2. Practice

I. Tour

September 29th - October 19th 1993

I actually wanted to start with realization of my work in mid October, but since I received a telephone call from Nairobi on September 20th, telling me that "my" lady Leopard with the short tail and her youngster was back , I decided to fly earlier. I had extensively photographed this Leopard together with my colleague Norbert Rosing at the time when her offspring was about 3 months old. I would very much like to see the little Leopard now that it was more than half a year older.

The Leopard lady was not to be found during the first couple of days. Maybe she had already left the area again, to find a water hole, since it was extremely dry at the moment in the Mara. I had already searched extensively for the two in April for two weeks without discovering them once. I really wanted to document the life of the little Leopard, but it seems it wasnīt to be.....

Instead, we met up with a Cheetah and three kids this morning. She captured a pregnant Thompson Gazelle and wanted to drag her prey into the shade of our car, which was parked at about 30 Meters distance. Since I wasīnt very enthusiastic about the idea of a Cheetah, we drove the car forward for a little bit, but the Cheetah was unperturbed and pulled the prey further in the direction of our car. Since I didīnt want the Cheetah dragging her prey through half the savanna, we stopped the car and she disappeared with prey and youngsters underneath the vehicle - so much for the photographic documentation of the life of wild animals in Africa........ unfortunately cameras canīt shoot pictures through the floor of a car.

After a half an hour luckily two Dutchmen came with their Landrover and drove very close to our car. I was able to climb through the windows into their car and had the opportunity after all, to take some pictures of the Cheetahs after putting some distance between the cars.

Cheetahs (sometimes even Leopards) really enjoy resting in the shade of vehicles where they are protected from the heat and the Hyenas, Lions or Vultures wonīt bother them under the cars. There they can eat their prey in peace.

I am not especially happy with the 4.0/600 mm AF here in Africa. It is too slow on a tilt and you have watch out that it doesīnt tip away when on a ball joint. It is just too heavy at 6kg, in order to react quickly and relaxed. The Nikon 4.0/500mm with AF was to be available in March of 1994 with "only" 4 Kg. That would probably be a better suited telephoto lens for Africa. What you might miss through the missing 10cm of focal length you certainly make up for three times over with the better and faster mobility.

Besides, I am slowly getting tired of dragging a lens around with me that weighs 6 kg.

Four hours later, my opinion on the 4.0/600 had already changed.

Because suddenly there was an Anubis Baboon right in front of me with the leg of an Impala in both hands, eating away just like a human eating a pork hock. What a great motif. But as a distant relative he was intelligent enough not to let me come closer than his "comfortable distance" and his size was so that I had to work with the 600 plus the 1,4 X converter.

This amounted to a 5,6 and 1/45 sec. Shutter with Panther-100 and 1/90 sec at Elite-200. Letīs see which slides come out better – 1/45 sec. that is 1/90 sec. at 840 mm focal length is pretty tricky.

I was extremely happy while photographing this motif, that the auto focus exists. I was so busy trying to avoid wobbling, situating the picture, bringing the highlights of this oh so human - like behavior into the photo, that I was very happy not having to try and find the optimal distance. To find the right distance is especially complex with a long focal length of 840 mm and the darkening converter for the range finder.

Annoyingly, the Baboon had his red penis out continuously – perhaps through the excitement of having such a tasty meal. The wildlife magazines donīt like that very much and the possibilities for publishing such interesting pictures are certainly strongly limited.

I did succeed – with patience and luck – to catch some moments when a piece of his meal covered the penis somewhat. (Masai Mara, page 11).

The picture editor of one of the largest American wildlife magazines said to me once, that he needs super, sensational animal pictures, but please without sex, without blood and without showing an animal eating another animal. But if you leave out the sex, blood and eating, what do you have left from the realistic life of nature? It is reduced to a type of Disneyworld.

Our American friends are a bit funny: There they go and give weapons to anybody so that 20.000 people get killed a year; on every television channel people get mowed over with machine guns; in horror flicks limbs get severed, entrails bulge from the mouths of monsters and all kinds of body pieces get wrung through a meat grinder – in front of an audience of millions of people. That seems to be ok. But you canīt expect them to put up with a Baboon showing his little penis.

October 6th, 1993

A large television team from the BBC was in the Mara since the end of September in order to film Cheetahs and Lions. They had put up a good sized camp in a small

wooded area. They were on the move with several camera crews at the same time and connected to the base camp by radio. Beside the wagons with the camera crews there were other vehicles underway to constantly search for motifs.

