Hunting through long grasses

From the crazy and chaotic traffic in Kenya’s capital Nairobi where the biggest vehicle and loudest horn rules the day to the red ochre dust covered roadsides with their brightly coloured shops and businesses scattered for miles along the endless routes to the vast expanse of the game reserves…

…to the poverty and people lying on the road sides asleep,

…to the children walking miles to reach school,

…to the sleek sided skyscrapers,

…to the motorbikes carrying three or more passengers or a cargo of chickens stacked in boxes,

…to the huge speed bumps before and after built-up areas scattered along the roads,

…to random police check points

…to the dark brooding storm clouds,

…to the clear morning views of Mount Kenya,

…to the long endless dusty roads stretching for miles out in front of you,

…to the hard sells and bargaining opportunities in the curio shops along the main tourist routes,

…to the Masai villages opened up to the traveller,

…to the sound of their voices as they sing their songs,

…to the noise, smells and colour that overloads the senses as you drive through busy towns and leaves you feeling overwhelmed after you pass through them,

…to the dusty unused rail tracks that lead to nowhere,

…to the hundreds of faces that stare back at you as you pass. Some with a smile, some with no interest, some with suspicion, some with animosity, many with curiosity,

…to the road side fruit sellers,

…to the street hawkers and beggars to the top end and sleek black-windowed 4×4’s,

…to the security checks in the malls and their shiny tiled floors,

…to the dangerous driving and the road safety warnings,

…to crown paint adverts and Coca Cola painted walls,

…to the market stalls and bags of fruit,

…to the banana, pineapple and mango plantations and the vast fields of wheat,

…to the coffee trees bending over when ready to drop,

…to the cold bottles of Tusker beer,

…to the sound of the crickets,

…to the open spaces and the oppressive tight streets,

…to the smells before the rain comes,

…to the smell as it rains,

…to the smells after the rain has been,

…to the smell of the soil,

…to the diesel-fume spilling trucks lumbering up the Rift Valley escarpment,

…to the smells of cooking meat coming from the choma,

…to the breeze blowing through the branches of the Acacia,

…to the warm towels on arrival at the lodges to the chilly morning sunrises,

…to the painted wall murals and the smell of timber yards,

…to the long-drop toilets and the sound of hyenas at night,

…to drifting over the Mara River in a basket under a balloon,

…to the quiet forests and the traffic jam symphony of horns in Nairobi,

…to elephants trumpeting,

…and the sounds of a leopard hunting through tall grasses.

 

Kenya might not be for everyone and I’ve made several trips there with work over the years but now after this latest trip outside of my former work, I’ve realised even more what an amazingly chaotic, contradictory and beautiful place it is on many levels. Mesmerising, addictive and frustrating in equal measures it offers much for the visitor. But for the photographer…? Well for the photographer it offers a wealth of picture opportunities whatever your photographic interests. So if you get the chance to go then take it. If you need to take out a ridiculously large loan that will take ages to repay (as I did!!) then go for that too.

You won’t regret it.

 

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Images copyright Ian Forsyth

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Kenyan Wildlife

There are amazing opportunities for seeing wildlife in Kenya. The east African country that covers around 580,000 square kilometers of real estate and which is synonymous with the ‘safari’, boasts some of the finest natural parks and wildlife conservancies on the continent and the potential is good for seeing many species of wildlife including the famed ‘big five’. On a recent trip I was able to visit four of the main ones.

From the foothills of the Mount Kenya National Park with exceptional views of Mount Kenya, the highest mountain in the country to the Ol Pejeta conservancy, which lies on the Laikipia plains and has one of the highest wildlife to area ratios of any of the parks.

Then through to the Lake Nakuru National Park nestled in the 6,000 km long Great Rift Valley which is the largest geographical feature on earth and on to what is probably the most famous of them all, the Massai Mara National Reserve in Narok county.

From the outset there was plenty to see and photograph and despite breaking my longer lens and camera on a particularly rough track after it bounced onto the floor of the vehicle I was travelling in I was able to see not only the ‘big five’ but so much more of what this great country has to offer…

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The Big Five

In Africa , the big five game animals are the African Lion, the White/Black Rhinoceros, the Cape Buffalo, African Elephant and the African Leopard. The term big five was coined by big-game hunters and refers to the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot.  The members of the Big Five were chosen for the difficulty in hunting them and the degree of danger involved, rather than their size. Subsequently the term was adopted by safari tour operators for marketing purposes and today for some of those on safari seeing or photographing these great animals remains one of the greatest challenges.

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The Trees

There’s something about the trees in Africa that lend themselves to pictures. Maybe it’s the delicate spreading canopies of the Acacia trees or the lone tree standing tall on a vast open horizon under the big skies that draws the eye or maybe it’s the shadow, light and form that draws the photographer in…either way, I shot quite a few of them!

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The Lion

The Lion is the most endangered out of Africa’s three big cats – Lion, Leopard and Cheetah – with fewer than 30,000 remaining on the continent and less than 2,000 in Kenya they are at risk from hunting, habitat loss and diseases that can be spread from domestic dogs in nearby villages.

Lions are large felines that are traditionally depicted as the king of the jungle. These big cats once roamed Africa, Asia and Europe. However, now they are found in only two areas of the world and are classified into two subspecies. Asiatic lions which live in India’s Gir Forest and African lions who live in central and southern Africa. In Kenya, Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa they can roam an area of territory covering 100 square miles. This territory mainly consists of scrub, grasslands or open woodlands.

The African lion is 4.5 to 6.5 feet long from its head to its rump, and its tail measures from 26 to 39 inches long – although in the pictures below the Lion had lost its tail – probably in a fight.

African lions typically weigh between 260 and 420 lbs with male lions generally larger than females. They have a distinctive mane of hair around their heads the function of which is to make the male look more impressive to females and more intimidating to other males. The mane also protects the male’s neck during fights over territory or mating rights.

African lions eat large animals that they find in the grasslands, including antelopes, zebras and wildebeest or as in the photos below Rhino and while the females – seen at the bottom of this post – are the primary hunter a lone male can and will hunt by itself. How the rhino came to be the lions prey is unknown. Possibly it was an old and/or ill rhino that succumbed to the lion attack or, as has been pointed out due to the lack of rhino horn visible, it may have been the carcass left after poachers killed it but I can’t confirm either way.

 

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Female lions, all members of the same pride, lie in the sun grooming themselves and each other after eating their fill on the carcass of the rhino.

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Learning to be Chimpanzee’s again

The natural home for the chimpanzee ranges from Senegal on the west African coast through the central forested belt and across to Uganda. They are not a native species of Kenya but when a rescue centre in Burundi had to close due to the outbreak of civil war in 1993 the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya opened its doors to the Sweetwaters chimpanzee sanctuary.

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Situated just 17km from Nanyuki and 217 km’s from Nairobi on the Laikipia Plains the 24,000 acre game reserve has one of the highest wildlife to area ratios of all the national parks and conservancies in the country. Within the conservancy and straddling the Ewaso Nyiro River the fenced enclosure of the Sweetwaters sanctuary consists of two enclosures where the chimpanzee’s are allowed to roam once they have been nursed back to health.

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Then they are introduced into one of the two enclosures to be integrated into the groups of chimpanzees already living there where the hope is that they are able to integrate back into the hierarchical groups to re-learn how to be chimpanzees.

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The aim of the sanctuary is to provide lifelong refuge to orphaned and abused chimpanzees who arrive at the centre from west and central Africa. Of the 40 or so apes at the sanctuary many are confiscated from cramped and unnatural living conditions with many arriving with horrific injuries sustained from abuse at human hands. Due to the treatment of the chimps none are able to be released back into the wild but the hope is that this sanctuary will allow them to have as similar a life as possible.

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The sanctuary is enclosed with high electric fencing which serves to protect the apes from escaping into the wider conservancy where they would be unable to survive due to the abuse they have suffered and their inability to act as unharmed apes do and it all also protects the chimps from those living in nearby villages who would likely kill them if they came across them.

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One chimpanzee at the sanctuary was rescued from a cramped cage where it had been forced to stand upright on its hind legs for many hours. As they naturally walk on all fours this abusive treatment still caused the chimpanzee to stand upright at times and it was expected to take a number of years before the effects of the cruel treatment wore off and the chimp felt fully able to adopt more natural behaviour.

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The emphasis on education is strong at the sanctuary with skilled keepers taking visitors around the outside perimeter of the sanctuary to explain and show what they do to help and also to highlight the ill-treatment of the chimpanzees.

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The sanctuary is a member of PASA – Pan African Sanctuary Alliance – which consists of 18 sanctuaries covering 12 African countries who together care for over 800 orphaned and rescued chimpanzees.

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Chimpanzees are apes not monkeys. The two types of chimp – the ‘Common’ and the ‘Bonobo’ are genetically our closest living relatives sharing 98% of our genetic blueprint meaning that less than 2% of our DNA is different from that of the chimps.

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Their numbers are declining in the wild and they remain on the endangered species list. Apart from the mistreatment they are also susceptible to many of the same diseases as humans but they don’t have the resistance that humans have. Humans and Leopards are their two main predators and if they can avoid both they can live up to 40 years in the wild or 60 years in captivity.

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They are a powerful ape weighing up to 150 lbs and at around 5ft 8in fully grown they are six times stronger than humans. They are also intelligent and can and do use tools. They also laugh when playing games. Their diet consists of insects, eggs, honey, bark, leaves, fruit and meat.

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At the beginning of the 20th Century there was estimated to be between 1 and 2 million chimps on the planet – today there are less than 300,000.

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Images copyright Ian Forsyth

All rights reserved.

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