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 5 of 18)
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time. It is absolutely necessary to indulge in the very fullest allow-
ance of sleep, for in tropical Africa, as in all hot countries, one's
strength must be maintained if illness is to be avoided. A man
in full vigor is of course much more nearly immune from fever
than one who is in a run-down condition, and once fever has got
its hold on a white man his powers of work are very greatly curtailed.
Then, again, living on the generally high altitude of British East
Africa has a tendency to affect the nerves, and in doing big game
hunting, whether with camera or rifle, it is highly desirable that
one's nerves be in very good condition. The best way to secure
this is to have abundant sleep and exercise, and, it might be added,
to be moderate in the use of alcoholic liquors.

It may be readily understood what a wonderful fascination flash-
light work has for those who are interested in wild animals. Prob-
ably no branch of photography offers greater possibilities for pleasure
and excitement. Whether the device one uses is automatic, so that
the animals take their own photographs, or whether one sits up
watching by the side of water hole or runway, and releases flash
and camera at the proper moment, no one can have any idea of the



FLASHLIGHTS ON THE YATA PLAINS 49

allurements of this form of sport unless he has undergone the experi-
ence. Apart from the animals themselves, there is something so
delightful in being out in the mysterious night, when the great world
is erroneously believed to be in a state of slumber, whereas it is only
when the searching light of day vanishes that so much of the animal
world awakes to life and activity. Then again, all creatures are
game for the photographic bag, and that in itself as a sport offers
an advantage over any kind of shooting. In British East Africa
flashlight photography may be found at its very best, the possibilities
are almost unlimited, the conditions most wonderfully favorable,
and the variety of animal life as varied as the most ambitious could
wish. One cannot tell what will come within range of the camera -
the lowly jackal that approaches so quietly that his presence is seldom
betrayed, the mighty rhinoceros, whose petulant snorting leads
the watcher to wonder what might happen if he should become
too inquisitive; the beautiful zebra, whose strongly marked coat
makes him a much-desired object for the camera; or, best of all,
it may be the stealthy, silent-footed lion, who comes without warning,
and curdles our blood with his roaring when he retreats after being
suddenly disturbed. The one thing absolutely necessary for successful
flashlight photography is the selection of a suitable place. There
must be some strong attraction for the animals, otherwise they
will not come near the cameras, for even with the most scrupulous
care there is usually something that will betray the presence of
man to the keenly alert creatures. They are extremely suspicious
of any place that has been recently frequented by man, so that a
water hole, which offers perhaps the greatest of inducements to the
wild beasts, is one of the best possible fields of operation, though



5 o CAMERA ADVENTURES

for the carnivora a dead animal is most likely to attract, especially

if it be one of their own killing.

When working in a country where lions and other dangerous
creatures are a constant menace to the sportsman every precaution
must be taken to protect oneself against possible trouble; therefore
when engaged in watching flashlight cameras a well-built boma of
thorn bushes is desirable. We built ours of stout poles placed in
the form of a tepee, and covered with thorn bush except at the
opening. This was left open to admit of free passage, for there is
always the chance that one may have to rush out in a hurry, in case
the flashlight sets fire to the dry grass. This small opening means
that one is liable to an attack from lions, but by keeping a sharp
lookout, and having firearms ready for immediate use, we felt fairly
safe. A very important consideration in flashlight photography is
that of quietness, not comparative, but absolute noiselessness. To
ensure this one must be comfortable, so that there will be no incentive
to move at a critical moment. It frequently happens that an animal
may be within a few yards, watching suspiciously, when you are
not aware of its existence. The slightest sound will betray your
presence, and off he will go. We found that by using a thick layer
of grass, covered with a heavy blanket, we could move slightly
without making the least noise.

