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 8 of 18)
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of me and my strange silent weapon, so they went off with their queer
amble, slowing down as they reached the top of the nearest hill,
and I was able to secure one more picture of them against the sky-
line. Which giraffe these were I am unable to say, as we did not
shoot, and even had we done so, the fact there there is so much
question as to "who's who" in the giraffe world would still have
left the identification in some doubts. I do not, however, think it
was the Somali variety (Giraffe reticulata), as the spots did not appear
to have the very clearly defined network of whitish lines bordering
their dark markings. Like many other animals the giraffe is sub-
ject to great local variation, and frequently a single specimen, with


somewhat abnormal markings, has been described as a new variety.
It seems to be a great mistake to multiply species on too slight grounds,
and a single specimen which shows distinctive coloring, without
any structural difference, should not be separated by a new name,
unless the differences are constant in a number of specimens. But
men are so proud to say they have discovered and described a new
species that they will jump at the chance of having an animal named
after them. Few animals show greater variation than giraffe,
and in a herd of thirty of forty a dozen individuals might require
a dozen different descriptions, each one being perfectly accurate in
itself, but no two being quite in accordance with the true type descrip-
tion. Where these different individuals are found in widely separated
districts they would probably each be named as a sub-species. Local
conditions of food and climate are usually bound to affect the appear-
ance of any animal, so that, as well as the marked individuality of
any species, should be thoroughly considered before a new name
is added to the ever-growing list. Unlike the common animals,
the giraffe cannot, or should not, be collected in large numbers
from a given district, so there are no complete series of specimens
from which a general average of markings and color might be

As we neared the Thika the nature of the country changed con-
siderably. The small thorn and other bushes, fifteen or twenty
feet in height, grew close together, while here and there were large
trees, singly or in groups. Ant-hills of immense size were abundant,
and on many of the smalher trees another kind of ant or termite
had built mud nests. Colonies of weaver birds had their wonderful
pendant nests hung from every available branch on some of the



larger trees. These in some cases were built entirely of thorns,
packed closely together, and lined with grass, with an opening on
the under side. As the rainy season was due the birds were very
busy, and the males were attired in their gay mating plumage of
yellow and black.

Before noon we reached the junction of the two rivers and camped
on the near side. This seemed advisable, as at any moment the
rains might come and the floods would begin, then our return would
be cut off, so that we should probably be forced to follow the north-
ward course of the Thika until we came to the bridge on the Fort
Hall-Nairobi road. We found the Tana to be a fair-sized river,
about one hundred and fifty to three hundred feet wide, deep in
most parts, and studded with rocks. Already the effect of the Kenia
rains, which had just commenced, was noticeable in the discolora-
tion of the water. The banks showed that when in flood the river
must be thirty or forty feet deep. On either side was an irregular
fringe of large trees, many of which were vine-covered, but on the
whole the river did not impress us as being tropical, not so much so,
in fact, as the Thika, where there were occasional palms and a great
deal of papyrus and cane. The Thika is generally fairly swift
and except during the rains is beautifully fair and cool. Fish are
abundant in both rivers, but they are not of very good quality,
being both coarse and bony. Of bird life there appeared to
be very little. Marabou storks, a few Egyptian geese, sandpipers
and darters, once in a while a heron, and some of the exquis-
itely beautiful blue kingfishers were among the only water-loving
birds. Near the river guinea-fowl and doves were numerous, while
grouse and bustards were fairly so. On the whole we were


greatly disappointed in the bird life, which we had hoped to find

very abundant.

We devoted the first afternoon to looking over the country west
of the Thika. Game was fairly plentiful, hartebeest and impala
being most numerous, but we also saw a good many zebra and water-
buck, a few giraffe and a couple of rhinoceros. All the animals
proved to be extremely wild, and I was unable to do any photo-
graphic work. Near the rivers there was some sign of hippopotamus,
and during the night we heard them blowing and bellowing in the
river not far away, and one rhinoceros nearly came into the camp.
The fires, however, frightened him away. We heard no sounds of
lions, and judging from the entire lack of signs it seemed doubtful
whether there were any in the neighborhood. It is curious how
localized animals may be. We were only about ten miles from
Simba camp, where lion signs were to be seen everywhere, and here,
near the river, we saw no signs during our stay, and only heard one
roar, and that was at a great distance. As hippopotamus were the
chief object of our visit to the Tana, we lost no time in setting flash-
light cameras at some of the most likely looking landing-places,
but evidently the big creatures got wind of our camp, for none landed.
We saw signs of where they had come out on a sandbar at the junction
of the two rivers, and on the chance of getting a rather long flash-
light shot we sat up for a couple of nights, but without seeing anything
to reward us for the trouble. Several hippopotamus came along
the river, and amused us with their queer noises, but they would not
come ashore. We went a few miles farther down the Tana, and
there we found where the clumsy old creatures spent their days.
There was an immense pool, deep and quiet, just the place to suit


