Botswana is another of our favourite safari destinations. We have visited the ‘Jewel of the Kalahari’ on many occasions and love the combination of spectacular game viewing and stunning scenery. Jonathan will be hosting a nine day Photo Safari in November 2013 to the Delta. We will be staying at Duba Plains, renowned for its epic daylight battles between lions and buffalos, and Zarafa Camp which is excellent for all round game viewing.
Not so sure about The Great Bear Stake Out (Part 1) on BBC. Managed to catch up with it yesterday after that awesome Lunch hosted by Margot, Kiki and Vicky for our Birthdays! Bears had some great footage but 50 mins on TV can seem like a long time. There seemed to be a fair amount of Hype, Nature Red In Tooth and Claw, and a lot of Anthropomorphism along the way. Interesting to see the way things are evolving with wildlife on TV. Entertainment is the name of the game – and nothing wrong with that in principal. But seems that as far as content/information is concerned in terms of the commentary/narration that we have taken a step backwards. In doing that we risk distancing ourselves from the extraordinary lives lived by wild creatures, incarcerating them in some alien world when in fact we are all part of a living continuum. And their lies the fascination. We are adapted to live different lives - people are people, bears are bears. Bears aren’t People. They do what their lives and environment dictate they must do.
Meanwhile, the new Disneynature epic Chimpanzee is released on the Big Screen in the UK on May 3. Reading the Cover story feature on Chimpanzee by joint Director Alistair Fothergill in the Telegraph magazine (27th April) it promises to be a film of epic proportions. It has already been heralded as a major success in the US where Jane Goodall has given it her blessing. As Alistair Fothergill remarks in the Telegraph article: “…..there is more meaning looking into the eyes of a chimpanzee than any other animal I know.” One thing is certain. Watch out for amazing wildlife footage from lead cameraman Martin Colbeck of Echo the Elephant fame (and who worked on Big Cat Diary).
Given the realities of today’s world it will be fascinating to see what spin Disney have decided to put on this story of our closest living relative in terms of the narration. With Alistair Fothergill and Mark Linfield at the helm as Joint Directors we are guaranteed a ‘visual’ feast at the very least. The way the story is told will be a barometer of what the future may hold for us in terms of the new wave of wildlife films and documentaries. It will certainly give us an insight in to what works on TV (or is perceived to work!) – and what works in the Cinema – when it comes to portraying wildlife.
Is the Public getting what they want?
How did I get so lucky? How many people get to live the life of their dreams with the Girl of their Dreams! What a blessing to have found this very wonderful lady with the long blonde hair. Angie was born and raised in Africa with a passion for the sea and the wilderness. She was nurtured as a child in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania before settling in Kenya – with the Mara her second home these past 23 years. The years have simply flown by – never a day passes without us saying how fortunate we are – and have been – to share our love of wildlife and wild places, of travel and photography, to have met so many wonderful people and made such loyal and generous friends.
So we take this moment to honor our Darling Angie – and our children Alia and David who have brought such joy to our lives – and to count our blessings for our beautiful home in Kenya – to thank Kioko, Elizabeth, Francis, Dem and Daniel for looking after us when we are at home and on our travels – and not forgetting Little Cat, Simba, Slippers, Isis and her first litter of puppies!
Is it too late to save the planet? Margot’s coffee table has other words of wisdom for all of us. A 2012 copy of the FT Weekend Magazine flagged up the performance of “TEN BILLION” by Stephen Emmott’s, one of Britain’s leading scientists, at the Royal Court last summer. In the article written by Clive Cookson, Emmott says: “I’m deeply sceptical about the rational optimist’s view that we will invent ourselves out of trouble, because our inventiveness and cleverness got us in to trouble in the first place.” Dr Jarrad Diamond alluded to the same kind of scenario in his excellent treatise “COLLAPSE” which showed that people tend to cling to their cultural comforts and ways of being even when faced with the tyranny of their ways in not adapting to changing realities- by for instance down-sizing, reigning in non-essential consumption, etc. We do what we do cos we like it – and we don’t like to sacrifice the things we like doing even when they are bad for us! The Vikings never managed to adapt to the rigours of life in Greenland in the ‘close to nature’ way that the Inuit adopted – instead they built homesteads and raised pigs more suited to life ‘back home’ and failed to prosper in the process. By the way Jarrad Diamond has a new book on the shelves.
Clive Cookson continues: “Emmott does not believe that science and technology can save the planet. Research may solve parts of the problem, he says, but the whole interconnected crisis is fundamentally too serious – because the population is so far beyond the number that Earth could sustain comfortably without running out of some essential raw materials and without catastrophic climate change and other environmental disasters.”
