Pictographic Gallery: Big Game in Kenya
Capturing Safari Moments: Part II
The list of the 10 top wildlife photographers has enjoining captions of the wilder places and wildlife in Kenya, such as Karen Lunney whose wildlife images have been recognized internationally for their masterful composition and incredible detail. That is to say, the wilder places in Kenya are a great marrow to capture nature at her very best. Photography is first and foremost about capturing light. ‘A well-lit subject can be captured poorly, but a poorly-lit subject will never look good’. The general rule, in good lighting, is to have the source of light (the sun) behind or at the side of your subject. As well, the best lighting conditions are in the early morning and evening with pleasant warm lighting. Late mornings and afternoons, with the sun overhead, have rather flat lighting effects. At the zenith of sunset, the warm glow of sun provides superb front lighting and produces the iconic orange-hued silhouette of the African sunset, that is worth experimenting by putting the subject in front of the sun. Today’s camera with built-in metering systems has reduced the ‘innards’ of exposure and picture failure resulting from incorrect exposure. When taking a photo, the camera opens its shutter and lets in light through the lens. This light hits the sensor and is processed as an image.
Exposure is a detailed field of professional photography, so consider the above as introductory. With the option to manually adjust exposure it offers multiple variants of a portrait – depending on speed and time of exposure – and is quite an interesting feature that takes hold with practice and experimentation. Depth of field in your snap depends primarily on the strength of the lens. Depth is the scale of foreground, middle ground and far distances with an aim to render as much of each in the photo. Most landscape photos are taken using a wide-angle lens with a small aperture. Close-ups of wildlife are often achieved using longer lenses with a large aperture. “Painting seems to be to the eye what dancing is to the limbs” and a good photo calls for steady hands to guarantee good definition. Definition is the level of sharpness. Unlike many elements of a photo which are automatically configured, composition calls for an active input. It’s this element that separates the men from the boys. This is the soul of the portrait. The rule of thirds is the go to wisdom in composing your photo to capture the subject, place and circumstance and to avoid placing your subject in the center of the picture. Mentally divide the shot into thirds using two vertical lines and two horizontal lines, then place elements of high visual interest at any of the four intersections.
The Big Game
A Pictographic Gallery of the Big Game in Kenya
Is the largest land mammal and an awe inspiring sight when seen at close quarters. Living in herds, it feeds on leaves and shoots of trees, tearing down branches and even pushing down trees. Equally at home in the dry bush-country or the cooler, wetter rain forests. Humans are the biggest threat to the world’s largest land mammal. The African and Asian elephant differ mostly in the size of ears: the African elephant’s ears being three times larger than those of its opposite-number Asian eles.
Masai Giraffe, (Twiga)
Is the tallest mammal, the head of a big bull reaching about 18 ft above ground level. The towering height is needed for reaching the acacia tree tops which are their favorite diet. The long tongue is twisted round a branch to strip off the leaves. The more common of the three sub-species in Kenya, its coat pattern is more blotched and irregular with a brown to red hue on a bright background. It is found in mid to southern Kenya.
This subspecies of the giraffe is common in the northern parts of Kenya. Also known as the Somali giraffe, it can be differentiated by its large, neat deep red polygonal spots which sometime cover the legs. Like all giraffes its “horns”, which are protuberances covered with skin, range in number from three to five based on species, the most common being three – two between the ears and one located centrally slightly above the eyes.
Is dubbed as Baringo giraffe and is a subspecies of the reticulated giraffe. It was named after Lionel Rothschild who first described it in the early 1900’s. Its lovely coat colour and pattern resembes that of the reticulated but with wider pavings or gaps. Uniquely, it has no patterns below the knees and its underbelly, these areas being almost pure white. It is found in Rift Valley, or in Western Kenya.
Buffalo, (Nyati, Mbogo)
Is rated by some hunters as the most dangerous of the Big Game animals when injured. In the old days the herd could often be seen in the open land, but encroaching civilization has impelled them to alter their custom and they have now taken to thick forest, bush or swamps, coming out in the open to feed at night. One of the most abundant of Africa’s big game, it is a great brawny brute solid built with short legs. Buffalo horn size and shape depend mainly on age.
Black Rhinoceros, (Faru)
Is extremely unpredictable and will charge blindly if disturbed; its sense of smell and hearing are acute but its eyesight is poor and the bewildered creature crashes off in any direction. Except for man, it have no natural predator and the male black rhino weigh up to 1,350 kg and females up to 900 kg. Black rhinos are smaller than white rhinos and are more solitary and shy, with a repute for being more gung-ho and bullish.
White Rhinoceros, (Faru)
Similar in behavior to its relative the Black Rhino, this magnificent creature is now an extremely rare animal to see in the wild. There is no colour difference between the white and black rhino, the salient split being the white rhino spots wider lips while the black rhinos has hooked lip to browse shrubs. 2 of the last remaining northern white rhino subspecies are now hosted at Ol Pejeta Conservancy and are guarded round the clock.
Is rarer that the Common Zebra and commonly seen in the north and north-eastern part of Kenya. It has narrower black and white stripes, a taller stature, and large ears. Agile and alert at all times, when alarmed, ears stand to full attention, neck arched, muscles tensed with great bursts of speed. The Grevy’s are now endangered due to poaching and habitat loss.
Common or Burchell’s Zebra (Punda Milia)
It is found over most of Kenya where there is suitable grazing, always looking sleek and portly even during adverse conditions. Over 71% of the world’s common zebra are of the Grant’s species, with some 200,000 in the great Masai Mara-Serengeti biosphere. So much so, Serengeti National Park supports the world’s single largest common zebra population (151,000). Although its habitat is wide, it avoid deserts and forests.
