Archive for Lions

Land of Giants photo safari picked as one of Wanderlust Magazine’s top trips for 2012

Posted in African Wildlife, Photography, Wildlife, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 24, 2011 by Neil Aldridge

Wanderlust, the world’s leading travel magazine, has selected my Land of Giants photo safari as one of their top trips for 2012. A feature in the December 2011 issue details their 50 best new trips for 2012, which includes this exclusive photographic tour to Africa’s Limpopo Valley led by myself and carnivore expert Peter Neville.

Peter and I are offering just six guests per trip the opportunity to join us on this safari combining specialist photographic guiding with expert carnivore insight. Being home to Africa’s true giants – big cats, great herds of elephant, huge baobab trees, large birds of prey, the striking kori bustard (the world’s heaviest flying bird), the ostrich (the world’s largest bird), the massive eland (the world’s largest antelope) and the giraffe, world’s tallest mammal – the Limpopo Valley is rightly known as the Land of Giants.

There are two dates for this photo safari to the Limpopo Valley in June and July in 2012. Check out my website for the full itinerary, trip information and how to make a booking. I hope to welcome you to Africa’s Land of Giants in 2012…

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New photo safari dates announced for 2012

Posted in African Wildlife, Photography, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 25, 2011 by Neil Aldridge

I have teamed up with carnivore expert Peter Neville to offer just six people the chance to explore the ‘Land of Giants‘ – the wonderful Limpopo Valley between South Africa and Botswana.

There are two options for this photo safari in 2012. The first trip runs from the 19th to the 25th of June. The second trip runs from the 30th of June to the 6th of July. A full itinerary and booking information can be found on my website.

Join us as we travel through the valley photographing Africa’s giant wild inhabitants – big cats, great herds of elephant, huge baobab trees, birds of prey, kori bustard (the world’s heaviest flying bird), ostrich (the world’s largest bird), eland (the world’s largest antelope), giraffe (the world’s tallest mammal) – and the famous river and stunning landscapes that support them.

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Run, Fatboy…Run!

Posted in African Wildlife, Conservation, Photography, Poaching, Wildlife, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 24, 2011 by Neil Aldridge

The Limpopo Valley along South Africa’s northern border with Botswana and Zimbabwe is home to a small number of lions. Yet, there is enough prey and natural habitat to sustain more. So why do they fare so badly here? The truth is that this small population sums up a continent-wide problem – Africa has lost almost 90% of its lions in the last 20 years. Hunters are permitted to shoot them for sport, game reserve managers can euthanise those that are supposedly surplus to requirement and management plans for the species are largely insufficient and geographically patchy.

‘Fat Boy’ is the pride male of a small group of lions living within the eastern section of South Africa’s Mapungubwe National Park, which lies within the Limpopo Valley. When Fat Boy disappeared over the border into neighbouring Zimbabwe and word spread that a licence had been applied for by a local hunter to shoot the lion, it was feared that the Limpopo Valley had lost another pride male. The problem with losing a dominant pride male is that while there may be other males ready to move in to the territory and take over, the new arrivals are likely to kill any young cubs to assert the dominance of their own genes. What’s more, sub-adult male lions are also pushed out of the pride’s territory to fend for themselves, often pushing them to the edges of protected areas into the human conflict zone and forcing them into a life on the run.

Thankfully, Fat Boy returned from his foray into new territory unscathed. However, a farmer in the Limpopo Valley was recently fined R55,000 after being found guilty of baiting and illegally shooting a male lion on his land (unfortunately for the farmer the lion was wearing a GPS collar). And while that R55,000 has been invested straight into the Tuli Predator Project who have worked hard to protect these lions for years and who took an active role in the prosecution, the outcome should be seen as less than ideal. A financial settlement with no sentencing surely sets a precedent that the life of a breeding adult of a vulnerable and declining species can be simply paid-off?

This settlement may not be ideal but it is not surprising. Fuelled by the ‘Big Five’ marketing concept and the opportunity to make money from international safari-goers keen to see these big cats, many landowners across Africa have bought and sold lions purely with their own economic interests in mind. But, in an ironic twist, has the inception of the ‘Big Five’ and the marketing machine popularising Africa’s wildlife lead to a micromanaged and financially selfish approach from landowners that has damaged the lion population forever?