Crucially Emmott brings it all back to the nub of the problem when he says; “There is almost certainly more hope for the future in changing people’s consumption patterns….Radical behaviour change is needed more urgently than anything that science and technology could provide.”
Meanwhile the sun is still shining in England and the natural optimist in me says ‘it’s a beautiful day, believe in small miracles and carry on in a more ‘mindful’ way!
Brad, Vicky, Peter and Liz, Paul and Carole, Margot and all our good friends heading to Galapagos – lets have an amazing trip in the land of Darwin!
What would the great man have thought about all this?
When it comes to National Parks and how best to protect wildlife we have gone from a Fortress Mentality – keep people out and do everything possible to ‘save’ wildlife – to a more ‘people friendly’ approach. By that I mean the trend towards embracing a policy that takes in to account the welfare and development aspirations of local communities living alongside National Parks and Game Reserves – the people who bear the brunt of the negative aspects of living with wildlife – i.e. loss of crops and livestock to marauding elephants or buffaloes or hungry predators. Many people feel that anything less is doomed if we still want to protect a semblance of our wildlife heritage. You can argue strongly for both approaches – and opinion is still divided as to what is best. Perhaps it all depends on individual scenarios with each dealt with on a case by case basis.
Adding to this debate is a ‘solution’ that we hear increasingly talked about – FENCING.This could mean fencing people in to protect the wildlife still roaming freely around human habitation where people are still living within protected areas – apparently this is the case in a wilderness area in Mozambique. Or if as many conservationists now argue it is a fallacy to believe that people and wildlife really can still co-exist alongside each other on our beleaguered planet (particularly when it comes to living with large creatures such as elephants and lions) and that the only long term solution is to fence off the National Parks and Game Reserves to hold back the surge in the human population that threatens to overwhelm the world as we know it. While this might be practical in the case of Nairobi National Park, some will maintain that it is impractical to imagine that large areas of up to 10-20,000 sq km could be enclosed. Just too costly to set up and to maintain. But I have a feeling that more fences and more intense management of wildlife confined in this way is likely to be the ultimate reality.
Meanwhile we are eating wildlife off the planet – and chopping it up for medicine, trinkets, keepsakes and ornaments.
Spending time in wild places fills one with elation – and a sense of great sadness too!
But all said and done – no time for complacency or dissolutionment – we just have to keep that candle burning!
Just spent a wonderful week at Governor’s Il Moran Camp with our great friend Michel Zoghzoghi from the Lebanon. Michel recently completed a wonderful exhibition of his work on the worlds great predators – and a stunning book called PREY which we helped Michel collect material for on the Mara’s big cats. Check out Michel’s Facebook page for more on his work – and his book.
We dropped by Rekero Camp where we hold a one week safari each October to say hello to our good friends Matthew Clarke and his family and their hosts from the UK. They were visiting the Mara for the first time and were over the moon at the prospect of some great wildlife viewing. Matthew hopes to attend Falmouth College to read for a degree in Marine and Natural History Photography. Nothing like getting serious about pursuing your passion!
The Marsh Lions were in fine form. And high drama with them too when they killed at least 4 cows – some say 6 – on the 29th March. The cows were trespassing inside the Reserve on the open plains between the Bila Shaka Lugga and the Salanga. The whole pride were together – 5 females including Bibi, Sienna, Charm/Sophie and two younger adult lionesses – 10 cubs – and the 4 Musketeers. The 4 males look so different to when they first arrived in our area two years ago when they were around 4 years old and had very scruffy manes. Scarface in particular looks so much fitter – his eye is better that we ever remember. He still has no proper eyelid due to the trauma of the original injury, but it has healed almost completely in as much as there is now very little open wound around his right eye. We followed the pride that morning and watched as they headed from a wart hog kill down to the Salanga Lugga. When we came back in the afternoon the pride were feeding on a calf in the lugga and there were another 3 dead cows up on the rise. The cows were unattended. In recent years it has become the norm for the Masai to allow their cattle to wander in to the Reserve – not just in the dry season but year round. People think that the lion population is down by around 30% from highs of some years ago. The time when you could see prides of up to 40 lions (there was a Talek Pride in the late 1980s with 48 lions and cubs in it) are gone as far as I know?? This has to be due to change in habitat (more grass and less woodland), competition for space with human development – and conflict with livestock owners resulting in spearing and poisoning. We hear more and more talk of our wildlife areas – by that I mean the world’s wild places – ultimately having to be fenced to protect wildlife, particularly where large carnivores still survive.
