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 4 of 18)
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As we had a long march before us I gave up the idea of tackling any
more "side-shows" for the day. We reached camp late that after-
noon, tired and hot, and glad enough to get a good bath an'd something
to eat. Then we talked over the doings of the day, and decided
that we had all the rhinoceros we wanted for some time.

We returned the following day by train to Nairobi, where the
work of getting everything ready for our next trip occupied us for
one week.




THURSDAY, February 25th, was the day set for our departure
from Nairobi. The task of equipping ourselves with all that would
be necessary for three months' "safari" required careful thought and
preparation. Each chop box had to be arranged so as to contain
our food supply for one week. Our provisions were of the simplest
kind, none of the heavy tinned stuff that usually accompanies an
expedition (and is more often than not brought back untouched),
but lots of dried fruits and rice, and other wholesome compact food.
In a country where there is so much game, and no possibility of
obtaining fruits and vegetables except near the settlements, one is
inclined to eat far too much meat. This is not harmful, of course,
where a great deal of exercise is taken, such as long marches and
long shoots, but when camp life is as easy as it usually is in East
Africa, it is well to be moderate in the amount of meat that is eaten,
and an abundance of fruit will be found a most useful and whole-
some adjunct. Arrangements had to be made to forward some
of the chop boxes to Fort Hall and Nyeri, our two most probable
stopping places. Additional porters were signed on. Some that
had proved unsatisfactory on the former trip were discharged, a
new headman was engaged, and we finally were ready to start on
the appointed day, not early in the morning, as I had hoped, but
late in the afternoon. The men, according to custom, tried for one



more night in town, but I was determined to get away, and off
we went, even though we were only able to reach a camping
ground five miles from Nairobi. Our caravan numbered about
fifty all told, what with porters, askaris, headmen, cook, gun
and camera bearers, our two boys, and an assortment of boys taken
by the headman and others, who felt that they needed to be
waited on.

According to our plans, which were made after a lot of consultation
with many people, we were to go by way of Donya Sabuk and across
the Athi River to the Yata Plains, thence to the Tana River, from there
by way of Fort Hall and Nyeri around the northern side of Mount
Kenia to Meru; northward from there to the Guaso Nyiro, and
then, if local information seemed satisfactory, directly westward
across to Lake Hannington, and down to the railroad at Nakuro.
Lieutenant-Governor Jackson very kindly gave us letters of introduc-
tion to the officials through whose districts we might pass, and also
furnished us with permits to enter any of the closed districts, such
as Meru. As events turned out these plans had to be greatly modified,
and the latter part of the trip was entirely changed. In a new country,
where definite and reliable information is very difficult to obtain,
plans are not easy to make, or rather not easy to carry out, and one
has to be willing to sacrifice one's pet ideas and hopes to do what
proves practicable. No man can give you positive information either
about game or water in certain localities, even though he may have
traveled through them frequently. The water supply, being depend-
ent entirely on the rains, and the rains being very uncertain, and the
game regulating its habits by the food supply, which in turn is
governed by the rainfall, it may readily be understood why informa-


tion, given in perfectly good faith, often proves entirely misleading.
The one question upon which everything depends is the adequate
supply of water. The porters, with their sixty-pound loads, cannot
carry much extra weight. It is therefore necessary to arrange to
make camp near water.

For the first two days our way led us across the Athi Plains
broad stretches of undulating country, entirely treeless and shrubless
except in the vicinity of streams, where inconceivable numbers of
wild animals roam about with comparative safety. No enemy can
approach them unseen, as the short, closely cropped grass affords
no chance for stalking, hence they gather together in immense
herds of mixed species, consisting chiefly of Coke's hartebeest,
zebra, Grant's and Thomson's gazelles, and impala, and in some
parts the wildebeest. Lions and leopards are also to be found when
the conditions are suitable, such as along the scanty river bottoms,
or other places where there is cover for them, the leopard in par-
ticular being averse to open country, while the lion frequently selects
wild rocky regions where there is little or no vegetation. The
common idea that lions generally stalk their prey near water holes
does not appear to be borne out by fact. I have never even seen
the sign of a kill in such places, and it must be due to the fact that
animals, realizing the great possibilities of danger, as a rule approach
their drinking places with the utmost caution in fact, where
water holes are in or near thick cover, where their enemies might
have opportunity of concealment, the animals will go miles away
from their feeding grounds to less dangerous places, or even to sandy
river beds where they can obtain water by digging for it. Many
people who know the country well, say that lions will resort to many




ingenious tricks when hunting, one of the cleverest being that of
driving their quarry by scent. One lion goes to windward of the
herd, while others one or more lie in wait to leeward. In
this way the animals, smelling their enemy, will go down wind, and
run directly toward the crouching beasts, whose diabolical cunning
and terrific strength makes them dreaded by all creatures. It is
also said that lions will surround a herd, and by their continual
roaring strike such fear into the hearts of the timid antelope that
they will become terror-stricken and so fall an easy prey to the
mighty hunters.

During our march we saw countless numbers of the commoner
animals, also a spotted hyena, which though common enough are
not often seen in daylight, being almost entirely nocturnal in their
habits. On the morning of the second day, while going through
a region where there were great numbers of immense grass-covered
ant-hills, some of them seven or eight feet high and twenty or thirty
feet in diameter, we had our first sight of a large herd of baboons.
It was interesting to watch these strange creatures as they moved
about, always keeping us clearly in sight, by climbing to the tops
of the ant-hills and staying there for a few seconds, while they care-
fully examined us. If a small tree was near they would each in turn
take to its highest branches to have a look about. As long as we
kept on our way and paid no attention to them they did not worry
much about us, but the moment I stopped and tried to secure a
photograph, they were off immediately, disappearing like magic.
As with other monkeys, the mother baboons carry their young in
their arms or on their backs as they travel about the country.

Just before reaching Donya Sabuk, a mountain which rises


abruptly from the plains to a total height of about seven thousand
feet, we saw a large herd of eland. They were extremely wild,
and we had to content ourselves with looking at them several hundred
yards away. The large creatures remind one more of cattle than
antelopes, their swinging dewlaps and the silver-gray skins of the
old bulls adding to the illusion. When alarmed they trot or canter
away in a compact line, and following their leader wheel around
once in a while, to stand facing the cause of their suspicion. In
the distance they remind one of oryx, though much larger and
more heavily built, while their horns are short and thick instead
of long and slender.

We camped for the night on the northwest side of Donya Sabuk,
among scattered thorn trees, and near a delightful little mountain
stream. The coolness of the evening was thoroughly refreshing
after the long and rather hot march in the glaring sun, without
shade of any sort. One of the porters, while out getting firewood,
came across a young Grant's gazelle, which after some difficulty
he succeeded in catching. It was remarkably tame when brought to
camp, and I had no trouble in photographing it in many positions.
Soon after dawn we continued our way, keeping on the northern
side of Donya Sabuk, toward the farm and store of some English-
men, from whom we expected to procure rations for the men. The
trail led us through some extremely pretty country, where the spurs
of mountains were covered with rich grass and low-growing trees,
not tropical in any way, but almost homelike in its quiet beauty.
Away to the west, as far as the eye could reach, lay the great Athi
Plains, and to the north, a long way off, Kenia raised its snow-
covered peak above the clouds. We were surprised at the complete


lack of game, for except a few hartebeest we saw nothing during the
morning's march.

The first thing we heard on arriving at the farm was that there
were buffalo on Donya Sabuk, and that the chances seemed to be
favorable for photographic work. Buffalo were what I particularly
wanted, so we made camp with the idea of staying a few days.
According to the information the best chances would be early in the
morning and quite late in the afternoon, as then the buffalo usually
come out to feed, while during the day they retire to the cool shade
of the dense forest, with which the upper part of the mountain is
partly covered. We were up very early the next morning, had break-
fast in the dark, and were well up the steep slopes by the time the
sun had crept through the morning clouds. It was hard work,
as the thick high grass rendered the walking very tiring, really
more like climbing than walking, and in places it was so steep that
a rest was necessary every few yards. What would have happened
had we come across either a buffalo or rhinoceros is difficult to say,
as rhinoceros in particular have a disagreeable way of going to
sleep in high grass, so that even when keeping a sharp lookout one
may almost stumble over them, and of course dodging is scarcely
possible in places where one cannot move quickly and freely. All
that we could do was to go carefully, and look ahead as far
as possible.

After climbing about seventeen hundred feet we reached the edge
of the forest, and had our first experience of early morning in tropical
woods. No words can describe the beauty of the scene. The singing
of myriads of birds filled the air with such music as I had never
before heard, upsetting the idea that tropical birds, though beautiful


in plumage, lack to a great extent the power of song. The sweet
scent of the flowers of the forest trees was delightful beyond words.
Below the foreground of dark richly colored trees, as far as the
eye could see, stretched a limitless view of plains and mountains,
shrouded in places by the low-lying clouds, and lighted in
other parts by splashes of ruddy morning sunshine, which
darted through the patches of hazy mist and filmy clouds. Above
it all towered Kenia, its snowy summit showing pink against
the delicate purple sky. It was indeed a feast for the senses,
and one over which we should have liked to linger, but we were
there to look for buffalo, and time was very valuable, so with
regret we turned from the fascinating scene, and continued our

While my companion waited to make a photograph of a view which
took his fancy, I made my way alone toward an open stretch of the
hillside above us. A few hundred yards of climbing brought me
to the crest of a spur from which, to my intense delight and surprise,
I saw a picture that made my heart beat with excitement, for there,
not two hundred yards away, was a herd of buffalo, no less than
twenty-eight of the big creatures, feeding quietly among the high
grass, utterly oblivious of the presence of man. Such a sight is
something to remember, for not only was there the thrilling pleasure
of seeing this splendid herd of what are considered by many the
most dangerous animals in the world, but the setting was such as
one might well wish to paint the waving yellow grass, with long
soft shadows, and in the background a belt of forest which lifted
its head from a deep gully. The trunks and branches of the trees
were warmly lighted by the low sun, still quite near the horizon.


But in the beauty of it all was the sad fact that with such light it
would be almost impossible to make really good instantaneous photo-
graphs, especially as it would be necessary to use the telephoto lens,
which unfortunately requires the best of light. However, I must
do the best that could be done under the circumstances, and so I
returned with the utmost caution to where the cameras were, and
after making everything ready crawled through the grass as carefully
as possible toward where the buffalo were still feeding. In some
way they had become suspicious, and were sniffing the air in a way
that boded ill for me and my chance of obtaining any pictures.
Not daring to go nearer than within about one hundred and twenty-
five yards, I quietly lifted the camera above the level of the grass,
focussed carefully, and with trembling fingers pressed the button.
The sound of the shutter betrayed my whereabouts to the uneasy
creatures, and I dreaded to think what might happen if they should
take it into their heads to charge. The deep roaring of a lion in
the woods below did not allay my fears. It sounded rather ominous,
but I could not pay much heed to it, as my attention was more
intimately connected with the buffalo, which were becoming more
and more restless. Were they getting ready to charge, and if so
what should I do ? I had no rifle with me, and my companion was
some distance away, and at any rate what would one rifle do in the
way of stopping such a large herd if they meant mischief? There
being no visible means of escape I could see nothing to be gained by
wasting time in conjecturing, so I distracted my thoughts by taking
another photograph just as one of the big bulls was bellowing.
Then to my great relief they turned tail and retreated to the shelter
of the deep forest. As they went I got one more picture just before


the herd had disappeared. This being my first experience with
African buffalo, it seemed as though I had been exceptionally lucky
in having escaped so easily. Judging from the numerous stories
I had read of the terrible ferocity of these powerful beasts, I had
fully expected to have a lot of trouble, but from what I have since
learned it seems that buffalo will not, as a rule, attack when in herds
unless they have been fired at, and even then, unless a cow is killed
or wounded, they will more often than not run away, just as most
animals do if they have the chance.

Above the woods into which the buffalo had retired was an immense
pile of rocks; on the edge of these rocks stood a large euphorbia.
In the shadow of this queer-shaped tree we decided to wait and
watch for the rest of the day, on the chance that the buffalo might
come out to feed again, though we scarcely expected to see them
much before sunset. After a few hours we heard something moving
among the trees, and it was not long before we made out the dark
forms as they occasionally crossed a fairly open place. Off and on
during the rest of the day we saw or heard them, but without having
an opportunity for using the camera. It was not till nearly five
o'clock that they finally emerged from the woods, and then instead
of coming out into the open to feed, as we fully expected, they
remained among the low bushes, some feeding, others standing
chewing their cud, while a few lay down beneath the shrubs. Evi-
dently they were entirely unsuspicious, for even though we were
but a hundred yards away, they behaved more like a herd of domestic
cows in a barnyard than a herd of savage beasts in the heart of Africa.
Unfortunately, on our high perch we got the full benefit of the wind,
which was blowing so vigorously that it was impossible to give a


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time exposure with the telephoto lens, and the rapidly declining
light made it impossible to obtain satisfactory results with short
exposures. I made several attempts, but the pictures were of course
extremely disappointing. Had we been shooting, what an oppor-
tunity this would have been, for the largest bull in the herd an
immense beast with a wonderful pair of well-formed horns lay
in the shade of a bush, his back toward us, thus exposing both his
spine and the back of his head, fatal shots in either case. What
an example of the difference between the difficulties of photographing
wild animals and shooting them! All we could do was to enjoy
watching the herd until we were warned by the sinking sun that
it was quite time for us to be making tracks for camp, unless we
wished to be benighted on the mountain. The walking was bad
enough by daylight, but in the darkness it would have been well-
nigh impossible. So we left the buffalo unaware of having been
watched by us, while we made the most of the remaining daylight
by hurrying down the steep hillside, and reached camp just at dark.
We were very much pleased with the day's work, but hoped to have
even better luck before leaving. Whether or not the buffalo on
finding our trail had been frightened it is impossible to say, but
though we climbed that mountain many times, and devoted the days
to watching the edge of the forest, we could never repeat our first
day's experience. Only once did we even see the animals again,
and then they were in a small clearing surrounded by dense and
almost impenetrable forest. To go through the forest, where at
any moment one might come only too suddenly on either buffalo
or rhinoceros, would be sheer folly, for either of these animals,
when encountered in thick bush, might prove extremely dangerous.


One morning while we were walking slowly through the tall grass,
keeping our eyes on the distant edge of the forest, we ran across a
pair of handsome black leopards drinking at a small spring not
more than fifty feet away. They saw us just as we discovered them.
Needless to say, they were off immediately. These animals are
both rare and extremely shy, so to have lost an opportunity for
securing a photograph of them in such an ideal setting was a source
of the keenest regret; in fact, the chance of our again seeing one of
them was most improbable. It was particularly aggravating, as
we could so easily have made a picture of them had we not been
looking far ahead, and so failed to observe that which was near
to us. On reaching the edge of the forest we found a pair of rhi-
noceros asleep among some low bushes. For some reason or other
the top of the mountain does not seem to be the proper place for
these big creatures. One associates them more with open plains
and grassy swamps, whereas they appear to be equally at home
in high country and dense forests. I made a couple of telephotos
of the sleeping pair, then aroused them and made another exposure
of them standing. It was not long before they heard us, when with
a loud snort or two they rushed down the steep hillside, and were
soon lost to view in the forest below.

We found the daily climb rather trying to our muscles, and so
decided to vary the work by taking a day after lions, several of
which had been seen by our men. We beat several river beds
where the thick grass formed splendid cover, but beyond nearly
falling over a sleeping rhinoceros, which scared the men out of their
wits, we saw nothing of especial interest. This day we went as far
as the Athi River, where I had my first view of hippopotamus. Three


of the big clumsy creatures were swimming about, mostly under
the water, but coming to the surface occasionally to blow and snort.
After having once gotten wind of me they kept very close to a mass
of papyrus, and though they were not more than eight or ten feet
away, they were not again visible.



ON THE 5th of March we left Donya Sabuk without having had
another chance of photographing the buffalo. Heading in a south-
easterly direction, and traveling by a very circuitous Wakamba
track, we went toward the Yata Plains. The country, until we
reached the Athi River, was more or less hilly and very dry. It was
the usual park-like country so common in British East Africa low
grass, scarcely any undergrowth, and evenly distributed thorn trees.
The delicious fragrance of the cream-colored flowers of these trees
filled the air, and reminded one strongly of a northern apple orchard
in full bloom. We saw no game of any kind except a small herd of
impala and a few hartebeest, and we encountered scarcely any
natives other than those in two small villages through which we
passed. These villages, with their small and very unpretentious
grass huts, belonged to the Wakamba tribe, a quiet people who
live mostly by their flocks of goats and cattle. They received us
in a very friendly way, giving sour milk to our porters, and expressing
their pleasure at having a visit from white men. The women were
engaged in winnowing a fine millet-like seed which, with maize and
milk, is one of their chief articles of food. Most of the men were
busy making large baskets, about six feet in diameter, in which they
stow their grain. One old man was engrossed in the making of



a bow, and it was interesting to see with what dexterity he used an
adze-shaped tool. The men frequently carry bows and arrows,
but whether they are skilful in the use of them we were unable to
discover. The Wakamba men have the curious habit of filing their
front teeth to fine points. In some cases they even pull out some,
and in their place insert very finely pointed teeth made usually of
hippopotamus ivory. They are not, generally speaking, a fine-
looking race, being frequently rather small, and as a rule their color
is coal black, instead of the splendid deep copper color so often
seen among their northern cousins, the Wa-Kikuyu.

We camped for the night on the banks of the Athi River, and
next morning continued on our way toward the Yata Plains, follow-
ning the course of the river for several miles before turning eastward.
We entered the Yata Plains almost immediately after leaving the
Athi. This immense tract between the Athi and the Tiva rivers,
is treeless except in occasional gullies. The ground is somewhat
stony in places, but the greater part, like that of most of the open
country we had crossed, is composed of very porous black earth
with scanty vegetation. Water is scarce throughout the region
except during the rainy season. At other times most of the water
holes and tiny streams dry up. On the whole we were disappointed
in the amount of game. A few zebra, hartebeest, impala, ostrich
and a small herd of eland were all we saw during the first day.
Around the water holes, near which we camped, there were fairly
good signs of animals, and as our guide declared there was no water
within six hours' march, we felt that our chances for obtaining
flashlight photographs were excellent. Accordingly we set the
cameras near the water only to experience the same disappointment


as on previous occasions, when the nocturnal birds had invariably
sprung the shutters by flying against the threads. This finally
necessitated our having to give up all idea of doing any more auto-
matic flashlights near water, and resorting to the more trying, but,
as it proved, infinitely more interesting method of watching the
cameras all night, and firing from a distance when the animals were
in the desired position and place. The great drawback to this sort
of work, if one is limited in time, is that it means being awake all
night, and consequently being unable to do much during the day-

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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 4 of 18)