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its strange occupants, and in it there were dozens of them. We
approached the banks of the river very cautiously, but the quick-
eared creatures heard us, and were rather uneasy. They collected
in such a compact mass, with heads almost touching, that we could
not but wonder where there was room for their immense bodies.
Presumably they stood almost vertically in the water, otherwise
they could not have come so close together. The majority of those
we saw appeared to be about half or three-quarters grown, while,
scattered among them, or at some distance away, were individuals
of immense size. At times they kept up an almost continuous blow-
ing or bellowing, then there would be absolute silence for a few
minutes, after which, more often than not, they would all sink out
of sight. They stayed under water for several minutes, two to three
minutes being the usual periods; then, as they came to the surface,
they would blow violently, expelling a great shower of fine spray.
When they became frightened at seeing us they, the older ones in
particular, would not expose much of their heads as they came up to
breathe. Only the immense nose would show for a second or two,
then down it would go. Among the herd were two or three young
ones, and these seemed to stay on the backs of their parents, going
up and down with them. It was a remarkably interesting sight,
yet photographically it was unsatisfactory, for the huge beasts show
so little of themselves that they seem insignificant in the picture.
Then, too, the sound is so much a part of the picture that without
it the spirit of the scene is completely lost. Occasionally one would
yawn, but somehow it was never the one on which the camera was
trained. The immense open mouth is certainly not a thing of beauty,
but it is decidedly interesting on account of the curious arrangement


of the teeth. It is difficult to realize that their lower teeth sometimes
attain a length of over five feet, which is longer by about a fifth
than the total height of the animal itself. How any one can find
sport in shooting these gigantic pigs is a mystery, but people will
go many days' journey to order in "enjoy" the "sport." The beast
is frequently shot for its ivory, which is quite valuable. Then,
too, their meat is probably more appreciated than that of any other
African animal, the immense quantities of fat being greatly relished.
Agriculture and the hippopotamus do not go hand in hand, as a
single hippopotamus will in one night destroy acres of crops; con-
sequently the animals are not much loved by either the native or
European farmers. The hippopotamus is usually a nocturnal feeder.
He spends most of the day in the water, though he may be frequently
seen on rocks or sandbars enjoying his sun-bath. As evening
approaches, he becomes restless, and usually soon after the sun sets
he begins to think of dinner. At this time the herd separates, each
individual going, I believe, to his own favorite feeding-ground.
Whether they feed every night I am not quite sure, for I have noticed
certain individuals keeping to a pool all night, while it is not at all
an uncommon thing to them see at night asleep on sandbars. Certain
landing places are used regularly, and judging from the way the
banks are worn down, and rocks polished, it would seem as though
these places have served for many centuries. How far they will
go from their day pool is hard to say, but there is every reason to
believe that they will sometimes travel ten or fifteen miles or more
before landing. Then when they are ashore they will often go a
long way before finding the necessary supply of the grass which forms
their food. It is scarcely credible that such large beasts (for a full-

grown bull will probably weigh over three tons) can find enough
nourishment in grass, but of course in proportion to their size they
do not require nearly as much food as animals of more nervous
temperament and active habits of life. Generally speaking, the
hippopotamus cannot be said to be dangerous, but like most large
animals they object to man, and if any one is foolish enough to place
himself between a hippopotamus and the water, which is the creature's
natural refuge, he must be prepared to defend himself, of take the
consequences; and the results would certainly not be pleasant, for
one crunch of those big powerful jaws would leave a man in a badly
mangled condition. Then, too, when the mother hippopotamus
imagines her young to be in danger, she will at times have no com-
punction in attacking the cause of that danger. The occasional
catastrophes which occur to canoes or small boats are due more
often than not to accident rather than to aggressiveness on the part of
the hippopotamus, but if they are made angry by being wounded,
or even fired at, it is only natural that they should seek to retaliate.
I feel sure that in nearly all cases the hippopotamus will leave alone
those who leave him alone, and when a man speaks of the ferocity
of this lumbering old animal he is probably trying to find an excuse
for having killed it.