We saw Olive. She looks a bit weary these days and has a limp right now. She looked to be lactating so we hope that her new litter of cubs survives. She has done remarkably well at raising cubs to maturity. We also spent some time with a lovely female leopard near Il Moran. She currently has two cubs of about 5 to 6 months old – a male and a female (the female sadly has a prolapsed rectum and looks very weak and thin – the manager at Il Moran Patrick Reynolds has told the Rangers and asked for a Vet to assist but to date none have come and I fear it will be too late to save it now. There is also a beautiful female known as Siri in the Pump House area to east of Paradise (below Serena Lodge on Paradise side of the River) who has a 1.5 year old male cub who is very tolerant of vehicles. He is killing for himself but still sometimes links up with Siri for a meal as he gains experience at being independent.
We had a wonderful time with a mother cheetah with her three 10 month old cubs (2 males and a female). The female cubs has taken to jumping on the bonnet of cars which always gives visitors a thrill. She has been hunting around the area to the west of Rekero towards Paradise Plain, but we are told she spends more time in the Look Out Hill and Ol Keju Rongkai area. Malaika and her son are doing well too. And Notch has been seen – sometimes with his Boys. He is old now – but still around.
It has been raining off and on in Mara and the Long Rains set in just before we left on the 30th March. Everywhere looks beautifully green – but you cannot help noticing the dramatic loss of mature trees – particularly around the area known as Lake Nakuru at the edge of Musiara Marsh and along the riverine forest.
Does anyone know what this loss of trees is due to? Is it desease? There are plenty of elephants and they have certainly made an impact on removing acacia seedlings out on the plains – and in denuding the understory in the riverine areas. But are they damaging the older trees by ringbarking to the point of ultimately allowing disease to kill the trees? Any thoughts? Need to ask the botanists at the Nairobi Museum.
We leave for the UK and Galapagos/Peru on 5th April. And will be away from home until mid-June.
Angie and I hope you are all enjoying a wonderful Easter Holiday with friends and family. And we send our love and warm regards to you all.
Doesn’t matter where you look right now you will find a prominently displayed story in the Media about the slaughter of the Planet’s wild animals. Weapons and Drugs then next on the list comes the trafficking of people and the killing of wildlife – for meat, trade in body parts or as items of cultural value. Poaching is big business for terrorists and criminal gangs. Facebook, TV News, Time magazine, The New York Times, The Weekly Guardian, the East African Newspaper – all full of stories on elephant poaching and trade in rhino horn. The magnificent big ‘tuskers’ across Africa are headed for the graveyard, their teeth carved in to elaborate works of art – but at what cost? Some large pieces carved from a single hefty tusk in China can sell for up to US$ 200,000 – more perhaps. The Convention in International Trade in Endangered Species currently happening in Bangkok in Thailand is the reason for all the news items – along with the fact that we have hit another crossroads in the never ending battle for living space and resources between us and every other living being. It looks bleak out there. So thank goodness that there are still dedicated individuals who are stepping up to try and turn the tide. We salute them!
If you happen to have a copy of the original 1982 version of Th Marsh Lions and you go to Page 195 you will see a shot that I took in January 1981 – 32 years ago – of Chui’s two (3 month old) cubs – Chui of The Leopard’s Tale (1985) that is, the book we have just updated to include Half-Tail and Zawadi/Shadow’s story – out in July this year from Bradt Field Guides as a paperback.
So if you look at the beautifully rock fortress in the picture we posted the day before yesterday – the one to the left of the giant landmark fig tree at the east end of the Gorge, and the one that the people in the 2 safaris vehicles appear to be looking at. Now look at how the massive rock is split prominently in the horizontal axis showing two rifts?? Well the lower of the two fissures is the same place that I took the photo of Chui’s two cubs all those years ago. And since then Angie and I have seen our other leopard ‘friends’ use the same caves to hide in – or to hide their cubs in – and then hang out in that magnificent fig tree to chill out and unwind while there cubs stay nice and safe in the rocky fortress.
