An Exclusive Shoot Limited to Ten Photographers
Two non-photographic spouses seats are available per safari
Only three photographers per vehicle
Truly one of the wildlife spectacles of the world is the migration
of gnus or wildebeests through the vast Serengeti of Tanzania
and the Masai Mara of Kenya. Over a million gnus live within this
area and from the middle of January through the middle of February,
a huge majority of the female gnus calf. While this is a spectacle
in itself, the Serengeti as a wilderness location is truly one
of the greatest natural wonders in the world. Our safari is timed
to coincide with the birthing of the wildebeest, and with our
permits and mobile camp we'll have the ability to get to where
the gnus are. But more on that later ...
For years Mary and I have filmed the gnu migration in Kenya, which is climaxed, when we're lucky, by gnus crossing the Mara River. In 2001 we scouted out the Serengeti for doing possible trips to Tanzania at a future date, as we feared that Kenya's political and ecological stability might change at some future time. While we still consider Kenya's Masai Mara to be one of the premiere shooting locations worldwide, the fact is, the Mara is changing, and not for the better. We've seen huge changes over the last several years, mainly due to the increasing encroachment of the Maasai into both park boundary areas and within the park itself. Overgrazing has denuded peripheral areas that were once great game viewing spots, and with more cattle and goats, there's the likelihood that some leopards, hyenas, and lions will kill stock and be killed in retaliation. This has happened, with lions and leopards we 'knew' and had filmed.
In all honesty, we looked to Tanzania as an alternative to Kenya if, or when, that country no longer afforded quality, or safe, photographic safaris. We were hoping that Tanzania would be an adequate substitute, nothing more. In fact we had deluded ourselves for years thinking that the southern Masai Mara, where we spend time on all of our Kenya trips, was quite similar to the Serengeti, so, who needed Tanzania? Last, over ten years ago we did a Ngorongoro trip, and I found the drivers the worse I'd had anywhere in Africa. So, we looked to Tanzania hopefully, but not with enormous expectations.
For years Mary and I have filmed the gnu migration in Kenya, which is climaxed, when we're lucky, by gnus crossing the Mara River. In 2001 we scouted out the Serengeti for doing possible trips to Tanzania at a future date, as we feared that Kenya's political and ecological stability might change at some future time. While we still consider Kenya's Masai Mara to be the premiere shooting location, the fact is, the Mara is changing,. We've seen huge changes over the last several years, mainly due to the increasing encroachment of the Maasai into both park boundary areas and within the park itself. Overgrazing has denuded peripheral areas that were once great game viewing spots, and with more cattle, there's the likelihood that some leopards, hyenas, and lions will kill stock and be killed in retaliation. This has happened, with lions and leopards we 'knew' and had filmed.
In all honesty, we looked to Tanzania as an alternative to Kenya if, or when, that country no longer afforded quality, or safe, photographic safaris. We were hoping that Tanzania would be an adequate substitute, nothing more. In fact, we had deluded ourselves for years thinking that the southern Masia Mara, where we spend time on all of our Kenya trips, was quite similar to the Serengeti, so, who needed Tanzania? Last, over ten years ago I did a Ngorongoro trip, and I found the drivers the worse I'd had anywhere in Africa. So, we looked to Tanzania hopefully, but not with enormous expectations.
Our scouting trip to Tanzania astounded us. The service was
first class, from the accommodations (luxury tented camps and
great hotel-lodges) to the driver/guides (unbelievably accommodating).
The sense of wilderness one feels in the Serengeti is without
parallel in Africa. The name, Serengeti, is derived from a Maasia
word for endless space, and that name is so appropriate here.
You feel as if you can see forever - some of the vistas just sweep
on to the horizon, like a Montana Big Sky, until, in the distance,
the Gol Mountains or the Ngorongoro highlands zipper across the
horizon in a blue haze.
I've been to several African destinations - Uganda, Kenya, Namibia, Botswana, and my 'take' on Tanzania was this: The Serengeti offered the sense of exclusiveness and luxury that Botswana is known for, but without the high tariff and air/luggage limitations that that country imposes. Further, I'd somewhat deluded myself into thinking that we'd 'seen' the Migration in Kenya, for indeed there have been times where the grasslands of Oloololo, near Mara Serena, have been filled with gnus. But truly nothing prepared us for the numbers we saw in Tanzania, as we covered areas near our base camp at Ndutu and in the Ngorongoro conservation area. One day, in taking an incredibly long and ill-conceived exploratory trip, we saw hundreds of thousands of gnus. Photographically the sight was difficult to capture, but as an experience, it was unforgettable.