We watched the animals in the pool for several hours, while I
made a few pictures. Wishing to get a nearer view of one big cow,
which frequently came close to the shore, I took the camera to a place
where there was a flat bank of mud, and this seemed to make the
old cow very uneasy. My companion suddenly discovered the
cause of her queer behavior, for there, not twenty feet away, lay
a young hippopotamus carefully hidden beneath some overhanging


roots. The little creature was only about five feet long, and had
what looked like a small wound on its back. It was so quiet that
at first we believed it to be dead. I made an exposure before investi-
gating more carefully, when the little rascal awoke, and immediately
slid rather than ran into the water. A few moments later he appeared
on his mother's back. It was a piece of extraordinary good luck,
securing such a picture, for, as a rule, the young ones are hidden
in places which are almost, if not quite, inaccessible to the camera.
Judging from the appearance of the river banks the hippopotamus
must hold meetings there every night. In some places the ground
for nearly one hundred yards from the river was clear of all vegeta-
tion, and the red earth was so thoroughly trodden down that no
footprints were visible except at the water's edge. We built a boma
not far from one of the most likely looking landings, and arranged
the cameras so as to catch any animal that came ashore. Some of
the cameras were fitted with the automatic device which the animal
would trip, while others were controlled by electric wires from the
boma. Shortly after sunset the hippopotamus began making a
great deal of noise, but none landed near us. Late in the night we
heard them ashore some distance from the river but not one would
come near the cameras. The following night we changed the posi-
tion of the boma, but with no better result. Evidently the wary
creatures were in some way able to get our scent, so they kept well
away from us. Then we tried stalking them by moonlight, which
was rather uncanny work, but in this, too, we failed, as they always
saw us, while we never saw them. After several nights of waiting
and watching and stalking, we began to realize that photographing
hippopotamus was not as easy as it seemed, and it looked as if we





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should be unable to secure any pictures except those which showed
the animals in the water. The rains had commenced, which added
to our troubles, and made the night work somewhat unpleasant,
as there was usually a heavy downpour each night, so that the cam-
eras and flashlights had to be very carefully protected.

We had noticed one particularly good-looking place on the way
to camp, so one night we arranged to watch there, and accordingly
placed the camera with the greatest care at the landing, while we
pitched a very small dark-colored tent about seventy or eighty
yards away, so that the animals should not get our wind. In order
to prevent their landing at the place near the main pool I went there
just before dark and built several large fires. On my way I saw
something which made me decidedly happy. In a bend of the river
where several large rocks appeared above the surface of the water
were a number of hippopotamus. Some of them were on the rocks
and others in the water. This, then, was the place where they slept
when not in the pool. So it looked as if there would be no difficulty
in making photographs of them. It was too late to do anything
that night, so I continued toward the big pool, and on my way saw
an immense number of baboons, some of which were quite near.
It was the first and only time that I had seen them at all tame,
and of course, it was the one time when I had no camera with me.
They were so disdainful of me that they would not even hurry
at my approach, but walked slowly, stopping frequently to look
at me. There must have been over a hundred of them, and
some were of immense size, capable of doing a lot of damage if it
happened to suit their fancy. I could imagine nothing more
frightful than being attacked by a herd of these savage-looking


creatures though, as a matter of fact they do not, so far as I

could hear, ever attack man in East Africa.

That night we had an extremely amusing experience. The night
had passed only too quietly. There were no lions about, so we were
somewhat negligent in our watching. If the truth were known I
believe that both of us were dozing, for we were tired after many nights
of watching, when about an hour or two before daylight the sudden
report of the flash nearest our shelter startled us. Up we jumped,
delighted at the idea of having at last secured a photograph of a
hippopotamus, for that it was a hippopotamus we were sure, as
we heard the splash as the big beast jumped into the water. When we
emerged from our well-hidden shelter we were surprised to see some
burning sparks quite close to us. They could not, of course, have
come from the flashlight, and we stood still and wondered. Farther
on a burning brand lay on the ground glowing brightly in the darkness.
What in the world it all meant we could not imagine. We walked
toward it, and there, to our intense surprise, stood a shivering native
scared nearly out of his wits. His surprise can be easily understood,
and it was no wonder that he was frightened. It appears that he,
with two others, had made an early start, and were quietly walking
along the trail brandishing (as they always do when traveling in
the dark) a burning stick to keep animals away. A hippo, return-
ing from his grazing ground, seeing them coming, had beaten a hurried
retreat, and in rushing down a steep embankment to the river tripped
the flashlight release. Bang went the flash, to the utter consterna-
tion of both the Kikuyu and the hippo. Then, while the man was
trying to gather his senses together, we two appeared as though
from nowhere, and the wretched fellow evidently believed his last



moment had come. It took us some minutes to allay his fears, and he
had great difficulty in coaxing his two companions to return, for
they, in their fright, had rushed away and hidden in the brush.
It would have been interesting to hear their account of the experience
with the sudden bright light, which must have blinded them for a

