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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EVEN MORE MONKEYING AROUND

This Vervet Monkey was an unwelcome visitor while we were setting up camp. It leapt down from the trees overhead and made straight for the trailer as I opened its lid. Fortunately all the food was still safely enclosed in covered plastic crates. This action demonstrates how clever these creatures are. I chased it away and kept an eye on it until it moved off to find a more interesting campsite to investigate.

Monkeys are everywhere, so one has to be very careful to keep food out of sight and stored in secure containers. Here one is waiting right next to the tent, ready to pounce on anything that has been left unattended.

It is so much more fulfilling to see them in their natural habitat.

This is when you can watch the interactions between family members and truly appreciate the open affection and care shown by mothers towards their babies; the fun of youngsters playing together; and the curiosity they have for us matched by ours for them.

NOTE: Click on the photographs if you want to view a larger image.

A BLESSING OR A CURSE?

It is almost a given that camping at one of our national parks will involve at least one encounter with Vervet Monkeys. Seasoned campers keep their food out of sight and lock their caravans or tents when they are away from the camping area – be aware that if you do not have a built-in groundsheet, your food remains a target as monkeys know all about crawling underneath the canvas! Visitors are warned not to feed them – as ‘cute’ as they might look – and rubbish bins have been designed with a rolling lid to make it difficult for monkeys to pull anything out of them in their quest to find something to eat.

These bins are emptied regularly and every morning someone visits the campsites to clear away the remains of any braai fires from the night before. There is not a great deal more that the authorities can do. Yet, there must be enough pickings around to make it worthwhile for the monkeys to systematically comb the rest camp for food during the course of the morning and the early afternoons, when the rest camp is very quiet. That is when many visitors are driving through the wildlife area, sitting in the bird hide or … resting.

During such a lull one afternoon, I heard of someone’s car keys being snatched away by a monkey; our neighbours found monkeys had entered their open vehicle while they were chatting to other neighbours nearby; and I watched as one by one monkeys would alight on our trailer parked next to a Spekboom hedge.

They used the roof of the neighbouring caravan as a lookout point.

One of the monkeys had stolen a muffin and sat on the caravan roof to enjoy his booty. It was quickly joined by two others. The first monkey was unwilling to share, so leapt up into the tall branches of the adjacent fig tree to eat it in solitude.

Seasoned camper that I am, I too fell victim to the monkeys whilst we were breaking camp and the trailer lid was left open for ease of packing: away went a bunch of bananas … away went the remains of the vanilla biscuits I had baked for the trip – they dropped my plastic container though.

A blessing – yes, because they are fun to watch; a curse – yes, because nothing is safe from their inherent inquisitiveness!

MORE MONKEYING AROUND

These Vervet Monkeys were photographed in the Kruger National Park some time ago. The pictures provide an interesting view of them simply getting on with life. Here a mother and child work their way through fallen leaves and seeds to find something edible. Note the expression on the youngster’s face as it learns from its mother’s actions:

The youngster is putting the lesson into practice:

Success?

One can always try to reach the source of the delicacies!

MONKEYING AROUND

The omnivorous Vervet Monkeys are curious creatures, ready to explore their environment to the full in order to source food. Like Baboons, they are at their best when seen in their natural environment.

See this Baboon yawning:

This Vervet Monkey is having a natural snack.

Unfortunately, as is the case with Baboons, the human-like features and behaviour of monkeys bring out their ‘cuteness’ factor which encourages visitors to game parks and popular picnic spots to feed them. That might be fun for humans and animals alike in the short term, but it is dangerous in the long term as the monkeys come to expect food from humans. Campers, caravaners – and even visitors staying in chalets – in wild areas have become all too familiar with monkeys raiding one’s temporary living space. This Vervet Monkey has just been chased from a caravan and is about to inspect the kitchen area in the Mountain Zebra National Park.

Their bright eyes pick up anything deemed edible – even the tiny seeds that have been scattered around a campsite to attract birds.

Once they have become used to humans, monkeys are difficult to shoo away for they lose their natural sense of caution around us. Being the opportunists they are, a group of monkeys happily walked over cars in a car park – keep your windows closed when they are around – to see what they could filch, leaving tell-tale footprints in their wake.

MONKEYS

We seldom come across Vervet Monkeys in the Addo Elephant National Park and so were surprised to see this one as we rounded a corner:

It had obviously rained a day or so before our arrival for there were puddles all over the veld, most notably where the dirt roads were. A little further on we were met by this sight:

Drinking from the puddles in the road.

 

Note the baby tucked under its mother.