Monday, April 7, 2008

Welcome to the Photo-Africa Blog!

This is a new edition to my website which features the photographic work of various Field Guides and Wildlife Photographers.

Photo-Africa has been expanding quite a bit the last few months so when you have a moment visit the Image Galleries & Download Centre and have a look at some of the most authentic African Wildlife Images around!

Current listed photographers are:

  • Gerry van der Walt
  • Gavin Tonkinson
  • Grant Marcus
  • Riaan Kruger
  • David Trevor Guest

2008 has proven to be a very interesting year so far and there is still a lot to come. Adele and I have left Royal Madikwe and I will soon be adding a whole lot more on our new venture which should be starting around June. As they say... watch this space. Then there is also our trip to Namibia in November to get married so a whole lot of stories to come!

I will be moving my Diary and Moments of the Week to this Blog which will make it easier for you to read everything in one place and also send comments and stay in touch.

In order to get this Blog on the roll (and until I find the time to write about the busy last two weeks) I have attached the last Diary entry from my website dated 25 March.

* * * Diary Entry - 25 March 2008 * * *

Lions. Lots and lots of lions. This seems to be what the last few weeks was all about. Let's start at the beginning.

After resigning from Royal Madikwe Adele and I returned to Johannesburg to settle back into our house and regroup before moving to

Djuma later in May. This left about one and a half months during which I could freelance at various lodges in Madikwe. So, first stop was Tuningi Game Lodge.

Flying into a Game Reserve is not fun!! :) This was the first time I flew into Madikwe and of course the weather had to be all upset and angry about my decision as well. Long story short - wet runway, lots of clouds, bad visibility, lots of bumping and I am not even going to get started on landing on a wet dirt airstrip while the wind is pumping as well. Give me my Land Rover Discovery any day!! :)

Once I reached Tuningi the weather did not ease up and we ended up having 220mm of rain in just under 2 days. Water everywhere! Sounds great for the bush but not so good for our drives. Madikwe has many different types of soil and many of these do not take kindly to wet weather and being driven on. Black cotton soil is one of these types of soils. Normally we would not even think of driving a black cotton road if it had more than about 20mm of rain and now we were sitting with almost 10 times that! The result was that almost 70% of the roads were completely closed and a great deal of the remaining roads required some serious negotiation in full 4x4 mode for you to actually get anywhere!

So there we are on night one, rain bucketing down and all of us disappointed that we cannot head out at 4pm. We knew that the Dipelo pride was next to the airstrip (which I survived earlier that day) as they killed a wildebeest the night before and were all still sleeping in the area. Luckily at around 17:30 the downpour eased up slightly and we decided to give it a bash even if it was just to get to the airstrip and back to see the lions. Both Gavin and I decided to leave our cameras at home due to the rain and pretty miserable light... Yeah, now you know something big was going to happen!! :)
Finding them did not take long and we settled in about 10 meters from them and watched them roll around in the grass and play around our vehicles. It is a beautiful thing to see big lions run around, playing and tackling each other. A great sighting to start our 'quick' trip to the airstrip. After about 45 minutes we all decide to head back to the lodge. These lions were not going to hunt tonight as they just finished a wildebeest that morning... or not!

As we were about to start the engines to get going, a large herd (or implausibility - yeah, that is also a collective name for wildebeest) moved south towards the airstrip. Now what? Surely the lions would not be interested in hunting as they were all still very fat from their previous meal. But nature does not follow our predetermined ideas on how things have to work and suddenly we found ourselves within 10 meters of stalking lions.

The way these large cats work together is truly unbelievable and awesome to watch. Without any signal that we could pick up, the two younger females moved sideways and around the wildebeest who were slowly grazing towards the airstrip. The mother moved in the opposite direction while the young male, stalking close to the ground, made his way slowly directly to the wildebeest.
Even though the light was fading quickly and we could now only see one of the lions, the tension was incredible! No one said a word and all you could hear were the francolins calling in the distance and the hoofs of the wildebeest who was now crossing over the airstrip.

Suddenly, and without any notice all four lions charge at the same time and from different directions. We follow the action with our spotlights and all you could see was wildebeest running away and lions coming from all directions. The two younger females flushed the wildebeest and pushed them towards the open airstrip where the mother was waiting. From about 40 meters we saw the mother make contact with a female wildebeest and in a second all the other lions joined in the dusty chaos.

We switched on our engines and drove closer to a scene which I am not sure words can explain.
To witness a kill is a strange experience. We tend to think about the whole thing emotionally and this makes it a very difficult thing to witness. The few moments from when a lion makes contact with it's prey until it is finally dead - I cannot think of the words. You feel repulsed and alive at the same time. You are torn between feeling sorry for the wildebeest and still there is a part of you that is strangely excited at the the brutal scene that is unfolding before you. You want to look away but somehow you just cannot seem to stop witnessing this cruel, yet essential part of nature.

I guess the 'problem' is that we think about the scene in an anthropomorphic way. Poor wildebeest... cruel lion. The following poem comes to mind:

I want you to feel the blurred edge
between good and bad,
to say no to the urge to look away
or to take sides...
but to give
with both eyes.

I am not sure who the author is but it describes very nicely how we should deal with a scene like that. Just witness the miracle of nature unfolding in front of you and be grateful that you can be a part of a story that has been told for a thousand years. Now before I get to carried away about the philosophical meanings of the poem and how it can relate to what we are doing to nature, lets get back to me leaving my camera at the lodge.

Six lions on a (now dead) wildebeest. They are all still panting heavily from the exertion and excitement of the kill as they slowly circle the wildebeest. From where we were watching, now a mere 5 meters away, you could see their breathe in the cold evening air as the other two vehicles lit the scene from the side.

Now I am absolutely convinced that this would have been a National Geographic front page image. :) Absolutely awesome in it's composition, feeling, lighting... Alas, I am having to keep on looking for my next chance to get an image like this! So, bottom line... ALWAYS take your camera with you! Gonna have to look into getting a waterproof / dustproof Storm Case for all my gear when I get the chance. :)

Anyway, we ended up following these lions around everyday for almost a week. Five days later they joined up with the Batia brothers who are, at 14 years old, the oldest two lions in Madikwe. They must have been spectacular in their prime as even though you can see they have had a seriously tough life, they are still beautiful specimens! In the last couple of days we saw these 6 lions play, hunt (killed another zebra) fight and of course lay around in the sun sleeping. A great week with lions and considering this all happened within about 2 kilometers from the lodge made it even better!

Now it's about 14h00 and even though we had a nice sighting of these lions again this morning, the highlight of the last two days was watching the Wild Dogs yesterday. It was amazing to sit in open clearing in the eastern side of the reserve and have these endangered animals walking around the vehicle. The highlight came when they decided to go after some wildebeest. No as they started looking at the wildebeest and going into hunting mode Dinamosi (my tracker) said that it is the first time he has ever seen them go after such a big animal.

After flanking out, and all vey focused on the wildebeest on the other side of the open clearing they started running. Awesome to see 18 of Africa's most endangered species in full flight! The wildebeest was startled and turned to run but after about 50 meters they stopped dead in their tracks, turned to look at the dogs and chased them right back! It was hilarious to see the African Wild Dog being chased across the African plains by a wildebeest who, lets be honest is not the prettiest or cleverest animal. Great scenes!!

Anyway, it is almost time to get going on this afternoons drive. Going after some big guys... elephants and rhino!

I have a LOT of new images, but still have to sort through everything so I will be uploading these around 29 March so make sure to check back then!

As always I look forward to hearing from you!


* * * End * * *

Ok, so since then Dinamosi and I tracked the same lions and found them as they were taking down a kudu. Unbelievable!! Also had leopards, LOTS of ellies and a whole bunch of interesting guests.

Hopefully more on all of this soon!!

I have just added around 200 new WIldlife Images to the various galleries so make sure to visit as well!

As always I look forward to hearing from you!!

Until next time!


1 comment:

Eve said...

Hi Gerry,
Ok this is going to be quite an adventure for me! I like to start blogs at the beginning to say hi, but I checked out your latest page and wow, my heart is still beating over the baby buffalo saga!! I hadn't seen that video before, and was glad to run into your blog to see it. The photography here is stunning. I will like to visit and keep going back in time to see what you've all done! Now just let me take a rest first and calm my beating heart!