In August 2002 when Zawadi gave birth to 3 cubs in Leopard Gorge which we filmed for Big Cat Diary (and none of which survived) she started by hiding her cubs at that same rocky fortress and then gradually made her way along the Gorge, using a number of different caves to hide the cubs in from the hyenas and lions. But when she killed a Thomson’s gazelle and hung it in a tree opposite the cave she had chosen when the cubs were about 4-6 weeks old the hyenas from the Gorge Clan sniffed them – and her – out and killed two of them. Zawadi then carried the remaining cub 6 km to Moses Rock near Alex Walker’s Camp along the Mara River to the north. But that cub perished too a couple of weeks later. You can see that story in the final Big Cat Diary series we filmed in 2002. The following year we filmed the first series of Big Cat Week – and began to follow Bella and her dynasty, with her daughter Olive now the ‘queen bee’ along the Talek River in the Intrepids and Rekero area of the Mara. You will find all of that story and more in the new edition of The Leopard’s Tale (2013) out in July and a book we will be proud to see in print again. If you want your copy signed then catch up with us at this years Bird Fair in Rutland Water (16-18th August). See you there!
And no prizes for guessing who this is!
Taken in 2011 in that same giant fig tree.
Angie and I were deeply shocked and saddened to hear of the death of Cape Town wildlife filmmaker Richard Matthews. Richard - who co-owned Table Mountain Films - and pilot Mark Berry died earlier this week in a plane crash in Namibia while filming aerials for an international documentary. Richard and his wife Sammantha were old friends of ours dating back to the 1980s here in Kenya. We join their many friends in sending our love and condolences to Sammantha and her children and all the family – and to Mark’s family too.
Richard was unique. I first met him in the early 1980s while working on the story of The Leopard’s Tale (1985). He enjoyed roaming Fig Tree Ridge and Leopard Gorge (above) as much as Angie and I love to – home to Chui, Half-Tail, and Zawadi in times past. He was a talented stills photographer with a great love of East Africa and its people and wildlife. Richard had already established himself as an Assistant Producer with the BBC Natural History Unit in Bristol. But his heart was always in Africa where he was born. He was very much his own man and we all knew that Richard would never settle for second best. He had a great eye for the shot and a wonderful understanding of light. He was an artist with his camera and soon decided he wanted to set up on his own as a wildlife cameraman. When Richard heard that a leopard mother had given birth to three cubs along Rhino Ridge in 1985 he decided to step up. That meant taking moving out of his comfort zone – mortgaging his home and heading back to Africa – literally putting his money where his mouth was. We spoke on the phone when I was in the UK – he was concerned about the risk he was taking but I knew this was what he needed to do – this was his golden opportunity – one of those moments when you have to decide if you are going to live the life of your dreams – or step back.
Richard was feisty, competitive and totally dedicated to his craft. He made his film on the leopard mother – it was a classic – some of the shots were achingly beautiful in their artistry – he really did have that magic ingredient. There was a ‘look’ to his work that was all his own. By getting stuck in like this he put his reputation on the line – he was filming the same leopard that the BBC decided they wanted to film for the Natural World! Typically that just made Richard all the more determined and he got some unique footage along the way – including a ‘killer’ sequence to top it off when the mother leopard leapt out of a tree to snatch a zebra foal!
Richard then worked with the legendary wildlife cameraman Alan Root in the Serengeti around the time I was collecting material for books on the wildebeest migration and the wild dogs. By now Richard had met Samantha Purdy – a gem of a lady from Kenya who shared his love of photography and wildlife. Samantha gave Richard her dedication, loyalty and love – and the wonderful children that were and are so special to them both. Later Richard worked with us on Big Cat Diary and we always knew Richard’s ‘rushes’ – they were so beautifully shot – with his unerring eye for sidelight and backlight, mood and emotion. Samantha and Richard agonised over the economics of whether to buy a home in Kenya or head south to where Richard had grown up. There was the question of what would be best for the children: schooling, finances and security, the same decisions that we had to consider in our own lives some years earlier. Samantha’s parents had lived at the Kenya coast – she had grown up there – se we all knew how hard that decision must be for her. But Samantha was always – and is – a team player: supportive, generous and loving. So they headed south with Richard now intent on combining his love of flying with his craft as a cameraman.
Richard was a man of many talents. He was a leader and a pioneer in his field. He had what it takes to step up. With Samantha he founded his own Picture Library in the 1980s, as well as his own Production Company in the UK – Zebra Films. He was a mover and shaker – he made things happen. And even though we lost contact with Richard and Samantha these past few years we were always delighted to hear news of their achievements. Richard had a soft and sensitive side that sometimes got hidden by his drive and determination to complete his ideas. But anyone who knew Richard well understood his vision, saw his kindness and loving side, admired his boundless energy. He will be sorely missed by his friends and family.
With our love and affection to the Matthews and Purdy families – and to Mark Berry’s family. Our thoughts and condolences are with you all.