It had rained so hard during the early part of the night that we
had great difficulty in crossing the Thika to camp. The water had
risen about four and a half feet, and it began to appear as though
we should not be able to take advantage of yesterday's discovery.
But when I thought of those hippopotamus on the rocks I deter-
mined to get back to them at all costs, and when we crossed the
river at noon it looked as if there would be small chance of the camera
arriving at the opposite shore in a dry condition. However, the
porter managed it with the greatest care, and by two o'clock we
were within sight of the hippopotamus rock. Sure enough there
were the animals, more even than I had seen on the previous day.
The question was, how could we get near them ? They are very
shy beasts, and particularly object to being seen out of water. As
their sense of smell is wonderfully keen we had to manoeuvre so as
to guard against their getting our wind. After about half an hour
of careful stalking we reached the river bank immediately opposite
the hippopotamus, and with the utmost caution I placed the camera
in position and made an exposure, fully believing that one would
be all I should be able to make. To my astonishment the sound
of the shutter did not frighten the animals at all, and I continued
for half an hour making exposures with every possible combination
of lens and time. They were about eighty or one hundred yards


away, so the telephoto proved far more satisfactory than the ordinary
lens, which only gave a very small image of them. The conditions
for telephoto work were admirable scarcely any wind, good light,
and animals that were almost immovable. Such a rare combination
seldom falls to the lot of the animal hunter who uses a camera in
place of the rifle. So I made the most of the opportunity, and used
up every plate I had brought with me except two, which were kept
for emergencies. As long as I live I shall never forget that afternoon
on the Tana. Not only were there the hippopotamus fifty of them
in all which behaved most wonderfully well, but on the opposite
bank other animals were continually coming. A large herd of impala
fed along in the shade of the trees, some waterbuck and bushbuck
added to the variety, and numerous monkeys played among the
overhanging branches, forever on the move, and chattering continu-
ously. On the rock near the hippopotamus a large crocodile lay
basking in the afternoon sun. So inconspicuous was it that not until
the plates were developed did I discover its existence. The whole
scene was such as one reads about but seldom sees, and indeed,
from what I have since seen and heard, I consider we had most
unusual luck that memorable afternoon. We started back toward
camp after about half an hour of the most rapid photographic work
I have ever done. That at least some of the plates would prove
good we could not but hope. As a matter of fact, nearly all were
more or less satisfactory.

The following day we returned to the same place with the inten-
tion of making a set of bioscope pictures. We found the hippopotamus
were there, but even with most careful stalking I was unable to get
anywhere near them. They slid off the rock and vanished down


stream, and after that we never saw more than their heads, as
they came to the surface to snort and blow. It would have made
a splendid bioscope series, and we were greatly disappointed at
having failed in the attempt. But it shows how uncertain a job is
animal photography. After the experience of the previous day
I had felt that there would have been no difficulty at all, provided
proper precautions were taken to stalk with due regard for the direc-
tion of the wind; but only failure had resulted, even though we had
been quite as careful as on the previous day.

On our way back we had the good fortune to see two crocodiles.
One was on the rock in the middle of the river, and the other, a very
large one, was on the edge of the water under a high bank. In both
cases they were beyond the scope of the ordinary lens, so that it was
necessary to use the telephoto, and as the day was overcast at the
time the camera had to be used on its tripod. This rather added
to the difficulties of the stalking, but I was fortunate enough to be
able to make two exposures of each crocodile before they disappeared.
In India, where these creatures are protected, they become so tame
that they may be photographed with little or no difficulty, but in
East Africa I found them very shy, and it was only by approaching
the river with utmost caution that I could secure any pictures of them.
If it was only a case of shooting the creatures there would be no
trouble, as one could always with moderate care creep behind a tree
and get a shot without being discovered, but with the camera one
is handicapped, as a rule, by intervening twigs or grass.

Most of our energies during our stay on the Tana had been devoted
to the hippopotamus. We had done some other work, but the
animals appeared to be extremely wild, and, consequently, difficult


to photograph. Both waterbuck and impala were abundant, but,
though I tried repeatedly, I did not succeed in doing anything with
the latter, and only once was able to secure any pictures of the
waterbuck. Three of these beautiful creatures were feeding on a
dry hillside which, owing to the lack of trees or other obstructions,
lent itself to the making of a good picture. A pile of rocks afforded
convenient cover for the camera, and, after some careful stalking,
I got within about one hundred and twenty-five yards of them, and
made several rather successful telephotographs. While watching
these animals I had an opportunity for seeing a pair of impala fight-
ing. These seem to be the most pugnacious of all the East African
gazelles or antelopes, the jealousy between the bucks being extremely

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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 8 of 18)