One of the most extraordinary experiences of my life was spending time with the mountain Gorillas in Uganda and Rwanda. The entire process of starting early in the morning, hiking to their habitat in the mountains, fighting our way through the dense vegetation, and then being with these serene animals was amazing. I can’t adequately describe the feeling of catching our first glimpse of the gorillas and then sitting feet away from them as they went about their daily routine. There was something just incredibly peaceful about them and a feeling that we were sharing the morning with a friend or relative – at their place. It was at once both quiet and exhilarating – a moment of a lifetime. Pure.
I don’t think that humans or even dogs are the only animals that can express themselves. We’ve seen virtually every animal we’ve visited on our trips into the wild do exactly that. Some are looks that mimic human behavior and are therefore very popular and often published. Probably less recognized but just as valid are looks and behaviors that capture the true “nature of the beast”. I took this photo of an African Buffalo in Uganda last year – you can see why they are affectionately known at “mud boys” as they go about their business and “express themselves.”
I haven’t posted many wildlife photos lately so I’ll use this opportunity to highlight an animal that depends on its endurance to thrive – the African Hyena. Hyenas are not the fastest, strongest, or stealthiest predator out there – but they are one of the most successful. During our trip to Africa this winter, we got to watch these under-rated hunters in action on several occasions.
The first Hyena we saw was in Uganda – it walked right by our vehicle in the early morning and was not at all concerned with our presence. We then watched it and several of its friends try to corner a group of Kob. This photo shows one of the Hyenas in hot pursuit of the herd. While we did not witness the end game of this encounter it was obvious that the Hyenas were just wearing down the Antelopes until they could get a shot at a weak one.
When we got to Tanzania, we saw an entirely different tactic, a single Hyena going after a small family group of gazelles. It locked in on one of the babies, and despite the best efforts of the parents to protect it, just waited until the young one tired out and finally made its kill.
I’ll spare you the graphic final moment of the encounter – you get the point.
I’ll end with one last interesting Hyena photo. On our last morning in Tanzania, a group of six Hyena surrounded our vehicle and wouldn’t leave – they circled the car and examined us all very closely. I took this photo out of our top hatch so that you can see how close they were and the attention they were giving us.
When we finally drove off – they ran after the truck for quite some time…..not sure what we would have done if they followed us to the airport…..
A quick post to say that we’re on our way overseas again – this time to Europe and a river cruise on the Rhine/Main and Danube Rivers. It’ll be a day or two before we get connectivity again so I figured I’d post this photo to signify we are getting ready for takeoff as this is published. Before you ask, this is a composite photo made up of the sunrise over the field/mist and an inflight photo of a Great Blue Turaco. I took both photos in Uganda about two days apart. I thought I’d combine them to get an interesting subject on a spectacular background. Hope you enjoy and forgive the photo manipulation on my part……. I’ll post again soon from Germany.
One of our primary motivations for going to Africa this time was to go see the mountain gorillas. Our friend and companion Mike has had this on “his bucket list” for a long time so he did most of the research and planning for this part of the trip – and a great job he did! After leaving the lions in Queen Elizabeth park, we took a long and very bumpy drive south to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and National Park. The next morning we headed to the park to get our pre-trek briefing and arrange for our porters (to carry our day packs, lunch and also to help to get us past any “hard spots” on the hike – a great investment for $15/porter). We and our other 4 trekkers were assigned to the Mubare group and we immediately began our hike up the mountain. Mountain gorillas are only found in two populations–one in Rwanda and the Congo, and the other in Bwindi. Total population between these areas is estimated at about 900 gorillas – the good news being that the tourist business has essentially stopped the gorilla poaching. We had heard that the Uganda treks were more difficult than the hikes in Rwanda but, although there were some steep climbs, the trails were good and not muddy as there hadn’t been any rain for a few days. We crested the mountain after about an hour and half and reached the gorillas at about 2 hours. We dropped our excess gear, walking sticks and packs and proceeded through very dense bushes and vines to the gorillas who were about 75 hards away (we could see their movement through the bushes but couldn’t immediately see them). A tracker with a Machete led the group in, clearing a path as he went. We could tell we were close but were surprised when, with one last swing of the machete – there was the Silverback gorilla – right in the middle of an “amorous engagement” with one of the females. After a short time, they split apart and we began to watch other members of the group. Mike and I followed the silverback to a cave-shaped thicket where I tried to take some photos – unfortunately, there were a large number of flies in front of the gorilla and I couldn’t get a good focused shot. As I was trying to get a better position, the silverback came straight towards us and this was what I saw in my viewfinder……!!
What a thrill! He walked right past me – lightly brushing my pants as he went by – a great beginning to our hour with the gorillas! We had lots of opportunities to get close (much closer than the 7 meter zone that our guides had briefed us on) and watch the gorillas eat, nap, and interact with each other. They pretty much ignored us other than the curious glances that we often got as we stumbled around through the underbrush.
After our hour passed (all too quickly), we started back to our staging point where we left our gear and porters. I thought I’d include this photo of one of our guides to show how dense the forest was where the gorillas actually hang out….
After the trek and a nice shower, we settled in for a wonderful dinner on the veranda of the Mahogany Springs Lodge (wonderful lodge and incredible staff) and enjoyed the beautiful evening view of the gigantic mahogany tree just in front of the lodge…..