On the evening of our first attempt we made everything absolutely
ready before darkness set in. Any appliances that might be required
were placed where they could be easily reached, and soon after the
sun had set we settled ourselves for our first night's watching. What
a splendid night it was! Scarcely a breeze stirred the air. The
moon, then at its full, lighted the country as only a tropical moon



FLASHLIGHTS ON THE YATA PLAINS 51

can. The stillness was almost overpowering, such a stillness as
I had experienced only in the winter nights among the northern
forests when the deep snow deadens all sounds. There was not even
the buzzing of nocturnal insects to distract one. Occasionally in
the distance the queer dog-like barking of the zebra, the maniacal
howl of the hyena, or the thrilling roar of a lion, would disturb the
peaceful quiet. Our slightest move sounded alarmingly loud; even
our breathing made us wonder the sharp-eared animals could not
hear us. For a couple of hours we watched without result, but
about nine o'clock we heard sounds of approaching footsteps. What
they were we could not tell for some time. In vain we strained our
eyes, until at last some indistinct forms began to take shape. It
was a small herd of Coke's hartebeest; not rare animals, it is true,
but nevertheless we were greatly excited as we watched them coming
nearer and nearer. They did not come directly to the water, thirsty
though they probably were, but approached with the utmost caution,
stopping every few steps to scrutinize the pool and its surroundings.
Who could tell what enemy might be crouching in the deep gray
shadows of the rocks and bushes! Any one of those small mounds or
clumps of grass might in reality be a lion or a leopard ready to spring
on one. A wild animal that would live long must go slow when
he knows not what is ahead, and so these hartebeest came on at a
pace which was to us most tantalizingly slow. Occasionally one
would leave the herd and come close to the pool, then as a frog or
bird would make a noise in or near the water away he would go,
taking the other animals with him. Again and again this happened,
and we were kept in breathless suspense, fearing each time that they
would not return. For over an hour I held the electric button in



52 CAMERA ADVENTURES

my hand ready at any instant to release the flash. When at last,
to my great delight, the animals, satisfied apparently with their
investigations, came straight to the pool, and standing directly in
front of the two cameras began drinking, scarcely realizing what
I was doing I pressed the button. Instantly the scene was lighted
by the powerful blue-white flash, and before the animals had time
to move two photographs had been made. Away went the bewildered
herd, blinded no doubt by the brilliancy of the light, and badly
frightened by the report, which, owing to the quietness of the night,
sounded unusually loud. It is not necessary to add that we were
thoroughly delighted, as there was every reason to believe the pictures
would prove satisfactory.

Other animals might come to drink, for the night was still young,
so, armed with lamp and rifle, we visited the cameras, changed the
plates, reset the flash lamp, and returned to the boma to wait for
what might come. Scarcely an hour had passed before we heard
the distant sounds of footsteps and crunching of grass. There
was little doubt that it was zebra, for they are noisy feeders. We
hoped our surmise would prove correct, for I was very anxious to
obtain photographs of these animals by flashlight. They did not
keep us long in suspense, and soon we heard them coming down the
hill behind. On they came without hesitating until they were within
about forty yards. Zebra they surely were, and what a sight they
presented! About one hundred and thirty of the beautiful striped
creatures, their strangely marked coats glistening in the clear moon-
light. One moment the light would strike them, so that the pattern
was wonderfully conspicuous; then, turning slightly, they would
become merged in the gray of the landscape, and fade into oblivion.



FLASHLIGHTS ON THE YATA PLAINS 53

Sometimes their dark noses would be the only evidence of their
existence. It was unquestionably the most superb animal picture
I have ever had the good fortune to see. One could not imagine
anything more beautiful, yet it seemed unreal, and was far more
like a dream than a reality. If one could but photograph such a
scene in all its delicacy of tone and color, what a triumph it would
be! But such pictures are only seen in nature, for neither camera
nor even brush can reproduce the wonders of moonlight and its
mysterious nameless colors. We had thought the hartebeest
suspicious, but the zebra proved even more so, and for five hours
or more they kept us in a state of nervous excitement. Sometimes
the whole herd came within thirty or forty yards of the water hole,
and stood still for a few moments, then one, more courageous than
the others, came forward a few steps, but fear taking possession of
his timid heart he stopped. After a few minutes another, with a
sudden and belated idea that he was no coward, slowly advanced,
but his courage, too, dwindled when he felt himself alone, and
after looking ahead at the dark shades about the water hole he turned
with nervous haste and scampered back to his companions; then
they all disappeared for a time. It reminded one of a lot of boys
each daring the other to do some act of supposed bravery; one
taunting another, would urge him to do things that he himself was
afraid to do. We were unable to discern the cause of the zebra's
remarkable caution. Perhaps it was that the cameras were not
sufficiently well hidden, or that they had gotten our scent. It seemed
scarcely possible that under ordinary conditions they would spend
five hours in coming to water, but whatever might have been the
cause, their suspicions were so thoroughly aroused that they finally