Tanzania's wildlife shooting opportunities may, in fact, not be quite as good as Kenya's. It is different, both in the way things are done, and in the shooting opportunities you have. Driving off road in the higher grass is slow going, sometimes frustratingly slow, but necessary to avoid crashing into hidden honey badger or aardvark burrows. We take more all-day game drives due to the distances involved. Even on a normal day, longer distances must be covered at times but we liken it to a treasure hunt. We search for the ultimate prize, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And when we find it the shooting is just as good, if not better, than anything we have experienced elsewhere.
In 2003 we led two different photo tours during this time. What an incredible four weeks! Each trip was completely different from the other but each offered unique experiences in its own right. We had incredibly tame bat-eared fox at their den with young. We had Fischer's lovebirds at their roosting holes. We had servals close enough for full-frame images. There were tree-climbing lions and herds of elephants against a dark, stormy sky. We had black-maned lions and eyeball shots of hippos. In addition the hippo shots were taken from ground level, off of tripods, as we sat on the riverbank beside one of the best hippo pools that we have ever been to. We got frame-filling shots of red-billed ducks, lesser flamingos and plovers. We photographed incredible action shots of zebras running through the water and standing on their hind legs fighting. These are just a few of the highlights from our four weeks.
By going at this time of year, we went with the hope of capturing the birth of a gnu on film and both groups experienced and photographed this natural phenomenon. But I'll warn you - if you wish to see and film a gnu birth, you must be prepared to put in the time. We spent several hours on several days driving slowly through the herds, keeping our eyes peeled for the distinctive look - a gnu with her tail raised and to the side, with the foreleg of her baby popping out like a bright, shiny tail - before we succeeded.
Approximately 8000 gnus are born a day during the peak of the birthing time. In addition, this is the time for gazelle and zebra births. With the abundance of food (afterbirths, sick moms, and babies), predators are scattered but are active throughout the day. We witnessed and filmed, for the first time, several lion kills of orphaned babies. Mary had two young lions stalk an abandoned baby directly toward her vehicle. The images portraying the intensity of the stalk are incredible. We even had a lioness take a newborn gnu right beside the road in the Ngorongoro Crater. I found a lioness who had lost the bottom half of her jaw (probably from a zebra kick) and who, due to an extreme hunger drive, was killing baby gnus right and left but then couldn't eat them due to the lack of bottom teeth. Hyenas and cheetahs were active throughout the day as well and both groups filmed predatory actions by both.
I don't want you to panic in reading this brochure. We don't spend all of our time concentrating on the life and death that surrounds us at this time. Yes, it is there and we document it, but there is so much more that we look for and photograph. There is spectacular bird life, incredible landscapes and the migration itself. Imagine a wide-angle shot with kopjes in the foreground, surrounded by hundreds of animals, and a cloudscape of white, puffy clouds. Besides the approximately 2 million wildebeest, there are almost 500,000 zebras and that many topi and Thompson's gazelles mixed in with the herds. The numbers are staggering. This movement of so many animals at one time is truly one of the natural wonders of the world. And you will be there in the middle of it to experience it for yourself.
Despite the fact that we are there in PEAK SEASON there will be times when our four vehicles are the only ones in sight. Hours have gone by in the past when we saw only one or two other vehicles. You get the sense that this trip, this experience, is for your eyes only. You will love the exclusivity.
The Mammals: Our primary objective, indeed, the reason people
travel to the Serengeti from January to March, is to see the wildebeest
migration. Our itinerary is timed to MAXIMIZE the chances of our
hitting the gnu birthing cycle at its peak. Gnus are eruptive
breeders, with 90% of the entire population giving birth within
a month or six-week span. With 500,000 or so females, that's a
potential of at least 250,000 calves, if not 500,000, during this
time. Calves and afterbirths are the cheap fast food of the grasslands,
and predators reap a bounty during this time. But they can only
eat so much. If 1000 calves are born on a given day, perhaps 100
are killed (I'm guessing here), but in two days or in no longer
than a week, the remaining 900 calves are fast and alert and are
difficult prey items to catch. In this example, by the end of
a month, 30,000 calves were born, with 3,000 killed easily by
predators. For the rest of the year, the remaining 27,000 calves
are extremely difficult to catch! In truth, during this time frame
there may be 10X that number of calves born, and we're scheduled
to be there when the most births typically occur.
