Joe and Mary Ann McDonald's

Wildlife Photography

Kenya-Tanzania July 2004

10 Leopards, 175 Lions, 29 Cheetahs

In a very rare break from our summer schedule, Mary and I led a special photo safari for friends to Amboseli, Kenya, and Ngorongoro Crater, the Serengeti, and Tarangere National Park, Tanzania. Normally we visit these areas in the Fall, or in January/February, so we were expecting an entirely different experience. We weren't disappointed -- as the numbers of cats shows -- all spotted in two weeks afield. We filmed 4 different leopards very well, and innumerable lions, as well as servals, elephants, black rhinos, and numerous birds.

The leopard on the left was a male that was extremely shy at first, but interested in investigating a female leopard that appeared. We followed the male for almost three hours, and, at dusk, with the last soft sunset light bathing a kopji close to the road, the leopard climbed up onto the rocks and sat, watching us and the sunset, until we were forced to leave. This, on the last day afield, was a fitting highlight to a spectacular trip.

I'd have lost a hundred dollars had I bet our guides that the leopard on the left would have tolerated our approach. From a quarter-mile off the cat was hunkered down, shy-looking, as one would expect a cat that was unaccustomed to people. I was certain it would slink off when we approached -- well, it didn't, and all I lost was the beer I bet our guide!

Two male cheetahs in the Gol kopjis of the Serengeti captured a young Thompson's gazelle while we watched. Normally cheetahs feed placidly side-by-side, but these were hungry, and played tug-of-war with the carcass, each trying to make off with the prize. We'd never seen this behavior before.

In the last light of day a young male lion watches intently as the pride set off on a hunt.
An acacia frames a rock outcropping at Simba kopjis.
In the Ngorongoro Crater a pod of approximately 40 hippos provided the best, and most animated hippo shoot we've ever had.
While waiting for its mate a greater kestrel fans her tail while watching over her nest.
A Gunther's dik-dik marks its territory with its preorbital gland -- the black hole in front of its eye.

In Amboseli, a zebra and an elephant head toward water in the last light of day -- on a very dusty afternoon that provided wonderful, ethereal lighting. Had the dust NOT been in the air, the two animals would have shown only as silhouettes, but with the dust, light bounced back and illuminated their strongly back-lilghted shapes.
At an Ngorongoro waterhole a large herd of gnus and zebras inexplicably panicked, stirring up a huge cloud of alkaline dust.
Just after mating a pair of black-winged stilts cross their beaks in a post-coital ceremony.

Gray herons resemble our American great blue. I've never seen one perched on top of a hippo before, but this one used the hippos as a perch to catch fish. Sometimes at a cost, as when the heron gets an unexpected shower from the backend of the hippo as the hippo splashes water across its back.

We spent three days in Zanzibar, visiting the spice farms, markets, and red colobus monkeys. That's me beginning a climb up a coconut palm to gather coconuts! These trees rise about 60-70 feet in the air, and climbers use a curled banana leap twisted into a loopish-rope to straddle the tree to hitch themselves up the tree. With bare feet, it was murder!

The people of Zanzibar were a joy to shoot. We'd always ask permission, and generally pay one dollar (at their request) for virtually unlimited shooting. I've rarely had the opportunity in recent years to work with, and photograph, people, and Mary and I enjoyed the experience tremendously.

A fish-market at sunset, with 'fresh' fish grilled on the spot for consumption by the locals and the tourists. We stayed at the Zanzibar Serena, a beautiful hotel that had the slowest food service we've experienced anywhere in the world. We were very tempted to eat there, but it was our last night -- we were flying the next day -- and we didn't want to risk a bad tummy for the journey!
Bob Knupp makes friends with a real ham -- a Hindu girl at a temple who had no hesitation in grabbing our cameras to take pictures!
We visited a Dhow construction site, where one of the local craftsmen proudly displays a scale model of the dhow they're building.

Red Colobus Monkeys were one of the star attractions for us, and although we had planned to spend two mornings with the monkeys, the shooting was so successful, and satisfying, that we accomplished all we needed in one. Mary relaxes as a Dhow sails by our open window.
While doing our spice tour, I stopped to do a wide-angle shot of a local boot-maker as he repaired a shoe.
In the Crater an African harrier sails off after consuming a frog in front of our lenses.

We were pleasantly surprised by Amboseli, which I have not visited for at least five years. Elephants have done terrible damage to many of the acacia forests there, but they still provide wonderful action. We had three different 'fights' that we filmed, as well as shooting lines of elephants as they marched in front of an almost snowless/glacierless Mt. Kilimanjaro.

This was the first African trip that I shot completely with digital, using a Mark II for most of the wildlife and a 1Ds for the wide-angle, scenic, and people shots.

While we enjoyed the trip immensely, it killed us to leave Hoot Hollow during the summer season, when our birds are nesting and when wildlife is at its peak abundance around our home. We'll certainly be going back to many of these destinations, but we'll be doing so during our regular season -- fall or winter.

Mary shot almost 100 rolls of film and I saved almost 30 gigabytes of images on digital, with 8 and 11 mb files, so I know I shot (and kept) a lot of images! Oh, by the way, that's not me way, way up in the palm tree. That's the coconut harvester, who had very tough feet, iron muscles, and absolutely no fear of heights!

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