She was the most beautiful and spiritual animal I saw on my September 2005 South African photography trip. I was enchanted with her; it was more than just a fancy or fanciful thought. She was everything that was wild and free about the unique animals of Africa. She embodied all that is Africa. The intense look in her eyes as she surveyed the savanna was mesmerizing. I was completely under the spell she cast with her enchanting yellow-green eyes.
Before Londolozi, my photography friends were chiding me about a leopard sighting earlier on our trip in Kruger National Park. I was driving and it was very late; I missed seeing a leopard in a tree flash lighted by a parked tour bus driver. Who at almost dark was shining light into a tree with a big flashlight alongside the road for his passengers.
We had stopped, my friend in our first vehicle was leading, and she engaged the driver and he pointed out the leopard to her. However for me, driving our second car the angle for viewing was wrong; the leopard was hidden by a big branch that hung down to the road. My companion in the back seat and I searched and searched for at least twenty minutes in vain and could see nothing, no leopard.
While my friend in the first vehicle chatted away with the tour bus driver, precious time was ticking down. We needed to get to Lower Sabie camp, a camp we had yet to visit before they closed the gate. Otherwise, we would face a large fine. Already there was hardly any light left in the sky.
Suddenly and unexpectedly, my friend driving the first vehicle took hurriedly off as her companion in the back seat, the fourth member of our group, made her aware of the ticking time. She was leading; I was following. It was almost completely dark now and I did not want to lose her. Actually, I had no idea where we were and where was Lower Sabie Camp. I was just following.
Concentrating on my driving, I drove by the “viewing window” to see the roadside leopard. Later, my companion in the back seat when asked said, yes, he did see the “leopard but only at 30 miles hour for a few brief seconds.” I was the only one of our group that missed seeing the leopard.
Afterward, in the Lower Sabie parking lot, my friends were riding me so hard for missing this leopard sighting that I actually got angry. Something I never do. They said that I might never see another leopard and I possibly blew my one and only chance of seeing this elusive cat. “You missed your one and only chance, Bruce. You might not have another opportunity to see a wild leopard, you came all this way to South Africa and mess up your only chance.” I could not believe we were fighting over this missed sighting. In my anger, I told them to go to hell.
I need not have worried, for our visit to Londolozi, in the nearby Sabi Sands game reserve, was just days away. Where I would have the destiny to meet this beautiful and enchanting leopard called Maxabene. It was like she was waiting for me—just for me alone. We saw other Leopards too, like the Short Tailed 5:4 Male. We had more sighting of leopards than we could have hoped and dreamed for. Not only sightings but the chance to make compelling photographs of this elusive feline species. It’s where I fell in love with the lovely and mysterious female leopard called Maxabene. Our time together was brief. However, she’ll never leave my memories of my time at the place they call Londolozi—a place that truly is a “protector of all living things”.
Plus, I have these images of Maxabene that will be with me always, as a remembrance of our brief time together.
Each morning a bird call awakens me. Its song is familiar yet unknown. I have not been able to identify it yet, to come know what species makes its familiar call. It’s bothering me not to know. Nevertheless, it is very pleasing to hear each morning–like hearing an old friend’s voice again after a long absence.
Imagine the world without songbirds–without bird songs to wake you in the morning. The world would be diminished, and Rachel Carson’s vision of a “Silent Spring” would be realized. How sad would that day be, not to hear the thrilling sound of birdcalls? Have their calls only remembrances in our dreams!
Songbird populations across the world are in trouble. From the pesticides that worried Rachel Carson, “to the feral and domestic cats catching many birds in their claws, to those who die in collisions with skyscrapers, communication towers, wind turbines, and even glass windows and doors of suburban homes.”(1) Just the other day, I found a female Lesser Goldfinch outside of my glass back door lying dead on my backyard porch. It happens more than you realize.
Habitat fragmentation is a great concern as our world becomes more commercialized for our needs. Our exponential growing populations place greater demands upon the natural world. As more of wild nature succumbs to our human environments and less and less is left for wild creatures including songbirds. As we pave over, build our structures, and alter the world’s surroundings to meet our needs and wants. There simply are fewer and fewer places for songbirds to live and flourish.
