My African Photos Safari - Journal Entry # 5 - August 21, 1988

Once again, Ann and I were awakened by Lenny saying, "Kathleen, Ann, are you awake?" "Yes!," we replied. For the first time since arriving in Africa, this was the only morning he couldn't knock on the door, because we were in a tent.

I slept in all the clothes I had with me, so I didn't have to get dressed. I had on two t-shirts, a hooded sweatshirt, long pants, and socks, which didn't keep me all that warm, the night before. In the planning of my trip to Africa, I hadn't checked the average temperatures for Ngorongoro Crater at night, in August. I just always thought Africa was hot, so I didn't even bring a coat. That's called, "Learning the hard way."

I quickly ran the brush through my hair, put on my safari/sun hat, and pulled on my all ready tied athletic shoes. I unzipped the front flap of the tent, and stepped out. Warm water had been provided for me in a small, red bowl to wash my face with. It was a cool morning, and the air smelled fresh, and clean. I was then ready for breakfast.

That morning, all the faces around the breakfast table look tired, but more rested than last night, after the day-long journey over dusty and bumpy roads from Amboseli, Kenya to Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania.

For breakfast, our cooks had prepared poached eggs, toast fresh papaya, coffee, and tea. I had tea, and toast and gave the rest of my food away. After last night's bout with food poisoning induced diarrhea, I decided I wouldn't take any chances from now on regarding food-borne illnesses. (The eggs could have salmonella, the fruit; a different set of microorganisms than in the U.S., the butter; was it refrigerated? Better hungry, than sick again.

After breakfast, I used some boiled water to brush my teeth, and then a quick trip to the chemical toilet. Next, I grabbed my camera gear, and was ready for shooting photos.

For those of you wondering what camera equipment I used to take my photographs; two Nikon camera bodies; an F3 & FE2, with a 300mm telephoto lens mounted on one, and a 70-210 zoom lens, mounted on the other camera body. I also had a wide angle lens, but didn't use it. I had 50 rolls of Kodachrome 64, 36 exposure, color slide film, and a camera brush to gently brush off the lenses, when the lens caps didn't suffice, and lens paper. I also had a tripod ball head mounted on a plexiglass triangle, that I placed on the top of the land rover to keep the camera absolutely still for sharp photos. Don, who was a physicist, had invented this specialized tripod and lent me one of his, as he brought two. Whenever we were about to shoot something, our drivers would turn off the engines in the vehicles, to keep the shooting surface absolutely still.

Jaspar was our driver for the day. He was eighteen years old, and this was his first summer as a game driver. Just about a quarter mile, (if that far), from where we slept in our thin tents, were two lionesses feeding on a zebra kill. Last night, I had been correct to feel such profound fear and vulnerability, as I sat on the toilet waiting for my bought of diarrhea to subside, with those lions so close! There wasn't much left of a kill, by 8:00 a.m., as we headed out of camp.

Further on down the road, we saw a young male lion being harassed first by four African Golden Wolves.
A few minutes later, he lost patience with the African Golden Wolves getting too close to him as he ate, and lunged at them to scare them away. A few minutes later, a spotted hyena came on the scene. The lion left soon thereafter.

Next, we saw a solitary African Golden Wolf, getting a drink from a watering hole.

A while later, we saw a good size elephant munching acacia thorns for breakfast. The lighting was good for showing the wrinkles and texture of the elephant's skin. We stayed with this elephant for about an hour, noting how quietly it ate.

Next, we saw two pairs of lions; one couple was very bonded and mating, and the other was not.

With the mating pair, were fortunate to see all the steps of lion mating. First the male made the flehmen face/flehmen response to assess if the female was ready to mate. This is when the male takes a small amount of the lioness's urine into his mouth, curls back his top lip to inhale air, to engage the Jacobson’s organ located in the roof of the mouth. This is his way of checking if the female is ready for breeding with the best chance to fertilize her eggs. Next, the male lion approached the lioness VERY carefully. His assessment was spot on, and they proceeded to mate. As the male dismounted he grabbed the nape of the female's neck with his teeth, to quickly get away as he dismounted, because intercourse is painful for the female. This is because the male lion's penis has hook like structures. Generally the female tries to swat him on the face as he dismounts. (This behavior can be seen in most cats, large and small.)

Lions mate frequently when the female is in the receptive part of her cycle. The frequent mating is thought to help the female release many eggs from her ovaries in the hope of producing many cubs in one litter, as lion cub mortality is quite high.

During an earlier mating, the male had not dismounted as quickly as he needed to, and the female swatted his nose with her sharp claws. In many of my photos of this lion, his bloodied nose can be seen.

We'd been shooting from the roof hatch atop the Land Rover, and then I had a thought to get on, "eye level," with the lions, instead of continuing to shoot downward at them. I sat down on the seat and opened the window just enough to get my 70 - 210mm zoom lens out and then rested it on the window frame for stability, and to get needle sharp shots. Just as I completed this move, the big male lion advanced toward our vehicle. I kept shooting, hoping for that one, good shot. What resulted, in my opinion, was the best photograph of my entire trip; an extreme close-up of this male lion with the bloody nose.

