As I said in a previous post (Cats, not the Musical), I am not a wildlife photographer (it requires patience and a set of skills I don’t have; I greatly admire the people who do it well), but I thoroughly enjoy watching some of these fantastic creatures (the wildlife, not the photographers) in their habitat. I was lucky enough recently to again spend some time in Kenya in three lovely wildlife locations (the Mara Triangle Conservancy, Samburu Game Reserve, and Ol Pejeta Conservancy). While there, I naturally attempted to photograph their majestic inhabitants. Since I usually photograph people in their environment trying to tell their stories, I decided to attempt to photograph the animals using a similar approach, trying to capture the little stories about them as opposed to aiming for the impressive (and, for me, elusive) dramatic shot. And I decided to focus on “family” interactions in a broad sense (like two male lion siblings eyeing the female companion of a third), even including a family meal (though the onyx, which was the main dish at this lion’s buffet, would have happily skipped the event if she could have).
So here you have it, families of warthogs, hyenas, giraffes, cheetahs, elephants, and of course, lions (and a lonely leopard, but he is so handsome that I had to include him).
Though I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, now back home, one of the things that stays with me is the impact of climate change in that part of the world. Late summer is when over a million wildebeests and plenty of zebras and gazelles arrive in the Maasai Mara in Kenya, traveling from the Serengeti for better grazing opportunities. This part of the journey is often referred to as the “Great Migration” (though it is a bit misleading as this is a yearlong journey, these animals must come back after all). It is visually associated with the crossing of the Mara river, where thousands of animals jump off a cliff to make their way across the River and continue their travels. However, erratic weather linked to climate change has brought more frequent and severe droughts, and sporadic flooding, to the Mara’s fragile ecosystem. While there, we had heavy rain every evening, a highly unusual weather pattern for that time of the year. They were hundreds of thousands of wildebeests around (see Take me to the River for hundreds of photos of hundreds of thousand wildebeests), but they were NOT crossing. Because of the rain, the wildebeests temporarily had plenty of food where they were and no interest in going any further in either direction.
Conversely, the Samburu Game Reserve, like many other parts of East Africa, has experienced severe drought and no real rain in the past two years. The Reserve is considered a sanctuary for elephants; even sitting at the lodge, one could see many wandering around. I had done just that years ago on my way to the Samburu Festival (Celebrating Peace). There were no elephants around this time, as they had left the area trying to find sustenance on higher grounds. Even more surprising was that hundreds of zebras had to be fed hay daily by locals as there was not enough food for them to survive on their own. Witnessing this daily feeding is heartbreaking, and at the same time, I am so grateful that some organizations are trying to help these animals survive.
To be clear, I am not saying that my experience with wildlife was less exciting this time than on previous occasions. As one of our gifted guides liked to say, it was “fantabulous”! Still, one has to cherish these encounters as we never know what will happen next to the animals, or us, for that matter.