Aug 10 2012

Angie back in Charge!

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Hi Everyone – sorry for the long silence – as you know Angie had to have surgery to repair an aneurism on her cranial artery – discovered by chance (and before it got the chance to bleed). What a blessing. Angie was amazing throughout and is doing so well. Only been 2 weeks since the operation but all the swelling has gone and she is probably doing more than she should. Needs to be mindful not to get too tired and to stay away from long hours on the computer. As you can imagine people can have all kinds of problems after brain surgery with confusion and memory loss and being muddled headed (the kind of way I feel all the time!) so I thought I might have the chance for a bit of a holiday. Fat chance! Angie is as sharp as ever – and just as beautiful.

We bless you for your kind words. People from all over the world have written and sent cards and flowers and love – and chocolates!! – and that made a huge difference in our coming through this journey with a great sense of optimism despite how scary it all was. Angie had to wait for 3 weeks once the aneurism was discovered before they could operate due to medication she was taking – so that was tough. But Angie showed True Grit and courage and was magnificent!

Love from us both

Jonathan and Angie

14 responses so far

Jun 17 2012

News Update: January 2013: Antarctica here we come again!

We are delighted to be headed South again to the frozen landscapes of Antarctica to experience the incredible wildlife spectacle to be found there. This will be our 18th expedition to a place as close to our hearts as our home in East Africa. If you have never been to Antarctica then you must, in the same way that if you have never been on safari to East Africa then you must join us there too. Antarctica is a land beyond reality, a spiritual place that will hold you in its thrall. Nobody forgets a journey to Antarctica.

It’s 100 years since ‘Scott of the Antarctic’ and his four companions reached the South Pole on the 17th January 1912 – only to find that Amundsen and his fellow Norwegians had beaten them to it. Scott and his men perished on the return journey. As a child I grew up on Scott’s legend and was always inspired by the work of his son Sir Peter Scott who became a painter and conservationist ‘par excellence’. It was a great thrill for me to be presented with the Overall Winner’s trophy in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition in 1987 by Sir Peter Scott – the same Award that Angie won in 2002 for her stunning image of elephants drinking in the Luangwa River. The bronze ibis trophies are among our most prized possessions.

In Antarctica the daring deeds of the explorers of the ‘Heroic Age’ – of which Scott and Shackleton are among the most famous – come alive as you travel the icy reaches of the great Southern Continent. And to help you learn more about the history of Antarctica we are delighted to be reacquainted with author and Antarctic Historian Jonathan Shackleton, one of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s cousins, who is certain to provide our fellow travellers with the opportunity of a lifetime to hear more about the great Irishman whose epic adventures have been an inspiration all my life.

We have been fortunate to return to Antarctica nearly every season since our first visit 20 years ago, including trips to Scott and Shackleton’s huts at the edge of the Ross Sea on an epic month-long semi-circumnavigation of Antarctica in 2006. We have twice visited Snow Hill Island in the Weddell Sea to marvel at breeding emperor penguins, and made 8 expeditions to South Georgia – the ‘Serengeti of the Southern Ocean’. However, in January 2013 we will not be visiting any of these places. This is an expedition designed for those who simply cannot afford to be away from home – or the office – for that length of time. Instead we will spend 5 or 6 days on the Antarctic Peninsula, the curly tail of the continent that reaches up towards the southern tip of Argentina from where we embark for our adventure aboard the Ushuaia.

So what’s special about our latest journey to Antarctica? Well for a start there will only be a maximum of 40 passengers – less than half the number that would normally be accommodated on the Ushuaia. Flexibility is the name of the game in Antarctica – just as it is on the best safaris in Africa. This will be the chance to get the best out of the photographic opportunities and for everyone to enjoy quality time with the seasoned team of Lecturers and Expeditionary Staff. In fact to help ensure the best experience possible the number of staff and expeditionary team members will be the same as if we were sailing with a full compliment of passengers. There will be no more than 8 guests per Zodiac for tours of the ice or when heading ashore – and the chance to kayak in the Southern Ocean for the more adventurous of spirit. This will be an Antarctic adventure to savour.

