"Tourist attitudes and use impacts in Maasai Mara National Reserve" was the title of a brochure I bought in the summer of 1993 at the store in the Mara River Camp. It contained some interesting facts.
So in 1980, 58.725 tourists visited the Masai Mara in 1990 the count was already up to 255.000 visitors. There are 17 permanent camps and lodges in the Mara with over 2.000 beds. Most of the visitors want to see Lions (63%), rhinoceros (63%), Leopards and Cheetahs (58% ea.), Elephants (43%), Giraffes (21%), Hippopotamus (19%), white bearded Gnu (12%), and Zebras (5%). 5% of the visitors come to see birds.
By 1993/94 the number of visitors was certainly up to over 300.000 and there was no book about this region (except for a few excellent and special descriptions from Jonathan Scott about Leopards, Wild Dogs and animal migration).
If the valid period of time for books about regional descriptions is 5 years until it is outdated and replaced through an updated issue in which all the changes have been recorded, then there would be about 1.5 Million visitors alone for the Mara as potential customers (not to mention the bookstores in Kenya, Europe and the USA) for an informative picture book........ A pretty good market share........
Since I have been in the Mara at least 8-10 times since my first book in 1969, I could have very easily done something with the existing slide material. But I did not like the idea of that. If at all, it should be a new and present book with current pictures and "all in form" so to say. Maybe I could even take all of the slides with the new Ectachrome Elite generation? Then the color balance throughout the book would be on the same level.
Now, which concept to chose from? To describe the different environments of the Mara as is usual with regional descriptions would be the obvious thing, but I thought that this was too biological.
Since the average tourist spends only 2.5 days in the Mara, it would be of little sense to the visitor of the Keekorok Lodge if he was given a bunch of information about the Airong Mountains on the other end of the Mara. The 2.5 day tourist would be served best with short concise information about the whole region and short texts on the behavior of the animal species, where you may find them, together with attractive and expressive photos. The one percent of the seriously "biological field" interested Mara visitors know more than the wildlife photographer can write down for him any way.
Thatīs why I decided on a concept for an annual view. A chapter for every month with a short text introduction then a series of pictures, with which the seasons and their features are described. Then every month a detailed description of one of the twelve, from the visitors most wanted, animals, to go with the season - like for instance the migration of the white bearded Gnus and with this, the aimed for circle of readers should be covered.
This concept is more convenient for me, as a wildlife photographer, because I donīt have to travel to some corner of the Mara in order to document some biological statement by time consumingly photographing it. This way I can indulge myself within a time frame of 12 months in pictures and not have to keep a set concept.
To photograph everything in a years cycle would have meant to be present in the Mara for an entire year; either to be there for 12 months at a time or to fly 12 times - once a month - . In any case, it would expensive.
So I stuck a dummy on the planned book called "The Masai Mara Year - Nature in the most visited Eastern African Wildlife Preserve", and made a list of all the economical facts that stood for this book; (1.5 Million visitors in 5 years, worldwide interest in Eastern Africaīs animal kingdom, tourists from Europe, the US and Japan and in view of that, good for international licensing, etc.). The concept convinced my publisher and I had a contract with the usual conditions of my field of work in my pocket. With this, the first hurdle for the basic substantiation and security was taken.
Economical Viability Calculation
So there were two ways to do this project: to either stay there for the duration of 12 months or to fly there 12 times. To stay there for 12 months would have been difficult in view of the other projects and would have put a gap in all familiar, social and business connections.
But two weeks a month each in the Mara and at home at my desk with the simultaneous processing of the prior months text and slide material of the Mara and at the same time checking the results of the prior months in order to have the possibility of "tuning" the program, re-take slides that turned out badly, to fill gaps found during the assessment in the following month that seemed to me the most effective way.
I would estimate the cost as follows: 12 LH tickets Frankfurt Nairobi Frankfurt at DM 1.300,- ea. would amount to approx. 15.000,-. With 10 actual days a month of photographing (4 days are subtracted for eventual car defect, bad weather, no animals in sight, round trip drive from Nairobi to the Mara, etc.) and my usual consume of 20 films a day in Africa, which would make 2.400 films at DM 15,- ea. incl. developing and frame, the total on photographic material would be DM 36.000,-. Then approx. DM 3.000,- added per trip for car and lodging brings the estimated amount up to DM 87.000,- for the Project Masai Mara Year. Including various additional costs the investment would be a total of approx. DM 100.000,-. Is this worth it?
What results can you count on? A German edition of the book at 5.000 issues, sold, would at a sales price of DM 70,- ea. bring approx. DM 35.000 for the author (10% of the sales price). Since more than ū th of the visitors to the Mara speak English, one should be able to sell an English edition at 10.000 issues. The original German publisher normally receives 7% of the sales price for the foreign copy right charges and the author 50%, under the bottom line 3,5% of the sales price as opposed to the 10% from the edition in his own country. This would, theoretically speaking, be another DM 24.000,-.
Then you could write one (or more) detailed articles for wildlife magazines. The upper class like KOSMOS, GEO, AIRONE, BBC-Wildlife, Natural History, AUDUBON, etc. bring approx. DM 5.000,- to 10.000,- per publishing. To write articles for renown magazines is, from a view of expenditure and returns, a lot more lucrative than writing a book. Add to that shorter versions of articles for all kinds of prints from medical magazines up to gossip press (who pay DM 1.000,- any way per page).
Then the approx. 80.000 slides! 200 are needed for the book, 300 for articles and 2.500 for your own archives. Then I select 20.000 from the 77.000 remaining and send them every 3 months or so, bit by bit at 250 pcs. ea. to my, world wide maybe 20, agencies. That makes it almost 1.000 slides per agency for viewing. Since these are the best 25% from the 80.000 slides, I count on 50% which will be kept (some keep only 30% some take all, so the average of 50% is realistic, since the wildlife of Africa is a worldly subject and favored by the picture agencies). The remaining 67.000 slides I destroy immediately. It makes no sense keeping second and third rate photos and motifs just so you can say later that you have 350.000 slides in your archives. Much rather a thousand good pictures than 200.000 mediocre pictures.
So if my calculation stands as it is and if you can count on the standard that you can earn DM 2,- a year for each slide from every picture agency, then, theoretically, the 10.000 slides would earn DM 20.000,- a year and calculated on a time frame of 5 years, another DM 100.000,-. Add to that some personal sales, commercial use and perhaps as a nice byline 4 or 5 really super pictures that can be used for entering photo contests (BBC, GDT, World Press, etc.). So, end result being: estimated costs DM 100.000,-, estimated earnings: approx. DM 200.000 300.000,-. Letīs see what it is in reality. Theoretically this looks pretty good, but theoretically everything looks better than in reality.
Basic equipment is the 3.5-4.5/28-70 mm, 2,8/70-210 mm and the 4.0/200-400 mm Zoom lenses. With that you have the most important area of 28-400mm completely covered. Add to that the two AF lenses 2,8/300 mm and 4.0/600 mm with the AF converter 1,4X for actions, distant shots or portraits. Next to you in the car in a separate bag the 2.8/24 mm for subtle wide angle shots and the Nikkore 2.8/55mm, 2,8/105 mm and 4.0/200 mm for close ups.
The Masai Mara Year should not only feature wildlife and landscape pictures, but I did want to document the detailed world within a yearīs cycle. There is a broad gap. Wildlife photographers in Africa are so intend on photographing Elephants and Lions, that hardly anyone takes pictures of water drops or blades of grass. Understandably enough, since you can take those pictures at home manyfold.
Animals, active and still, landscapes, close ups, photos of the Masai and some aerials of the region, all that can be done with the above mentioned equipment. By the way, I transform my two Nikons into F4s, because they take 2 pictures a second more and even more important the film is reeled back faster than with the other version. At home I change the cameras back to the F4 version since it is considerably smaller and lighter than the F4s variation.
Fine adjustments, supplementation and improvements can be done during the first two or three turns. That was the main advantage to this work variation: you had the opportunity to check your work 12 times; after every two weeks turn you could check the results and make the necessary or appropriate changes in equipment or way of action. Through checking the taken slides you could see what mistakes you made again and would be able to avoid them in the future.
6 months within the time frame of one year in the Masai Mara; for that you needed a base camp. That was my least worry though. The Mara River Camp from Steve Turner is prepared for the special needs and wishes of wildlife photographers and you could find many colleagues there during the course of the year, like Jonathan Scott, Joe and Mary Ann McDonald (the wildlife photographer with the wonderful picture of a silver Heron from Venice), Tim Davis, Art Wolfe, Peggy and Erwin Bauer, Manoj and Anup Shah, Eberhard Brunner, Gabriele Staebler, Jean-Paul Ferrero or Tom Brakefield, just to name a few.
The reason for that is simple: the owner Steve Turner, whose father took over the camp from Alan Root (an animal film maker) many years ago, is a wildlife photographer himself and always enjoys helping colleagues who want to work in that part of the world.
So, I was able to deposit my entire equipment at his camp and completed my turns only with one bag, which contained the 200 films for my next turn.
Well, there is a lot to be said against our modern times, but some things are just magnificent. 50-100 years ago it would certainly have taken months to get to the Mara. Today I leave Greven at 8pm to fly to the Masai Mara, and at 9am the next morning I am there. The nice thing about these flights at night is, that you donīt have to give up a whole day of your life. Night flight means, that instead of sleeping during the 12 turns 24 nights comfortably in bed, but rather uncomfortably in the airplane. 24 flights during the day would have been a loss of almost a month in the life of a wildlife photographer.
So, theoretically everything was set and the project on the way. What was left for me to do was to actually begin and wait and see what reality would make of my wonderful plan ....
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