Please remember, however, that gnus don't read brochures. One year, I'm told, the gnus never left Kenya, and did their birthing there! The peak could be earlier, or later, but historically, it is usually at the time we're scheduled to go. So, since gnus don't read and we do, we have to follow the facts and hope luck (and normal patterns) fall our way. We'll be spending approximately seven days in the areas where we can expect gnus, so we're stacking the deck in our favor.
Additionally, of course, we'll be seeing and photographing plenty of predators. In 2003 we found the most cooperative den of Bat-eared Foxes I've ever seen. They were absolutely oblivious to our vehicles! We did great with lions and cheetahs, and expect that to be so; as well as hyenas, zebras (best anywhere), Thompson gazelles, and giraffes in the Serengeti. We'll also be doing two and one-half days of game drives in Ngorongoro Crater, where there are great bull elephants, a medium chance at great black rhino, good lions and hyenas, great servals and all the grazing animals.
The Birds: Although each trip is different and one cannot guarantee the same luck from one tour to the next, we did have spectacular luck with birds. We shot our best black-shouldered kite, white-crowned shrike, lesser flamingo, and Fischer's lovebirds we've had anywhere! Bird shooting was great, both in the Serengeti and also in Ngorongoro.
The Landscapes: They are incredible. The Serengeti is known for two things - the vast grasslands, which are, really, rather difficult to convey well on film; and the granite rocky outcroppings, called kopjes, that jut out of the plains like islands in a sea of grass. The kopjes are intoxicating; each is different, and each kopje is actually a string of islands. We'll be visiting several, including the most beautiful and extensive Gol kopjes, and probably the huge, rugged Moru kopjes. Kopjes are great from any angle - telephoto distant shots, wide-angle skyscapes, and vignettes. My favorite compositions included foreground kopje rocks or ledges that framed or led the eye towards another set of kopjes in the distance. We had cheetahs at several kopjes, and lions at every one we visited, so wildlife opportunities certainly combine with the scenic potential here.
Our Locations: We'll be staying at three locations,
two in the Serengeti and one in Ngorongoro. In the Serengeti,
one of these will be in the Ndutu area, towards the southeastern
corner of the park. Historically, at this time of year the wildebeests
are here. From this base, we will HAVE THE PERMITS to allow us
to travel into either the Serengeti or the Ngorongoro Conservation
Area to go to where the gnus are. This has added cost to our trip,
but this gives us the freedom and the opportunity to go to where
the action is, and to not be limited or have to make excuses as
to why we're not seeing game or gnus! The Ndutu area is wooded,
with an alkaline lake nearby that hosts the largest concentration
of European storks we've ever seen. Leopards are common here,
and we saw four in this area in a week. We're within driving range
of the Conservation area, all the kopjes we're planning on visiting,
and the grasslands - both the short and long grasses, where the
gnus feed and give birth.
Because we'll be using a luxury mobile-tented camp, we'll have the opportunity to move if the herds aren't here. We don't expect this, but if it happens, we may end up somewhere other than Ndutu. But don't count on it. In any event, we will be driving off-road much of the time. There are a few areas (namely around the high tourist area of Seronera) where driving off road is prohibited, but in almost all the areas we're in that's not the case. In fact, it was on one of these off-road excursions where we witnessed what very well may be the single most spectacular wildlife spectacle I've ever seen in Africa - A River of Zebras that extended for miles, and culminated at a shallow lake where thousands of zebras came to drink and swim. On that day, we saw one other vehicle once we went off road!
We'll also be doing two nights at the Seronera area in the central sector of the Serengeti. The park headquarters is found here and it is a high tourist area. But this is the area where we can find the famous tree-climbing lions and has the highest density of leopards on our trip. We will drive along the Seronera River looking for the big cats and may possibly visit the Boma and Maasai Kopjes located just east of the area. One morning we will visit the Retima Hippo Pool, one of the best hippos pools that we have ever photographed at. From a vantage point of only eight feet above the water surface, and from a distance of only twenty feet at times, you will be able to get frame-filling shots of hippos at virtually their eye level. You will never want to film another hippo again from a vehicle.
