Archive for Elephant

Botswana…dream-maker, equipment-breaker (Part One)…

Posted in African Wildlife, Photography, Travel, Wildlife, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 8, 2012 by Neil Aldridge

As the old adage suggests…if you can see the white of the eyes then you’re pretty close. This is even true in the case of elephants. For the most part, an elephant’s eyes seem tiny compared to their colossal grey bulk and are lost somewhere amongst cavernous wrinkles and behind a curtain of wiry eyelashes. It was this white of an elephant’s eye that I was seeing through my viewfinder. That’s how close we were after spending several frustrating days searching for that shot which captures the essence of northern Botswana more than any other – thirsty elephants reveling in water.

Northern Botswana is not only one of the world’s premier wildlife-watching locations, it also  happens to be my favourite destination for photography and wildlife. As a result, being on the Selinda Reserve to the east of the Okavango Delta with the inspirational Great Plains Conservation and Botswana Tourism as my hosts, I was in my element. Our guide Reuben was making my job a lot easier too. Always thinking one step ahead by considering the light and lay of the land, he instinctively placed the vehicle in the right place each time without me needing to ask. Our only problem was that the resident elephants were being unusually skittish and seemed to be thinking even one step ahead of Reuben. Finally, after combing the reserve by boat and truck, we chanced across a relaxed herd approaching the water.

I lifted my chunky 400mm f2.8 lens and rested my beanbag between it and the side of the vehicle to give me a steady platform. All lined up while quenching their thirsts, the herd of pachyderms was performing wonderfully. Just as I pressed the shutter to fire off the first frames though, my camera all of a sudden became strangely light in my hands and the view through the viewfinder became nothing but a white blur. My five kilogram lens had inexplicably unclipped itself from the teleconverter and tumbled the best part of two metres off the side of the vehicle. After some initial muted cursing and a scrambled recovery of my most prized piece of gear from the sand below, I was able to come up with one positive from this embarrassing blunder – at least we weren’t shooting from a boat as we had been doing the previous evening. It turns out that an accumulation of Kalahari dust had made the clip holding the teleconverter to the lens stick and fail.

Painful lesson number one learned…keep your gear as clean as possible or you’ll spend several lonely hours picking sand out of every corner, crack and connection while everyone else is having a good time! I guess at this stage I can also pay homage to the build quality of Canon equipment if a lens can just be picked up and dusted off after such a sickening tumble to the sand below.

Lesson number two was as potentially disastrous but more a result of my own over-confidence. Check back soon for how not to waterproof a camera…

Visit my main website at www.conservationphotojournalism.com

Land of giants

Posted in African Wildlife, Conservation, Conservation Photography, Photography, Wildlife, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2010 by Neil Aldridge

The recent storms in South Africa’s northern Limpopo Province may have been big but they measure up against the region’s landscapes and wildlife. From its trees to its birds, mammals and the river itself, the valley of the great Limpopo River is a land of giants!

The vast landscapes of this place near where South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana meet are dominated by baobabs. These colossal trees support a whole community of wildlife – elephants eat the bark, bats feed on the nectar of the flowers (and in turn pollinate them) and barn owls roost and nest in holes in their large boughs. Many particularly large trees still bear the pegs that allowed humans to climb up and collect rain water collected in troughs in the boughs. In such a hot climate in a place where ground water will have been shared with wild animals, this would have been a vital source of fresh water…if you can reach it.

During the dry winter months, large herds of elephants move into the valley from dryer areas over the river in Botswana. The riverine forest comes alive with a mass of grey bodies shepherding their youngsters and hoovering-up vegetation and the remaining water.

Herds of eland, Africa’s largest antelope, also roam the plains of the valley. Like in much of their range, black rhino’s are here but they are hard to see. The larger and more common white rhino has become synonymous with the Limpopo valley since the discovery in 1932 of a little golden rhino at the World Heritage Site at Mapungubwe.

Even the birds here are big enough to make small children and dog owners feel wary. Black eagles rule by day, surveying the land for their quarry from a perch high up on a sandstone cliff or by soaring the thermals on huge wings. The floodplains are home to marauding secretarybirds, storks, ground hornbills and kori bustards, the heaviest flying bird in the world, while the night is owned by owls. The elusive and sought-after Pel’s fishing owl uses the large trees lining the river to roost in by day and hunt from by night. Also in the riverine bush, hunting silently on a two-metre wingspan in almost complete darkness, the giant (or Verreaux’s) eagle owl hawks for birds and small mammals.

But as rich in wildlife and archaeology as this valley is, it is a landscape under threat. If proposed coal mining in the area is allowed to go ahead, pollution is not only likely to threaten the local ecosystem but important sites further down the Limpopo River system in the Kruger National Park and Mozambique as well.

Plans for the mine at Vele, just six kilometres east of the Mapungubwe World Heritage Site, also threaten to derail proposals for a major transfrontier conservation area between South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana, a scheme committed to by the government. The Endangered Wildlife Trust and BirdLife South Africa are just two of the many organisations fighting the mining application. And while no-one can be certain what either the short-term or lasting affects of the mine will be on this overlooked and sacred corner of South Africa, with so much to experience in this land of giants, my advice is to go there and to go there now!

Visit my main website at www.conservationphotojournalism.com