It is interesting how your perspective for photography changes with subsequent trips to a game park. Our first trip in 2017 to the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania was so overwhelming with all the animal life that our cameras never stopped shooting and we took over 6,000 photographs. In 2018, we took half that number and began to focus more on interesting situations. This lion cub entertained us for a long time.
There are many prides of lions scattered throughout the Serengeti. We were traveling in a more remote area of the park when we came across a very small pride. It was unusual in that there were two males (brothers) instead of one, just two females and only a single cub.
There are advantages to having two males as the head of the pride. If another male attempts to challenge the pride to become the dominant male then he would have to fight two males instead of one. Therefore, his chance of being successful would be severely reduced. However, according to our guide, only one male will mate with the females and the other brother is subordinate.
It is not uncommon for a new male or males, in this case, to kill cubs that they have not fathered. This causes the female to come back in heat and therefore he can mate with her. This female had only one cub. We assume that it was his offspring because why kill some cubs but leave one. Therefore, this female either had only one cub or some tragedy occurred that killed the other cubs if she had given birth to a few babies.
Having no brothers or sisters to play with meant that this little cub easily got bored and continuously harassed its mother. She was attempting to sleep but on numerous occasions when it would look to play with her she would growl at the pesky little cub. It would role in the grass, chew on sticks and feed. All this was very entertaining.
We arrived at this dry riverbed at just the right time to see this small herd of elephants. The rains were late and had not arrived in the Serengeti yet. After a few minutes, it became apparent why they were here. In the photo below you will notice a small hole in the sand about the width of their foot. Inside there is water.
We assume that the elephants have dug this hole themselves into the dry riverbed. The Serengeti can be a tough place to live in and animals must be innovative to survive. The adults will pass these skills onto the young calves.
Elephants have a wonderful group dynamic. They work collectively for the survival of the herd. As large as they are they are amazing coordinated and use their feet and trunks to perform tasks that you would think they would be incapable of. However, if you are a young calf, drinking all that water can be exhausting and sometimes you just need to get off your feet.
Fortunately, we were able to spend about 20 minutes with this herd before they had all drank from the water hole and began moving on. This group of seven consisted of 2 calves, juveniles (male and female) and adults. We never get tired of seeing and photographing elephants.
There is so much expression in the eyes of a primate and you have to wonder what is going through his mind. This male Olive baboon was beginning to tire and was looking to get some sleep. With us nearby he was unwilling to close his eyes. We assume as soon as we left he closed those expressive eyes and got some deserved sleep.
Of course, if you have recently been born into this wonderful world then you have little use for sleep and would rather explore this new and curious planet. Everything is new, exciting and interesting so why sleep? This young Olive baboon was fascinating to observe and proved to be very photogenic and interested in us. Mom, however, is never far away. She is allowing her baby to explore and learn about this new environment but within limits. Should this calm situation change then she will immediately intervene to protect her baby.
Of course, the male baboon is really in charge of the entire encounter. Here he is grooming the female and picking off insects and parasites. Just below his eye is a wound probably received from a fight with another male baboon. It is a tough job being a male baboon and protecting your status as the dominant male.
The purpose of our dive was to photograph Horn sharks and we got lucky on our second dive around Danzante Island in the Loreto Bay National Marine Park, Sea of Cortez, Mexico. Thank you to Juan Carlos Reyes Valerio our dive master for finding these rather reclusive sharks. Although we found 3 different horn sharks, 2 were deep in crevices and they were impossible to photograph. However, it only takes one and this shark was out in the open apparently waiting to be photographed. Horn sharks are not strong swimmers and this shark is trying to tuck as close to the rocks as possible.
This area has more than sharks and we saw 3 different species of ray, two that stayed still long enough for us to photograph. The ocellated electric ray or bullseye electric ray (Diplobatis ommata) can generate a moderate electric charge for self-defence. The bullseye or ocellus on the back is very distinctive and is where it derives its name. It is a small ray reaching about 10 inches (25cm) in length.
The second ray we were able to photograph was the spotted round ray also known as the Cortez round ray (Urobatis maculatus). They have short tails compared to many other rays and reach a length of about 17 inches (45cm). This ray didn’t stick around for very long before it headed to deeper water.
A surprise for us to come across was the banded guitarfish (Zapteryx exasperata). We were not aware that there were a guitarfish species in the Sea of Cortez. This fish can reach up to 4 feet (1.25m) and has both dorsal fins of nearly identical size. Unfortunately, it had its head facing away from us partly going into a crevice.
When compared to animals that we are familiar with in North America, it is safe to say that there are some unusual animals on the African continent. During our 4 day safari in the Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater we came across numerous examples of odd looking birds and animals including some downright ugly ones. It seems however, that every species, regardless of looks, always produce cute babies. Perhaps it is their size & shape, their looks or their playful nature that draw us to this conclusion. Just like the female leopard we saw whose small cub eventually made an appearance, so did two small hyena cubs eventually come out of the den. The pups are very dark and I may not have identified them as hyenas if I saw them without the mother as a reference. Very cute however!
Hyenas are scavengers and predators. They will often steal the prey from other hunters like cheetahs or come in after big predators like lions have had there fill and moved on. However, they are capable of killing larger prey such as wildebeest and antelope but will resort to eating insects. We came across this group that were getting away from the heat and flies by laying in the mud puddles created by the recent rain. They didn’t mind our vehicle but eventually decided to get up and move on. Notice one carrying the skull!
This last photo captures the more classic look of a hyena on the Serengeti with its typical grasslands and sparsely scattered trees. This is how we think of the African plains – vast & beautiful!
The wildebeest are famous for their epic migrations from the Maasai Mara in Kenya into the Serengeti in Tanzania. The migration had started while we were there and we saw 10,000 plus wildebeest at times: sometimes as far as the eye could see! There are an estimated 1.5 million that follow the rains with each migration and this produces new grass growth for food and a source of drinking water. However, other animals are part of this great migration including 200,000 zebra and 500,000 Thompson’s gazelle. The zebra and wildebeest are commonly found in mixed groups.
Wildebeest, also known as gnus, are interesting looking. They are a type of antelope but their body proportions seem odd compared to other antelope.
Zebras look like a horse with black and white stripes and each pattern is unique to that zebra similar to a fingerprint. Although the reason for the pattern is unknown most believe that in relates to camouflage against predators, helps with temperature control and repels insects.
This group of wildebeest interrupted their migration for a quick drink. They are a bit skittish during these times as they are vulnerable to lions when they put their heads down to drink. However, the need to drink outweighs their fear.
Many of the zebra had small foals with them. We noticed that many were still nursing from their mothers. The younger the foals, the more brown they have in their coats.
While driving we came across a cheetah mother and her single cub. Probably she had more cubs but as so often the case, cubs get killed by predators such as hyena, lions and leopards. Without siblings the mother has to interact more with her cub and of course the cub, who is wanting to always play, keeps jumping on the mom. We have 150-600mm telephoto lenses on our cameras so it makes the photos look like we are relatively close to them even though we are a long distance away from them. Because of the extreme distance the quality of the shots is not great but it was such a touching series that we decided to include them anyway. You can view our earlier cheetah post to see quality images of cheetahs. Enjoy this mother and cub interaction.
After a bit of play time and some tender moments the mother cheetah moves to a termite mound where she can look over the savannah to keep an eye out for danger.