The Star (Nairobi)

Kenya: Patience of Wildlife Photographer Pays Off

I have had the opportunity of handling most categories of tours when I was in employment and I can confidently say that the easiest one is beach tours. In beach tours, you just book the clients in a beach hotel and whatever else is done will be entirely at the discretion of the client. There is no time set aside for beach activities. If there are any extra excursions to be done, the hotels usually handle that easily.

Next in line in terms of ease, are conference tours. Just book the client in a hotel which has conference facilities and let everything else be provided by the hotel. The only hitch in this category is getting accommodation in one hotel since conference tours involve large numbers of clients.

One category that I consider fairly difficult is the hiking. But as long as the guide has a pretty good knowledge of the tracks and the clients are physically well endowed, hiking is fun to do.

The difficult part of this tour category is the danger element that comes with the tour plan. Most times the hikers are not accompanied by an armed guard.

Yet hiking in Kenya is in most cases done either in mountain forests or wildlife infested plains. The chance of coming into contact with dangerous animals is real in both cases.

If you ask me, photographic safaris are the most difficult in all tour categories. I know this because I run a photographic safari company. Photographers are extremely sensitive to handle.

Their itinerary has to be arranged such that at every moment there is something to photograph. A day of a commercial photographer, or an armature for that matter, will start at 5am. By 5:45am, he should be in the van.

The morning light is very important to a photographer. The first rays of sunrise must be captured and in different stages of brightness. The vehicle must be positioned in particular as dictated by the photographer. Most of all, there should be an animal in the distance to make the shot more valuable.

From then on, until 11am, it is supposed to be all action. If a photographer goes without a click on his camera for as short time as half an hour, then his day is spoilt.

They want action, action and more action. It does not matter whether it is the same animal as long as the animal is active. The plus side of this type of tour operation is that a photographer is a very patient client.

Since they are very particular about their shots, you might end up staying with a particular animal for a whole day. During such times, a good guide will be able to observe and learn a great deal of animal behaviour.

I had such a client last week in Mara. We went through the morning rituals of following the sunrise from the early rays up to the time the sun appeared.

Then we went further in the wilderness to look for a cheetah we had been told had a baby. A cheetah with a baby usually hunts every day.

A cheetah hunt is the ultimate price an avid photographer dreams of. It did not take long before we made contact. As usual, the cheetah mother and cub were busy walking through the plains in search of prey.

Once in a while the mother would stop after sighting a prey, give the baby the "don't follow" signal and begin the stalk. When she is noticed by the prey, she stops the stalking and continues the search.

After two hours of following the cheetah, she found what she was looking for. Across a small depression, some impalas were busy grazing inside small croton bushes.

They had not noticed the approaching cheetahs. When the mother started the stalking, the cub remained behind hidden in the tall grass.

This was a very good hunter. She followed the depression completely out of sight of the impalas and got to almost 10 metres to them. The chase was so brief even for the experienced photographers that they had no time to line up their shots.

They were not disappointed by that though. There was an exciting moment for the photographers when the cheetahs started eating the impala from behind only to find a baby protruding from the stomach.

The mother cheetah had chosen the slowest of the impalas. The impala was pregnant and almost due. Such scenes are rare unless your clients are photographers.

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