A real treat

7 10 2014

When you go on a photographic safari in Africa, it is usually the big animals that steal the show. Finding the smaller, more shy antelopes is not on everyone’s to-do list, so they are not often on the business end of a camera. On a recent safari however, we went in search of one of the rarest antelopes in South Africa, the diminutive but adorable suni.

Standing thirty to forty centimetres at the shoulder (12 – 17 in) these little antelope are quite difficult to find. We spent a good deal of time searching the thick undergrowth where they like to spend the day hiding from predators (they are more active at night which doesn’t really help us either). Being so small in Africa means there are a lot of safety concerns, because even the eagles are bigger than you, and because of this, they rely heavily on their camouflage, and don’t move until the last second when they flee into the thickets. We searched an area of forest called Sandveld Forest, where they are known to occur, and managed to see a flash of movement as they ran away on a couple of occasions. On our second day of trying, we spotted a beautiful female standing in the open, sort of. It took a bit of creative manoeuvring to get the camera through the initial wall of leaves, but eventually we got to get a clear look, and managed two or three photos before she went bounding off into the forest. The males look almost the same, but have short, sharp, straight horns.

It is the first time I ever been lucky enough to get photographs of a suni antelope. It needs no explaining how happy I am.

To join me on safari, click here!

An interesting little antelope

2 05 2012

It is easy to get distracted by the glamour of the lions and leopards, and the might of the big heavies; the elephant, rhino and buffalo, but if you take your time, look far up into the rocky outcrops, there is a little antelope which is just as interesting.
The Klipspringer, (which translates directly to rock jumper) is one of the smaller antelopes found in Africa. As the name suggests, it likes to …jump, on rocks… Usually, you see them as a silhouette, right at the top of one of the outcrops they call home, but every now and again, you catch one of them crossing open ground. While they are no slouch in a foot race, the predators out-match them on flat land. When they reach the safety of the rocks however, they are almost untouchable! In fact, their biggest threat would most likely be from the air, as the bigger eagles could quite easily snatch a young one.
They almost glide over the rocks, bounding away from any danger as if impervious to the sheer cliff faces they dance across. They are so specialized, that their feet have even evolved to deal with the challenges of rock face living. The hoof has become almost rubbery, as opposed to the hardened nail type hoof of its cousins, and the shape of the foot has changed, so they are effectively standing right on the tips of their toes (imagine a ballerina with four legs and you will start to get the idea)!
The other ace of spades up their sleeves is that they never need to physically drink water! This is a rather handy trick when living in the relentless heat of Africa. They obtain all the moisture they need from the leaves they eat – now if a little puddle of deliciously fresh water pooled up in one of the rocks they live on, then they are not above putting their heads down and slacking their thirst, but it doesn’t happen often.

Photographically, these chaps do pose a number of interesting challenges. To start, they are quite difficult to find, and then once you have found them, they are right on the top of the rocks, way out of reach of the cameras lenses! Technically, because of the distances involved, it is nearly impossible to create an image that works, and when you do get close enough, they usually run away! Luckily though, I have had a few opportunities, and I made the most of them!

A small experience

11 04 2011

I have had a good bit of luck recently, with the smallest mammalian carnivore in southern Africa.
The dwarf mongoose, weighing in at a massive 260g, is not an easy animal to photograph, because of its diminutive stature. I came across a termite mound that was full of the little chaps, followed the next day by a lucky sighting of the species in an old tree stump.
Posing beautifully, they allowed me to close enough to capture some of the private family moments.
They usually scurry about, searching for any unsuspecting victims, often an invertebrate of sorts, and don’t really offer up any photographic opportunities. Both sighting were early in the morning, and with winter approaching, the mongoose are spending more time in the open, warming up in the sun.
They are one of the gregarious species of mongoose, so when one is found, it is always a good idea to sit tight and wait, because more will start to appear. Curiosity often gets the better of them, and one by one, they emerge from their termite mound lairs, and investigate what all the fuss is about.
When you are lucky enough to get a quality sighting of a family, it is very entertaining!

The Cruel Reality.

27 12 2010

Africa’s wilds are run by its own rules. There is no time to relax – if you drop your guard, even for a second, it could be your end.
That is the sad story of a young male leopard cub, which, at three and a half months old, bounded with gay abandon into a deadly patch of Buffalo grass.

The female leopard; the mother of two cubs, was moving her cubs along a dry river bed late in the morning. It was a good time to move the cubs, because the sun was scorching anything and everything that moved out the relatively cool shade, nullifying most big cat movement for the rest of the day.
The two cubs scurried around their mother, taking interest in anything that moved. They stalked, pounced and mauled anything that stood still long enough, often loosing their battles to butterflies whipping away on their colourful wings and winning against blades of grass that dangled over the pathway. The female kept a watchful eye on the cubs, softly calling them back to the pathway every now and again. She would stop at regular intervals, sniffing the air, using every tool at her disposal to navigate Africa’s daily gauntlet.
The young male cub pushed on ahead, and followed his nose into the Buffalo grass. He stumbled straight into three lionesses which were resting in the shade.
It was a panicked few seconds.
It resulted in the instant death of the young male cub, which stood no chance against the 150kg lioness. The female and the other cub managed to scramble away to safety.
I had found the young trio only two days before the incident, and managed to capture some images of the young male cub.
It isn’t always easy understanding or accepting the cruel reality of nature. The system is flawless however, and left untouched, maintains the equilibrium that is the eternal struggle.