With lion numbers falling, Africa brimming with development and protected habitats being cut-off by human infrastructure, lion specialists Susan Miller and Dr Paul Funston are aiming to establish a better understanding of the impacts of micromanagement (such as inbreeding) on lion populations on small reserves in South Africa. But will landowners and reserve managers be prepared to enter into a metapopulation model, for example, or will ownership of ‘their’ lions get in the way of mapping a recovery for the species? And can the lion even make a recovery like that other great icon of African wildlife, the Elephant or, as a predator, will it continue to come second to human needs in a booming continent?

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Transcending boundaries – wild dogs in a modern landscape

Posted in African Wildlife, Conservation, Conservation Photography, Photography, Wildlife, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 16, 2009 by Neil Aldridge

In a region bustling with development and about to welcome one of the world’s largest sporting events in the FIFA World Cup, in a continent that has just counted it’s one billionth person, it is hard to see space for the expansion of safe habitat for a pack animal like the African wild dog. But new protection and landscape-scale conservation efforts may offer hope.

Wild dog packs utilise such huge areas that there are few reserves in Southern Africa big enough to home sustainable, stand-alone populations. When one or more dogs disperse to form a new pack, their reliance on safe and suitable habitat becomes even greater. Thankfully, the UN Environment Programme has made the move to upgrade the status of the species to migratory. This not only promises greater protection but also calls for further regional cooperation towards securing agreements over transfrontier conservation areas like the Greater Mapungubwe area.

The heart of the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area (TFCA) lies at the confluence of the Limpopo and Shashe rivers – the meeting point of South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe. If this vision of a cross-border haven can be realised then it may secure the future of the few wild dog packs living in the region. Lions, the wild dog’s greatest natural enemy, are low in numbers here but this does not mean the dogs can live without threat or fear.

Rural communities live off the land here through necessity as well as tradition. The snares left by poachers and the diseases carried by domestic dogs used by hunters are a real threat to wild dogs, as well as the ever- busier roads transecting the habitat and a local farming and hunting community that is largely unwelcoming to carnivores.

Despite such threats, the area has already received the vote of confidence as a safe habitat for wild dogs with the translocation of a pack from South Africa’s Marekele National Park to Botswana’s Northern Tuli Game Reserve in 2007. Since then, the pack has thrived in its Limpopo forest home with 25 pups in the last two years.

In KwaZulu-Natal in eastern South Africa, wild dog numbers are on the increase too despite a declining international population. The region’s jewel-in-the-crown, the Hluhluwe-imfolozi Park, can boast arguably the country’s most stable population and with new packs now established on geographically isolated reserves elsewhere in the province, the new challenge facing conservationists is how to maintain the genetic balance of the population.

Rather than imitating natural movements by physically darting and translocating wild dogs between these reserves, Endangered Wildlife Trust officers are working with local rural communities to establish safe routes of dispersal to link isolated populations.

They may be subtly different yet both the proposed Greater Mapungubwe TFCA and the KwaZulu-Natal approaches to African wild dog conservation offer solutions for the future of a migratory species in a changing landscape. In both cases, those responsible for the safeguarding and development of the species will have to deal with the challenges dished out by a constricting human world. Although by engaging with local communities, landowners and farmers, it can be hoped that both processes will allow for a wider understanding and appreciation of the wild dog. Though in some areas, simple tolerance would be a victory.

Size matters: The dogs of Venetia Limpopo

Posted in African Wildlife, Conservation, Conservation Photography, Photography, Wildlife, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 30, 2009 by Neil Aldridge

The wild dogs of Venetia Limpopo have had a turbulent last few years – mainly at the hands of lions – resulting in alpha female Stellar cautiously leading her small pack of five from rocky safe haven to rocky safe haven each day.

When Stellar became pregnant recently it was clear that her mind wasn’t just on survival for her pack but on growth and for a short while all seemed rosy in this colourful mopani and baobab clustered corner of South Africa. Though having lost her entire litter the previous year, the future of the pack hung desperately on her ability to find a safe den site.

The bitter irony of choosing a rocky high-ground for the den in an attempt to avoid dangerous competitors like lion and hyena was that she lead her pack straight into a leopard’s domain, a choice which cost her mate Abel his life.

The trauma of the attack split the pack leaving Stellar out on her own. Did she not flee with Fender, Rory and Baker because she had pups hidden away? It was too soon to tell as she would only bring them out of the den after a few weeks…but with one less member of the hunting pack, her chances of even keeping her pups alive that long would be slim.

