Posts Tagged ‘wildlife photography’

BLACK LEOPARD BLUES

Tuesday, December 30, 2014 posted by Bruce 7:53 PM

My Nikon 400mm ƒ2.8 bread and butter lens fails when a black cat shows-up at a hot spring deep in the ‘Western Forest Complex’ of Thailand.

Black leopard in Huai Kha Khaeng

My ‘black leopard’ 16 years ago posing for the camera…!

For more than 10 years, I have used my trusty Nikon 400mm ƒ2.8 ‘Silent Wave’ lens for 90% of my ‘through the lens’ photographic work capturing many wild animals in Thailand and Africa. It has been a workhorse and the photos it produces are my best. This big telephoto lens is very heavy but is amazingly sharp and handles low-light photography extremely well.

I had no idea it was on the blink until I actually looked through the eyepiece on my camera as a ‘black leopard’ walked into the hot springs one afternoon recently. The lens would not focus and I struggled to get it going. I flipped switches and even changed out my Nikon D3s for my D300s to see if that would work. It was a hopeless feeling not being able to catch this beautiful melanistic cat going about its business in nature.

Black leopard in the afternoon sun

Walking into the hot springs in the afternoon showing its spots…!

In the meantime, my friend Sarawut Sawkhamkhet in the blind with me was busily clicking away as the black leopard moved about the hot spring taking in minerals. I became frustrated and sat there for a while before I rushed back to my truck (some 500 meters away) where my spare 200-400mm ƒ4 VRII lens was sitting. By the time I got back, the feline had melted back into the forest to further ruin my day.

Black leopard at Kabook Kabieng hot springs in Huai Kha Khaeng

A female black leopard leaving the hot springs in late 2013…!

Some 16 years ago, I was at this very same location but a little higher up in a tree-blind. This mineral deposit is visited by many predators and prey species alike and is one of the top wildlife photography locations in western Thailand. Large herbivores like gaur, banteng, elephant, sambar, wild pig and barking deer come here, and the big cats including tigers and leopards also come looking for something to eat and drink.

Black leopard at Kabook Kabieng hot springs

Probably the same  leopard as above but camera trapped on a trail next to the blind in early 2013…!

Back then about 4:30pm, a black leopard (probably its grand-father) stepped in as the sun was sinking in the West. This creature moved across the opening in the forest and its spots glowed in the diffused light. It stayed at the springs for an hour before moving down towards me and flopping down on all fours on a fallen log posing for me. That was back in the old slide film days and I was not sure that I had got the shots until they were processed at a lab in Bangkok. The photos from that shoot many years ago are shown here and certainly illustrate how great this location really is.

Kabook Kabieng hot springs in Huai Kha Khaeng

An important mineral deposit/hot springs visited by many animals situated in the ‘Western Forest Complex’…!

In 2013, I was in the blind again when most likely the same leopard came in. She stayed for sometime and I got some nice shots. I also managed to get a camera trap shot shown here as she walked past the blind.

The moral of this story: Always check your camera and lens before putting it to work, and have a spare close-by in case of failure. If it’s going to happen, it will when you most likely need it as in my case.

Conclusion: Looking back, it was a valuable lesson and hopefully I will learn from it. I have gotten over it now and all I can do is just remember when I captured a beautiful black cat right here when very few images of this species were out there. And finally, there will always be another encounter down the road as these mystical cats live here and I’ll be going back…!

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THIS POST IS THE FIRST IN A SERIES OF WILDLIFE STORIES THAT WERE PUBLISHED IN THE BANGKOK POST IN THEIR NATURE SECTION: ‘ASIAN WILDLIFE THROUGH THE LENS’. Text and photos © L. Bruce Kekule

“The present government should take a positive interest in preserving what remains of the Kingdom’s natural treasures before it’s too late”

“Before World War II, 75% of the nation was still covered in pristine forests”…!

“What remains is still worth saving”…!

 

Asiatic jackal by the side of the road in Huai Kha Khaeng

Thailand’s wildlife and forests has evolved over millions of years into some of the most beautiful and interesting in the world. Photographing these ecosystems and rare animals such as the Siamese crocodile, tiger, leopard, gaur, banteng, wild water buffalo, elephant and tapir, plus a multitude of other mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, spiders and insects in their natural habitats is a daunting task to say the least. A multitude of different aspects contribute to the difficult and sometimes dangerous pastime of wildlife photography.

