1. Tour - Part Two
From now on I drove every evening at sun down to the Leopard gorge, until I finally had pictures of Baboons that in their melancholy way resembled those of active pre-historic humans from a time when our story of evolution was at a dawning age. (Masai Mara, page 15)
They looked like beings that came from the depth of pre historic times, on the verge of starting the march of millions of years through evolution aiming at Coca Cola and interactive cultural television on MTV and satellite programs.
"We are the connecting link between ape and human" (Konrad Lorenz)
Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler, who both belong to the same family of singing birds are separated in their DNA, their strains of molecules that store all of the genetic information of the parents for their descendants, by 2,6%. The genetic difference between chimpanzees and us is only 1,6%.
98,4% of our DNA is chimpanzee DNA . So in the remaining 1,6% the upright walk, our odd brain and the curious sexual behavior is stored. For decades we searched the universe with telescopes, laser beams, directional microphones and other electrical waves, always in hopes of finding signs of life from other human like species.
Amusingly enough we have to slowly realize or rather accept the fact that these other human-like beings have been living right next to us for millions of years and that we just havent, or did not want to, realize it. Today we finally are at a stage where we can recognize Chimpanzees and Gorillas as human type species. It is a joyful realization to find that we are no longer alone in the infinite universe.
But this also brings up far reaching questions: Can we use human type species for medical experiments? Can we display human type species in zoos? "Homo" troglodytes, the Chimpanzee yes, but "Homo" sapiens not?
New Zealand has, as the first country on earth, given the apes (anthropoids) human rights............
And if we accept the fact that Chimpanzees, Dwarf Chimpanzees, Gorillas and Orangutans are human type species, can we quietly sit and watch while they get killed in their home by Hyenas and Lions? Can we watch while they die through diseases for which we have cures? Can we reserve the right to use medication for one type of human species but not for the other four? Do we have to help humans of another species if, for instance, they have an accident and have broken an arm or can we just sit in our Land Rover and quietly watch while they suffer from the results of the accident or even starve to death because they cant use their arm anymore?
October 12th, 1993
Many think, good wildlife photography in Africa is simple, because the animals hardly have an escape distance. Especially Cheetahs are no problem, since they cant hide in the savanna.
Today we left the Cheetah mother with her 4 young at 12 oclock during the noon heat lying in the shade under a tree, certain that we would find them again at 3pm when we returned. When we came back at 3pm they were gone. Only wide open savanna in a 5 km radius and still they were not to be found. We ended up looking for the 5 Cheetahs with all of 11 cars, all from the surrounding camps and they all had native drivers who knew every tree, every rock and every animal there. At 5pm two hours later - we finally discovered them, because one of the young cheetahs had lifted its head above the only 20 cm tall grass.
To clear up the mystery: Between noon and 3pm, while all the vehicles were at their respective camps, the Cheetah captured a Thompson Gazelle who had been just a little too lighthearted. The five had eaten their fill and when the vehicles returned at 3pm for the afternoon tour, all 5 were lying flat in the savanna fast asleep so that not even the 30-40 passengers of the 11 vehicles equipped with binoculars were able to spot them in spite of the open landscape and the certainty that a mother with 4 very young kids would not be able to travel far in the searing heat. So much for the "easy" Cheetahs.
If you have a stealthy and careful Leopard who is lying on a rock, move 2 Meters off to the side into the grass or into a ditch, you wont find him again if he doesnt want you to. You can have 100 cars.... That is the reason why there are so few really good pictures of an active Leopard. Most pictures show the Leopard lazily reclining in a tree by himself or with his prey, since this is the only acceptable picture of a Leopard that can be taken relatively easy with the least amount of time and mental expenditure.
When you get to talking to people while traveling or in camps and you answer the question as to what your profession is with "Wildlife Photographer", then most people get a rapturous expression on their face, glassy eyes and the sentence that invariably comes is: "Oh, I am so envious."
That is why I took one of the 12 acts of the "Masai Mara A Jewel of Africa" opera and analyzed it to a point of why this profession is so fascinating for people:
The first tour for this photo project took 3 weeks, from September 27th until October 19th. All of 20 hours of that time I sat in airplanes and 14 hours of that time I was waiting for airplanes. 21 times 8 hours I was lying in bed and 20 times 12 hours I sat in my Toyota Landcruiser.
A day in the life of a wildlife photographer looks about like this: you get up at 5 am and you sit on a hard, uncomfortable and badly cushioned car seat from 5.30am until 6 or 7pm and get transported over permanently miserable roads.
