Lions of the Lakeshore - #1

After a year of planning, filming has finally begun on Lions of the Lakeshore.

Two days ago we arrived at Changa Safari Camp in Matusadona National Park in northern Zimbabwe, which we will call home for the next 9 months.  We will begin by getting the lay of the land and tracking the lions.  The next few days will be spent preparing the filming vehicle, building the camera, testing all the gear and doing initial surveys to get an overview of which areas to begin focusing on.  

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Dunes of the Namib Desert

One of the beautiful things about the drive from Namibia's capital Windhoek to Sesriem, was I knew what the landscape was going to look like when I got there. Knowing that these great towers of sand awaited me, the drive now had a sense of longing and pursuit.   I could see the terrain transform from rocky hills, to open farmland, and eventually to desert and dunes. 

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The dunes of Namibia are apart of the Namib Desert, which runs longitudinally up the Atlantic coast. The desert stretches over 2000km of Namibia's coast, crossing into parts of southern Angola and northern South Africa, covering a total of 81,000 square kilometres. The Namib-Naukluft National Park lies within the desert protecting the area's pristine landscapes and enigmatic wildlife. 

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The main access point into this National Park is through Sesriem gate.  This section of the park offers spectacular views of some of the largest sand dunes in the world.  There is a single road that runs through the park for 60km, with lighter yellow sand dunes on the left and darker orange/red dunes on the right. 

I was only able to stay for 3 days, but made the most of my time.  Guests are allowed into the park 1 hour before sunrise, which gives you a chance to be amongst the dunes as the sun comes up.  So each day, I waited at the entrance at around 5:10am, for a sleepy guard to come over and unlock the gate. Around 6:10am the sun would slowly pierce the horizon sending shades of orange cascading down the dunes quickly engulfing the night times shadows. 

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Sesriem Canyon

After picking up the rental truck in Namibia's capital Windhoek, I proceeded south-west, to Sesriem.  This would be the furthest point south I would visit on this trip. It was also a place that I had researched tremendously online and basically drooled over thanks to Google images. This was the land of the red sand dune, at the heart of the Namib Desert.  This place was a landscape photographers paradise, it had it all: huge salt pans, endless rolling sand dunes, a beautiful winding canyon, and some spectacular wildlife.  

First stop -  Sesriem Canyon

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When I checked into the park, I asked about Sesriem Canyon that I had heard about briefly before. I asked how deep the canyon was but no one seemed to know - more on that later.  From the car, it is a short walk down into the canyon. Being on the canyon floor is something quite special, as it was clear that water not only once flowed through here as the Tsauchab river, but was the reason for its existence.

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The light slowly moving across the canyon over several hours. 

The light slowly moving across the canyon over several hours. 

I walked through the canyon looking at the various highlights and shadows that formed along the walls and eventually found a nice spot to setup.  I began a 6 hour time-lapse and sat myself on the comfiest rock I could find. Visitors slowly trickled in, saying hi, and continuing through the canyon. One couple stopped and enquired what I was doing.  We began talking about the canyon and the gentlemen began to talk about its history.  Still wondering how deep the canyon was, he informed me about the name Sesriem itself.  Years ago, when people wanted to fetch water from the canyon floor they used Oryx tail braided end to end, attached to a bucket.  Each rope was approximately 5 metres long and it turns out it took 6 ropes strung end to end to reach the bottom. So 'Six Rope' canyon translates to Sesriem.

*This 6 hour time-lapse will be featured in the "Namib Grand" trailer in a few weeks.  

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NAMIB GRAND - Follow up

Have you ever felt connected to something that you've never touched, or fallen in love with a place you've never been to? Years ago I saw a friends photos online, which began a distant love affair.  I could barely locate this country on the map, and somehow I was so drawn to its vast emptiness. Two years ago I finally stepped foot into that country, but only for a brief two days spent primarily at a hotel far removed from the true beauty that exists throughout.  Since my initial trip I have had a longing to return to this land and explore it further - so in April this year I did just that spending 20 unforgettable days in Namibia.

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Namibia is a truly special place, home to unique cultures, landscapes and wildlife.

- the Kalahari Desert

- the Namib Desert

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- the San people of southern Africa (believed to be 1 or 14 ancestral groups from which modern man descended)

- Worlds largest underground lake (non-glacial)

- One of the least desenly populated countries, averaging 2.9 people/square km

- Fish River Canyon (2nd biggest canyon in the world)

- 100,000 Cape Fur Seals at Cape Cross

With a 20 day itinerary, I had to balance both distance and the various features I wanted to visit.  I rented a 4x4 truck with an enlarged fuel tank which enabled me to drive further into void, without the need to refuel.  The truck came equipped with a built in tent, cooking supplies, water tank, so I could be fully self-sufficient wherever I ended up.  