Angie and I will be joining the expedition to help you make the most of the many photographic opportunities that Antarctica promises – from landscapes to wildlife, icebergs to penguins, and with everyone on board keeping a close eye out for whales.

January is a great time to visit Antarctica with the prospect of sunny skies (no guarantees mind you!) and penguins with young chicks – plus those whales.

Our good friend Jonathan Truss will be accompanying us on this expedition as Artist in Residence. Many of you will have met Jonathan on safari with us in the Masai Mara – and Zambia perhaps – two of his (and our) favourite haunts. Jonathan is a great traveller, someone who will keep you amused even when you’re feeling grouchy! A great raconteur, internationally renowned wildlife artist and no mean talent on the guitar, Jonathan will be on hand to help all you budding artists to conjour up a bit of the magic of Antarctica’s icescapes on canvas.  We can hardly wait for the New Year! For more information on this exciting trip check out:

www.expeditionsandsafaris.com

61 responses so far

Jun 12 2012

The Colosseum in Rome: Theatre of Death for Man & Beasts

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We are in Italy to celebrate our son David’s graduation. He read The Great Books for a Liberal Arts Degree at St John’s College in Santa Fe, NM, for nearly two years before switching to a Graphic Design Degree at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. He graduated with Honors and his first job come July will be working on our new Wesbsite to bring it in to the modern era and make it more user friendly. We will be uploading a lot more images and videos once we are set – and that will probably be end of August.

One of my favorite films when I was a kid was Ben Hur – Charlton Heston fitted the bill; ruggedly handsome and in great shape; and it was one of those Epic pieces of cinema that stand alongside Lawrence of Arabia and Dr Zhivago in my memory. The aura of Rome and the gladiators was captured brilliantly in Gladiator with Russell Crowe as close to living the part as one could imagine – great photography, acting and music – stirring stuff for all us men who could only dream of aspiring to that kind of courage when put to the sword – literally!

So a visit to the Colosseum was a must for the three of us and it did not disappoint. Though the magnificence of the Piazza Venezia with its lions and horses and marble friezes is just out of this world. The Colosseum bore witness to spectacles of such brutality that are hard to comprehend – a glorification of violence and death that  took its toll on humans and animals. A kind of savagery that while hard to comprehend today reminds us of our darker nature. Thousands of animals were sacrificed in the Colosseum in the name of sport and spectacle – with gladiators meeting in mortal combat and condemned prisoners fighting off wild beasts in front of baying, bloodthirsty crowds (is how the Lonely Planet Guide describes events).

Tomorrow the Vatican!

6 responses so far

Jun 02 2012

Cheetah Conservation Fund: Namibia

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Cheetahs are in our minds right now. And sure some of you must be wondering what is all the ‘touchy’ ‘feely’ business going on with the cheetahs at Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia???

Angie and I are very proud to be Patrons of CCF – and we have no concerns about interacting with the cheetahs you can see in the pictures shown here – the ones that Dr Laurie Marker is shown interacting with – and that show us as a participating audience in the grassy glade at CCF.

We know and respect that some of our colleagues in the Scientific Establishment do not like – and won’t participate in – touching animals in this kind of context. They – and we know what they are thinking – feel that it does not give out the right message (least I think that is what they believe).

The main criteria to establish at the top of the list is this:

THAT ANY ANIMAL KEPT IN CAPTIVITY – FOR WHATEVER REASON – IS TREATED HUMANELY AND WITH THE UTMOST RESPECT. NO PRISONERS ON THAT ONE!

We know this to be the case at CCF. In fact CCF is currently – and they will be able to update us on this – trying to keep to a minimum the number of cheetahs kept on their property. They are adopting a new approach with Ranchers – either cattle or game farmers – who have issues with predators. The idea is having provided up to date information to the Ranchers who are willing to engage with CCF – and more and more are willing to at least listen as far as we know – that the onus is then on the Rancher to decide the fate of the cheetah (if that is the problem animal). Being forced to shoot the problem animal or to let it remain is not always as easy for the land owner as one might assume.

CCF – like Angie and myself – do believe that some captive cheetahs do act as ambassadors for wild creatures – helping to encourage the general public – all of us included – to respect and marvel at these extraordinary beings.

It is not a perfect world. Human solutions to conservation issues cannot always be neat and tidy. But we have to accept that in the main the fate of the lives of our fellow creatures is increasingly in our hands – particularly the large ones which are so much more visible to us.

So while Angie and I love nothing better than to spend time in the wild – and there are scant few truly wild places still in existence – watching big cats in their natural setting. And that we love the fact that the great cats are what they are – ‘different’ but something of wonder. And that we don’t want to humanize them – that we want them to be what they are – that after all is the fascination for us. The fact is that there are situations – such as when we visit CCF – when we can connect to the cheetahs in a different way – and not feel guilty about doing it.

When Kike the car climbing cheetah of the 2003 Big Cat Week era jumped on our vehicles – the last thing we wanted to do was to reach out and touch her. Why? Because this was a wild cheetah – but one that had developed a ‘No Fear’ and trusting relationship with vehicles and their occupants – who we never for a moment wanted to break that trust with and the obligation that it implied. An obligation that said that to touch Kike would have encouraged a very different relationship with her – one that would have possibly compromised her and might have made her just that touch too ‘people friendly,’. Leading perhaps to an altercation with herdsmen if she approached them too close on the basis that she had become habituated to people in a way that might have led to her being killed.

10 responses so far

May 17 2012

Cheetah Cubs: Mara Conservancy

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Hi Everybody – just doing a bit of homework before commenting on the “Cheetah Story” regarding the 3 cheetah cubs from the Mara Conservancy that have been moved to Nairobi. You will find one version of this story on a Post by Sybell Foxcroft on our site. Trying to find out what is going on – but pretty complicated and very ‘political’ I am sure.

I can only imagine that this is a very complicated and convoluted situation involving many players/stakeholders which could easily be misread and/or misrepresented to serve all manner of agendas.

So lets try and keep a sense of balance from the start and deal with the facts.

I will ask Brian Heath of the Mara Conservancy his view – and also Chryssee Bradley Martin at the Nairobi Orphanage who for years has put heart and sole with her team of volunteers in to caring for orphan cheetahs, leopards and lions with no hope of a ‘wild’ life – or that are waiting to be released back in to the wild.

What I do know is that it is a long, expensive and very difficult process to release cheetahs back in to the wild.

We do know from research in the Serengeti – and Mara – over many years just how difficult it is for instance for a cheetah mother to raise cubs in the more open plains environments in Mara-Serengeti due to competition from larger predators such as lions and hyenas. Ironically there was a time when the Mara Triangle was one of the best places for a cheetah mother to raise her cubs – perhaps when there was a higher level of poaching resulting in lower numbers of lions and hyenas which get caught up in snares and at times are poisoned (cheetahs tend to avoid scavenging so don’t fall prey to poisoned carcasses).

So trying to reintroduce cheetahs to the Mara – even those born in the wild and then ‘orphaned’ – is always going to be a very tough ask. So lets not imply that this would have been easy. And whatever the circumstances that the cubs were being kept in after being taken in to captivity, a degree of human contact/sensitisation is inevitable.

What we are noticing – and Angie and I have witnessed for ourselves in the Musiara, Paradise Plains, Intrepids and Rekero areas of the Northern Mara – is that cheetah cub survival is very poor right now. Our good friend Michel Zoghzoghi was just in this area for a week with me and we did not see a single cheetah of any age – and that would have been very hard to achieve at other times (you could guarantee bumping in to a cheetah even if you weren’t looking for one given 7 days in the Mara).