54 CAMERA ADVENTURES

gave up all idea of visiting the water hole, and vanished in the

dim light of the early dawn.

The following night saw us again at our post. We concealed
the cameras more carefully with reeds so that no animal could detect
them. The electric device was thoroughly tested, and everything
appeared to be in perfect working order, so we settled ourselves
down to what we hoped would prove a good night's sport. Toward
midnight a small herd of zebra came, but after walking about and
examining the ground near the water hole, they departed without
satisfying their thirst. Later on some hartebeest arrived on the
scene. Unlike those of the previous night they scarcely hesitated.
One came ahead, and after a brief examination of the place began
drinking. The others immediately followed his example. They
were in a splendid position for a picture, and I pressed the button
with the fullest expectation of securing a fine photograph. To
my utter disgust the flash refused to light, and as the noise of the
shutter had frightened away the animals, we went out to see what
could be the cause of the disappointment. There had been no
change since the outfit had been tested, so we were at a loss to under-
stand the failure. Apparently something was wrong, as the flash
would not work when both the cameras were in circuit, so that as
we were unable to remedy the trouble, we finally decided to use
only one camera. We returned to the shelter in a somewhat dis-
couraged frame of mind to await the next comers, whatever they
might be.

Unfortunately the sky had clouded over, so that we no longer
had the brilliant moon to light the scene of operations. About an
hour before daylight, when the country was shrouded in darkness.




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FLASHLIGHTS ON THE YATA PLAINS 55

I heard the sound of water being lapped. What animal it might
be I could not tell, but it was evidently neither antelope nor zebra, as
they drink as a horse does, almost without a noise. Hyena it might
be, or still more likely a lion, for several times during the night
we had heard one roaring not very far away. The only way to find
out was to make a photograph, so I pressed the button. The flash
went off immediately, and so did the animal. My feelings can be
better imagined than described when on going to reset the camera
I discovered the fact that the slide had not been drawn from the
plate holder. Inexcusable carelessness it was without doubt, but
it must be allowed that working at cameras on a dark night with lions
roaring around is apt to make one somewhat hasty in attending
to the many and somewhat intricate details of a flashlight device.
It is really quite remarkable how many opportunities there are for
failure in animal photography. One may take every possible pre-
caution beforehand, and see that each part of the apparatus is in
perfect order, and then, at the critical moment, fail through forgetting
some minute but important detail. The flashlight device seemed
actually to be governed by the spirit of trouble. Often we would
test it repeatedly in every possible way with perfectly satisfactory
results, and then, after waiting for hours, or even nights, for some
animal to come within range, the wretched apparatus fails at the
last moment. The electric device is unquestionably the best of all
methods when it works, as it responds immediately and is noiseless,
which is a most important consideration, but it is unfortunately
over-easily deranged in the knocking about which things are
almost bound to have on "safari." It is to be hoped that some one
will eventually design an apparatus for flashlight work that will



56 CAMERA ADVENTURES

be both simple and effective, yet light enough to work on the field.
Mechanical devices are nearly always too noisy to be used with
perfect satisfaction, and they are not instantaneous, so that when
several cameras are used together it is almost impossible to secure
absolute synchronism.