So when a "search vehicle" was parked by a pack of Lions that was getting ready to hunt Buffalo after hours of laziness , then three camera teams could be called by radio to come quickly and at least one of the three crews would be optimally positioned to shoot super scenes for the film during the hunt. You also had the possibility to cut the best scenes and counter scenes from all three positions together. Fabulous working conditions for the colleagues in the field of motion picture.

Another vehicle of the BBC team had the passenger side door taken off and a wire cage lined with tent material was mounted in front of it, so that the camera man could shoot scenes from a frogs perspective. Not a bad idea to film a Cheetah at eye level.

Still another vehicle had a remote control helicopter that could carry a camera on board which could make a dive from great heights down toward a Gnu, in order to demonstrate how a Vulture would approach its dead prey when he falls from the sky like a rock and shortly before he reaches the mark, catches himself from the fall. Super idea!!!

Not such a successful idea was to try and film the Gnus while crossing the Mara River. The little helicopter was almost as noisy as a large one and as he was approaching the herd crossing the water, 6.000 white bearded Gnus ran panicked away.

Are you permitted to set 6.000 animals in a state of panic for a 10 sec. scene in a film? BBC can do this in the wildlife preserve Masai Mara and nobody says anything against it, after all, it is for television. They certainly wonīt win a prize for ethics while using such methods.

October 11th, 1993

A great problem for wildlife photographers in Eastern Africa is that you actually have only two hours of great light in the morning for your work. After that, the light starts getting bad and with the rising heat, the activities from the animals start to slow down.

So what do you do in the morning? The most important, the most interesting or the surest? This morning I had the choice of checking to see if the Leopard was present, the Cheetah with her young who hunts every morning, a Lion with her two small babies whose eyes where still shut (not even a week old) and the Mara River where sometimes already by 7am the Gazelles cross and get eaten by Crocodiles. So what do you do?

  • If a Leopard (mother or daughter) would be in the rocky gorge was very uncertain.

  • If the Thompson Gazelles would be crossing the river was just as uncertain

  • That the Cheetah would be hunting was absolutely certain, whereas if she was going to catch a fawn or a full grown Thompson Gazelle and if the hunt would go toward my camera was on the other hand just as uncertain

  • If the Lion and her tiny babies would do something "sensible" for the camera was not clear either

It is a shame that you have to miss so many opportunities only because you canīt split yourself into 5 parts. This time I decided on the hunting Cheetah. The chance of possibly of photographing a Cheetah hunt a full grown Thompson Gazelle was too tempting. Especially since the probability of shooting such a hunt and getting clear and sharp pictures was enormously higher through the new 4.0/600mm lens with auto focus.

To try and manually focus two running animals and get not just sharp but really sharp slides is virtually impossible. In this matter, auto focus has dramatically increased our chances as wildlife photographers. Therefore I reserved ten mornings in row just for the hunting Cheetah, in hopes of catching one or two great hunting scenes. "Great" meaning that the hunt would go in the direction of the camera and naturally to be close enough. (Masai Mara, pages 74/75)

The Mara – Serengeti ecological environment with her Olduvai Gorge could be described as one of - or perhaps even the – cradle of mankind . Even if our species Homo Sapien has been in existence for only 30.000 to 100.000 years, other human or pre-human species have existed here for possibly 6.000.000 years, because that is how long the fauna has existed in this ecological environment.

Unfortunately I didnīt have the slightest idea how to or if I even should implement this on a photographic level. After all, it is not uninteresting that the first signs of human life are accounted for in this greater area and that in the end, we derive from a group of perhaps only 10.000 individuals who lived here about 100.000 or 500.000 years ago. Who can even fathom just how many generations of prehistoric humanoids might have lived and suffered in the area of the Leopard gorge? But how to photograph this and try to bring even a hint of this on a picture? I had no idea.

One evening I found the answer to my photographical problem : Through coincidence I happened to go for another drive at sundown through the Leopard gorge, as usual in search of Leopards, when I saw a group of Anubis Baboons sitting on top of a huge rock . The dark, menacing and mysterious silhouettes against the evening sky.......... that was it......... (Masai Mara, page 15)

*The comments (Masai Mara, page.....) or (Leopards, page.....) at the end of some paragraphs in this report indicate pages in the books "Masai Mara, Afrikas Garten Eden" and "Leoparden, die geheimnisvollen Katzen" (both books are published by Tecklenborg Publishing Compyany, Germany), in which you can see the pictures, of which the making of with all the problems, is described in that paragraph.

1. Tour: Second Part: This way to continue