Wherever you have high numbers of lions and hyenas – and leopards to a degree which will kill adult cheetahs when they move through more wooded areas (cubs too!) – you would not expect to see high densities of cheetahs even where optimum prey was available to them. 50-60 cheetahs in and around the Masai Mara Reserve has been the benchmark figure ever since I first came to live there in 1977. This has been pretty much the same even in more recent years – until now. So what is happening? You would expect this to be the case if lion and hyena numbers were increasing. And if human impact in areas favored by cheetahs was making life harder for the cheetahs. And habitat changes could be a factor too. If for instance there was an increase in grassland over woodland – as there has been progressively in the area we are most familiar with (mentioned above) – then cheetahs could feel the crunch. It is harder for a mother cheetah to keep her cubs hidden and easier for lions and hyenas to see what is going on enabling them to more easily locate cheetah kills and to steal their food – and easier to locate cubs and kill them.

So that is a start!

9 responses so far

May 17 2012

Watching Wildlife and Living the Moment

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Wanted to share our thoughts via an Introduction we just wrote for a new book to be Published by Bradt called ‘Swimming with Dophins, Tracking Gorillas’:

Sitting in our safari vehicle surrounded by lions in the Masai Mara in Kenya is as close to paradise as Angie and I could hope for – seeking out encounters with wild animals has shaped our lives. Hardly surprising then that my first response when I opened Ian Wood’s thoughtful and informative book Swimming with Dolphins, Tracking Gorillas was to dust off my rucksack, fill it with cameras and lenses, and head for the bush (into the wild; out on safari??). Colorful images of lions and bears, penguins and dolphins along with many other iconic creatures made me realize how incredibly fortunate Angie and I have been in exploring wild places and getting to know their charismatic inhabitants. Yet we are acutely aware of the impact that wildlife-based tourism can have – for better and for worse. Kenya’s thriving travel industry generates much-needed foreign exchange for the country, helping to conserve our/its National Parks and Reserves. But without careful planning tourism can easily show its destructive side threatening the wellbeing of the very environment that sustains it.

 

I like to think of myself as an optimist – someone that finds resonance with the phrase ‘better to light a candle than to curse the darkness’; someone who believes that there is still time for us humans to come to our senses and reconnect to this extraordinarily beautiful planet of ours and treat it with the respect it deserves. So it is alarming to witness the speed at which the last remnants of our natural world are disappearing. Which is why we need books like Swimming with Dolphins, Tracking Gorillas. They encourage us to be adventurous in our travels while treading lightly along the way. Ian Wood conjours up imagery/images in words and pictures that reflect a personal journey, a quest to experience those magical meetings with truly wild creatures that most of us can only dream of. The delight of rounding a corner along a sandy track in India’s Kanha National Park to find a tiger lying in the dappled shade of a tree or chancing upon a leopard gamboling about with her cub among the rocky hideaway known as Leopard Gorge in the Masai Mara come easily to mind from our own scrapbook of memories.

 

Travel to far off places can be both exciting and affordable. The challenge is in knowing where to start and when to travel. In this instance you can sit back and relax – Ian Wood has done the hard graft for you. I particularly loved the Calendar section that clearly indicates the best months to see the animals Ian features, each colour coded and organized into ecozones alongside a mouthwatering array of Encounter Highlights pinpointing exact locations. Planning your next wildlife adventure has never been easier.

 

Jonathan and Angela Scott – Nairobi, Kenya

5 responses so far

May 14 2012

Facebook: The Challenge!

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Hi Everyone

Shortly we will be asking all our Facebook ‘big cat followers’ – currently around 5000 people – to transfer to a dedicated Fan Page to allow us to subscribe the many hundreds of people who are waiting to to communicate with us on Facebook. You will still be able to add your comments and thoughts. But my current profile will be shut down in the next few weeks.

Best from us – Jonathan and Angie

4 responses so far

May 12 2012

The Marsh Pride: The Three Graces – who are they??

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Nice little puzzle for you all. What happened to the cubs born to Mama Lugga/Red, White Eye, Kali (Bibi’s Mother) and the oldest female in the Marsh Pride in 2002 – Notch? I know that we lost some of these as subadults – and certain too that not all individuals born in these four litters survived. The pride spend quite a bit of time – as it does each year – outside the reserve during the wet season when the area (particularly Musiara Marsh) gets waterlogged and most prey moves to higher ground. This leads inevitably to conflict with cattle and retaliation – spears or poison. Could it be that the 3 Graces were from this creche of many cubs? That would make them around 10 years old. Or – as some people think – were they part of the group of 8 subadults born in 2004/2005 i.e. sisters or cousins to Notch’s Boys? That would make them 7 to 8 years old??

Your thoughts lady’s and gentleman would be much appreciated!

18 responses so far

May 12 2012

How Big Cat Diary/Big Cat Week Survived (1996-2008)

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Hi Everyone

Hope you are all enjoying a wonderful weekend wherever you might be. The rain has eased here a tad – but not sue how long that will last. In the old days the rains started end of March early April and continued in to early June – April/May the big ones for mega downpours. Now you are never sure if we are going to get drought or deluge. This year both the Short Rains (mid Oct to Dec) and the Long Rains have been pretty heavy.

Will get back to you on PEL in the next day or so. But it is a huge shame that the BBC Natural History Unit has got itself involved in such a lightweight series – maybe its hands were tied. Nobody does wildlife better than the NHU – we all know that and it has been a huge privilege to be associated with the NHU for the past 30 years. It changed my life – and something I am hugely proud of. But when the ‘Entertainment’ mix starts to become the most important driving force in wildlife shows – rather than informing and creating a sense of wonder – then it is treading on thin ice and can all go horribly wrong. There is so much ‘old’ material (shown previously) and so little genuinely ‘live’ material – bar the Presenters delivering their links – that calling it LIVE with a capital L lacks credibility. And it really does no favors for the incredible Blue Chip brand that the NHU represents to all of us – PLANET EARTH.

During the heyday of Big Cat Week we were often reminded that there was a big difference between the style of a BBC2 program and the style best suited for BBC1. From what I can gather the TV Controllers, Commissioners – and to a lesser extent the Producers – dictate this style, sometimes it would seem contrary to what the audience would like. BBC2 is generally for more serious, informed programing for a dedicated audience of informed people – I think. BBC1 in the main is meant to be more ‘entertainment-style’ in its feel, opening the door to the more ‘reality-style’ shows that have become all the rave.

Big Cat Week seemed to me to have just about got the balance right. It was entertaining in the way it was Presented but crucially it still tried to be informative and to add value to the superb wildlife images by having knowledgeable people providing insights to what was going on (and as to what not might be evident to viewers from watching the pictures alone). Yes, we named the animals – as much to help us communicate with each other – and you – as to who we were referring to; not because (in our case at least) we wanted to anthropomorphize them. We love the lions, leopards and cheetahs for what they are – extraordinary fellow denizens of this amazing world of ours. They are quite fascinating and complex in their completeness – they are lions, leopards and cheetahs not surrogate humans. And we had hoped that we helped to move away from the more sensational series on Animal Planet and Nat Geo that at times revert to the big bad animal formula – and Nature Red In Tooth And Claw. Surely the amazing insightful work of Dr George Schaller and Dr Jane Goodall – and the revelations of wildlife camera people like Alan and Joan Root and Des and Jen Bartlett – and the imagery and communication skills of of naturalists like Sir David Attenboroug and Sir Peter Scott – counted for something? Why retreat to hype and exaggeration?

Big Cat Diary/Week had to resist attempts at times to try and change the language we used to describe the various animal characters we were working with due to this desire to get the BBC1 feel rather than the BBC2 feel. But we balked at this suggestion and were relieved when a high ranking person with overall control of the series said that we should never feel the need to do anything that we did not feel comfortable with for the sake of being more ‘entertaining’. And that is why in the main Big Cat Diary/Week stood the test of time with its audience for 12 years on air and has left such a feel good effect with participants and audiences alike. Not only was it hugely entertaining it had credibility. We felt we could look anyone in the eye over our story-telling/commentary and that you ‘our audience’ trusted us and believed in us. I have had experience as a youngster of the other kind of wildlife shows – and I never want to go back to that.

 

22 responses so far

May 07 2012

What a Week we had in the Mara!

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It may have poured with rain in the Mara – it bucketed down most afternoons and sometimes late into the night – but as always the Mara delivered when we needed it to. We are helping our good friend Michel Zoghzoghi who is writing and photographing a book on Predators around the world – to get some great shots on Africa’s big cats. This time he wanted to concentrate on leopards and knowing that Olive (Bella’s daughter) had recently given birth to 2 cubs – we are told they are around + 4 months old (anyone want to update us on that?) – we figured that we would spend most of our week-long safari around the Talek River. But the ‘river’ had become a torrent – it was more like the Mara River which had risen to heights we had forgotten were possible – hadn’t seen it like this for +10 years – the last 5 or so have been droughts rather than deluge that I had forgotten what ‘wet Mara – or Lake Mara’ looked like!!

Nairobi has also had huge storms with all the normal downsides of that – leaking roofs and power cuts.

Back to the Mara for catch up time with the big cats:

Has White Eye gone for good? The Governor’s drivers say they think she has – and that probably due to conflict with Masai. Even thought the grass is green and growing at a rate of knots (will be up to the bonnet of a vehicle before the end of the month in parts of Paradise Plain) there are still big herds of cattle camped along the edge of the Reserve and within it. I reckon that up to 10-30% of the Reserve is affected by encroachment – and this is no longer just a dry season event – it is seemingly year round and is certainly part of the reason that ‘boundary’ prides that seasonally spend part of their time outside the Reserve are constantly affected by the loss of pride members due to spearing or poisoning. And when the herdsmen come into the Reserve the same happens. Just as I was leaving Mara on 5 May our good friend Jackson Ole Looseyia (who you will be able to see on the BBC Planet Earth Live event between now and the 22 May) was going out with one of the Governors drivers to check on the identity of a lioness who had been seen at the edge of Musiara Marsh with 2 cubs. Could that have been White Eye??

During our week-long safari we spent time with the 4 Musketeers who are now firmly established with both the Marsh Pride – Bibi, Sienna and her sister (or cousin) Sophie, and 4 younger sub-adult/young adult females. They also wander further to the East as far as Topi Plains where they consort with an offshoot of the Marsh Pride – the 4 (Marsh) Sisters who have already had their first litters of cubs – and lost them – and whose original 2 pride males have disappeared (some say one of them was killed as a result of a fight with Notch’s Boys). These 4 females are around 5 years old. They sometimes wander along Rhino Ridge too and eek out a living between the Marsh Pride and the Paradise Pride. Offshoots of the Marsh Pride – groups of young females exiled from the main pride due to lack of resources (food and breeding space) – have always adopted this kind of strategy sometimes prospering and sometimes fading away.

3 new Pride males – one with a beautiful black mane – are now being seen around the Serena Pump House area – sometimes north of the River (on our side of it) and sometimes south of it on the Serena side of the Mara River. They are fine looking animals – more mature than the 4 Musketeers but younger than Notch’s Boys (7-8 years old) – and it will be interesting to see who prevails in this area between the two groups of males.

There is a beautiful female leopard that had her two cubs in this area and was often seen on the beautiful rocky outcrops and croton thickets. We caught up with her on 3 occasions and watched her with her 8 month old male cub. It appears as if she may have lost the other cub. She had a Thompson’s gazelle kill in a Boscia tree. There was a big male leopard in the area too. This particular female is young and beautifully marked – in perfect condition with clean ears and no signs of the fights that territory holders of both sexes engage in at times.

We did not see even one cheetah during our trip!!

All for now. Stay safe!

38 responses so far

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