Asian Elephants

An asian elephant herd surrounds a tiny baby to protect it, Mudumalai National Park, India.

On my recent trip to Mudumalai National Park in India, I was lucky to encounter a herd of forest elephants. Asian elephants differ greatly from their African counterparts in that they are smaller, have much smaller ears, larger nails on their feet (for digging and foraging) and have two large forehead bulges.

Two asian elephants surround a tiny baby in order to protect it, Mudumalai National Park, India.

Asian elephants have been domesticated by humans for the last 5,000 years, used for transportation, to move heavy objects, and for beasts of war.

An asian elephant walks across a clearing in the forest, Mudumalai National Park, India.

In Asian elephants, only the males have pronounced tusks (commonly known as “tuskers”). When females do have tusks, they are very small and usually only visible when the mouth is open.

An asian elephant stands at the edge of a forest eating, Mudumalai National Park, India.

Unlike the elephants I saw in Africa earlier this year, which were in the open savanna, these forest elephants seemed to appear out of nowhere. Like giant ghosts, they emerged from the thick forest overgrowth and surprised us. I was very glad at this point not to be on foot. These elephants seem gentle enough from a distance, but getting up close and personal could be a very dangerous prospect!

An asian elephant with a juvenile stands at the edge of a forest, Mudumalai National Park, India.

Later in the evening after seeing the elephants, I was back at the forest camp in which I was staying. About 10:00 at night we starting hearing some loud cracking and snapping coming from the dark forest, very near to us. We soon realized it was an elephant snapping bamboo and crashing through the underbrush. After a few minutes of this, we saw a large flash in the trees. The lights of the camp flickered a few times and then went dead for good. It turns out a large bamboo tree fell against the power line coming into the camp.

About 15 minutes later, we heard people shouting, banging pots, and lighting off fire crackers in the distance. The rogue elephant had left our camp and was now approaching a nearby village. Eventually these sounds died off and the forest went back to sleep. With no power. And an upset elephant. In the dark.

Fun With Rhesus Macaques

A rhesus macaque carries her baby underneath her as she travels from place to place, Mudumalai National Park, India.

In some areas of India, Rhesus macaques are all over the place. In certain temples, palaces or other tourist attractions, these guys are more like city pigeons in their ubiquity. However, as someone not usually around wild monkeys, I take every opportunity to pick up my camera and capture some of the amazingly human-like expressions they display.

On a recent trip to southern India, I encountered some of these guys as I got closer to the forests of the Mudumalai Tiger Preserve. For several mothers and their babies, upside down and clinging on definitely seemed to be the transportation mode of choice.

A rhesus macaque carries her baby underneath her as she travels from place to place, Mudumalai National Park, India.

While monkeys can often be very cute as they go about their primate lives, it is important to keep your distance. They can be quite territorial and aggressive, and I certainly wouldn’t want to get into a fight with one!

A rhesus macaque bares its fangs in a show of dominance, Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India.

As we were leaving the city of Ooty, we spotted the guy in the photo above on the side of the road. He had gotten into a neighborly dispute with the fellow below. They were screaming at each other across the road, so I got up close views of each as they bared their fangs and made their intentions known. Sitting in the car and shooting out the window was about as close as I’d want to get!

A rhesus macaque bares its fangs in a show of dominance, Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India.

Not to give you nightmares of macaques, I’ll leave you with a cute shot of a little guy. He was minding his business atop a fence, watching all the goings-on with interest.

A juvenile rhesus macaque sits on a fence looking cute, Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India.

While my Indian friends often roll their eyes every time I take out a camera for monkeys, I am always fascinated with watching them go about their day. I’m not sure if I dig their dexterous use of tools or if I’m anthropomorphizing their facial expressions, but I’ll take their photo any day.

Cuddling Lion Brothers

Two lion brothers sleep side by side in the fading shade of a tree, Etosha National Park, Namibia

On my first evening in Etosha National Park (and third evening in Africa), my traveling companions and I came across two lion brothers snoozing away the afternoon in the shade of the only tree for miles. Although it was still early in the afternoon, we decided to hunker down and wait them out. We were somewhat close to a waterhole, and wanted to see if the lions would wander that way as dusk settled. While we waited, we were treated to many poses as the restless lions moved around.