This gorgeous lion came within eight feet of our rover. This was at the closest range of my 70-210 mm zoom lens. Had I used the 300 mm lens, I would have missed the shot, as he was that close. I could see through my lens, the the fine, red droplets of blood on his black nose, running down into his amber fur, near his mouth. He had six rows across, by three rows down of white whiskers. His eyes were a beautiful shade of light brown, with a black, round pupil. His mane was thick, luxuriant, and fully developed; a beautiful male, in his prime. I remember this moment, as being the highlight of my trip to Africa. Getting that close to a wild lion, and seeing the shot through my lens, and then forever, in my mind's eye was/is an incredible experience. All of us in the vehicle together, felt that almost, "electric energy," as the lion walked so near to us and around the vehicle.

The other lion pair was not mating. The female was interested but the male was not. The Lioness was rebuked by male, for trying to mate with him, so she soon walked away, looking for a more suitable mate.

It was interesting to note, the male lion actually looked forlorn that the female left him because he would not mate with her. She needed to mate because this was the best time for her to conceive. She soon found a cooperative male lion.

We drove on and saw three adult black rhinoceroses, and one calf. We got pretty close to them; within about 35 - 50 yards. They were grazing on grass the color of straw. I watched the one closest to us through my 300 mm lens. The hide was battleship gray, with many scratches etched into its skin, that appeared as fine, white lines. The rhinos have tiny eyes in proportion to their large bodies. Tufts of hair grew from their ears, and the prehensile lips grabbed the grass, and quickly into the mouths it went, as the rhinos grazed.

We also saw a mother black rhino with her calf. As we moved closer, the mother rhino placed herself closer to her calf, and closer to us, as a way to try to protect her baby from a possible threat. We retreated so as to not cause the rhinos anxiety.

We drove on, and our next subject was a Blacksmith Lapwing nest, with four eggs, but no mother bird to incubate, nor protect the eggs. The lighting was harsh, as it was about noon. We continued looking for different species to photograph, and came upon a few common white-bearded wildebeest whose beards were back-lit by the mid-day sun. It was a sight that brought the thought to me, how precarious their survival was with regards to finding water, and grass to eat.

Then we came upon a small stream. There were graceful green reeds, growing abundantly, by the cool, blue, water's edge. As I was thoroughly enjoying the scenery, the reeds began moving ever so slightly, but there was no breeze. Out steps a lioness, followed by an older lioness, then a cub. All three paused for a few moments, then two more cubs appeared, and also paused at the stream's edge. What a joy to see this little lion family, as lions are my favorite subjects.

The timing couldn't have been more perfect. All five lions chose to rest right at the side of our vehicle. We stayed with them for as long as they rested, about 20 minutes. I got some wonderful shots of the cubs interacting with their mother. The cubs started to head out, and the mother followed with two cubs ahead of her, and one behind. The older lioness followed at the rear. They walked away from the road, so we weren't able to follow in the vehicle.

We drove back to camp for lunch, and found everyone from our photo group already there. We ate lunch and rested for 30 minutes. With all the new sights we experienced I didn't realize how tired I was. On photo safari, you can't really sit for long (if at all) because the roads are so poor, and you'd get bumped the entire day. Besides, you also might miss a shot if you're sitting down, so standing up and holding on to part of the vehicle was the norm.

After our lunch-time rest, we headed out again. This time all three land rovers stayed together for the rest of the day. There wasn't anything spectacular to photograph again until the end of the day. That's when we came upon a sleeping, black maned lion. We stayed with him and hoped he'd wake up soon. From lying on his side, he shifted position and rolled onto his back with with all four paws in the air, just like a pet cat.

I got a wonderful series of ten photos of, "Lion Waking Up." He walked off, most likely ready for his night hunting. We headed back to camp, as the sun had set, and the light was failing.

We arrived back at camp just before dark, and I washed up with the warm water provided in the little red bowl. We ate supper, and discussed all the incredible sights we'd seen throughout the day. After the plates were cleared, Lenny Sr. started telling a joke. The light from the lanterns had attracted large, flying insects. Our cups were on the table for the nightly spot of tea, or coffee. I forgot the joke Lenny told, but just as he was about to deliver the punch line, I brought my cup down forcefully, with a loud bang, to kill a large, nasty looking insect, and Lenny gave me a look of disbelief as if to say, "How could you ruin my joke like that?" (By startling everyone listening to his joke.) I laughed at my incredibly poor timing. I explained by saying, "Lenny there was a big bug and it was headed your way. I didn't want it to disturb you, so I killed it." His eyes got really big, as a shocked expression came onto his face, as if he couldn't believe what he was hearing. Everyone was laughing by this time, as he finished his joke. Somehow though, he'd lost his concentration, and the ending to his joke didn't seem to have the impact of his previous stories.

By this time it was about 8:30 p.m., and it was starting to get really cold. The wind was growing stronger, as it had the night before. I went to my tent, and pulled the blanked off my sleeping bag and wrapped myself up in it, and went back to the table. Lenny was playing a harmonica. This brought back memories I hadn't thought of in years, of camping trips I'd taken with as a child, with my mother, years ago. At around 9:00 p.m. we all retired for the night. Ann and I were in the tent. Before getting ready to sleep, our routine consisted of washing our hands and faces with the warm water provided, cleaning the camera bodies and lenses, replacing exposed rolls of film for new ones, and then writing in our journals about the day's events, by the light of our flashlights.

I slept in all my clothes once again, to try to stay warm. As I'm lying in my sleeping bag, my thought was, "I wished I'd planned better and brought a coat!" I didn't know any better to have thought to bring a tape recorder, to record the night sounds of the Crater, as the night sounds are not to be believed unless you've experienced them first-hand. Lions, zebras, and hyenas were the dominant sounds throughout the night.

Publicado por kathleenlryan kathleenlryan, 01 de diciembre de 2019

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