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Tracking the ‘Big Five’ for photos

Cheetah by Alan Hewitt.
Cheetah by Alan Hewitt.

Morpeth Camera Club

Morpeth Camera Club welcomed Alan Hewitt, a professional wildlife and conservation photographer based in Northumberland, who runs workshops and safaris in the UK and in Kenya’s Masai Mara.

He began by explaining the ‘Big Five’, an historical term used by hunters for the most dangerous animals — male lion, elephant, black rhino, leopard and cheetah — but which is now used for the most wanted subjects to capture on camera.

He described the Masai Mara ecosystem, where great migrations take place and where anyone can pay a fee and enter. There are also Conservancies in private areas that limit tourist numbers, the entry fees of which go to a co-operative for children’s education and vets.

Alan captured many images in the private game reserve of Sabi Sands, which included the skin texture, eye detail and lashes of an elephant, a cheetah with cubs, another devouring a newborn Thomson’s Gazelle, a family portrait of lions, a leopard draped in a tree at dawn, and a hippo emerging from water.

Comparing the behaviour of different animals, Alan described the cheetah as the ‘supermodel’ of the Masai Mara, who eats the bare minimum on a needs-must basis, whereas the lion will eat until its prey is finished.

The art of field craft is learnt by experience. If you seek out the prey first, you will soon find the predator. For a better view park in a dip so that the vehicle is obscured and the animal is at eye-level, listen for distress calls and there will soon be a chase. Never run as you become prey, and most of all, have respect for the animals and keep out of their way.

In the park most lions are given names. This makes them more identifiable and appealing to sponsors. Names are easier to use in research and photographs are taken to monitor behaviour.

Many anecdotes were told and Alan provided many interesting facts.

He went on to list the ‘Ugly Five’ — the white backed vulture, hyena, warthog, wildebeest and Marabou storks, describing behaviour and lifestyle.

Brilliant photographs of ostrich, wild dogs, birds and reptiles followed.

Although Alan loves animal portraiture, he is trying to evolve his photographs within context; a wider view with animals in their habitat.

We saw images of the river crossing at Mara of the wildebeest, and Alan spoke of the waiting crocodiles, which only need one meal a year to survive, pick the moment and kill just for sport.

Alan’s love of silhouettes was evident with scenes of giraffes with acacia trees, and great heron and eagles set against magnificent sunsets.

Finally, we saw colourful images of his good friends, the Masai guides, together with shots of village family life, cooking and dancing.

On an evening of excellent photography and a myriad of facts and information, Alan’s love of wildlife and conservation shone through.

Chairman Mark Harrison thanked Alan for his very interesting talk.