Bird populations are falling fast; we have lost almost half the songbirds that filled the skies forty years ago, by some counts over a billion birds.(1) Year by year more songbirds become endangered of going extinct. One of my large bird books has a picture of a passenger pigeon. An artist drawing of a beautiful bird of subtle pastel colors. Wow, I say to myself when I see this picture. I would have loved a chance to see one alive. However, it is extinct, and no long possible to see one fly in the sky, yet over a hundred and fifty years ago, millions blotted the skies of the eastern North America.
Ultimately, I think it comes down to a choice. Our generation and the next must decide to save and protect our natural world, preserving the diversity of life on our wonderful living planet. Now we alone hold the future of life on earth in our hands. We must change our thoughts and actions from one of domination to one of coexistence.
Evolve enough to understand, I am because of you; I am because of other life forms. (2) Relearn that humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web; we do to ourselves. All living things are bound together. All living things are interconnected and dependent on each other for survival. (3)
Otherwise, if we don’t relearn and absorb these lessons, take it to heart; it will be very bad and a very sad hour for mankind. No more melodic birds’ songs will grace the airways and bring music to our ears each every morning we awaken to greet a new day. Truly, their songs of life will go silent for the last time.
Nature has incredible restorative powers. Life has an indomitable spirit. If we make the right choice, then there is optimism. Hope for mankind and for a better future. Eventually, my singing songbird will come out of the dense tree foliage, and I’ll have my identification. I will have kept at it; the way mankind must persevere in the coming decades.
Bruce Finocchio is one of the WBB photographers who images are currently showing at the Art Ark Gallery in San Jose, California. Meet Bruce and the other WBB photographers at the June 3 reception from 5:00 to 9:00 PM, and hear their incredible stories of photographing wildlife all over the world, and how they take their work from “Beauty to Deeper Understanding”.
A compelling, fascinating, and a compassionate look into the “Soul of the Elephant”, done in a very poignant way as if they were telling the story through a poem. Dereck and Beverly Joubert are my favorite wildlife filmmakers. They tell important stories of iconic African wildlife in a fresh way, with breathtaking cinematography, using innovative camera angles. Their expert bush and species knowledge comes through a narration that is just mesmerizing, so lyrical and melodic–the way they switch and weave the stories and scenes between each other’s voice.
If you love elephants, wild places, wild animals, this Nature PBS episode is not to be missed. This is natural storytelling at its best, by those closest to the wildlife, living life with them. Their passion for what they do and the compassion and love for the wildlife comes through in their presentation.
I only wished for more…like their 88-minute film the Last Lions that I saw in the theater.
The original broadcast was on PBS on October 14, 2015, somehow I missed it. However, I found the full episode online at the PBS Nature site.
Take time from your busy life and please watch this Nature episode; it will change you forever, it’s haunting. I have already seen it twice, and I am sure I’ll watch again.
I highly recommend this search for the “Soul of the Elephant”, in fact, I would love to be doing what they are–immersed in the wild: living and breathing the wild smells of Africa.
When I was at Londolozi, South Africa, in September 2005, CC Africa owned controlling rights and ran the lodges and safaris. Soon afterwards, the Varty’s bought back the control of their lodge, their family place, and their reserve. They introduced the new concept of A Self-Transformation Adventure Retreat (STAR) where people would come to immerse themselves in the wildness of Londolozi and be healed by its spectacular nature.
For me, when immersed in nature I feel happy and truly alive. At Londolozi, I saw the southern cross for the first time, as well as Leopards and Lions in the wild, and other iconic animals of Africa.
A few years after I was back, I bought Dave Varty’s, book, “Full Circle” when it came out in 2009, and read his family story. His son Boyd now runs Londolozi for the family….
Here is a Ted Talk; I recently discovered on the Londolozi blog from Boyd Varty, given on the day that Nelson Mandela died…. He talks about something that I truly believe in, a sense that your well-being is really tied to the well-being of others. Living your life as such, believing and acting on this principle.
He takes it further and applies it to wild creatures when he talks about an Elephant named “Elvis”. When I was at Londolozi, I saw this elephant, I even have some images of her in my computer files. Here is one!
We thought the same. Why isn’t she food for the Lions? How is she surviving? It’s because the elephants in her group were protecting her, moving more slowly, assisting her across the difficult ground of the African bush.
See what Boyd Varty means by the African concept of Ubuntu. (I am because of you) in this wonderful and important TED Talk…
The other Ted talks in this link from the Londolozi blog are very good and inspiring, but Boyd Varty’s touch me in a very personal way, because I have been at Londolozi, and I share a similar life view!
