by the way, is Swahili for boss.

Late in the day, we struck out on foot, accompanied by an armed guard, looking for more wildlife.  A foul smell was on the air as we walked along, and soon we found a dead hippo, killed by another hippo.  We almost didn’t notice at first, but a male lion was lying alongside the carcass, apparently taking a snooze.  He then heard us and, startled, jumped up and ran away, or so we thought.  As we circled the carcass to get upwind of the horrible stench, we heard a roar in the bush to the left and then saw a shape dart out.  He was there, and moving so quickly for a big creature.  The guard turned as if to run, and my mouth dropped.  Wasn’t he supposed to protect us?  But it turned out to be a false charge, and he retreated to the bush, softly growling at us.  Needless to say we beat a hasty retreat.  We didn’t run, because it’s true what they say: Never Run!  I’ll never forget the sound of that lion, penetrating my bones it was so deep, and how fast he was.  I learned there is a huge difference between a lion sighting while in a safari vehicle, and a lion sighting while on foot.

The second night at McBride’s was a sleepless one for me.  This was not because of the insomnia that I am experiencing as I write this, but because I was afraid of being dragged from my tent and eaten.  The African night is full of bird sound, and also primates (tough to tell between the two).  Near where I camped there is a meadow, and this was full of impala grazing from evening on through the night.  After hearing lion calling again, and tracking them off in another direction, I was getting close to sleep.

 

 

 

But then I opened my eyes, realizing there were no birds calling.  It was dead silent.  Then, suddenly, I heard the sound of a hundred or more hoofs galloping away.  It was the impala running..but from what?  I was literally holding my breath as silence descended again.  Then I heard it: a deep, rasping-breathing animal, and walking right toward my tent!  I had not even put the fly on, because of the heat.  So I just flattened my body and tried to sink into the ground, while the cat (that is what it must be) caught its breath only a few meters away from me.  It seemed an hour passed, but it must have only been five or six minutes, and the cat padded silently away.  It was only when the night birds began to sing again, one by one, that I relaxed somewhat.

An armed ranger is essential for walks in the African bush

I guessed it must have been a leopard, and I was proved right next morning when I talked to Chris.  Turns out I was camped inside the territory of a big male.  Chris was amused at my concern, and assured me that as long as I stay in my tent, no animal will harm me.  Why then, I asked him, do all the other campers I see have those rooftop tents on their 4x4s?  He just smiled.  We called my type of person a greenhorn in Alaska.  Climbers call them flatlanders.  I still don’t really know what Africans call the clueless.  Maybe they are just too nice for that.  That night I got no sleep, but it wasn’t just the leopard.  In the wee hours of morning, a herd of elephant trundled through camp, and I again worried about dying, but this time squashed flat, not with a pierced jugular.  Once again, the next morning Chris explained that elephant can walk right through a camp in pure blackness of night, expertly stepping over the staked guylines and around the tents.

There were other adventures in Kafue.  I saw my first Cape buffalo (see previous post for the picture).  It was a fantastic close encounter with a large herd I found towards dusk.  I had been told that buffalo are fearsome, probably the most dangerous African animal (and that’s saying something).  But they are only hazardous when you catch a male alone or in a pair.  In a herd, they are almost like antelope, running if you approach.  The shot (again, you’ll need to look at the previous post) I got from a tripod, since the light was fading fast.  Thus the shutter speed was slow.  Luckily they stood almost completely still.  Combined with the dust kicked up by the herd, this gives the image a soft quality, one that lends itself to black and white.  Feel free to comment on any of my images.  But please if you click on one and it takes you to my website, realize the image is for sale only.  Images that do not take you to my website you are welcome to download a jpeg and use for personal use only.  Thanks.

 

 

Toward midnight on the third night at McBride’s, I was just falling to sleep after (again) listening and tracking the call of lion, when headlights appeared.  It turned out to be my friends from Lusaka, come to reclaim the truck they had given me.  Turns out they had borrowed the Mitsubishi from a friend, and now they wanted to give me the Ford back (which was repaired, or so they said).  I watched them for a few minutes walking around their truck, trying to figure out where I was, then jumped out of the tent and ran over to them, saying hello and I would love to stand around and talk but there are lion and elephant in the immediate area and I would not recommend hanging around in the darkness.  They didn’t need to be told twice, believe me, and fought each other in a frenzy to get back in the truck.  They were hilarious; I started calling them Laurel and Hardy.

A puku buck is always on alert in Kafue National Park, with good reason.

Next morning they switched trucks with me and drove off.  Later, after coffee with Chris, I found out that (1) they had taken off with my wallet still inside the truck, and (2) they had left me with not enough fuel to make it back to Lusaka.  I solved the second problem by buying fuel from a private party in a small town at the edge of the park (this is something you can always try in rural areas thoughout most of the third world if you are desparately low on fuel).  The wallet had me VERY worried all the way back to Lusaka.  I had called Laurel on my cell phone, and he told me he would look for it in the truck.  When I met him in Lusaka, he walked up with the wallet in his hand – nothing missing.  This honesty amongst Africans was one of the nicest discoveries of my trip to Africa.  They are much more likely to return an expensive camera (or a wallet) than they are to take advantage of the situation, however poor they are.  Of course there are a few bad apples, as there are everywhere, but there seem to really be few bad ones in Africa.

An African vulture dares to creep close to a hippo carcass while a male lion waits for the brave bird to get too close.

If you go to Zambia, I recommend both South Luangwa and Kafue National Parks.  If you can only do one, make it Kafue.  It has much more of a wilderness feel than Luangwa, though the animals are much more spread out.  You’ll also want to go to Livingstone, gateway to Victoria Falls.  Here is Zambia’s number one tourist attraction by far, but even here, if you simply walk into the town center, you will find the tribal heart of Africa, in the form of its people.  Though they come from all over the country to work in the tourist trade, they are at heart simple folk with strong tribal and family identities.  ‘You can take the African out of his village, but you can’t take the village out of the African’ would be an apt way to put it.  While this is true enough right now, things are changing.  Western values are infiltrating African culture as they are to one degree or another all over the world.  So if you have not yet made it to Africa, go soon.  And get off the beaten track, visit a village, go to a relatively unknown park like Kafue.  And remember: don’t leave your tent, and never, never run!

The sun comes up (finally) after a night in which my tent seemed to be the epicenter of animal activity in this part of Kafue National Park, Zambia.

%d bloggers like this: