A. Radclyffe (Arthur Radclyffe) Dugmore.

Camera adventures in the African wilds; being an account of a four months' expedition in British East Africa, for the purpose of securing photographs of the game from life online

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Online LibraryA. Radclyffe (Arthur Radclyffe) DugmoreCamera adventures in the African wilds; being an account of a four months' expedition in British East Africa, for the purpose of securing photographs of the game from life → online text (page 12 of 18)
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or rather lack of knowledge, and trust to luck in finding our
way. The only map we had was worse than useless, as it had
been made from various conflicting notes instead of surveyors'
observations. The question of food for the men was rather
troublesome. We had expected to remain in our first Guaso
Nyiro camp for at least eight days, and had intended to send some
of the porters back to Meru for supplies. As it was, we had
but twelve days' rations left, and would probably not be able
to obtain any more till we reached Nyeri, which was the first settle-
ment 'we should touch, my plan being to return to Simba camp,
near the Tana, and do some more lion work there before going
to the Athi Plains for brindled gnu. We left the Guaso Nyiro with
feelings of regret and disappointment at the failure of our plans.
We had come a long way about one hundred and eighty miles
to what had been described to us as a veritable game paradise,


where everything we wanted would be found in abundance, and be
tamer than in the more hunted regions, only to find that the animals
were scarce and extremely shy.

Of course we had thoroughly enjoyed the trip, and had seen much
that was unusual and interesting, but from the point of view of animal
photography we had failed almost completely. The same amount
of time spent near the Tana would undoubtedly have been productive
of far more satisfactory results. But how little one can foresee!
At the very moment when everything appears to be most discouraging,
and failure stares one in the face, good luck comes with unexpected
suddenness. Things usually work out for the best, and the very
obstacles are often the direct means by which success is obtained.
So it was with us. The fact that we had been unable to procure
a guide to lead us back to the Nyeri trail resulted in our going by
a way which, though probably far from correct, took us right into
the heart of a splendid little game district. We had not gone more
than three or four miles before we saw a pair of hunting leopards
(known also as chetah or chita). These large serval-like cats
are probably the most swift-footed animals in Africa, if not in the
world. Unlike the lions and most other members of the tribe,
they are largely diurnal in their habits. When hunting they rely
less on their skill in stalking than on their speed. Curiously enough
they are by no means ferocious, and become remarkably tame in
captivity. Even when wounded they do not, as a rule, show much
fight. I was very anxious to obtain a photograph of the pair we saw,
but they had heard the caravan, and were bounding away when we
first caught sight of them. We followed the swift-footed creatures
for some time, but were unable to photograph them, though we












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once approached to within about eighty yards. Unfortunately
we were keeping a lookout only for them as we hurried along, and
did not notice a herd of giraffe that were ahead of us. They were
in a place where they could have been stalked with comparative
ease. As it was they of course saw us, and ambled off to the top of the
nearest hill, from which they could keep us in view.

We rejoined the caravan, and proceeded on our way. The light
was becoming very poor, owing to the heavy clouds which were
rolling up, and I almost hoped we should not see any game, as to
photograph it would have been well-nigh impossible. Just as we
reached the top of a low hill, on which were open glades and dense
clumps of bushes, we heard a noise like a stampede of horses, and
before we knew what had happened an immense herd of oryx was
rushing past us not more than twenty to fifty yards away. There
were probably one hundred and fifty of them. They appeared
to be in a terribly excited condition, and paid no attention to us
as they galloped past in scattered groups. The whole thing happened
so quickly that I had scarcely time to seize my camera before the
herd had passed. At the speed they were going there would have
been no chance of making a photograph, although I should probably
have attempted it had the camera been ready soon enough. I
went ahead, hoping that a straggler or two might come along slowly,
when to my utter astonishment four gerenuk bounded past scarcely
twenty yards away a buck and three does. Such delicately built
creatures I have never seen, and I was so completely lost in admira-
tion of them that it never occurred to me to use the camera. No
sooner had they passed than a herd of impala went by at lightning
speed, and I began to wonder what next we should see. What


could be the cause of such commotion I was at a loss to understand.
The animals had evidently not scented us, as we were to leeward
of them. While I was trying to think of a reason, two hunting
leopards came in sight about one hundred yards away. We saw
each other almost at the same moment, and they vanished before
I could recover from my surprise. But there was no question as to
the cause of the antelopes' excitement. They were being chased
by the swift-footed chetah, and we had come between the hunted
and the hunters.

As we continued our march we saw more oryx, more gerenuk
and more impala. There was no doubt about our having run into
a wonderfully good bit of game country, and as game was what we
wanted, it seemed to us that the best thing to do would be to spend
a few days in the neighborhood. The question was, where should
we camp ? An examination of the immediate vicinity showed us
that there was no water. The only thing to do, therefore, was to
make straight for the Guaso Nyiro at its nearest point, so I sent the
men to make camp while we spent a few hours in looking over the
country. We saw a great deal of game, but I had no luck in photo-
graphing, though apparently the country was thoroughly suited
to the work. The irregular clumps of bushes afforded good cover
for stalking, but nearly every time I tried to approach any animal
there was another, which I had not seen, to give the alarm; in fact,
there were too many animals. Another drawback was the difficulty
of going on one's hands and knees, a proceeding usually quite neces-
sary when one wishes to get very near to any wild animal. The
ground was in most places covered with a small trailing plant bearing
seed pods, which though not more than half an inch in diameter,

were armed with extremely strong sharp-pointed spikes, and these
went into one's hands, or through clothing, with very painful results.

We saw a number of gerenuk, and were surprised at finding
them so numerous, as we had no idea they existed in this region.
Seeing them and photographing them were, however, altogether
different propositions. They are extremely shy and very difficult
to see, except when in motion, as they usually stand with the body
concealed by brush, their remarkably long and very slender neck
and small head being scarcely visible. They are essentially dry-
country animals, living mostly away from water, among scrub
or thorn-bush thickets, interspersed with clearings, and appear to
avoid thick underbrush. I saw more of them on the bare, sun-baked,
sandy clay than anywhere else. In such places their coloring,
which is reddish fawn, and devoid of conspicious body-markings,
so nearly corresponds with the ground that they are very difficult
to see. As a rule, they live in bands of two to four, though larger
herds are occasionally seen, the does, which are always hornless,
being much more abundant than the bucks. I have frequently
seen them in company with impala, but they are more usually found
by themselves. Their goat-like habit of standing on their hind
legs while feeding from the upper branches of bushes is well known,
but I do not think the habit is as common as is generally believed;
in fact, I have never seen but one instance of it, though I have watched
the animals feeding for hours at a time. Their food consists entirely
of the leaves of trees and shrubs, and low-growing plants, while
grass is seldom, if ever eaten.

We had our first view of Grevy's zebra that day, and by good
luck I succeeded in approaching to within about forty yards, and


secured a fairly satisfactory photograph of a pair of them. They
appeared to be fairly abundant. Their superior size for they
stand about fourteen hands two and the totally distinct markings
make their identification only too easy. The stripes are very much
more narrow than those of the common variety, and more generally
vertical on the body. The large, rounded, fringed ears are also a
distinguishing mark. It will be observed that there is something
peculiar about the markings above the nose which gives them a
very queer expression. We found them in herds of from two or
three up to over forty, and curiously enough saw no foals. They
appear like the oryx to feed in herds by themselves except during
the middle of the day, when they congregate with various other
animals particularly oryx and resort to grassy clearings. In
disposition they do not resemble the common, or Grant's zebra,
being much less pugnacious. We saw no fighting among them, and
from the condition of their skins, which were in all cases free, or
nearly free from scars, it is evident that they are far more peaceable
than their relatives, the Grants, which fight so frequently that a
perfect skin is difficult to find. I have often watched the latter
as two would rear together biting each other's neck, and sometimes
throwing one another with great force. Such fights would continue
for as much as ten or fifteen minutes before one of the contestants
would give way and retreat. We saw a considerable number of
dik-dik and a few duiker. The former were usually in lots of two
to four, while the latter were found singly or in pairs. The vulturine
guinea-fowl was very abundant, much more so than the common
variety. Altogether the day had proved a most interesting one,
and even though I secured a few photographs, there was every reason




to suppose we should have better luck later on. On our way to where
we expected to find camp we saw a number of waterbuck and baboons.
The men had selected a splendid site for the camp on a beautiful,
shady, grassy bank on the edge of the river. Nothing could have
been more delightful. As we sat outside the tents we could con-
tinually see baboons and other monkeys. They appeared tame
enough so long as we paid no attention to them, but the moment
I attempted to stalk them, with the idea of securing photographs,
they disappeared immediately, the baboons taking to the stony hills,
the others following the fringe of trees which bordered the river.
The men were greatly excited at the quantity and quality of the
fish they could so easily catch in the river. Some were of immense
size, weighing probably ten to fifteen pounds, and of excellent flavor.
Unlike those we had caught in the Thika and Tana rivers, these
were comparatively free from bones. As fast as the fish were caught
the men cleaned them and dried them before a slow fire. In this
way they would keep for several days, as they were more or less

The following day we made an early start to the place where we
had seen so much game. This ground was a more or less level
stretch of country on the top of a low hill. Altogether it embraced an
area of perhaps ten or fifteen square miles, but the tract to which
most of the game resorted was only about a mile wide by two miles
long. Part of the whole area was quite open country, with natural
grassy fields of from three to twenty acres in extent. On the north
side was a belt of small irregular glades, with thorn-hush thickets
dividing them. These glades were somewhat stony, and covered
with coarse, low-growing vegetation, among which there was some


grass. On the south side the nature of the country changed com-
pletely. Seen from above it looked like an impenetrable thorn-tree
thicket, with absolutely no openings. As a matter of fact, the low
trees were arranged so that there were a succession of sandy openings
which were devoid of all vegetation. This continued nearly as
far as the eye could see toward the foothills of Kenia. To the
west ran a range of high rocky hills, while the country in the centre
was flat, open in some parts and sparsely wooded in others.

Almost the first animals we saw on reaching the glade belt were
some Grant's zebra. They were feeding in our direction, so we
lay down behind some bushes and waited, while we watched them
coming slowly toward us. Everything indicated that this would be
a perfect opportunity for photographing the little herd. Both light
and wind were right, and the background was all that could be
desired. I was very much excited, as up to this time I had had
extremely bad luck with zebra, and had secured only one reasonably
satisfactory picture. I was therefore thoroughly disgusted when I
heard footsteps nearly down wind of us. Peering through the
bushes I saw a zebra walking along. As yet he had no suspicions,
but in a few seconds he would undoubtedly get our scent, and our
chances would be spoilt. The only thing to do under the circum-
stances was to make the best of things and get what I could,
so with the greatest possible care I crawled, with painful results
to my hands and knees, to a little opening, and as the zebra
came in full view I secured a rather satisfactory picture at about
forty yards.

Later on we saw a large herd of oryx and both kinds of zebra.
Most of the oryx were lying down, but some were on sentry duty,


and with their keen eyes they detected me crawling through the
bush when I was fully one hundred and fifty yards away. Of course
they made off. It was not long before we discovered another large
herd in a more or less open place. By using every possible precaution
I managed, after much difficulty, to get within one hundred and fifty
yards or so without being seen. Any nearer than that it was impos-
sible to go, as there was absolutely no cover, so I had to content
myself with a couple of long telephoto pictures of the Grevy's zebra.
Then I attempted to go a little closer, but the whole herd galloped
away. There must have been about one hundred and fifty oryx,
forty or fifty Grevy's and a few Grant's zebra. It was a beautiful
sight as they rushed through the open woods. When about two
hundred and fifty yards away they all stopped, and turning round
in a solid line stared at us intently for several minutes. The dust
they had raised prevented my obtaining a picture of the wonderful

During the rest of the day we saw but little game, only a few
gerenuk, impala and dik-dik, and none of these could I photograph.
The next day I missed one of the finest chances of photographing
a wild animal that has ever come my way. I had spent about half
an hour in stalking three oryx. They had not seen me, and were
feeding slowly in the openings among the bushy thickets. Never
have I stalked any animals more carefully, and finally I found
myself within seventeen yards of one, and about forty yards from
the other two. It happened that they were all standing behind
bushes, and I felt sure it would be only a matter of minutes before
they would come into clear view. But they had evidently some
idea that things were not quite right, as they remained motionless


for what seemed like a full half-hour. I was standing in the burning
sun not daring to move. A pair of gerenuk passed by, and I let
them go. Then came a herd of impala. They looked so beautiful
in the sunlight, and were so unconscious of danger, that I could
not resist the temptation to photograph them. The first exposure
did not frighten them or the oryx, so foolishly I tried a second. At
the sound of the shutter out came the oryx and stood in clear view,
broadside to me. Such a picture as he made I have never seen.
In nervous haste I put a fresh plate in position, and was in the act
of setting the shutter when he ran off, leaving me in a most unhappy
frame of mind. Such an opportunity will probably never fall to
my lot again, and yet I have nothing to show for it. Had he waited
two seconds longer I should have had the picture, but it is just those
little seconds which so very often come between success and failure
in animal photography.

We had not walked half a mile before we saw some more oryx
feeding in one of the open fields. On the edge of the clearing there
was the remains of an abandoned Samburu cattle boma, which
afforded me shelter for stalking. After considerable difficulty I
was able to get inside the circular thorn edge, but the oryx were
rather too far away to give satisfactory pictures. However, I made
several exposures before they detected me and made off. Soon
after that we discovered a herd of about two hundred oryx, but
they were in a place where it would have been useless to attempt
to stalk, as the wind was in the wrong direction, so I decided to
make a wide detour in order that I might approach them up wind.
This necessitated going back into the region of bushes and glades,
so that we should not be seen. While we were making our way as