We'll be doing 2.5 days in the Ngorongoro Crater. This area is world-renowned and historically was a spectacular wildlife viewing location. It's still pretty good but it has its limitations. Mary and I camped there 10 years ago, and it was wonderful. Today, you cannot camp in the crater, and the number of lodges along the crater's rim has probably tripled. There is NO off-road driving in the crater (regardless of vague claims to the contrary), and there is a fair amount of traffic. When there is something good, there is the possibility of a traffic jam, which almost never occurs in the Serengeti where you become spoiled. The Crater is great for bull elephants - some of the largest bulls we've seen, and you can get close. It has a fairly good concentration of black rhinos, which may, or may not, be close to the road. Lions, hyenas, and game animals are usually pretty good shooting in the Crater, and the bird shooting was great. From the Crater rim the view is spectacular, and the lodge (remember, we're forced to use one here!) is one of the nicest, grandest we've ever been to.
We've actually added an additional day in the Crater to our itinerary compared to last year's trips. The shooting was so good that we felt another day would only add to our luck at this special location. We will have 2.5 days in the crater - two full days, a short afternoon drive preceding that, and the morning following as we leave the area. The resident herds of zebras and gnus will be birthing at this time so we will have another chance to capture this on film. Plus with the extra day we will have sufficient time to get great bull elephants, black rhinos, etc.
Our Lodging and Our Vehicles: This is a luxury trip,
not because we're spoiling ourselves or you, but because it truly
is the only way to go and to be comfortable. Our tour company
now has four long/stretch landcruisers similar to those we use
in Kenya (they were bought on our recommendation). We will have
only three photographers per vehicle with each photographer having
their own row of seats in which to operate from, providing ample
room for yourself and for all of your gear. This is a very comfortable
and a very productive way to photograph during the trip. The roof
hatch is one huge opening but for safety's sake, we have asked
them to put padded dividers between the rows.
The luxury camps are fantastic. Camping involves chemical toilets, but they function just like a flush toilet or a boat's toilet, and there is a real luxury in not having to leave your tent to hit the head in the middle of the night! In addition to its own toilet tent each two-person tent has its own shower tent. Both smaller tents are connected to the main tent and are accessed by exiting through the back flap. The tents have real beds, not cots, and all the amenities are there - it is comfortable and pleasant, and a real reward at the end of the day. The tents are spacious too, a fact I appreciated when I saw the 'normal' camping tents. You'll love them!
The lodges are first rate. Tanzania's food is quite good - a real improvement from ten years ago, and more importantly no one got sick! On the road, our vehicles have coolers with BOTTLED WATER, as well as soft drinks, and our field meals were great. Our camp dinners, at night, were superb, especially when you consider the cooking conditions.
Saturday, Day 1. Arrive in Arusha, overnight in Arusha.
Sunday, Day 2. Drive directly to Ngorongoro Crater, PM game-drive in Crater. Overnight, Sopa Lodge.
Monday & Tuesday, Days 3 & 4. Full days in Crater, with picnic breakfast and lunch. Overnights, Sopa Lodge.
Wednesday, Day 5. Drive to Serengeti NP. Stop at Oldupai Gorge (a great visit), game-drive to the Seronera area. Overnight, Seronera Wildlife Lodge.
Thursday, Day 6. Game drives around the Seronera Area. Overnight, Wilderness Lodge.
Friday, Day 7. Morning game drive in Seronera area. Afternoon game drive to Ndutu area. Overnight, Luxury Mobile Tented Camp.
Saturday, Day 8 to Friday, Day 14. Game drives in the Serengeti and/or Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Overnights, Luxury Mobile Camp.
Saturday, Day 15. Leave Serengeti, FLYING to Arusha in time for lunch. Afternoon free, then dinner and transfer to Kilimanjaro for flight home. For those continuing with us to Kenya for the start of the gorilla trek, after lunch, transfer to Nairobi via Unique bus.