One night we were much interested in watching the peculiar
behavior of an old doe hartebeest. She came with her yearling
fawn, and after carefully investigating the vicinity of the pool began
drinking. The yearling very soon satisfied his thirst, and retired
from the scene, but the old one continued drinking intermittently
for two hours. During this time three other hartebeest appeared,
but every time they came near the water the fractious old doe drove
them away. A more ill-natured old creature I have never seen.
What her reason was for objecting to the other animals having a
drink no one could say, but she was absolutely determined in her
selfishness, and must have taken far more water than she could
possibly need, for every time she chased any animal away she would
immediately have a drink. A small herd of zebra came, and these,
too, she drove away. Finally she was badly frightened by the sudden
arrival of a jackal, and we saw no more of her.

Later in the night I secured a photograph of four hartebeest
which came with very slight hesitation. For several nights we
watched the water hole without very satisfactory results, as the animals
were extremely shy. One night, however, while watching the careful
approach of a small herd of hartebeest, we were surprised to see
them suddenly bolt with wonderful speed just as they reached the
water. The cause of their fright soon appeared in the shape of a
spotted hyena, which had come as silently as a ghost. The harte-



FLASHLIGHTS ON THE YATA PLAINS 57

beest did not wait to investigate, but ran as soon as they realized
that an animal was near. As a matter of fact they had no reason to
be afraid of the despised hyena, which probably never attacks any
wild creature, unless it be wounded, but prowls about, ghoul-like,
and plays the part of scavenger and thief. Nothing is too disgusting
for it, meat in the last stages of decay, and even offal, being eaten
with apparent relish. Human flesh finds favor with them, and
though they will sometimes attack children, they prefer to wait for
those that are dead or dying. Burial by the natives of most of the
East African tribes is very rare, old people who have lost their teeth,
mothers of very large families, and distinguished chiefs, being about
the only ones entitled to burial. Many of the tribes believe that
to have any one die in a hut brings bad luck, so as the end approaches
the wretched creature is carried out and placed under a tree (if
one is convenient), away from the village, to be devoured by the
hyenas. On this account the natives will not kill these "living
tombs of their people." It is strange that the hyenas should be such
miserable cowards. Evidently they do not appear to realize their
power, though it is true that most of their strength is in their jaws,
which are so powerful that they are said to be able to crunch any
bone around which their teeth can close, and yet, unlike their close
relations, the big "cats," they will almost starve rather than attack
a living creature. The hyena that frightened away the hartebeest
was himself so alarmed that he slunk away, but after a few
minutes reappeared, and as he stood suspiciously examining the
pool I fired the flash and secured two photographs. In one of
the pictures the indistinct forms of the hartebeest are visible in the
background.



58 CAMERA ADVENTURES

We were somewhat surprised that no lions visited the water hole,
for the fact that there were many in the neighborhood was only
too clear. Nearly every night we heard them roaring, and the men
while gathering firewood had seen several. As lions invariably
drink soon after feeding, we could not understand how it was that
we had seen none. Evidently there must be other water about,
notwithstanding our guide's assurance to the contrary. One morning,
while taking our much-needed sleep, after having been up all night,
we were aroused by the magic word "Simba" (Swahili for lion).
The men had been out for wood, and had seen two lions in a little
gully not far away. Without waiting to ask many questions we
hastily dressed and started in the direction of the gully, armed with
rifles and cameras, and followed by almost all our men, as I had
promised backsheesh for information leading to either the photo-
graphing or shooting of lions. Both my companions and myself were
extremely anxious to secure a lion's skin, and we were greatly excited
at the prospect before us. On reaching the place where the lions
had been seen we found a small and nearly dry stream, in which
was a dense growth of papyrus, evidently a first-rate cover for the
animals. Accordingly we determined to try a beat. My companion
took one side and I with my camera bearer the other. The men
followed close behind, making all the noise they could and throwing
stones into the thicket.