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I will be posting on each area that I visited. Here is an updated map of where I travelled, diverging slightly from my initial planned route. Stay tuned.

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The Lower Zambezi

Since I arrived back in Africa on January 18th, I have spent the majority of my time working from a desk.  Not my ideal office.  This was primarily because the project I was working on involved a lot of video editing. But that project is nearly done, which is great because I am now going to spend more of my time out in the bush, photographing and filming nature and wildlife, something I truly love!!! (and also because who doesn't love completing a project!)

The past week I was able to get away to a lodge in the Lower Zambezi (see map).  This is a beautiful part of Africa, along the Zambezi river dividing southern Zambia and northern Zimbabwe.  The landscape on the Zambian side is extremely dense, particularly this time of year, with consistent rains nourishing the various plant life. 

Half my time was spent photographing the lodge and its accommodations, and the other half photographing the wildlife.  Although I am not an architectural photographer by trade, this was a treat as each one of the fifteen suites offered breathtaking views, amenities and welcoming feel, making it a pleasure to shoot. 

The lodge itself is located just outside the Lower Zambezi National Park, in the Game Management Area. Both are fully wild, the main difference being that there are small communities living in the GMA whereas no human settlements are permitted in a NP. 

Game drives and other wildlife viewing is permitted in the NP, but access is more difficult this time of year as the channel that divides the two is too high for a vehicle to cross (should be accessible in a few months).  

Our game viewing by truck was restricted to the GMA. Not a problem at all.  This area is home to lions, leopards, hyena, wild dog, zebra, kudu, impala, waterbuck, elephant, buffalo just to name a few.  

I was fortunate enough to see a pride of 5 lions, herds of elephant including what looked like 2x 6 month old calves, waterbuck, impala, crocodiles, hippos and numerous bird species.  Other guests saw a leopard but I was not out on that drive unfortunately. 

One of the highlights was an aerial survey.  A few kilometres from the lodge is a organization called Conservation Lower Zambezi.  They are involved in lots of conservation projects including wildlife education, elephant mitigation techniques (such as planting of chilli plants) and anti-poaching.  One of the ways to combat poaching is by doing aerial patrols to look for carcasses of animals already poached, ash from fires or small campsites where poachers may have setup, etc.  We flew in a small Cessna, with the doors removed and quite low to the ground to be able to spot individual game.  It allowed me to begin to appreciate the expanse of the Game Management Area and the National Park, and how lush and dense the forest becomes during these months, creating a velvety green carpet that slopes into the hills. 

This week has given me a glimpse into another one of Africa's gems, and now that reoccurring and increasingly familiar crossroads stands in front of me: return and explore the same area a little further, or begin a new set of tracks into the unknown? Lets try both!

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Happy Birthday AT1

I recently attended a birthday party for a 2 year old.  She had no idea it was her birthday. A bit strange.  Nor did her mother or father. Very strange.

It was just typical day for her, eating, sleeping, playing…however it was anything but typical for many close to her. 

Her name is Wakanaka, and she is a young lion. In fact, a young lioness. 

She is the first born into a semi-wild environment, as the offspring of captive bred parents.  In the wild, the first years of a lions life is very difficult.   Young cubs are at risk from numerous environmental stressors, such as predation, competition with older cubs and lack of resources. 

At 2 years old, now deemed sub-adult, these young lions slowly assert their position within the pride.  By giving these lions a large, secure area to hunt, breed and most importantly bond, they can develop away from the ever-growing threats that continue to impose on the wild areas of Africa.  

This group of 12 lions are called the Ngamo pride, named after the area in Zimbabwe where they are situated. 

Included in this pride of 12 are 4 other cubs like Wakanaka, born wild within the Ngamo release site and raised under the care and guidance of their captive born and raised parents. These cubs, like wild lions, know nothing of man and display all those human avoidance behaviours exhibited by wild lions when confronted by people.

In a few years, the pride will be released, into a much larger site (National Park, Conservation Area, etc), to help increase and improve the viability of those few remaining lion populations in Africa. 

I had the privilege of filming this pride in the summer and fall of 2012, for a 6 part series called "Roaring with Pride" that will be aired in a few months on Animal Planet.  Over the past few days I went back to Antelope Park, to visit Ngamo pride, and was amazed to see their progress in just a few months.

 

Wakanaka - born January 20, 2011

Wakanaka - born January 20, 2011