Tag Archives: african wildlife photography

One shipment of 500 elephants to go, please

This time, the shipment is not for a circus, some foreign zoo, or to assist with diplomatic relations and/or to boost a nation’s GDP.

This time, it is to help save them.

500 elephants in Malawi are to be transported to a sanctuary to protect them from poaching and human-wildlife conflict. How? Dart them, winch them into a truck, and drive them for about 300km/185mi to have them delivered to a new sanctuary. This will be the largest elephant relocation in Africa’s history and will take over 12 months.

Slowly, but surely, they will move. And hopefully slowly, but surely, they will survive in a world where humans think that they can treat animals as a commodity.

Malawi is a small country and has 1.5k out of 470k elephants in Africa. But do not underestimate the country for its size- because although it is a tiny land-locked country, they have sufficient funds allocated for protecting elephants, plus the commitment of the government, who have a cooperative relationship with African Parks, an INGO that manages these reserves. That’s two golden nuggets right there- and probably enough to see it all the way through from start to finish.

And so the move begins.

Travel safely, safari njema, beautiful elephants, and hopefully, you will all flourish on the other side.


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What do chillies, tobacco smoke, bees and fireworks have in common?

Elephants don’t like them.

Recently it’s been found that if you fill a condom with chilli powder, mix with sand for bulk and rocks for weight, and then launch the thing at the elephant, they’ll turn and walk away. It won’t hurt them, but with their sensitive sense of smell, they’ll apparently cough and sneeze as the chilli is just too irritating for their liking. I’m still unsure why condoms were selected as the chill grenade casing, as empty rubber scattered all over the place would be a pretty disgusting sight.

Back to the point.

So there we have it: accessible and affordable ways to deter elephants from eating and damaging farmers’ crops.

That’s one small step towards reducing human-wildlife conflict, and one giant leap for helping to save elephants. Progress!


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The Forgotten Ones

Giraffes becoming extinct? Yes.

The news comes as a surprise to many- after all, they’re ‘always around’, and on safari, not many usually stop for yet another giraffe that comes walking by. Which may be part of the reason why their plight has been overlooked and largely unnoticed. These beautiful creatures are in serious and rapid decline, with populations having fallen by 40% over the last 15 years due to habitat loss and poaching for their meat.

There are 9 subspecies of giraffe, two of which are classified as endangered by IUCN. The other 7 are classed as ‘of least concern’. Well, there’s a concern alright. Reportedly they still have this classification as nobody has bothered to conduct any proper monitoring and evaluation for some time. And until something is done, the population, which is sitting at 90k as we speak, will continue to plummet as sure as the sun sets every day.

Here’s to the giraffe- head always held high, elegant, and more now than ever, truly a limited edition.


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What happens when an elephant doesn’t die after you shoot it?

Six weeks ago, Pretty Boy, an elephant in Zimbabwe, was shot in the head. It is believed he turned to flee, and the poachers fired another shot into his shoulder.

The vets found him wandering inside Mana Pools when he apparently approached them, as if he knew they were there to help. He was treated and thankfully survived.

The intelligence of these beautiful creatures should never be underestimated. They think, feel, and experience the world in ways that we will never understand.

With their incredible levels of intelligence and extraordinary memories, these elephants will never understand why they or their family members were shot; will never forget what the poachers looked like; and most lastingly, will never forget how it made them feel. But perhaps all of that doesn’t matter, because their ability to forgive humans, and still peacefully share the same space with them, enables them to stay strong and survive. This will never cease to amaze me. And perhaps their ability to forgive is something that we humans ought to learn from the elephants.


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When the lion is not at the top of the food chain

This may look like an idyllic scene, however it shows one of the symptoms of a greater problem that leads to many lion deaths. It’s when lions and livestock compete for space.

The Maasai will oftentimes lead their cattle, goats and sheep into the Maasai Mara reserve to graze due to expanding settlements and fewer pastures for their livestock to feed on. What we see here is a struggle to maintain rural livelihoods and the issue of habitat loss due to overgrazing- which then leads to lions wandering out to the villages and eating livestock. This sparks retaliatory attacks by the Maasai, and the lions are usually killed by poison. This is what happened last December to the Marsh Pride lions, the stars of the Big Cat Diaries.

Lion-proof bomas, controlled grazing zones, greater regulation, and more incentives for the Maasai to live peacefully around lions can help to ensure that everyone’s livelihoods are maintained while lions are not unnecessarily killed. Efforts are underway, yet illegal grazing is still a common sight- and if it is, then it’s a sign that things aren’t working as well as they should.


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She’s looking a bit blue

The Blue Monkey doesn’t really seem to have much of a blue colour to its fur, nor to its temperament. Its name, however, does come from the slight bluish tinge that is visible in certain light.

This primate not only hangs out in troops, but they also get along quite nicely with other species of monkeys, including red tails and red colobus. It has been said that their inter-species alliances helps them to find food and protect themselves from common predators. Safety in numbers, as they say.

They enjoy sauna-like conditions with good humidity and shade in rainforests, like this one was doing here in a forest in Zanzibar- with a seemingly forlorn look!


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Ivory: what to do with it?

There’s a lot of it lying around, stashed away in safe houses under the tightest lock and key in Africa.

Kenya’s government burnt all of theirs in a very bold statement recently to drive home the point that there’s no use for ivory in an, ideally, obsolete trade. So just burn the things. And so they did. After all the black smoke rose into the skies and the tusks and horns reduced to ashes, there’s calm again and it seems like everyone’s on board.

But not quite so. A few African countries including S Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe wish to sell their ivory stockpiles. Their rationale is that the increased supply of ivory should lower the market price of tusks, which should reduce the killing because it won’t be as lucrative for the poachers. The funds could also be used for conservation, apparently.

It is all very interesting thinking, and applying rudimentary economic models to a complex situation might not work. Neither does assuming that funds generated from the sale will actually go to conservation. It is not new news that some of these countries could do with extra revenue to help national development either.

In September, big brother CITES will hold a roundtable in Johannesburg to determine what will happen.

At the end of the day, the real premise of why we should stop the trade should not be lost: that elephants are important, and that the trade must be stopped, in all cases and scenarios, and soon. Hopefully, Africa will reach a unified stance on how they view the trade so that a concerted effort is made to stop the elephants from being poached, once and for all.


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Giddy up, Saddle Bill

The Saddle-billed stork is one of the tallest and vibrantly coloured storks around. With a 13” sharp beak in the same colour scheme as the Ugandan flag, this dashing bird has been named this way due to the yellow saddle-shaped section under its eyes. 

It can be quite a hard-to-see soul, preferring rarer places with both tall trees to nest in and wetlands nearby so they can go fishing, frogging, or crabbing. They’ll sometimes vomit water over their nest and eggs to moisten things a bit, crunch and swallow the egg shells of their babies after they’ve hatched for a quick high-calcium snack, and pair with a partner for life. Like the Sacred Ibis, vulture and the Egyptian Geese, they’re also represented in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.

What a fascinating bird. Giddy up, Saddle Bill!

Pocket-sized Antelope

The dik-dik: the second smallest antelope in the world.

Reaching 40cm/16in at the shoulder, these pocket-sized and dainty creatures can hide easily in thickets when under threat. When they bolt however, they can do so at speeds of up to 42kmh/26mph, and will leap away in a zig zag fashion. Females will also produce a whistling alarm through their nose to alert others of a threat, which sounds like ‘zik zik’. So that’s where the interesting name comes from…

Other interesting facts:

  • once they’ve found a partner in crime, they’ll stick with them for life and have one kid at a time;
  • they hardly drink, as they obtain most of their fluids from the vegetation that they eat and by staying awake in the night when it’s less hot;
  • they’ll elongate their snouts to pant, which helps regulate their temperatures;
  • and you could fit one into your handbag, but you probably wouldn’t be able to get one in there

This beautiful girl was peering at us curiously through the grass. Like a little Bambi.

Here’s to celebrating all of Earth’s creatures, great, small, and pocket-sized.

Hi, intelligent hyena

A spotted hyena at the Mara after the rains. This rainbow appeared almost magically, as they always do. Little did this hyena know how pretty the scene was, as it peered curiously into the vehicle.

These highly intelligent creatures have long been misunderstood. Recent studies have revealed their intelligence rival some primates- a test population in the wild were found to use trial and error to solve puzzles, and clans have been found to assess a competing clan that was invading their territory based on the number of calls they heard.

Further, contrary to popular opinion, these highly adept hunters, more often than not, carry out more of their own kills than they do scavenge. Interestingly, in a number of studies, it was found that lions regularly steal food from hyena clans. Now that’s food for thought.

Belonging to female-led clans and working in teams, their powerful jaws can crush bone to access nutritious marrow, important especially when feeding on leftovers of carrion. Their ability to digest rotting carcasses also helps to reduce the spread of disease in the ecosystem.

So, what’s not to love about the hyena? And for anyone who’s ever looked at a wild one in the eyes, they’ll tell you that they are truly, beautiful creatures.

Charges: mock or real?

A trumpet call, the ears flap, then comes a head toss and a shake. The dust flies off this bull’s head like a magical plume of red dirt as it captures the glaring harsh light of the sun and creates a dusty shroud around him. He then kicks the ground and his trunk blows out more dust over his body, making him a magnificent red cloudy beast. He rushes forward, head held high, ears spread flat and stops metres short away from us. His plan is not to cause massive damage- although he surely could with the combined velocity and brute force of his 5000kg+ weight. His intention instead, is to gauge how much of a threat you are and to scare you off. And when there’s someone towering over you like this, let’s just say, his intimidation skills are by all accounts, very good.

So what then, is a real charge? An elephant’s ears will lie flat against the sides of their head, pinned back, the head lowers in order to position the bridge of his trunk onto its target, and then will sprint towards you- and this time, there’s no stopping them.

While it’s handy to know the difference, best to respect their mood and back off as soon as you see any kind of territorial behaviour or irritation in general!

Here’s to respect for all animals, great and small.

What are you looking at?

Why are you pink? Carotenoids from blue-green algae, this bird’s main food source, provides a pinkish hue to its feathers, beak, legs, the eyes- well, just about everything.

The coloured pigments in carotenoids exist in many living things- in plants, they assist photosynthesis and protect the vital chlorophyll elements from damage by the sun. While us humans consume them in foods such as carrots and pumpkin at levels that aren’t quite enough to turn us orange or pink, it is apparently possible… So, pretty in pink, they say. And indeed these graceful birds are- when they’re not giving you a death stare like this one here!