On the way through the southern part of the Queen Elizabeth Park, our itinerary had advertised a chance to see rare, tree climbing, lions. Now you could think, lions are cats – of course they can climb trees! That seems perfectly logical until you realize that lions can weigh up to 500 + pounds and they have to haul all that up a vertical surface. So anyway, while lions CAN climb trees, they are not normally found there. We had driven through the majority of the southern area of the park and it was a very quiet day for any kind of animal so we all began to think this was “hype” for this transit part of our trip but that we were unlikely to see any lions looking down at us. We had, in fact, called the restaurant where we were to have lunch and placed our orders for 20 minutes later. Just then our guide received a phone call from another guide and off we drove (at high speed) to get to the lion tree before they woke up and came down. When we arrived there were actually 5 lions in a large fig tree – all in various stages of their nap cycle. Some were awake and keeping an eye out.
Some were snoozing.
Some were yawning (and looking very fierce in the process)
And some were just hanging out…
We just counted ourselves as very lucky to have been able to spend some of their nap time with them before we left for our lunch. I should mention that no one knows why these lions climb trees while most other lions don’t. The theories range from trying to stay cool in the heat to getting a high and safe spot to be able to spot their prey – sounds like we should get a grant to go back and study this for a few months…… 🙂 Just one last shot to show the tree that they were in. We didn’t get a shot of all 5 but this photo that my friend Mike took caught three of them.
Just another rotten day on the east african safari trail…… 🙂
Just a quick post today. On the way from Queen Elizabeth National Park to our Gorilla adventures we passed by a herd of elephants feeding in the forest. One was intent on getting his food from the highest places he could reach. I thought it made an interesting picture with his trunk kind of blending in with the tree trunks……
The day after the lion incident we again left our beautiful bungalow at the Kyambura game lodge where we were staying and got an early start in the Queen Elizabeth park.
We checked where the lions were the night before but no one was home. We did however, notice many kob getting agitated and running from something. Looking closer, we spotted numerous Hyena at the edges of the kob herd. We watched for quite a while as the hyena kept running with the herd in an attempt to wear down some of the younger, weaker animals. This first photo shows one of the hyena closing in on the herd.
We saw many other animals that morning but we also had our first extended encounter with a lion. As we were driving we spotted a single lion sitting up in a field at the top of a hill. Within a minute or two we saw another lion in the same place but the original cat started toward the road we were on. We positioned ourselves to get a good view as she passed by and then retired in the shadows of a nearby thicket.
As we were exiting the park from the morning drive, we also ran across two herds of elephants so Katherine was once again very happy.
In the afternoon we took a cruise on the Kazinga channel where there were Hippopotamus, Cape Buffalo, Elephants, and innumerable species of african birds. It was a great afternoon with new sights around every turn on the channel.
On our third day in Uganda, we proceeded to Queen Elizabeth National Park to continue our safari. We entered the park in the late afternoon and began to see many of the iconic animals of the African plains. Mike and Katherine (our friends, neighbors and traveling companions) had never seen many of these animals in the wild so it was wonderful to share their introduction to the safari experience.
In particular, Katherine has a special affection for elephants so it was wonderful to be able to share her reaction to seeing our first elephant of the trip. As African elephant sightings go, this one was not noteworthy – it was a single male and quite distant from the road we were on. That being said, Katherine was ecstatic and her enthusiasm excited us all. I thought I’d share a photo of that first elephant here so that maybe you can imagine seeing this majestic animal walking free for the first time.
We continued through the park enjoying the lovely afternoon/evening until we came upon a few safari vehicles stopped by the side of the road. We were told that there was a pride of lions about 100 yards off the road relaxing in the high grass. We could actually see a tail of one of the lions as it wagged above the grass. After waiting a while for the lions to stir, we continued on our way but returned a short while later to see if the lions would start their evening prowls. We watched patiently with numerous other safari vehicles for over an hour as the sun started going down but there was no movement. Then, all of a sudden, one of the vehicles decided to drive off the road and proceed directly at the lions who, of course, were roused from their sleep. To our astonishment, the vehicle then began to actually chase the lions around, rampaging through the grass at about 20 mph and circling to pursue the lions as they tried to avoid being run over.
After about 5 minutes the vehicle finally returned to the road and rejoined the other observers. As I said, we (and our guide) were incredulous at this behavior and we began to discuss what we could do to try and prevent this type of issue for the future. We finally decided to talk to the Uganda Wildlife Authority at one of the park entrances. They were very interested in the report (and my photos of the event) and they took down my contact information. A few days later I received a very nice email from the senior UWA officer informing us that the driver had been fined and that the incident would be used to deter other guides from harassing the animals. We were extremely impressed that the park officials had taken quick action and that they had taken the trouble to let us know that they took this situation seriously.
As dusk fell, we continued to hope to get a glimpse of the pride beginning their evening hunt but they may have been spooked by the encounter and never appeared. We were a little disappointed but we were treated to this scene as we departed – not a bad way to end a nice day……
I have lots of brand new photos to choose from so I did a quick scan and found a couple that fit the challenge. Both of these photos feature the pairings of a large animal with a small one – in both of these cases a bird. The first is obviously a Zebra but with a starling visitor on his back. These starlings are almost irridescent blue/black with bright yellow eyes – presenting a contrast even with the most contrasting of animals – the Zebra.
The second photo positions one of the smallest and quickest birds in Africa, the Pied Kingfisher with one of the largest and slowest mammals on the planet, the African Elephant. I was focused on the Kingfisher and was happy that I was able to also capture the Elephant as part of the background for the shot…..
The first photo was taken in the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania and the second was taken from a boat in the Kazinga Channel in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda