INSIGHTS

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Mara, Kenya, 2019

Toward the end of the day, a leopardess led her cub back to the tree where the prey from last night’s kill had been hauled up into the branches. The young cub took the opportunity to practice its hunting skills by ambushing mom with repeated “attacks” along the way. A leopard’s hunting technique is to get close to its target then make a brief and explosive charge.

Leopards are classified as vulnerable by the IUCN. The primary threat to the leopard is human activity brought about primarily by habitat fragmentation. The commercialized bushmeat trade has also caused a collapse of prey populations in many areas of Africa, resulting in more conflicts between leopard and humans as they seek other sources of food.

Organizations such as the African Wildlife Foundation assist with conservation efforts that work with communities living near leopards to substitute preventative measures to protect livestock from predation (and hence retaliation from the pastoral communities. GPS collars are used to study populations - density, dispersal patterns, interaction with communities, etc.

Leopards are at particular risk in this time of reduced tourism, as there are fewer dollars to employ local people and to fund conservation programs.  

Lesser Flamingos

Lake Bogoria, Kenya, 2018

This was one of those truly magical moments in nature, and I was lucky to be there with the right people and the right photographic gear. Lying on my stomach in the mud and flamingo poop at the shore of Lake Bogoria in Kenya, the flamingos moved in closer and closer to shore, feeling comfortable that my presence was no threat.  

The lesser flamingo's rose-pink and red colors come from pigments found in its food. Lesser flamingos have evolved to live in the super-alkaline lakes throughout Africa’s Great Rift Valley, which host immense blooms of microscopic blue-green algae (cyanobacteria). Special tough skin and scales on their legs prevent burns from this caustic water. With few other animals able to cope with such conditions there is minimal competition for food and this toxic wetland is home to massive flocks of flamingos. Like other lakes within the Rift Valley, Lake Bogoria has recently experienced increased water levels, making the environment less desirable for the lesser flamingos, as the alkalinity is reduced. The rising water levels may be attributable to geographical activities linked to the Rift Valley as well as above normal rains in the area.

Ma'ah, Queen of the Spirit Bears

Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia, 2019

I traveled to the Great Bear Rainforest several years ago in the hopes of seeing the elusive kermode or "spirit" bear, a rare subspecies of the American black bear. There are only a few hundred spirit bears in existence, and their white coloration is the result of a rare recessive gene. That first trip gave me a full understanding of the true meaning of a rainforest.  It poured the entire trip, so much that the end of season salmon run was washed back downriver and into the ocean.  With no salmon to feast on and an early crabapple season (the bears' other preferred food this time of year), there were no bears to be seen.

When I had a chance to travel to the GBR again in the fall of 2019 I knew I was taking my chances to see this rare bear, and my luck paid off.  Four out of the five days of viewing were filled with magical sightings of numerous spirit bears, including this very special bear known as Ma'ah.  She is probably 20 years old now, and was a late arrival to the river this season, feeding poorly and having lost muscle mass. By the time I saw her a few weeks later she was fishing well and holding her space on the river with younger black bears. She is a calm spirit and I could have spent days and days just watching her.  Fingers crossed she is back in 2020!

Sweetness

Wapusk National Park is not an easy place to get to, particularly in the middle of winter.  A flight to Churchill via Winnipeg, then a train ride south, then a journey in a tracked vehicle over snowy tundra to a small lodge. During a three week period in late winter/early spring these tiny polar bears emerge from their dens and move out onto the pack ice of Hudson Bay with their mom to search for ringed seals, a polar bear's favorite food. With daytime temperatures frequently dipping to -50 degrees, and aurora-filled nighttime skies, it is quite an adventure.  Days may go by with no sightings at all so when you do have a scene such as this to photograph, it is pure magic.



Eye of the Cheetah


It was February in the Serengeti, and great herds of wildebeest and zebra roamed the plains.  Rainstorms passed through creating dramatic skies, and lush plant growth. The guide spotted this female cheetah seemingly hunkered down amongst the vegetation. He believed she was ready to give birth any day. While cheetah cubs stay with their mom for about 18 months. Mortality is high with abut 70% of cubs succumbing to predators, particularly predators lions and hyenas.

The fastest land animals on earth, cheetahs are now endangered. Loss of habit, lack of prey to feed on, and their vulnerability to hunters and poachers has increased their risk of becoming extinct.  Numerous conservation organizations such as the Big Cats Initiative and the Big Cat Conservation Fund raise money for conservation programs.

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