We know Stellar has met up with the others but still spends time on her own. We also know a pack from Botswana and free roaming dogs have explored the boundaries of the Venetia territory. So is Stellar desperate for the support of the pack for the survival of her pups or will the others disperse and move on? It’s an interesting and crucial period in the life of the Venetia pack and one that echoes the broader fight to save Africa’s wild dogs.

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In a natural and competitive environment where size matters, wild dogs have their own battles and with only a few hundred left in South Africa alone, losing an alpha dog is a real setback and an event that can change the fortunes of a pack and the balance of a population.

As we inspected Abel’s carcass, the importance and fragility of EWT’s efforts became clear, the only consolation in the thought that at least Abel wasn’t another statistic born out of man’s misunderstanding and intolerance of these charismatic canids.

Moments of intimacy

Posted in African Wildlife, Conservation, Conservation Photography, Photography, Wildlife, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 9, 2009 by Neil Aldridge

Working on the Wild Dog project here in Southern Africa has brought with it the opportunity to enjoy and capture the interactions between other animals, like the momentary bonding between the members of this Mpumalanga pride.

Lions are often portrayed as brutal killers and have a reputation for being lazy (let’s face it, would you do much other than lie around if you had to wear a fur coat in the African sun?) but catch them on a cool winter morning and their playful and sociable sides shine through.

I followed a group of females for more than two hours as they played and bonded in the early morning light. One of the females even picked up a branch that an Elephant had broken off during the night and carried it in her jaws for what must have been more than a kilometer, to the envy of her sisters who occasionally vied for ownership with a little tug-of-war.

But male Lions are rarely as tolerant of any play and as this big male in Botswana’s Mashatu Game Reserve was in a particularly aggresive mood defending his kill, this plucky cub was lucky to get away with this invitation to bond.

Wild Dogs – an introduction

Posted in African Wildlife, Conservation, Conservation Photography, Photography, Wildlife, Wildlife Photography with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 30, 2009 by Neil Aldridge

I’m currently working out of South Africa putting together a project on Wild Dogs and the struggle to secure and develop their population and I thought I’d grab the chance to post an update before I head back into the bush and away from the world of internet connectivity.

Wild Dogs always were pretty special to me but having the opportunity to follow them daily and observe their social intimacies and their hunting and survival strategies has given me a whole new respect for them.

So far I’ve been working alongside researchers from the Endangered Wildlife Trust on a reserve in South Africa’s Limpopo Province but the unique metapopulation conservation approach will also mean working in Botswana and the renowned Hluhluwe-Imfolozi reserve in KwaZulu-Natal.

Wild Dogs have large territories and out of denning season they can cover huge distances in barely no time at all and so I’ve been completely reliant on and continually impressed by the tracking skills of these dedicated few individuals.

Radio collars are used on certain individuals but the terrain and distances involved require more than an understanding of telemetry equipment, and a combination of traditional tracking techniques and an instinctive understanding of Wild Dog behaviour are put to the test daily.

As well as their susceptibility to disease, it may come as no surprise that Africa’s second most endangered carnivore has disappeared from much of its former range as a result of habitat loss and persecution.

DPP07D907190D2226Lions are a Wild Dog’s greatest natural adversary though and don’t need a second invitation to kill either adult dogs or pups. Having lost their alpha male and litter to Lions last year, it’s been fascinating monitoring the movement of the pack to avoid Lions, even up into inaccessible rocky areas.

But the dogs can only avoid Lions when they know where they are and this is usually done by keeping those massive ears tuned for Lions calling. But we did face an agonising wait one morning as the pack literally brushed shoulders with the Lion pride by unwittingly lying up on the adjacent side of a hill.

Wild Dog movements are also governed by the availability of prey. Impala make up the majority of their diet and despite Wild Dogs being among the most efficient large carnivores when it comes to hunting, it was excruciating to witness a handful of failed attempts on their part.

But one has to be on the ball when following Wild Dogs as they don’t hang around, especially when feeding, and on two occasions the pack consumed their prey in only a handful of minutes before we could even get to the scene.

It’s been a pure privilege working on this project so far and there’s more to come including visits to a Wild Dog pack in Botswana who are currently raising a litter of 13 pups and KwaZulu-Natal to see how the Endangered Wildlife Trust is managing the essential element of conservation – community education and engagement.