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Wild Life Photography in the Kalahari

Our planet is beautiful and amazing. Images of exotic places that we will probably never see, leave us in awe of the pure splendour of the Earth. Skilled wild life and nature photographers get to go to those places to capture the beauty and the drama for us all to share. Jill Sneesby is just such a photographer.

Jill is an internationally acclaimed wildlife and travel photographer based in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Her work has won many international awards and in the 2010 African Photographic awards she won “Nature Photographer of the Year”. She has been published and exhibited all over the world in galleries such as the Smithsonian in the USA, the Natural History Museum in the UK and Asociaţia Euro Foto Art in Bulgaria.

Much of her time is spent in wild and exciting places both close to home and anywhere across the globe where she travels to photograph, lecture and judge.  Her judging and lecturing credits include many prestigious photo events in countries as varied as the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States of America, Austria, United Arab Emirates, Doha, China, India and of course South Africa.

Sharing her knowledge and expertise is one of her passions and she runs photographic workshops from her studio in Port Elizabeth as well as photo tours to many exciting places.

Jill is 1st Vice President of the Photographic Society of South Africa and Chair of the Portfolio Distinctions division of the Photographic Society of America.  She is the Liaison Officer for the International Federation of Photographic Art.

She has been recognised for her photography and service having been awarded honours by photographic societies worldwide. Here is Jill’s experience of the Kalahari.

“I can still remember the thrill of seeing my first big male lion in the wild. It was in the Aoub river bed in the Kalahari Gemsbok Park (now known as the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park), the wind was blowing his mane and it was a sight to remember. I didn’t have a fancy camera at that stage, in fact just a “mik ‘n druk” so you can imagine how small in the frame the lion was, but it didn’t matter, it was the sheer pleasure of watching him stroll across the valley to the waterhole that made it so memorable.
In fact the initial shot of the whole valley is the one that means so much to me as it tells the whole story, yes the photo ops did get better as the lion approached the water but it instilled in me a love of the environment and how important that is in the bigger picture and in the photograph.

The trees with their iconic Sociable Weaver nests whether shot against a dramatic stormy sunset or against the stark blue desert sky take you back immediately into the Kalahari.
Another early memory that I will never forget is the sound of a jackal alerting everyone around him that there was a leopard in the area. So we sat a while with binoculars glued to our eyes, trying to see that beautiful, elusive creature, and there he was, resting in a tree.

My only record of that sighting, although there have been many more as this one shows, is the tree in the landscape with a black X marked on the print by me to show where the leopard was. But the sound of the jackal will stay with me always and whenever I hear them giving their alarm call I stop and look to see what has caught their attention.

Much of the time the tourists only want to see the lions but there is so much to see and experience and while this image doesn’t really tell you what a jackal looks like it does show you the bigger picture as it walks off along one of the well-defined animal tracks.
While driving around you do need to be on the lookout yourself but don’t forget to watch the animal behavior around you – the animals always need to be on the lookout and their behavior will alert you to the possibility of possible action unfolding.

The image of the springbok herd shows them alert, and all looking in the same direction – what are they looking at? Well cast your eyes to the right and there, walking down the Nossob river bed, is a pride of lion, just peacefully walking and the springbok sensed this and so watched them and did not run, just staying alert to make sure nothing changed.
Don’t get me wrong, I love going in close and capturing the action or the moment. The images that remain in my memory are, more often than not, those that tell the whole story, such as this extreme close-up of a Lioness and Cub.

The mood and lighting of the next image is beautiful as is the contrast between the size of the mother and cub but what you don’t know is the story behind the image which makes it particularly poignant for me. Knowing the story in this case doesn’t make it a better image but it will always stay with me as one of my special moments. We had been fortunate to see the cheetah with her kill the previous day and such a precious sighting it was when she called her two cubs to join her. Then horror of horror, a lioness came along to steal her kill, but she didn’t just steal her kill, she stole a cub and walked off with it in her mouth, at first glance you would have thought it was her own cub. Once it was dead she dropped it on the ground and returned to the kill, which by now of course had been abandoned by Mother Cheetah and her remaining cub.

Teary eyed we left the scene, despondent at the loss of the cheetah baby. Next day, driving in the same area we came across this scene, a wonderful sight to see, Mother and her remaining cub and the lioness nowhere to be seen.

Sometimes you see a Lion with porcupine quills hanging from his mane – in the Kalahari the Lions eat porcupines and therefore you know just what he has been up to. Porcupine are generally nocturnal creatures so most of the time the lion does the eating at night.

Occasionally you are lucky enough to see one during the day and this is very unusual and we were very lucky to see the behavior and photograph it. In this instance there was a mother and young porcupine who, by standing head to head, were able to present a total ball of quills to the two young lion making it impossible for them to kill them. The happy ending for the porcupines is that they managed to get away.
One of my all-time favourites was the atmosphere as a herd of Springbok came pronking and running through the valley towards the water at sunset, all in their quest to reach the water. It was a very dry time, hence all the dust.

Every day and every season is different, each with their own beauty so there is no right or wrong time to visit – and once you have been there you will yearn to go back.

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