Tag: David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

Cats, Cameras, and Caring Less

So it’s “BIG CAT” week at National Geographic. As much as I’d love to say “big deal’, I do hold a certain fascination for these creatures, and I respect those photographers and filmmakers who spend weeks and months with the big cats to fill a good hour episode. I watch with awe and envy. I know what goes into every frame, and what it takes to get the shot that tells the story.

My own experience with cats and cameras, however, is not so glamorous. I’ve spent some time on safari and have learned a great deal about these cats, and I can tell you this much –

Cats couldn’t care less about cameras. They couldn’t care less about people with cameras, too. It doesn’t matter if it’s a cat person with the camera, or a filmmaker, or an idiot. The cat couldn’t care less.

I have many friends who are cat people. They post silly pictures on facebook of their cat asleep in the sun or looking pissed off about something. When I go to their homes, I am overwhelmed with smell of cats. The cats, however, are nowhere to be seen, they couldn’t care less that I’ve arrived after a long absence. They couldn’t care less about a lot of things, and well, cats are just like that.

I’m not really a cat person in my every day life. When I come home from my travels, I actually like to know I’ve been missed. The pets I own physically rush to the door, wag their tails like helicopters, and smother me with affection. They’re called dogs. There is no doubt in my mind how they feel about me. They care.

I can appreciate cats, however, especially if they are really big and live in the wild. When I observe cats in the wild through the lens of my camera, even the smell doesn’t bother me. I watch long enough, and soon find myself reading their every thought (click). I get into their minds (click), and really connect in ways that I never experience with other people’s kitty cats (click, click, click). And you know what I’ve learned? Cats couldn’t care less. (delete, delete, delete).

Cats love to torment (click). Cats love to play games (click, click). Exactly what they gain from these games is nothing more than the satisfaction of having proven that they care not about anyone or anything other than themselves (delete). They certainly don’t care if I’ve got the right lens on (delete), or need to change the battery (delete), or only have 3 frames left on the memory card (delete all? press OK to confirm).

Hang on, cats. I’m not going to let you off that easy. I can still get in your mind through my lens, remember? My camera is able to freeze a split second of your life, and even though in every frame your “I couldn’t care less” subtext remains clear and consistent, there can be more to the story, and more to reading your thoughts, too. Well, at least this much more: “it’s all about me.”

Case and point: During a recent safari in the Maasai Mara, we happened upon a pair of lions laying in the grass. While the male was lost in his “all about me” thoughts, the female quite clearly “couldn’t care less” about the male; she had something else on her mind.

With absolutely no concern for the fact that I still had a telephoto lens stuck to my camera, the lioness came right to the tree which stood literally within arm’s reach of our vehicle.  She could care less about the vehicle being there, and she could care even less that I was fumbling for a different lens in anticipation of what she might do next.  Nope, she showed no consideration whatsoever, it was “all about her”, and up the tree she leapt.


Tree Climbing Lion – Sequence by Kymri Wilt

Turns out this was more than just a display to express how much she didn’t care about my getting the shot with the right lens. At least, up in the tree, she was again distant enough that I could fit the cat entirely in the frame. She made quite a show of finding just the right spot to settle.

“now what….”

Remember what I mentioned earlier? That bit about cats loving to torment and play games? Turns out that is exactly what she was up to. I mean, why else would she bother fighting gravity to get herself up in that tree?

“oh good, this’ll show him….”
“I don’t care that it’s extremely uncomfortable…I look good”

Well yes, lioness, of course you look good…you’re in a tree and surrounded by wildlife paparazzi! But I have news for you, dear cat. As far as my camera is concerned….it’s not “all about you”.
Cue the male.

“WTF???!!!”
“That B*#@%!!!!”

The photos tell the story. Cats couldn’t care less. Cats love to torment. Cats live in an “all about me” world. But maybe, just maybe, they might actually care that there’s a camera around.

“Are you looking at moi??”

CAUGHT!

More about cats:

Killer Cats of Kwandwe

Tharu, Rice, Tigers, Grass

African Wildlife Photo Gallery

Dedicated to the memory of Sacha, a cat who exemplified the essence of caring less. 

For the Love of Elephants – Sheldricks and Amboseli

“It is easy to love elephants….because they will love you back”
– Caretaker, Sheldrick’s Elephant Trust

The anticipation was growing, and by the time we pulled up the dirt road at Sheldrick’s we could hardly contain ourselves. The day had come, the moment was near – we were all about to meet our adopted baby elephants face to face!

Two days before I left home to lead this very special Travcoa’s 2011 President’s Journey: Grand Safari to Kenya & Tanzania, my September 2011 issue of National Geographic arrived in the mail, featuring an entire article on the very elephants we were about to meet, titled Orphans No More. The baby elephant featured on the lead page was in fact Travcoa’s own adopted elephant, Shukuru!

We gathered round the feeding stations where caretakers held big full bottles.  Then, the first group of baby elephants came happily down the path toward us.

It all happened so fast – these were the youngest bunch, still learning their way, and the next thing we knew there was milk everywhere as the babies eagerly emptied the bottles fumbling and slurping for every last drop.

Then, they were escorted out as quickly as they came.

But wait! The next group was not far behind, and these babies had been around longer and had somewhat better manners as more of us got to hold bottles and meet our own adopted elephants.

Then these adorable kids were allowed “playtime” to wallow in the mud for a bit while we watched and took pictures and oooh’ed and awwww’d.  They were simply so darn cute we just wanted to bring them all home with us.  I somehow I managed to keep myself from running in to the mud to play with them….that probably would not have been so great for my camera, which I was using to make possibly the cutest elephant video ever:

Wait, there’s one more baby elephant bow….
 

They are a tough act to follow, for sure.  The good news is, you don’t have to travel all the way to Africa to foster an orphaned elephant! You can read all about the elephants and select your own online here, at David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Orphan Project.

But should you already be in Kenya,  then there’s no better place to learn more about elephants in the wild than Amboseli National Park, and a visit to the Cynthia Moss Research Station (Amboseli Trust for Elephants).  If we could have stayed all week, we’d never have tired of hearing stories from Field Researcher Vicki Fishlock, who hosted us and enthralled us with her knowledge and enthusiasm.

Of course, there is no shortage of opportunity in Amboseli to observe elephants in the wild, and sometimes the encounters are quite close!

Whether up close or from a distance, spending some time watching a matriarch and her family is a real treat, especially when there is a very young one at her side.

I think I could go back to Africa again and again and again and never tire of watching elephants. But for as much wonder and heartfelt joy that I get watching elephants in the wild, nothing will ever compare to the few precious moments experienced with the orphaned elephants at David Sheldricks. That was truly one of the greatest highlights of my life. And guess what….I’m already planning a return in 2012.

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