REDUCING THE LUCK FACTOR

It is not all about the camera you have. Whenever I see beautiful photographs other people have taken of animals, birds, frogs, and insects, I cannot help thinking how fortunate those photographers are to have seen those creatures – let alone photograph them. Yet, when recounting what we have observed in a game reserve, for example, the response is often along the lines of “you’re so lucky!”

Luck does play a role in what we come across in any environment. I often declare that what we see on a game drive is a lucky draw. Is it only that? Of course not: one can reduce the ‘luck factor’ in several ways.

Developing an awareness of one’s environment is one. If you do, then any colour, shape or movement out of the ordinary is bound to attract your attention. This applies to anything from animals to beetles.

There were a number of Vervet Monkeys about. Careful observation drew attention to this one with an incomplete tail.

Patience is a necessary part of observation. One must be prepared to walk or drive slowly enough to pay attention to the environment one is passing through. Likewise, one needs to be willing to watch and wait.

The sun was near setting when this small herd of Zebra approached the waterhole with caution. We waited twenty minutes or more before they finally bent down to drink.

Consider the time of the day. The temperature rises considerably in the middle of the day in South Africa. Wild animals tend to seek the shade during the hottest part of the day, when only “Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun” (Noel Coward). There is likely to be more activity during the early mornings and late afternoons, so these are good times to move through the veld and when the light tends to be better for photography anyway.

I photographed this White-crowned Lapwing while walking through a camp very early one morning.

Engage other visitors in conversation to find out what they have seen and where. While one cannot expect an animal to remain in a particular area for long, you can at least develop an understanding of what might be there.

Waterbuck

A collection of vehicles along a road in a game reserve is a sure sign of something unusual and interesting to see – very often a predator. Be patient instead of trying to muscle in and possibly blocking the view of a visitor who has been waiting there for a long time. Your turn will come. Sometimes it is better to assess the situation, note the spot and to return later.

We would never have spotted this Cheetah had our attention not been drawn to it.

A very simple way of reducing the ‘luck factor’ is by lowering your line of sight. It is surprising how many visitors miss seeing animals close by because they are looking too high! This may be fine for bird watchers, but for animal watchers ground level is best.

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LIONS

It was while I was listening to the sound track of Born Free this morning that it struck me how fortunate I have been to have seen lions so often in the wild. It is the one animal that tourists – and not only the ones from abroad – have at the top of their wish lists when they enter game areas such as the Kruger National Park and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. We have enjoyed some of the best sightings at the latter place and yet have also spent ten days there without seeing a single one!

We had been waiting patiently at a water hole shortly after sunrise. Our attention was focused on birds and the activity of a couple of jackals nearby when this pair of lions came padding across the dry river bed. Notice the dust being thrown up by their large padded paws.

They drank deeply and for a long time.

Early on another morning our attention was drawn to definite sounds of distress not far from the camp we were staying at. The gates had opened not long before and we were met by this scene of two lionesses doing battle with a wildebeest, kicking up a lot of dust in the process!

Within minutes Black-backed jackals had come to investigate within a safe distance as the two lionesses settled down to rip open the carcass – only to be usurped by an enormous male that appeared from nowhere! While on the subject of males, tourists would give their eye teeth for a sight such as this one strolling across the road in front of us in the Kruger National Park. This photograph gives you a good idea of how large their paws are.

Much closer to home, here is a lion seen in the Addo Elephant National Park in the Eastern Cape.

NOTE: Click on a photograph if you wish to see a larger view.

ZEBRA MOTHER AND FOAL

Who can resist the sight of a fuzzy young zebra foal staying close to its mother for protection?

This mother appears to have an unusually large rump – or a sunken back.

A Blesbuck is on the right of her. A mixed herd of normal blesbuck and white blesbuck roam on this farm a few minutes from town – this one seems to be an ‘in-betweener’. Something must be annoying the mother.

Got it!

NOTE: Click on a photograph if you wish to see a larger view.

DONKEYS

I have often written about the Urban Herd of cattle that roam around our suburbs in ever increasing numbers – there were over forty of them in what I have come to know as the ‘forest herd’ crossing the main road into town the other day in their search for grazing on what used to be a golf course. I have mentioned the presence of donkeys before, but there seems to be a proliferation of them too of late. They are still commonly used as a means of transporting goods.

Unfortunately, not all donkeys are treated with the care they deserve.

Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,

I keep my secret still. – The Donkey (G.K. Chesterton)

Donkeys also wander all over town, singly or in groups of up to six. They eat whatever they can find on grass verges and, sadly, even tear open the plastic bags of garbage left on pavements for collection.

This is one of several donkeys that had been grazing just outside of town. It had stopped to munch another mouthful or two of grass.

While the rest had already started their walk into town.

Fools! For I also had my hour;

   One far fierce hour and sweet:

There was a shout about my ears,

   And palms before my feet. – The Donkey G.K. Chesterton.

NOTE: Click on a photograph if you wish to see a larger view.

CAUGHT IN THE WING

These images have all been caught in the wing mirror of our vehicle. The first is of me trying out the technique.

A more attractive option is catching the setting sun whilst we were driving along a dirt road.

You can see an elephant approaching us from the rear.

A different elephant crossing the road behind us. Note the row of vehicles stretching round the corner. One doesn’t mess with elephants. Look carefully and you will see there are others in the background.

NOTE: Click on the images for a larger view.

BLACK-BACKED JACKAL 2

I have written about the Black-backed Jackal (Canus mesomelus) before and am happy to mention them again because seeing them in the wild gives me great joy. They usually mate for life, so when you see one you know the other one cannot be too far away. I watched this pair trotting across the veld a little distance from each other, their heads held low, stopping to sniff at something now and then. Here they are moving close together as they inspect the ground. Note the one on the left appears to have a deep scar on its flank.

The bitch moved away from her mate in a purposeful manner to investigate the vegetation a little distance from him.

She had personal business to attend to.

Here a different pair of jackals have found some leftovers from a kill to share.

They are mainly nocturnal animals and so the best time to look out for them is early in the morning or late in the afternoons. These photographs were taken in the Addo Elephant National Park.

NOTE: Click on a photograph if you wish to see a larger view.

OVERCOMING ADVERSITY

It was only when these zebras started trotting along the road ahead of us that I noticed that the back foot of this one was twisted at an awkward angle.

The extent of the misshapen ankle/foot is clear in this photograph:

The twisted back foot is evident when the zebra is at rest. In all other respects, it appears to be perfectly healthy.

A close-up view provides no clear answer as to what might have happened: was the zebra born with this deformity? Perhaps it twisted its ankle or broke it some time ago. Whatever the origin, this zebra has learned to live with it. Although it brought up the rear when they trotted along the road or through the grass, it wasn’t far behind.

NOTE: Please click on a photograph should you wish to see a larger view.