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Wildlife photography in Masai Mara Kenya: bat eared fox and big wild cats star in a photo safari

Morning. My name is Federico Veronesi and I’m a wildlife photographer. It’s 5.30am and we’re in the Maasai Mara, around the Talek River where we’re starting our game drive to look for bat-eared foxes.

I always keep a lens and camera here ready. Anything can happen. These are beanbags, useful to photograph from the window. It’s the rainy season in the Maasai Mara. The river is almost flooding. The weather is not so good. First thing in the morning, I always look at the weather.

Ok, we’re all set to go – we just have to pack our breakfast and we’re off to search for whatever we can find. In particular this time I would be interested in looking at dens of bat-eared foxes. They’re very tiny foxes that live here in Kenya. But the Maasai Mara is particularly famous for its cats – its big cat populations of lions, leopards and cheetahs, along with the great migrations of wildebeests and zebras from the Serengeti to the Maasai Mara every year from July to October. So these are the main features of the Mara, but right now it’s January so it’s a bit early for the migration but the cats are all present in their home ranges. Most of them are territorial, so we look for them also.

We just have to close the tent and the lights.

We are entering Aruba Mara Camp. This is Steven from Aruba Camp. He has prepared our breakfast. He’s very happy to wake up at 4am every day to prepare breakfast! Now we’re ready to go.

I have been in Kenya for the last seven and a half years. I’ve come to Kenya because of my passion for African wildlife. Ever since I was a kid. So now we’re leaving the village of Talek on the banks of the Talek River in the Maasai Mara. It’s very early in the morning – it’s way before sunrise. We have to leave this early because the animals are mostly active in the early morning and the late afternoon and light conditions are much better at this time of day. Not today, because today it’s completely covered with clouds. Now here we have to wait for these cows. These are Maasai cows. It should not be allowed, but Kenya is coming out of a year of very heavy drought and the cows are very weak, so they’re allowing the Maasai people to bring their cows into the park at night to graze. This brings them into contact with lions of course, so there’s huge potential for human wildlife conflict, which is one of the main issues affecting wildlife these days in Kenya and Africa in general.

We’re now checking some foxes just up ahead. Foxes live out in the plains of Africa, and they feed on beetles and insects. I’m following a den with six tiny pups which is still some distance away from here, but I’ve seen some more foxes just ahead and I want to check the composition of this group.

These are the tracks you find in the Mara in the rainy season. It’s very easy to get stuck. Very, very easy.

We are heading in the direction of the den of the foxes that I’ve been following. We have the river to cross. We have to see how deep the water is. This is a den with six pups and five adults. Approximately 2 and 3 months old – there are pups of different ages.

This is the Olare Orok river. We’ll try very slowly to see if it’s possible to cross. If it’s not, we’ll pull back. If it gets too slippery, we’ll go back. There are hippos to our side.

These are the foxes we’ve been looking for. That’s the entrance to the den where the foxes are sleeping. They’re used to vehicles – they’re not fearful of them. So they’re very good to watch and photograph. We can see four adults around the den and the pups at the entrance of the den. They’re all sleeping. The big ears they have are what give them their name – bat-eared foxes. They have very big ears, which they use to hear noises made by insects and larvae under the ground so they can locate the exact point where their possible prey is and they excavate in that spot.

One of the main ingredients of wildlife photography is patience, because animals have very long periods of inactivity where they do nothing. You just have to wait and wait and wait until all of a sudden, something happens.

What I look for most in my photography is light in first place, and good interactions and interesting behaviour from the animals. Watching the animals and how they interact between themselves and other species, how they forage, how they feed, how they fight for territory. I try to photograph these situations. It’s what keeps me coming back to this place – the Maasai Mara – day after day after day. It’s also interesting because when you sit for a long time in one place with one particular animal, you start seeing a lot of things happening all around, other animals coming closer.

Foxes are primarily nocturnal animals but they’re also active sometimes in the early morning and the late afternoon.

It’s amazing to see how they’ve grown so much in the past month whilst I’ve been away from the Mara. The pups have grown so much. It looks like they’re starting to be a bit more active.

There’s so much going on.

Good images.

When I photograph one of the main elements to consider is light and the direction of the light, how the light hits the subjects, because that can change the appearance of an image completely. Here we have chosen a side light. The background is a bit further away from the animals, so it gives a more uniform background, instead of having a background which is dirty or confusing. It gives us a chance to see their behaviour really well, and there’s so much going on. There’s a pair grooming here, the pups are playing, some are foraging, chasing each other. It’s good to concentrate on a spot where the photography can be at its best.

There’s a big herd of buffalo walking towards our foxes here. The buffaloes are turning away. When I’m photographing one specific animal, I try to concentrate and stay with it all the time.

Most animals are very good at camouflaging. For example, leopards are so difficult to spot if they’re hiding in the grass or in the bushes. So for every leopard you see, I’m sure there are three or four that you have missed – you’ve passed close and you’ve missed. Let’s go and see what’s here – I’ve spotted a hyena. There’s something else just in front of the hyena that the hyena is looking at. There are some cats that are sleeping, I want to see what they are.

This is a group of lions. There are some females and some young males sleeping out in the open. It’s not a very hot day, it’s quite cold so they sleep out in the open normally. Lions sleep in groups called prides. They’re really the only social cat, generally cats are solitary. Lions are the only ones that live in families. They occupy a territory.

Ok so now it’s mid-morning, it’s time to eat something, so we’ll check that there are no leopards sleeping on this tree… We have pancakes, toast, pineapple, sausages, tea and coffee.

Those are two young male giraffes, and it looks like a dance of the necks. It’s actually a fight to establish the hierarchy between them. These are young males. They’re not very big giraffes. In order to drink, they have to spread their front legs to reach the ground. That makes them very vulnerable, so they’re always very skittish when they’re in that position, because they’re very nervous.

We’re heading to the airstrip because I’m picking up some guests who are coming for a safari. Besides being a photographer, I also accompany other photographers on safari in the Mara and in other parts of Kenya and Tanzania. I explain how I photograph the animals. I always try to position the vehicle in the best possible way for photography. So this is what the people come with me for.

This is my tent. This is where I’m based, my second home. This is my personal tent here in the Mara. As I spend most of my time in this tent, I made it a bit comfortable. This is a computer. I do my emails and picture editing here. My bed, of course, to sleep, and here I keep some food and other things, water to clean the tent, mosquito repellent… Over here we have the toilet, there’s a bucket shower and a toilet on the left. I take the water from a tank that is outside, it gets filled regularly. The shower comes from a bucket, so every night we put hot water up there. This tent is my home for approximately 6-8 months a year. The rest of the time, I have a house in Nairobi. I have a website – www.federicoveronesi.com It’s a place where you can find more information about my work, about my pictures, and the safaris that I can offer. So if you want to come to the Mara, experience wildlife photography in Africa, and spend a lot of time with the animals – as long as possible with the animals – with patience and all the time you need to take good photographs, if you want to learn more about wildlife photography and have some tips, this could be an opportunity. You can join me on a safari or you can view my pictures on the website. You’re most welcome to do so.


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