Our days are longer in Tanzania due to the distances involved. We tend to do more all-day game drives when we visit more distant locales (such as the Gol or Moru Kopjes). Due to this, the pace can seem exhausting at times. We try to mix all day drives with our normal morning and afternoon game drives just to give people a much needed rest.
The price of the trip is $TBA, based upon double occupancy, from Arusha. The price includes: all accommodations, including the fabulous luxury tented camp; all park and camping fees; all special permit fees; Flying Doctors membership; internal Air Flights (we fly back from the Serengeti, what would be the worse travel day of the trip!); all meals; bottled water and soft drinks while on game drives; unlimited water, soft drinks and laundry in the luxury mobile camp. What's not included: items of a personal nature; drinks, alcoholic beverages and laundry at the lodges; alcoholic beverages in the luxury tented camp; international airfare to and from Arusha; transportation from Arusha to Nairobi (if joining us for the gorilla trek); and any single supplement. Gratuity for the Tanzania driver/guide and the camp staff is not included - a total tip of $320 is recommended.
Special non-photographic Spouse Offer
We'll be offering two spots at a discounted price for a spouse to accompany the photographer. This is the deal. The spouse will be seated in the front seat, next to the driver, for all game-drives. This is a comfortable riding position, and will afford great game-watching views and opportunities for all but those times when game is on the right hand side behind the driver. This offer is meant to provide couples an opportunity to travel together and to enjoy Tanzania, but with the very real proviso that this does not impact upon the photography or opportunities for the 'shooters.' This is a photography trip and, spouses or not, will remain so. If interested, please inquire for the special discounted price. Further, the non-photographic spouse is a 'non-voter' in terms of whether a vehicle stays or goes, should it occur that some photographers wish to remain with a subject and others do not. In other words, if your spouse and you (the photographer) wish to leave, but the other two photographers (three photographers per van, remember) do not, it is two for, one against, and the vehicle remains. In addition, if you have trouble sitting for long periods of time please keep in mind that this trip will have some long days involved. The front seat can seem mighty cramped at times like this.
The price of the trip is $TBA, based upon double occupancy, from Arusha. The price includes all accommodations, including the fabulous luxury tented camps, all park fees, Flying Doctors membership, internal Air Flights (we fly back from the Serengeti, what would be the worse travel day of the trip!), all meals, bottled water and soft drinks while on game drives. What's not included: items of a personal nature; drinks and alcoholic beverages; international airfare to and from Arusha, and any single supplement. Gratuity for the Tanzania driver-guide is not included - a $150 tip is recommended.
My wife Mary Ann and I strive to provide the most comfortable and thorough safari you will experience. Both Mary and I are photographers, and I'd hope you've seen our credits. These included National Geographic, National Wildlife, Ranger Rick, Natural History, Living Bird, Birder's World, and most nature/wildlife calendars.
In 1994 Mary Ann won two first place awards in the prestigious BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, in Endangered Species and in Bird Behavior. In 1998 she had three highly commended images published in the BBC competition, ALL THREE from Kenya! She won first place in the Cemex/Nature's Best photo contest in the Humor Division for Professional Photographers. In 2003 she won first place in Mammal Behavior in the Agfa all Africa photo competition with a dust bathing bull elephant from Samburu. Mary has written a number of children's books, including Leopards, Grizzly Bears, Woodpeckers, Flying Squirrels, Sunflowers, Cobras, Jupiter, Boas, Garter Snakes, Pythons, Rattlesnakes, Ducks, Chickens, Horses, and Cows, and a coffee table book, Out of the Past, Amish Tradition and Faith.
I've written several how-to wildlife photography books -- A Practical Guide to Photographing American Wildlife, The Wildlife Photographer's Field Manual, The Complete Guide to Wildlife Photography, Designing Wildlife Photographs, Photographing on Safari, A Field Guide to Photographing in East Africa, and the New Complete Guide to Wildlife Photography. In 1999 Todtri published my latest, African Wildlife, and in 1999 we produced our first instructional video, A Video Guide to Photographing on Safari with Joe and Mary Ann McDonald. The video has received rave reviews, and it is the definitive guide for preparing yourself for a safari. I've won several times for highly commended images in both the Cemex/Nature's Best and the Agfa all Africa photo competitions. In 2003 I won 2nd place in the World in Our Hands category in the BBC competition with an image from the Ndutu area of the Serengeti.