African wildlife is iconic. The wildlife photos on this website are part of an ongoing project to capture intimate portraits of African wild animals and their natural environments. I took these photos mostly in Uganda, Namibia and Tanzania. Wildlife in Africa is under threat, and many of the animals represented here are vulnerable. This is largely due to poaching and loss of habitat and human-wildlife conflict. Wildlife photography should contribute to an awareness of what we risk losing.
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Lions are social animals. They live in prides of about 15 animals, consisting of related females with their young and a few males that originate outside the pride. Female lions stay in the pride as they grow up. They share the care of the young, suckling each other’s cubs. Young males eventually leave to establish their own prides. These bachelor males form coalitions and attempt to take over prides headed by other, older males. If they manage to take over a pride they often kill all the cubs and then mate with the females, so their genes prevail in the pride. Males defend the pride’s territory, while females do most of the hunting. Due to habitat loss lions are considered a threatened species.
GORILLAS & CHIMPS
Mountain gorillas are the world’s largest primate. Wild mountain gorillas currently only live in four national parks: Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, and Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Only about 1,000 remain in the wild. Political instability, deforestation and expanding human populations are the biggest threats. As people encroach on the gorillas’ territory, human-wildlife conflict increases. Also, human diseases such as influenza also pose a serious threat. See the African Wildlife Foundation website for more. In Uganda Conservation for Public Health is an NGO that uniquely combines gorilla conservation with health promotion for both gorillas and humans.
Rhinos are probably the most vulnerable of all iconic African wild animals, mainly due to poaching. Rhino horn is in high demand as an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine and as a trophy, and as a result it is more expensive per gram than gold. Save the Rhino estimates that there were 500,000 rhinos across Africa and Asia at the beginning of the 20th century. Today, there are only 29,000 rhinos left in the wild. There are five species of rhino, two of which live in Africa: black rhino and white rhino.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species records black rhino as critically endangered (the highest risk category), with only about 5,000 remaining. There are two sub-species of white rhino. There are currently about 20,000 southern white rhino, mostly in South Africa. Only two northern white rhino remain, both female. They are in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. When they die, the northern white rhino will be extinct.
LEOPARDS & CHEETAHS
Leopards are secretive and elusive. Perhaps as a result of this they have the largest distribution of all large wild cats. Leopards live in a wide range of habitats in sub-Saharan Africa, parts of western and central Asia, the Indian subcontinent and southeast and east Asia. They spend much of their time in trees. They often store their kill up in the branches where they can feed in safety, away from lions and hyenas that steal their prey. The International Union for Conservation of Nature considers them vulnerable because of habitat loss and fragmentation. Human-leopard conflict is also a real risk because leopards prey on livestock.
Giraffes are unique among African wild animals because they are the tallest land mammals. They reach between 4.5 and 5.5 meters in height, and they have long prehensile tongues that can reach 45cm in length. Giraffes have very large hearts to pump blood up their long necks to their heads. And they have specially adapted heart valves and blood vessels to prevent them fainting due to a buildup of blood pressure when they suddenly raise or lower their heads. Like elephants, giraffes have adapted to a wide range of habitats. They live in the deserts, woodlands and savannas of sub-Saharan Africa. Giraffes also make great subjects for animal portrait photography because of their often quizzical or sensitive expressions.
Of all the African wildlife, elephants are the most majestic. In sub-Saharan Africa elephants range from the wetlands of the Okavango delta in Botswana and the forests of Uganda, to the savanna of the Serengeti plain in Tanzania and the deserts of Namibia. They live in complex social groups consisting of females, adolescents and calves. The oldest and most experienced female (the matriarch) leads the herd. Males leave the herd on reaching maturity and tend to be solitary. Adult bulls interact with the herd when looking for a mate. Elephants are highly intelligent and communicate by smell, touch, sight, and sound. They show self-awareness and empathy for other elephants. African elephants are threatened because of poaching for ivory, habitat loss and conflict with local communities.
There are 2341 bird species in Africa. They vary from large ostriches to small bee-eaters, and from colourful hornbills to ugly marabou storks. With patience and a decent telephoto lens you can take some great photos of birds. But of all the wildlife in Africa, I find birds the most difficult to photograph, because they are either in flight or tend to take off before you have a chance to adjust your camera settings.
AFRICAN WILDLIFE IN PAIRS
Browsing through my photos of African wild animals, I noticed that there seemed to be a lot with pairs of hartebeest. As though they tended to hang out in twos. Once I became aware of this, I started noticing other pairs of animals. Two animals together seems to have a visual effect that you don’t get with a single animal. This is especially the case when they adopt the same posture or when one mirrors the posture of the other.