We have been watching the happenings in the Marsh Pride since 1977 courtesy of our own observations and a lot of help from our friends in the guiding community at the various camps and lodges in the northern Mara. Despite annual loses due to conflict with Masai livestock owners the Marsh Pride has managed to remain pretty constant in the way it operates and the extent of its territory that historically extends beyond the Reserve boundary to the north and east. The Mara River forms the western boundary of the pride – though this does not stop pride members from crossing at times – sometimes due to food considerations with pride members trespassing into the Kichwa Tembo (KT) Pride territory to hunt (this does not happen so often) or when pride males from the Marsh Pride are exiled at the time of a takeover by new males – or because they simply want to try and expand their realm of influence and mate with more females. This happens more often in the dry season when the Mara River is at its lowest – and due to more frequent dryer spells this option is there for those who want to risk conflict with the resident lions – or absence of them – in the KT area.
The Marsh traditionally is thought of as the dry season hot spot for the Marsh Pride – somewhere they know will deliver plenty of food when the wildebeest and zebras in residence from June/July to Oct.Nov. While the Bila Shaka Lugga (formerly known as the Miti Mbili (two trees of 1977 – long since fallen) is traditionally the birth place of the Pride – an increasingly dwindling source of cover for lionesses to hide their newborn cubs for the first 8 weeks among the croton thickets and acacia bushes in the drainage line or intermittent watercourse. The Pride tends to avoid the marshy waterlogged areas in the rainy season – particularly the Long Rains of end of March to end of May/June. And this is when they often move out of the Reserve into Masailand and risk the wrath of the herdsmen by taking livestock when times are tough – or when cattle wander unattended in to the Reserve.
The Marsh Pride usually averages around 4 to 6 lionesses and 2 males. There are times when the Pride is doing well and raising lots of cubs that a surplus of females builds up – young adult females who cannot be recruited in to their natal Pride due to there not being sufficient space for more adults and their cubs – when there is not sufficient safe places for more lionesses to breed or to find food year round to feed the Pride. That is when these groups of young 2-3 year old females leave as their own cohort to try and establish themselves in a new territory – or more often try to eek out a living on the edge of their natal range. This is how the small prides along Rhino Ridge originate – either as outcasts from the Marsh Pride – or from the Paradise Pride or sometimes further afield. The lionesses on Rhino Ridge and along Gray’s Lugga to the east are one such group. And if they are successful groups such as these are mated by their own Pride Males – or by Pride Males from adjacent prides. And successful prides push the limits of their territory and try to squeeze their neighbors so as to expand their territory. And one possible reason for successful Prides to do this is to allow for dispersal of their females offspring – better that your neighbours are former ‘friends/relatives’ kind of theory so as to lessen the degree of hostility. The ownership and defense of lion territories from the females point of view is a life long – long running – battle – and is all about strength in numbers. If there is a scrap you want back up from as many friends as possible.
Right now the Marsh Pride are doing well – 11 cubs at last count (We will be at Governors end of this month) with Bibi both the oldest and newest mother. But when I was there in early Feb one of the group of younger females on the periphery of the Marsh looked very pregnant so she may soon have cubs – or maybe has them hidden away by now. Having 4 adult males with the Marsh Pride for any length of time is unusual. It happens at times that bands of nomads – sometimes up to 9 of them we have recorded in the past – come through the area, hang around for a while and then usually a coalition of adult 2 or 3 males of 4-5 years old takes over from the resident Pride males who have become weakened by age or loses – as happened with Notch and then Clawed and Romeo. But for a pride of 4 -6 lionesses such as the Marsh Pride having 4 males just simply does not usually last – they would normally quite soon split in to 2 and 2 once they had established themselves in an area and mated with females. The Marsh and Bila Shaka are seasonal in their food supply – so it has never been a pride of 30-40 lions such as you used to get in the Talek area and perhaps still do around Keekorok – areas with a greater density of year round resident prey and which may have up to a dozen lionesses – sometimes more – and who specialise in killing buffalo.
The fact that our 4 Musketeers – the 4 Marsh Pride males – mated with both the Marsh Pride and the Pride’s younger female relatives who formed the Ridge Pride and Gray’s Lugga Pride (same thing?? for a while at least) – but then regrouped most recently with the Marsh Pride as their primary focus left the Ridge Pride dangerously exposed at times to new males coming through and attacking their cubs – cubs sired by the 4 Muskateers. That is what happened in early February when I was in the Mara and witnessed the Ridge Pride females kill a cow buffalo – and then as they feasted found themselves bushwacked – attacked – by three young nomadic males intent on stealing the Ridge Pride females kill – and attacking their cubs.
More shortly on that disaster!