Is a massive relative of the pig. Spending almost all of the day submerged up to the nostril in water, the hippo comes on land at night, to forage, forming well-known tracks on the bank. The hippo is now mostly confined to protected areas, never far away from the water. It has protrusile well-developed incisors used for fighting and hardly for feeding.
Is grotesque in appearance and is so called because of the projected duo wart like excrescences on the face. When alarmed this member of the pig family races along with its tail flung vertically. It resides in holes on the plains and thrives on grasses which it crops with its front teeth. An adult warthog can survive a month with little water.
The Giant Forest Hog
Is the largest of the African pigs reaching a height of nearly 3 feet with tusks up to a foot in length. It is an archetypal forest dweller but comes into the open to raid farmland, being especially fond of ‘sweet potatoes’. Giant forest hogs are shy animals that live in low population densities and are therefore not well known. It lives in groups called ‘sounders’ which consist of 6-14 members in a 1:2 male:female ratio, led by a male.
Bush Pig, Nguruwe Mwitu
It’s smaller in size in comparison with the Giant Forest Hog with a long, extended snout and smaller tusks. Its colour extends broadly ranging from dark brown to red white. Bush pigs are often found following frugivorous monkeys, feeding on uneaten fruit that falls to the ground. It is notorious for feeding on wide range crops and its daily treks vary from 1-5 kms.
Of all African animals, the elephant is the most difficult for man to live with, yet its passing – if this must come – seems the most tragic of all. I can watch elephants (and elephants alone) for hours at a time, for sooner or later the elephant will do something very strange such as mow grass with its toenails or draw its huge tusks from the rotted carcass of another elephant and carry them off into the bush. There is mystery behind that masked gray visage, and ancient life force, delicate and mighty, awesome and enchanted, and commanding the silence ordinarily reserved for mountain peaks, great fires, and the sea. – Peter Matthiessen
The Small Mammals
– A Pictographic Gallery of Small Mammals in Kenya
Also known as Bruce’s Dassie it’s a small hoofed mammal living in colonies of up to 20 among rocks and boulders, and easily spotted at Hyrax Hill Museum in Nakuru and around Lake Baringo where it lives in basalt cliffs providing security from Verreaux’s Eagle. This fuzzy rock animal may look like a rodent but it’s not. In fact, its closet relative is the elephant.
Its name means “earth-pig” in Afrikaans and also erroneously as the ant-bear. It is a termite-eater that moves about at night using its rudimentary teeth and long sticky tongue to extract the ants from the hole. Some tribes in Kenya hunt the aardvark for its meat and use various parts as charms: the teeth are believed to prevent illnesses. Carnivores like jackals, hyenas and leopards are its natural predators in the wild.
Lesser Bush Baby, (Komba)
Is a small nocturnal relative of the monkeys that lives mainly in acacia bushlands, where it leaps around in search of insects and fruits. Between making amazing tremendous leaps, it continually wets the soles of its feet to obtain better grip. Despite its small size, the bush baby is an exceptionally vocal creature. Also known as the lesser galago, about the size of a squirrel, it has big eyes and bat-like ears to suit its spry nightlife.
Crested Rat, (Panya)
This grey and black rodent, about the size of rabbit, moves leisurely showing very little fear of human, but the long hairs on its back are “erected” when danger threatens. It is thought that the hairs on its back are poisonous. Females are generally larger than males. Both have short limbs and long bodies.
Dwarf Mongoose, (Nguchiro)
Is a small mammal that usually hunts for insects and other small critters by day, making transitory homes in termite hills. It is easily tamed and domesticated – often treated as a house pet. It is most spirited in the middle of the day, heading out in groups. They feed primarily on insects but they also eat snails, birds, snakes and eggs.
Africa is mystic; it is wild; it is a sweltering inferno; it is a photographer’s paradise, a hunter’s Valhalla, an escapist’s [heaven] Utopia. It is what you will, and it withstands all interpretations. It is the last vestige of a dead world or the cradle of a shiny new one. To a lot of people, as to myself, it is just home. – B. Markham (British-born Kenyan aviator)
The Art of Animal Tracking: Part III
While the landscape as a whole provides useful clues to track animals, they also leave in their wake definitive signs of their whereabouts especially on trails and runs. Most important of these clues are: the rub or polished areas on the trails resulting from intentional or unintentional action of animals rubbing up against an object that protrudes onto the trail. Hairs or feather caught on branches and barks is a useful animal tracking litmus test to indicate which animal and what time such animal may have passed through. Gnaws, chews and scratching on the bark is an indicator of the class of wildlife in proximity. You can tell the animal by the size of the score marks. Rodents love to scratch the barks of trees with their sharp incisors; while the carnivores scratch up against barks to whet their claws. Herbivores on the other hand often chew twigs and stalks of grass, and scratching against trees to relieve themselves from itchy pests. In the same light, regular change in the debris and ground vegetation a useful tell-tale. As animals wander, especially the big-game, they abrade and break vegetation oftentimes also abrading and turning the ground debris. Scat (or dung) tells a whole lot. Scat tells you the type of animal by its size, shape, and consistency. It tells you what the animal has been eating. Animals leave scat in areas they feel safe. This means that it is a good area to look for animals. Last but not least are the tracks. ‘When a track is made, the heel slides into the ground, registers and pulls out. No track will register straight down. They have an angled component’.