If you are going to Africa on a photography safari, and would like some advice on what gear to take, what particular photography situations are unique to photographing in East or South Africa, etc., I would be happy to share my knowledge.
You can reach and email me at email@example.com
Nothing stirs a male lion like, the laughing cackling call of hyenas. They are mortal enemies. When the numbers favor them, hyenas in large gangs chase female lions off kills. As cubs, lions live in fear of hyenas, for hyenas will kill lion cubs if they can. With incidences from their youth, male lions remember and as adults will go out of their way to kill hyenas. It’s war; combat where lives are at stake.
This male lion perked up during the midday heat when he heard the far-off call of hyenas. You can see the alertness and the readiness to engage in battle if the threat comes.
We were patrolling in the vastness of the Serengeti, heading south from our lodge in the middle of this giant National Park. We would follow the tree-lined valleys looking for game. These valleys were a good place to find leopards, but not today. As the trees petered out, we came upon a pan, with a little water in the middle of a sea of grass.
It was here that we found two male lions. One seemed a bit younger, a red devil, with a very reddish mane, and not fully grown in. Not brothers because of the difference in ages, but probably cousins, and from the same pride. Their mothers were probably sisters. Both were lounging along the water of this recently filled pan when we coast up to them in our land rover.
It was my first trip to the Serengeti and East Africa. Like many, I was really struck by the vastness of the plains. Here in the southern Serengeti, there weren’t many trees. These plains extended all the way to the horizon, shimmering in the midday heat.
When the distant hyena calls became louder indicating the hyena clan was getting closer. The larger and older of the two males awoke from his lazy sleepy place along the pan. After pacing around a bit, he faced the direction of the calls and tested the wind; here was an aroused big cat ready to do battle.
It was a moment we were hoping for, some action, and this big cat gave us everything we could have ask for as he sat up and tested the wind for his enemy. Here in this image you really could see and feel his intent; this male lion is truly the “King of the Beasts”.
With Lions disappearing in Africa, down to less than twenty thousand, and the latest trophy hunting controversy and killing of Cecil, the famous male lion, in Zimbabwe. I felt lucky and humbled to have seen these two male lions and shared a little time with them, just being in their magnificent presence was so special.
I hope to go back to East Africa, maybe, next summer, in the dry season this time. Maybe, a visit to Kenya and the Masa Mara too. If you would like to join me and experience moments like these images depict, please stay tuned, my friend John is working on another trip. Africa is an incredible place, and in the Game Reserves and National Parks, you still can see wild Africa as it once was.
Compared to my 2005 trip to South Africa, we saw many more Male Lions. Here is a Male Lion in the very early morning light, gazing across the plains, checking out what’s going around him. As Lions often do.
We had many different color manes among the many different Male Lions we saw, darker in the Serengeti, a really beautiful blond Male Lion in a different area of Ndutu. This one belong to the Marsh pride, and his mane is in between, not light, not red like some, and not too dark or black.
I just love the side profile with that intent look, and the light was just fantastic, just after sunrise. By the way, it was our last shooting morning, and last morning in Ndutu. What a way to send me on my journey home.
Maybe, he looks so alive, because right beside him is a lioness. He was between mating bouts with her, now waking up, and ready to begin to go again. Very visceral, especially the sounds, and the action of them mating. A picture that stays on the screen of your memory forever. For that story, I used my 100- 400 mm lens, that’s how close we were, and yet that’s another image too…
More stories and images of East Africa to come…
One of the many highlights of my trip to East Africa was lions. I saw many lions in many places: like Ngornogoro Crater, the Serengeti, and here in Ndutu. This image was taken along with the image I posted a few days ago—my last morning photographing in East Africa.
This is the female lioness that my male lion (previous image) was mating with. Here they are both greatly aware and very intently checking out what another male lion about 40 yards away is doing or is up too.
Sometimes getting two subjects sharp with a telephoto lens can be difficult. Here though both lions were close to the same plane so f6.3 aperture was sufficient to capture both subjects sharp.
Notice the noses…could it be that this young Male Lion is wooing an older female. Generally, Lions noses turn black as they age. Here the female lion has a completely black nose, while her male companion nose has some red, indicating that he is a bit younger than her…
Again, I just love the light; this early morning low angle light bathes them in a warm glow that accentuates the colors of the male’s mane and their beautiful tawny bodies.
A mating image next, should I dare!!!???
Affection: Before or After???
I haven’t dare post a mating image yet. Working up my courage. So I thought I would share an image with some affection before the violent mating act itself. We can learn a lot through observing wildlife, even the King of Beast can show affection, perhaps even kindness and love.
They do seem to get along better than some people, some nations. Just think of all the wars we have been through the last fifteen years. The Islamic Jihadist war against the rest of us, and the beheading of fellow human beings, man’s cruelty to his fellow man. I could go on and on…
It just seems that wildlife can teach us a lesson of learning to get along. I know that predators eating and killing to live is violent to some and they have trouble with this. However, through death comes life, everything has a purpose, nothing breaks the strands of the web of life. There is a harmony and a balance in nature; it’s only man that can disturb the cycle of life and break the web…
Anyway, we better pay attention. It might be too late already, because if we don’t, then this beautiful planet of ours, won’t be Mother Earth; it will be something harsh and deadly.
And then, the next great mass extinction will be Homo sapiens sapiens—us!
Mating Lions at Last:
After my lion image showing affection, here is my best mating image from that morning.
Lions can mate 4 to 6 times an hour, 100 times a day, and it can go on for days. After exhausting one male, the female will sometimes mate with other male members of the pride, to insure and protect her future cubs by bonding with all the pride’s males.
Lion mating is a violent affair, and does not last long –a few minutes at most. Usually the male will scent mark afterwards, claiming and marking the territory and the females in it as his.
Other than the gorgeous early morning light, I think the success of this image is that female is looking up at her suitor engaging in communication between them, and that her eyes are clearly visible and have such a wonderful expression… Even though, there is no sound, you can almost hear it from their expressions.
Perhaps, the moment of lion ecstasy!
A Drinking Lion and A Very Thirsty Lion:
Mating expends lots of energy, and is a very thirsty endeavor. After, repeat bouts of mating, where does a Male Lion go? He heads for the river and some water. Here are some images from the previous day, when the sun had gone higher in the sky, and the heat became a little more oppressive.
One vertical, the other a horizontal orientation, one a partial portrait and the other showing the complete body. Which one do you prefer, the vertical or horizontal image of the Male Lion drinking water?
Basically, these images were taken within minutes of each other at the same place.
Pictures are ultimately are about how they make your feel. Photography is an evocative art. Most of the time your responds comes from inside, within the gut, it’s a feeling, a sense, and or an emotion.
Knowing why, and articulating the reason we prefer one image over another helps us look within ourselves, and ultimately understand ourselves better.
So tell me which image do you prefer and why!
The Blond Mane Male Lion of Ndutu’s Marsh pride:
The females lionesses had just made a zebra kill in the middle of a wide low area and were eating. This male came out of the tree line, and made a beeline to where we were, coming straight at us, to get his share of the food.
Thus, he was intent and focused. I just happen to get this image toward the end of his run. It was a great behavior moment to witness! His eyes were open in this image, and I captured the movement of the leg as he strides, both help make this a special picture.
He is the most beautiful male lion we saw; his beautiful blonde mane is extraordinary!
The Power of a Male Lion:
I will leave you with this last one image as the magnificent blond mane lion pulls up a zebra carcass. Lions have incredible strength especially male lions in their prime. They rule the Africa savanna; they are the apex predator, nothing will stand up to them, except other male lions in their prime.
Lions kill to live and eat, if they didn’t exist; the grazers like wildebeest, zebra, buffalo, and especially elephants would destroy the habitation, and degrade the environment. Lions along with the other predators like leopards, hyena, and cheetah, provided a vital function in the African ecosystem and are part of the web of life.
Perhaps, the Last lions are walking on the earth now. Down to about 20,000.00 in Africa, their numbers are under extreme threat by poaching and loss of wild places to live. As the human population in Africa grows, tremendous pressure is put on Africa’s wild habitats. The days of finding lions and wild Africa outside of the National Parks is long gone. It’s only us, man, who can save the lion, and the wild places they need to live in.
These image of this magnificent blond mane lion stir my heart and represent to me all that it is to be a lion. I want to know wherever I am or live even if it is not in Africa that Lions will still be roaming the wild African landscape. Life will be diminished knowing that they will no longer roar at night, stalk the bush, sleep under the acacia trees, and hunt to feed themselves and their cubs.
If you would like to help Lions in Africa, please donated to National Geographic’s “Big Cat Initiative” and Cause a Roar!