6. Tour

May 1st, 1994 – May 15th, 1994

May 7th, 1994

The mysterious and elusive Leopard

Tour number 6 started so nice: I arrived 4 days ago – after lunch we drove into the Mara and toward 4pm we found the Leopard with her two kids in an acacia tree in the area of Emarti ya Faru – all three of them fully gorged.

We stayed there until dark and – since then we havenīt seen the three of them again. We searched their 20 – 30 km home range every single day – not a trace of them. It is as if all three of them just vanished.

A Japanese colleague from Paradise Camp flew in from Tokyo especially to take pictures of the three Leopards and he hasnīt seen them once in the week heīs been here.

I had a similar experience last year in April, when I was looking for Paradise and her daughter and couldīnt find them at all for a full two weeks.

Searching for Leopards is easy: providing they are there at all, you can find them through the following method – maybe:

  1. You drive around on their home range and hope to find them sometime, with a little luck.
  2. You look for places where the young Leopards can play during the very early and late parts of the day. While playing, they sometimes climb trees, or jump around brush which increases the chance of finding them, rather than while they are lying in the grass.
  3. You search all the tall trees the Leopards love during the mid day heat, because they enjoy spending that time of the day there relaxing.
  4. You try to find a freshly killed prey from the previous night, that was deposited in a tree or bush.

As smart as we are, we have been working according to these methods for days, but to no avail.

In addition to all this you need a good portion of luck and at least a third of the Leopardīs territory canīt be checked because the car, in spite of the 4-wheel drive, canīt pass through every ditch. Parts of the area are just too rocky or densely overgrown.

Besides that, now in May the grass is so high that the Leopard doesīnt even have to crouch down in order not to be seen.

May 8th, 1994

Africa is really great !! Now, in May, almost every night at sunset one or two Bats come flying into my bathroom behind the tent and hang on the shower head in order to eat the insects and moths they brought and more than likely caught outside.

Torn off insect wings, probably not suitable for palate of a Bat, trickle down onto the floor of my shower. After an up side down meal, they immediately fly off again in search of other prey.

They donīt stay during the day, so obviously they hang somewhere else then. My bathroom is just a sort of dining room. Maybe it is too bright during the day for them.

Why are the best pictures usually failures and the unimportant ones a success?

On my tour in March I had taken a super picture and I was one hundred percent sure that it turned out.

The result from the lab later on showed that the flashed slides were a t l e a s t two whole shades underexposed.

It was on a very early morning in March, somewhere between total darkness and the very first light of dawn.

The female Leopard sat on the very first limb of an acacia tree about one meter above the ground and in which crown the two little ones were chewing happily on a dead Impala, as two Hyenas approached to female Leopard up to about 2 meters away from her and she hissed at them.

A superb picture in the life of the nocturnal African bush and maybe never photographed before.

I had turned the SB-24 onto full power and the angle of the flash to 85 mm, a Fuji Chrome – 100 in the camera and the Sigma 2,8/70 – 210 mm on the 2,8 shutter.

I was a hundred percent sure that I was successful...... Why this total underexposure?

On the next tour I went and measured the distance again and what do you know, it was a distance of more than 20 meters between camera and the Leopard. Apparently 20 meters are way too far for the flash with a shutter of 2,8 and the Fuji – 100. If I had only used K – 200 or Fuji – 400..... If the dog had not...... Maybe I made a mistake and the reflector was set on 28 mm and not at 85......?

I tried to save what I could by having Studio-13 in Stuttgart make a brightened duplicate (Leopards, page 117), but of course it is only a poor imitation of what would have been possible, if I had only turned on my brain in time.

Before I measured the distance again, I was absolutely certain that in the dark I was not more than 10 meters away from the Leopard.....

Strategy and Tactic

My strategy to follow the Leopard family with my camera until the kids were grown and on their own seemed to pay off.

The kids are already more than 5 months old and are certainly past the dangerous stage of their youth. Up to now you find them relatively easy enough about 2 – 4 times a week, because the mother did not move around with them much and if so, then only for short distances.

But now the grass is so high, that you can hardly see the Leopards and the kids are so big and lively, that mom can move around with them in the night as she pleases.

So in the past two weeks we were able to find them only once, in spite of the daily search from 6am to 6pm. Of course this is very ineffective.

The long term strategy works fine, but apparently there is no tactic on how to find Leopards every day, or even only every week, for sure.

Problems and more problems: the dark bush babies have a very sad appearance
without an addition flash against the dark background – with reflecting light, it flashed
every time a tourist tried to take a photograph of the bush babies with his
compact camera and in turn, that was lost power I needed later to take my own pictures.


Bush babies – the never ending story.

At the edge of the bush in the Mara River Camp, there is a wooden board fastened about 1,5 meter above ground on which fruit partially cut open is placed for the nocturnal bush babies.

Most of the time 1 – 4 specimen come in the first hour of darkness to this lamp lit place in order to pick up their dinner.

So this is a good opportunity to take pictures of these nocturnal primates. The pictures from the first two tours turned out disappointingly – a giant Galago with a dark background does not have an especially good appearance.

On the next two tours I didnīt have any time because I always came back to camp too late from my trips to the Leopards. The little primates had already finished eating everything.

On the fifth tour I was determined to do better: in addition to the SB-24 flash from Nikon, I took the strong Metz flash 45B with the telephoto clip in order to place it behind the motif and use it as counter light.

Combined with a photo cell, the Metz flash was activated automatically every time I took a picture with SB 24 on the camera and surrounded the animal with a light aura which caused it to be set apart from the background.

Unfortunately it didīnt work out this time either: The TTL measures of the lead flash reacted differently depending on where the bush baby was sitting and how intense the counter light was. So the main flash was either too bright or not bright enough.

I also had the backward lightening counter flash positioned too closely, so that the effect was too strong and the bush baby looked like it had a halo. So I experimented at home before the 6th tour just how far the Metz flash has be distanced from the animal in order to have a good and natural picture.

In addition to that, I had some trial runs with the lead flash SB-24, with turned off TTL- measure, meaning it was turned to manual where it wouldīnt be irritated by the light of the second flash.

So everything was set for taking perfect pictures on tour 6 of the bush babies but – in the meantime the Mara had turned green, the trees were lucious and the animals seemed not to be interested in the additional food from the lodge.

I will have to wait with these pictures for the time of draught, when the babies come for the additional feeding.

Once again it confirmed the good pictures canīt be taken just so on the by and by, but that they are arduous work. (Masai Mara, page 55 and The Art of Wildlife Photography, page 49).

May 12th, 1994

While it seems that pictures for the Leopard book are presently not possible, there are surprisingly good perspectives for pictures for the Mara book.

For months I had wondered how to best make aerial pictures of the area. Hot air balloon was not such a good idea because you can only fly in one direction. An airplane wasīnt ideal either because of the glass windshield and the speed.

Now there suddenly was a great possibility: there was a Frenchman in the Fig Tree Camp who had a so called ultra light plane; a hang glider or kite with an attached motor from a lawn mower.

This was ideal: it flew very slowly and you were completely on the outside, underneath you a soup bowl seat and absolutely nothing around you - excellent photo conditions.

Yesterday we took a first test flight for an hour across the Mara. To fly "micro light" is great fun and allows for a fantastic view of the countryside. I shot the Leopard gorge and Fig Tree Avenue while I was at it.

This morning we went into the air again, this time for three hours and combed large portions of the Mara from the air. Especially the pictures from the Mara River seem to have turned out real nice. From up above, it looks like the river is winding like a snake. (Masai Mara, pages 16 and 56/57).


The American colleague Tom Brakefield took a picture of "my" aproach with the
ultra light plane after two hours of work during a flight across the Masai Mara.


I used the new Sensia – 100 for the aerial photographs. Everything was shot with an open aperture of 2,8 and timer automatic, to get the highest possible sharpness by shortest possible closure times.

Best focal lengths were 24 mm, 35 mm, 55 mm, and 105 mm. Shorter focal lengths were not possible, otherwise the wires and wings of the ultra light plane would have been in the picture.

Afterward, the pictures I liked most were the ones taken with the 2,8/55 mm lens.

Since you are not allowed to change film during flight because of the danger that a film cartridge might land in the propeller, I had all of three cameras with lenses slung around my neck.

In spite of that we had to touch down several times because the three films were full and I took the opportunity to change lenses and experiment with different focal lengths. It must have seemed rather odd for the guests of the different camps when they saw an ultra light plane land for instance on the Kichwa Tembo Camp airstrip, stop for a moment and then start again and fly away. The folks probably had a hard time to make any sense of it.

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