Africa's animal kingdom Matira Magazin

Among photographers

With great pleasure, I follow an invitation by Matira Camp to place a column about African wildlife in Matira Magazine. In many discussions, I felt the interest of visitors to learn more about the wildlife, they encountered at game drives. So, at this place you will find short articles dealing with ecology and behavior of African animals – garnished with photographic appetizers, to encourage own activities. First some basics about photo work in African parks, namely the Mara.

Fotografen und Filmer in der Mara

Among Photographers: Africa’s wildlife in focus

Reinhard Radkes column on African wildlife

Repeatedly, the discussion comes up, whether tourism helps or damages parks. In the case of the Maasai Mara, presence and behavior of photographers is an issue: they are felt to be disturbing and sometimes insistent (of course it is always the other photographer, never ourselves).

Touristen bei Crossing
For the migration ten thousands of tourists come to the Maasai Mara. At crossing points several dozens of cars gather to give guests a chance to see the spectacle. Very disillusioning, but unavoidable like the crowds in front of Mona Lisa in the Louvre. Here everybody behaves correctly: The drivers parked their cars in the viewing area marked by the reserve administration and no wildebeest is blocked.

But without the positive and financially supporting influences of tourists, the Mara area would today not be a protected preserve for wild animals. One should be careful about pointing fingers at visitors to the savanna, complaining about their presence as spoiling the scenery for photos. Obeying a few rules can make the difference and visits to the Maasai Mara an unforgettable experience.

Wildlife films lured many tourists into African parks and there are new ones made every year (this is from my “Serengeti” shoot). TV crews are permitted to drive off road and usually they know well, how to behave close to animals. Never follow a film car off road!

The savanna is a photographer’s paradise. There is still a great diversity of species, from a variety of antelopes and gazelles, to cheetahs, lions, elephants and rhinoceros. Additionally, the open landscape offers everything to set the scene to photograph these animals. Here all the natural ecological interactions between the species are largely intact. Vegetation and animals still regulate themselves. Anyone coming to this archaic world feels like a witness to a pristine wilderness. To enjoy all that, with as little impact on wildlife and fellow visitors as possible, there are a couple if rules to be followed. And now and then it just needs a little empathy – for animals and humans!

The savanna offers best photo opportunities and a diverse species community – with changing light conditions uncountable motives.

There are few rules a photographer should be aware of:

Allow yourself enough time. Not even an experienced photographer makes great photos when he has too little time. Only with a great amount of luck can you have good results after only a day or two.

Löwin und Touristen
With some luck and experienced guides one can watch lions from close range. Lions are not very active during the heat of the day and thus not too much disturbed by cars.

A telephoto lens is the basic requirement for successful wildlife photography, this assures that the animals won’t feel cornered.

Anup Shah
Long telephoto lenses are a must in wildlife photography to get natural behavior without interfering. Here a master on the long lens, famous wildlife photographer Anup Shah.

Adjust yourself to being out from morning to evening and keep a respectful distance to the animals. Don’t just drive out at random. Well organized camps, like Matira Camp, offer tours with guides who best know the area, the park rules and the potential for good photos at specific spots

Touristen und Gepard
Cheetahs must carry most of the burden of visitors, as they hunt mainly during day time. Such close ups should be done quickly when the family takes a break. Usually there should be a big distance to cheetahs in the field.

Don’t try to achieve too much: When you want enthralling cheetah photos, you shouldn’t expect to see hunting lions or young leopards all in the same week. Wildlife observation requires a great amount of time. Experienced guides keep a respectful distance to animals that they follow over longer periods of time.

Stay calm when nothing seems to happen and the sky is grey. All of a sudden a beautiful scenery might shine up, leaving memories more intense than just another shot of running wildebeest.

Be tolerant with other photographers; you all have the same rights and responsibilities. Whoever pushes to the front and blocks the view for others, shouldn’t wonder that responsible guides may no longer give him information of the whereabouts of the animals. People harassing animals might even be banned from the reserve. Whenever possible, coordinate with other guests. Nothing is more irritating, than a single vehicle blocking the field of vision for all the other photographers.

Keep in mind: You are here as a guest in the savanna and share the responsibility for a sensitive ecosystem.

Elefanten im Regen
Bad weather might sometimes ruin the mood, particularly as tracks get impassable. But there can be great motives also in the rain.

The photographer who heeds all this, and also teams up with experienced guides, will best utilize and enjoy the time spent in the reserve. In this way, you can take wonderful photos and also prudently protect the Mara’s environment.

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