It was not long before something began to move in the papyrus
within a few yards of me. That it was a lion there seemed no doubt,
and at that distance there was no time to lose, for should the beast
decide to spring there would be an extremely good chance for trouble.
The men, in a high state of excitement, begged me to shoot. Photo-




\ IN COMING TO THE WATER TO DRINK FRIGHTENED AWAY SOME HARTEBEEST
I' H 'AN BE DIMLY SEEN IN THE BACKGROUND. (FLASHLIGHT, YATA PLAINS)



FLASHLIGHTS ON THE YATA PLAINS 59

graphing wa.s out of the question, so, trusting to luck, I fired into the
moving grass, and though there was no sound of any struggle the
motion ceased. I was just wondering what had happened when,
not more than four yards away, there was a crashing sound, and
again I fired, though nothing was visible. Scarcely had the sound of
the shot died away when to our surprise out rushed a lion cub directly
toward my companion. Then there was great excitement, as all
hands gave chase. It was not long before the youngster was caught,
and a savage little brute it proved to be. We were very anxious
to keep it alive, and while several of the men were helping to tie it
securely, I had the very questionable pleasure of seeing an immense
lion and lioness approaching. If ever there was an opportunity for
trouble we surely had it, for the growls of the cub as it fought its
captors could be clearly heard for several hundred yards. Nearly
all the men, following the primal instinct, bolted with more haste
than dignity, while we stood still watching the mighty beasts as they
watched us. Neither of us had ever seen a wild lion before, and our
feelings may well be imagined. Of course we thought there was
no possible way of avoiding an attack, and we drew lots for who
was to take the lion. It was a queer experience, standing there
holding an infuriated lion cub, and drawing lots for choice of shots,
while the huge black-maned lion and his mate were not more than
two hundred yards away. I won the draw, and was wondering
whether I had better shoot at once, or wait for a closer shot, when,
to our utter disgust, the two animals turned tail and ignominiously
disappeared over the hill.

As there was every reason to suppose they would return, we
concluded it would be best for us to take advantage of a comfortable-



60 CAMERA ADVENTURES

looking tree, from which both photographing and shooting would
be more satisfactory. Using the camera from the ground was impossi-
ble, owing -o the high grass which concealed so much of a low-standing
animal such as a lion. The struggling cub was carried to the tree
we selected, in the hope that its growling would bring the parents
within range of the cameras. My camera bearer had climbed the
tree, and I was about to pass him the outfit, when to my surprise
three lions came in sight, the black-maned lion and two lionesses.
They were about two hundred and fifty yards away. I was in the
act of changing the ordinary lens for the telephoto in order to get
a good long-distance picture when they retreated. The noise made
by the men as they struggled for the few available trees presumably
frightened the lions, and so once more we were disappointed. To
add to our dismay the unfortunate cub died. It actually killed
itself by struggling. The tree we were in was about seventy-five
yards from where the cub had been found, and as it seemed to me
that it would be better to be nearer, I decided to take my place alone
in a small thorn tree, directly over where I had fired the shots, so
with my rifle and camera I started off. I had not gone half-way
before my companion called out, "Here comes the lion!" That
is the way things go in animal photography. One waits for hours and
nothing happens, then the moment one moves the long-waited-for
animal arrives. I cannot say that there was any undue lingering
on my part, and it seemed as though that tree were only too far away;
however, I finally reached it, and had just wriggled my way through
the thorns to one of the lower branches, when I had the pleasure
of seeing the two lionesses standing close together, not seventy-five
yards away. One shot with a solid bullet would have gone through



FLASHLIGHTS ON THE YATA PLAINS 61

both of their shoulders, and I was sorely tempted to fire, but the
thought that the big lion was behind prevented my acting on the
impulse.

Judging by the conditions, there seemed to be every probability
that I should have an opportunity of securing a photograph of him,
and even have a chance of a shot as well, and perhaps my companion
might get a lioness or two. For about three minutes I watched the
splendid creatures, expecting every instant to see the lion emerge
from behind a large bush near which the tawny pair were standing,
and when they turned their heads and looked back I felt sure the
time was close at hand. It was very exciting, but I wished that
bush was out of the way, and I also wished myself a little farther
from the ground, and among fewer thorns. Five feet from the
ground is too close for complete comfort. I held the cameras pointed
at the lioness, ready to press the button the moment the lion came
in sight, when before I realized what had happened, they jumped
into some high grass and bolted as hard as they could. It appeared


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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 5 of 18)