Two lion brothers sleep side by side in the fading shade of a tree, Etosha National Park, Namibia

Armed with both my 100-400mm and 800mm lenses, I had plenty of options for focal length (especially given that I couldn’t get out of the vehicle and move around!) As the lions were more or less stationary, I was able to combine my 800mm lens with the fantastic 50 megapixel Canon 5DSr for maximum reach.

A lion stands in the shade of a small tree, escaping from the hot afternoon sun, Etosha National Park, Namibia

Based on the length of their manes, these lions were definitely young, and seemed to enjoy each other’s company. At time ticked by, their main reason for movement was to get up and walk a few feet when the shadow of the tree had moved sufficiently to no longer provide enough shade.

A lion stands in the shade of a small tree, escaping from the hot afternoon sun, Etosha National Park, Namibia

As often happens with wildlife photography, we waited patiently for something to happen. Although the lions lazed about with no intention of getting up to go to the waterhole, we were eventually presented with a beautiful sunset over the grasslands of Etosha. To capture the landscape, I used my 100-400mm lens zoomed out to 100mm.

Two lions sleep in the fading shade of a single tree as the sky lights up an sunset, Etosha National Park, Namibia.

After a few more minutes, it grew dark enough that wildlife photography at any great focal length became impossible. I packed up my gear in anticipation of a long, sleepless night at the floodlit Okaukuejo waterhole (photos coming soon!)

Gear I used to create the photos in this post:

Cheetah Conservation Fund

While they are being rehabilitated by the Cheetah Conservation Fund, cheetahs are regularly given exercise, as they are not actively hunting game.

Glancing a movement to its right, all the instincts of evolution sparked the cheetah into instant speed as it exploded after its prey. At an acceleration speed of zero to sixty miles per hour in only three seconds, the chase was immediately at full speed. The huge cat rounded a corner, sending clouds of dirt into the dry, African air, as it came directly toward me. Turning slightly once again, it thundered past, mere feet from me, shaking the ground with its massive paws.

While they are being rehabilitated by the Cheetah Conservation Fund, cheetahs are regularly given exercise, as they are not actively hunting game.
While they are being rehabilitated by the Cheetah Conservation Fund, cheetahs are regularly given exercise, as they are not actively hunting game.

It was my second morning in Namibia and I was at the Cheetah Conservation Fund, experiencing the thrill of cheetahs running no more than ten feet from me. Started in 1990, the CCF works to enhance the long-term survival of the cheetah and other key indigenous wildlife species on Namibian farmlands by developing a habitat improvement program that is both ecologically sound and economically viable. One of its conservation efforts involves fostering and rehabilitating cheetahs, some of which can be released back into the wild.

While they are being rehabilitated by the Cheetah Conservation Fund, cheetahs are regularly given exercise, as they are not actively hunting game.

In order to keep the cheetahs healthy, they exercise them by getting them to chase a piece of cloth on a wire. Once the cloth starts moving, the cheetah’s instincts take over and they race to catch the cloth. While their top speed is 70 miles per hour, they were probably reaching speeds of 30-40 miles per hour during this exercise. I was standing in the middle of one such exercise area, watching cheetahs race past – a thrilling experience.

As the fastest animal on earth, the cheetah is one of the few animals where all four feet come off the ground during its gait, Namibia, Africa.

As the fastest animal on earth, the cheetah is one of the few animals where all four feet come off the ground during its running gait. It is hard to appreciate this in person, but photographs can showcase this awesome feat.

A cheetah rests in the shade at the Cheetah Conservation Fund headquarters in Namibia. The CCF has as its mission to be the world’s resource charged with protecting the cheetahs and ultimately ensuring its future.

Another CCF conservation method that has saved many cheetah lives is their work with predator-friendly farming methods, such as the Livestock Guarding Dog Program. The CCF raises herding dogs from pups side by side with goats. This habituates the dogs to the goats and helps form a tight bond. The CCF then works with local farmers to use these dogs to herd their livestock, keeping the herd safe from the cheetah. This, along with education, helps reduce the number of cheetahs that are shot by ranchers each year.

A cheetah roams through open grass, Namibia, Africa.

Although I didn’t see these cheetahs out in the wild, it was a wonderful opportunity to get up close and personal with them. I got photographic opportunities for tight headshot portraits, as well as chances to photograph them running. I never would have had this kind of close proximity with free roaming cheetahs.