Sitting, sitting.......in the evening of course you sit again at dinner and the only exercise the wildlife photographer in Africa gets with his own two feet are the two daily trips of approximately 5 seconds that it takes to drag himself from the bed to the toilette where he naturally sits again. This way you come to about 7 minutes of exercise in three weeks. The remaining 503 hours and 53 minutes you spend sitting in a Land Rover, waiting that in front of you the wonders of nature will open, sitting or lying in the lodge or sitting on the way to the airport, at the airport or in the plane.
Additionally as a bonus while sitting in the gate you get this friendly voice through the intercom telling you " the departure of your flight is slightly delayed because the arrival of the plane was/is late" (Just exactly why the arrival of your plane is late you never find out.....apparently that isīnt any of the passengers business) or because there has been a minor technical difficulty but because of safety reasons, the spare part will be flown in and is actually already under way.
In the meantime there will be paid by the airline of course (question of honor) a warm meal at the airport restaurant (meaning the delay will at least be 5-7 hours) but thats no problem....... at least youll be sitting.
So while you endure the delay before you start on your 8-10 hour flight and get to talking to people and you answer the question as to what your profession is with "Wildlife Photographer", then most people get a .............
Having arrived back at home you sit again: first at least a week in front of the fluoroscope in order view the 200 developed rolls of film from the tour = 7.000 slides to evaluate, 6.000 of which you throw away. The remaining 1.000 will be defined, labeled, stamped, sent off or put into the archive.
So in the second week you sit at your desk to check the mail from the past 4 weeks and if you have accomplished that, you can get up........but only to drive to the airport for the next round of sitting.
My wife keeps wondering why my shoes last so long, but my pants are so worn through......
October 14th, 1993
Beautiful morning or..... all of theory is gray!
In the evening just about 6.30pm we had discovered the Leopard lady again and of course were there again very early the next day. Towards 7am she made an attempt at hunting 10 Thomson Gazelles and had crept up to about 5 meters. Ready to shoot with a roll of fresh film I awaited her attack. Unfortunately she was disturbed by two Lions and one Masai and fled up a tall tree where it seemed she was going to stay for the duration of the morning.
So we drove the 45 minutes to the Cheetah mother with her 4 babies just to find out that she had slain an Impala a few minutes before our arrival. So there was nothing there for us either.
The continuation of our trip brought the "gratifying" news from one of the colleagues, that about 10 minutes ago a herd of approximately 80 Thomson Gazelles crossed the river and that the great three-legged Crocodile "Tripod" caught one of the Thomson Gazelles in the middle of the river. We called the Crocodile "Tripod" because it only had three legs.
If the Masai hadnt startled the two Lions, who startled my Leopard and the two other events had happened just a little later, then this would have been a morning with three sensational pictures. "If the dog would have......." So it turned out to be the morning of missed opportunities.
The repetitive question is always: which strategy is the better - to consistently stay with just one subject (Leopard, Cheetah or Crocodile) from 6am to 6pm in order to get nothing or one good shot, or to try and photograph all three subjects on one day in order to, again, get one or nothing?
At the moment I tend to rather stay with one subject consistently, even though this is nerve killingly boring. --- So, it remains difficult.........
The worst about wildlife photography in Eastern Africa is that you actually only have two hours early in the morning with optimum conditions: beautiful light and active animals. So you have to decide on one of the existing options the night before and of course, you decide on the wrong one..
Today was another such wonderful day where "just before you get to the toilette....it was too late".
Last night, the young Leopard lady left a partially eaten impala on a tree. She would certainly be in the area this morning. Just as certain is the fact that the Cheetah mother would be hunting two or three times during the course of the morning and it was most probable that Thomson Gazelles would be trying to cross the river early in the morning and that you could count on the Crocodiles trying to nab them.
On the way through the terrain we discovered a Zebra that couldnt get up in spite of the fact that it looked quite healthy. It kept trying to get up while we were approaching it, but after getting up about half way it collapsed again. If Lions or Hyenas found it in the next 2 to 3 hours, there would be some very dramatic moments. So, what to do? "Cheetah gets Thomson Gazelle", "young Leopard carries impala to a tree", "Crocodile nabs Grant Gazelle", or "Lion overpowers Zebra"? At home you dont even have one opportunity and here you have to decide between four on one morning....
This time I decided on the river and it turned out to be a partial success. Toward 9am about 1000 Gnus and some Topis crossed the river, whereby I was able to take some very nice pictures of the herd of Gnus. Unfortunately the Crocodile struggle was a photographic failure. This time, Tripod the Croc, made it easy for himself. In the middle of the river he just grabbed a Topi by a hind leg, pulled it under water and held it there until it drowned after 10 minutes. Nothing dramatic happened for the camera only the head appeared a few times gasping for air and trying to escape, but it didīnt have a chance. Tripod just held fast on the leg and didīnt have to do much more, of which he was quite aware of. This certainly was very effective and economical for the Crocodile, but not very photogenic for the camera.
of drama a situation of life and death,
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