Gibbon calling during the morning in Huai Kha Khaeng

Probably the most prominent is the ever-increasing human population and social ills like poaching, gathering and encroachment in the protected areas. This alone has taken its toll and the country’s wild flora and fauna, from under the sea to the highest mountains, are in serious jeopardy with a slim chance of recovery to the magnificent ecosystems of the past. However, not all is lost and the present generation should take a positive interest in preserving what remains of the Kingdom’s natural treasures before it is too late.

Nature photography is one of the best ways to record and promote wildlife conservation awareness. Wildlife photographs create a mental image that can improve one’s love and understanding of the wonderful world of nature. Many people in the cities have a misconception that Thailand’s wildlife and forests has diminished to the point of no return, or has disappeared into the depths of extinction. This is unfortunate and needs constant education and media projection to uplift the people’s knowledge that many species do in fact, still survive.

Sambar with a blue magpie feeding on ticks in Huai Kha Khaeng

Low densities at many sites depleted over the years by poaching and encroachment before any form of protection was implemented is probably one of the main reasons. Human pressure and the Asian traditional medicine trade are directly responsible for the disappearing wild species. The black market trade in wildlife seems to be on the increase and the authorities are continually working to eradicate this destructive illegal business.

Before World War Two, 75 percent of the nation was still covered in pristine forests. Barely 30 percent survives today and most of these are seriously degraded. Wildlife has become scarce and extremely elusive and hence, difficult to photograph. With no subjects, it can be a tough assignment to capture wild creatures that were once quite common. Knowing where to go with the right equipment is just part of the process. Many other aspects are also important and I will try to pass on some of my experiences to those who desire to try their hand at nature/wildlife photography.

Sambar doe on the run in Huai Kha Khaeng

A few protected areas still remain fairly intact with good densities of flora and fauna. Prey species are abundant and carnivores thrive. These havens for wildlife include time honored Huai Kha Khaeng and Thung Yai Naresuan wildlife sanctuaries, Thailand’s top nature reserve and a World Heritage Site. Due to its size (more than 6,000 square kilometers) and biodiversity, this site is absolutely the best tiger habitat left in the Kingdom. It must be saved at all costs for present and future generations.

Kaeng Krachan and Kui Buri national parks further south along the western border with Burma still have very good ecosystems with an abundance of flora and fauna. Other protected areas include: Khao Yai, Thap Lan, Pang Sida national parks in the northeast; Khao Ang Rue Nai and Khao Soi Dow wildlife sanctuaries in the east; Sai Yok, Erawan, Sri Nakarin national parks and Salak Phra Wildlife Sanctuary in the west; Khao Sok National Park, and Khlong Saeng and Khlong Nakha wildlife sanctuaries in the south; and finally, Tarutao National Park and Hala Bala and Budo wildlife sanctuaries in the deep south all have wildlife and make good photographic destinations. However, the security is not too good at the moment and maybe it would be better to wait until things improve for these southern nature reserves.

Gaur herd at a mineral deposit in Huai Kha Khaeng

Wildlife photography is a difficult hobby or profession to become proficient. Years of trial and error, lost shots, bad exposure, out of focus, no wildlife subjects, equipment failure, expense and many other intricate problems make things difficult for the wildlife photographer. Travel plans and permission to enter some of the sensitive protected areas is a hurdle that must be crossed before any photographs can be taken. But where there is a will, there is a way and the difficult can be overcome.

Cameras and lenses in the professional range are expensive but amateur equipment can also provide satisfactory results. Modern technology like the Digital Single Lens Reflex (D-SLR) is now the ultimate and both Nikon and Canon remain the most popular brands for variety (beginner to professional both in lenses and cameras). Other makes like Sony, Pentax, Olympus and Sigma also offer very good equipment. Aftermarket lenses from Sigma, Tamron, and Tokina cost less than the top brands but produce satisfactory to very good photographs.

Spangled drongo in Doi Chiang Dao Wildlife Sanctuary

Another form of wildlife photography is the use of infrared camera traps that allows one to capture illusive and rare animals, plus new digital cameras show results in real time. Readymade camera traps are available and a quick search on the Internet will show dozens of makes and models.

 

Female tiger camera trapped in Huai Kha Khaeng

The use of a photo-blind is very important as is self-control and patience, which comes with practice and a desire to get a photograph of nature’s creatures. Long stints in the blind and hot weather are something that comes with practice. Wildlife encounters are usually brief and one must always be ready with camera in hand ready to shoot on a moments’ notice.

Black orb spider along a trail in Huai Kha Khaeng

No two days are alike in the natural world and opportunities must be taken then and there if one is to be a successful wildlife photographer. Finally, share your photographs with as many people as possible in order to send a message to all that nature is truly worth saving for the future.

 

Published in the Bangkok Post on February 27, 2013 in the Life – Nature section…!

 

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