November 28th through December 11th, 1993
November 29th 1993.
After a rest in Germany, I returned to Nairobi on my way to my work station in the Masai Mara, ready for the second of twelve planned rounds. I actually wanted to dedicate December to the Elephants from the Musiara Swamp, since it hadnīt rained in the last weeks and everything was scorched and brown just as it is in September / October.
This with the thought in mind, that in the swamp area there might be a little green and with the continuing thought, that Elephants in December would be a nice conclusion to a picture book that has been accumulated and arranged for months.
Well, but now I was told by Steve Turner at the Wilson Airport in Nairobi, with a put on sorrowful expression, that he had bad news for me from the Mara and that it would mean lots of work.
First of all, a Cheetah mother close to the Governors-Camp had 4 tiny babies that had just opened their eyes, which meant that they werenīt any older than a week, and this Leopard mother called "Paradise" had become 3 young around the 23rd or 24th of November.........
Now Leopards and Cheetahs were about the last thing I needed at the moment. I could use pictures of Cheetahs rather sparingly for the picture book anyway, since I had just published a book together with Norbert Rosing in Spring and I already had enough slides of Cheetahs for this book from September and October.
And in the chapter "January " I had more than 12 pages of Leopards with pictures and reports of a tour from January of this year, where I had photographed "Paradise" with her at that time 3 months old daughter for two weeks and 160 rolls of film. So these two types of felines are already highly represented in the planned book.
mother brought her young into the world in this
In spite of all that, it would be impossible to let the opportunity slip away especially with a Leopard to practically be able to accompany the family, starting with the birth of the young, through their first months of life. Although I would be missing the time for the production of pictures on my book.
Cheetahs, Leopards, Elephants and pictures in the night all at the same time: how was that supposed to work? I guess Iīll keep it with the famous "Beckenbauer philosophy : " Well.... weīll see ......."
Fujichrome-100 and Ectachrome Panther-100 (Lumiere-100 in USA)
The Fujichrome-100 never was famous for its sharpness. That is why I took the opportunity to try out the new Ecta chrome Panther -100 on the first tour of this project. The German press highly praised it as a new mile stone in the field of slide films since the introduction of the E-6 development.
And I had the thought in the back of my mind to use this new type of film series for the 12 rounds of my Photo project Masai Mara.
Panther-50 for plants and landscapes, then panther-100 for wildlife, the panther-200 and 400 for actions during mediocre and bad light and the panther-1600 for tasks which werenīt to be solved during picture taking. I still find the idea pretty good only that the panther-100 unfortunately did not keep what the press had so highly proclaimed and what one might have expected.
He certainly is sharp super sharp. The panther-100 can without doubt be compared with the Kodachrome-25 or the Velvia-50 and hold his own. Other than that he is just too hard on contrast, has hardly any play and is in the colors rather brown according to my experiences.
That is why now, during my second tour, I remorsefully returned to my renown combination: Fuji chrome-50 (not Velvia-50) for plants and landscapes as well as for still standing animals, Fuji chrome-100 for moving wildlife and Kodachrome-200 and Fuji chrome-400 for action photos and extremely bad light.
November 30th, 1993.
Today we were standing at the Leopardīs cave all day with our vehicle, without anything happening. It was easy to find the cave since Eberhard Brunner from Alaska was in the Mara for a few weeks in November and left this sketch for me at the reception of the Mara River Camp, upon hearing that I would be arriving about three days after his departure. A good example on the collegial cooperation between wildlife photographers.
Brunner drew this layout of the Leopard cave on a flattened
breakfast box and
Shortly before sunset, the Leopard lady finally came out of her cave and went to a tree about 50 meters away from the cave, in which she had stored a partially eaten Impala (Leopard, page 43). As she climbed onto the tree, she startled a white owl who flew away with its prey in its talons. Luckily the White Owl only flew about 30 meters and perched on a tree at about eye level photographically very advantageous. Clearly in view of the camera, on top of that, without a single tree limb to cover the view. Something like this was very hard to believe as a sorrowful wildlife photographer. Most of the time there is at least one branch in front of the bird right through the entire picture, usually several branches.
The Owl didnīt have anything against us positioning the vehicle only about 10 m in distance from her. Several times she glanced at us very curiously, but mostly she just turned her head the other way.
The biggest problem with photographing during sunset or in the dark is, as you know, the sharpness. Auto focus is very helpful here, because with the modern electronic flash, the sharpness is automatically determined on a red beam, before the picture is actually shot. Unfortunately this system works outside only for shorter distances.
Thatīs why I have one of the well known strong flashlights with me in Africa, that can reach 500 to 1000 m. I covered these with a see through red foil since animals tend to react less to red light rather than white light.
This was proven once again in this situation. While the driver pointed the flashlight with the red light on the owl who did not react at all the auto focus was able to adjust. This red beam of light is all it takes for the auto focus; to adjust the sharpness manually absolutely exact is extremely difficult and based more or less on luck.
The driver was able to tell by the light of the red beam, that the Owl was holding a bat with her talons. So waiting all day for the Leopard paid off after all in the last minute with these unusual pictures of the Owl.
To Hell with Nikon and Canon.
This morning around 9 oīclock I missed like so many times before two super shots. The jeep was stopped and the female Leopard drifted slowly towards it. About 10 meters ahead of me, there was a perfectly photogenic bush and I wanted to photograph the two together. So I had my F4s with the 4.0/100-300 mm in front of me in the car window.
But suddenly the lady Leopard stopped a bit further away and gazed towards the direction of my jeep, where she had apparently discovered some Impala behind me.
She stood there so still and tense, with huge amber eyes tone in tone with the surrounding amber grass and in front of a wonderfully quiet background.
So, quickly, the camera with the 100-300 mm lens out from the car window, the prepared second camera with the 600 on it into the car window frame.
The lady Leopard had of course turned her head in the meantime and gazed interestedly toward the left. But through the viewfinder you could just imagine that this would be a perfect portrait, as soon as she would turn back toward the front with her huge eyes. That was what I was waiting for, the 600 ready for the shot.
Suddenly, from behind and not noticed or not heeded by the mother, the now one year old daughter of the female Leopard came carefully closer, apparently seeking body contact with the mother, whoīd been denying the contact for days as she had a new litter of 9 youngsters.
The little one came as far as being next to mom. I suddenly had two Leopards directly next to each other in my viewfinder.
But for this picture, the focal length was too wide. So away with the 600 and the camera with the 100-300 zoom back into the window frame. Exactly at that moment, momma Leopard realized that her daughter was standing directly next to her. She moved against her daughter in such a rage, that the startled young Leopard practically jumped about 1 meter straight up and was for a moment all fours in the air and laying sideways suspended in the air, a good distance above the ground, almost the same level as her motherīs head.
Two incredible pictures, both missed because our folks at Nikon and Canon offer a professional camera with both the F4 and EOS-I, but none that has a sensible auto focus zoom with sensible speed. I could surely have taken these pictures with a 4.0/200-500 mm or a 4,5/200-600 mm auto focus attached to the F4s or the EOS-I.
So once again half a work day with running costs was wasted without results, because it seems that no-one in the photo industry feels obliged to manufacture usable tools for wildlife photographers.
The air in Africaīs wilderness smells fantastic. I would love to photograph here just the same way as in the Bavarian Forest or in Sweden...... on foot, with just a photo back pack on my back and hiking through nature.
Only, here that is not allowed, too dangerous and impossible considering the desired results. Something that is easily forgotten: the animals in the state parks and wildlife preserves in Africa are extremely shy toward humans. Of all the animals in the Masai Mara, most can be seen only at a minimum of 500 m distance the photographic distance need not be discussed. Our magic is the camouflage cap called "automobile". This is very frequently forgotten.
Today I was reminded of that once again: Two female Lions met again after a separation and one of them had 4 tiny babies who were just able to walk after their mother, the other had two young who were already a few months old.
The eight Lions greeted one another very warmly, about 10-12 m from my vehicle. I was just photographing a very wonderful and emotional scene through the car window, in which a female Lion was licking a baby lovingly, when suddenly all eight Lions panicked and stormed off.
Some of the little ones jumped down a rocky slope out of fright, whereby they could have hurt themselves badly.
The reason: suddenly somewhat diagonally positioned next to our vehicle, a brown car from the Mara Safari Club was parked with two tourist couples. The men believed they had to climb out on top of the car through the sunroof.
But the moment the silhouette of the human on his two legs parts with the camouflage cap called vehicle, the magic is gone and the animals suddenly see themselves confronted with their worst enemy at close range and they frequently are totally panicked.
Without this camouflage cap called "automobile", there would be no decent pictures out of the life of Cheetahs or Leopards except maybe a few boring pictures, taken out of a camouflage tent, of a tied down goat as bait..... The way Tigers used to be photographed before there were Jeeps in India.
This is another reason why there are no decent pictures of wild Snow Leopards. As long as he doesnīt house in an area in his habitat or a national park, that allows us to use a 4 wheel driven vehicle to approach or follow him, picture stories about the life of this beautiful feline will an impossibility.
December 7th, 1993
Plans are made to be changed
Now, after a good two weeks of "tour 2", the situation is slowly clearing up. The female Leopard leaves the cave almost every morning between 9 and 10 am to do her morning toilette.
The rest of the time she is either constantly in the cave or lying in a near by tree. She hasnīt hunted during the day, apparently she does that much rather at night. The one year old daughter though, who enjoys being in the vicinity of her mother, hunts more often during the day.
So the program for the day is simple: early in the morning at first light, finding the daughter and when we find her, following her to see if she will be hunting.
Then later at about 8.30am, being at the cave in high hopes that mother Leopard will show one of her young.
The actually planned December feature of Elephant Photography for the book project I decided to move to another month. In the meantime it dawned on me that it might not be such a bad idea after all to have an almanac type book which started with a Leopard story in January where the first daughter is three months old end with a Leopard story in December.
That would be a nice view of the life in small family of nature and the years changing cycle.
The Elephants of the Musiara Swamp would make just as good a picture in the April or May chapter; during the rainy season everything will be nice and green there and the animals wonīt look gray and dusty but rather like they had just passed through a truck wash.
At 1pm you are parked peacefully, close to a tree in which a very relaxed Leopard is reclining. All other vehicles are at the lodges and camps at this time to eat lunch.
You can hear and smell Africa and everything is beautiful, until slowly bit by bit the other vehicles start appearing again and suddenly you are surrounded by 12-14 Toyota Land cruisers with diesel engines that make especially nice hammering noises and are manned with 50-100 tourists who have interrupted their vacation on the beach for two days because they got bored.
So now here they are, standing in the open sunroofs with coke bottles, cigarettes and video cameras in their hands and dropping highly sophisticated comments on Leopards and Africa while still being on that trip like: "we are the experienced free and easy globetrotters from the Indian Ocean who just happened to do the Masai Mara today and are off to somewhere totally different tomorrow."
You curse them the moment they appear because they are disturbing your work and you donīt even realize that without them there would be no Masai Mara.
No chance for us to find boarding, get vehicles, to know where the animals are and most important of all without the 300.000 two-day tourists, the animals would be so shy, that photographing them would be so much more strenuous, if at all possible.
So, if I can document the life of a female Leopard here, then only because over the years, decades and for generations, the animals got used to more metal, noise, action and more noise through the tourists, than a wildlife photographer produces while sitting quietly in his vehicle. (Leopards, pages 60 and 77).
So let there be thanks to the beach tourists, who come as sometimes irritating two day tourists to the Mara.
The tourists who come to Africa and the Masai Mara for one or two weeks especially for the wildlife, behave so much different in comparison.
These are so interested and disciplined, understanding and quiet they really love the nature in Africa and are a real asset for the area.
December 10th, 1993
After a long dry spell, when rain really pours from the heavens with thunder and lightning, giant swarms of Termites fly from their castles.
When some people canīt wait for this to happen, they pour numerous buckets of water over these mounts and one beats on a drum to imitate the clap of thunder. Sometimes the Termites are fooled, but not always.
Late last night there was such a flight of a swarm of Termites and when I got up the next morning and went to the breakfast room about 5.30am, the entire porch - and in some places the wind had made high mounds was covered with shed wings from the Termites. (Masai Mara, page 50).
At 6am the camp workers will come and sweep them away. So I will save a soup bowl full of these wings for the afternoon hours of 1 - 3pm. I love motifs like these: you can take close ups nice and easy and kill the "dead time" in the afternoon by using it photographically sensible.
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