quietly as possible I caught sight of a Grevy's zebra about forty
yards away. At first only the top of its head was visible as it came
up a sudden rise in the hill, but there was no doubt that it was coming
directly toward us, and coming at such a rapid walk that we must
act as quickly as possible. There was no time to do any choosing
of a place of concealment, so I simply ordered the men who were
carrying my extra outfit to lie down flat, and not move on any account,
while I crouched as low as I could with the camera held ready for
immediate use. By bad luck the camera was equipped with the
telephoto lens, as I had given up expecting close-range work, and
there was no time to change to the regular rapid lens. I might
say here, for the benefit of those who have never used the telephoto
lens, that it is almost impossible to focus rapidly on any object that
is coming or going from the operator, as the difference in distance
of a few feet completely alters the telephoto focus. Then, again,
owing to its low illumination, it is not adapted to instantaneous
work, except under extraordinarily favorable conditions. Of course,
I never expected for a moment that the zebra would come nearer
than twenty or twenty-five yards, so my surprise was very great
when they for another one had appeared continued toward us.
One, however, turned aside, while the other came to within twelve
yards, I scarcely dared to stir, yet the photograph could not be
made without some movement, so I gently raised the camera, only
to find that the zebra was too close, and that it more than covered
the plate. This was certainly a new sensation. I would have
given almost anything to have had the regular lens in place of the
telephoto. The animal was staring right at me, evidently wondering
what was going to happen, while I was shaking all over with excite-


ment. After a few seconds it walked slowly away, then turned once
more and stared at me. This time I found that I could just fit the
animal to the plate, so I made an exposure, thinking that the sound
of the shutter would undoubtedly frighten away the surprised animal.
It did not, however, so I quickly changed plates, and made another
and still another exposure. That was all it could stand, and it trotted
off, but stopped again when about seventy yards away, and I made two
more exposures before it finally vanished, leaving me positively limp
from the nervous strain.

We next continued our way toward the oryx, to find that they had
been joined by some Grant's gazelles, and that they had left the
open field and moved to the shade of some large thorn trees. So
the chance of securing satisfactory pictures was not so good as I
had hoped it would be. However, I managed to stalk to within
about one hundred and seventy-five yards, and at that distance
made several exposures with more or less success. Owing to the
wind, which was blowing hard, the pictures showed a slight amount
of vibration. No sooner had the herd gone than we saw some
giraffe about three-quarters of a mile away. Though rather tired
from the excitement and the amount of work done during the morning
I determined to go after them. We made our way through a small
gully until we were fairly near where we imagined the animals to
be. On emerging from the gully there was nothing to be seen of
the big creatures; presumably they had seen us and gone off. On
the chance that they might be somewhere about, we walked to the
ridge of a bare hill, and there, to our complete astonishment, we
saw no less than fifty giraffe, and near them a herd of oryx and
Grant's gazelle. Such a sight I had never expected to behold! I

had always believed that a herd of twenty-five or thirty was quite
exceptional, but to see fifty was indeed a surprise. A strange thing
about this herd was that more than half of them were apparently
scarcely half grown, and that there were but three or four large
bulls. So far as I could judge from the clear reticulation of the
markings they appeared to be the Somali giraffe. The question
of doing any photography was very uncertain for three reasons;
the wind was blowing violently, the sky had become heavily overcast,
and, most important of all, the giraffe were beating a retreat. Under
such conditions I could not hope for much success, but being anxious
to obtain at least some sort of photographic record of the herd I
made several exposures, which resulted, as might have been expec-
ted, in rather blurred pictures.

On our way back to the camp we saw a number of oryx, a herd of
fully one hundred impala, and some zebra and gerenuk. As we
were going down wind no more opportunities for photographing
occurred. On reaching camp I saw an Egyptian goose on an island
in the river, and though the light was most unfavorable I made a
picture of it. This ended one of the busiest days of animal work
that I had ever experienced. I had seen an almost uncountable
number of animals, and had used thirty-two plates. As the after-
noon was cool I developed all of these, and had the satisfaction of
seeing a few at least come out fairly well. It one could but have
such days more frequently how delightful it would be, and how
much material could be collected in a very short time; but unfortu-
nately these days of exceptional luck come only too seldom.

The next day saw me once more in the game district. It was
my intention to devote myself to the task of securing photographs


of oryx and gerenuk, but I changed my plans on coming across the
very fresh sign of buffalo. A large herd during the night or early
morning had visited a small mudhole in one of the clearings. From
the indications it seemed as though they had left the place scarcely
more than an hour or two, so I decided to follow the tracks. It
was the first time I had attempted to walk down buffalo, and I
should never repeat the performance. For nearly eight miles we
trailed the herd, expecting every minute to come upon them in the
shade of the stunted thorn trees. What would have happened had
we been successful I cannot say, for I had only the .275 Mauser
with me. We were frequently startled by the sudden appearance
of flocks of sand grouse, which rose with a whirr that was anything
but quieting to our nerves. On our way we came across an old

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Online LibraryA. Radclyffe (Arthur Radclyffe) DugmoreCamera adventures in the African wilds; being an account of a four months' expedition in British East Africa, for the purpose of securing photographs of the game from life → online text (page 12 of 18)