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.
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!
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.
One of India’s less attractive wildlife is the Indian boar. While these guys won’t be winning any beauty pageants, I found them quite cute in their own way. We were lucky enough to see several mothers with babies, and it was fun to see them cuddling and nursing.
These animals provided a good example of the results I’ve been able to get using the 50 megapixel Canon 5DSr for wildlife. While I bought the camera primarily for landscape work, I’ve found that for wildlife portraits (slow moving, non-action shots), nothing can beat its resolving power. I’m not going to print any of these shots wall sized (though I could!), but it is pretty amazing to be able to zoom in on the monitor to see the fine detail of the boar’s tiny hairs.
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.
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!
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!
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.
The endangered black rhino was long thought to be solitary and territorial, usually alone and resting most of the day in deep brush. On a recent trip to Namibia, I was hoping to see one of these rare creatures in the wild. With a worldwide wild population of only 5000, I wasn’t sure how easy it would be to see one. Not only did I get my wish, but what I saw was counter to every description I’ve read about these animals.
I was traveling with a group through Namibia, photographing both wildlife and the incredible landscapes of that country. We spent a couple of nights in Etosha National Park, a stop on every wildlife tourist’s “todo” list. Okaukuejo camp features a natural waterhole that is kept floodlit all night. This allows visitors to view the amazing variety of wildlife that frequents the waterhole only at night. Knowing that the black rhino makes itself scarce during the day, I was hoping for a nocturnal sighting.
I waited and waited long into the night, with nothing to show for my weariness. I had a tripod mounted Canon 100-400mm lens with a new 50 megapixel Canon 5DSr attached to the back. At about 3:00 in the morning, just as I was about to pack up my gear, the silent darkness was disturbed by an incredibly loud crunching sound. Suddenly, an impossibly large form emerged from the brush a mere 50 yards from my position. My heart leapt into my throat – it was a black rhino!
Even more surprising was the baby rhino that followed closely behind. I couldn’t believe my luck in seeing not one but two of these rare creatures. After drinking by the water’s edge, the mother walked into the water to bathe. Soon her timid baby followed, and they ventured into water up to their stomachs, drinking as they went.
As they emerged from the water, they looked like some kind of strange half-white, half-black creature, as the water and washed away all the dust from the surrounding landscape. After a few more minutes, they wandered back into the brush, content. I was certainly happy to have lucked out on my first night, but was hopeful to see them again the next night, now that I knew they were in the area.
The next night I didn’t have to wait long. Soon after sunset, two rhinos emerged from the brush. These were two full grown adults, and based on the lack of a baby, I figured that neither of these was the mother from the night before. After a quick drink, the two faced each other. Expecting some kind of fierce territorial battle, I was shocked to see them rub their faces against each other (see lead photo). Exchanging soft grunts (or at least as softly as a huge beast like this can grunt), they stood like this for several moments, touching horns and nuzzling each other. This certainly didn’t look like the solitary hermits I had read about before my trip!
As I was watching these two, the mother and baby from the night before came to the edge of the water. Finally, a fifth black rhino joined the party by the waterhole. At this point, I was expecting a confrontation of some sort, having seen protective wild animal mothers with their babies before. Surely one of these large adults would get too close to the baby and then the action would start!
Not only did none of that happen, but the five rhinos seemed almost sweet with each other. For the next half an hour, these nocturnal socialites drank and mingled, exchanging pleasantries (read: more grunting at each other). The baby was free to wander among the other rhinos. Before they left, I caught a quick video of them all together.
With my only experience consisting of two nights, I have no idea how rare or common it was to see this type of behavior. But rare or not, I was in awe of these amazing creatures and felt blessed to be given an opportunity to photograph them.