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World Wildlife Day 2020: Top nine wildlife shots

“The theme of World Wildlife Day 2020, Sustaining all life on Earth, encompasses all wild animal and plant species as a component of biodiversity, as well as the livelihoods of people, especially those who live closest to the nature” ~ United Nations.

At Governors’ Camp Collection, we felt that this year’s theme was incredibly fitting and so perfectly aligned with our sustainable travel goals as well as our long term and wide ranging commitments to conservation and community initiatives in the precious wildlife areas in which we operate.

We are extremely lucky to be set in the heart of some of East Africa’s best wildlife viewing areas and among the most spectacular scenery – and we would like to celebrate this very important day with our resident photographer, Will Fortescue’s, top nine picks of wildlife images taken by him during his time with us over the last year. Will has taken thousands of amazing shots with us, but here’s why this selection resonates so deeply with him ….

PHOTO 1: ‘Chaos’ – August 2019

Last year was the first time I spent migration season in the Mara and it was astounding. This image comes from the first crossing I witnessed which while small by Mara standards (8-10,000 we believed) was incredible to see. In all, it lasted about 10 minutes and I took a LOT of photographs in that time, but this one stood out as to me it showed the chaos, drama and enormity of the occasion happening in front of us.

PHOTO 2: ‘Before the Hunt’ – February 2020

This actually comes from my most recent safari with Governors’, just last week at the end of February and it was the first time I’d seen all 9 of the Marsh Pride females and sub adults together in a while. It was the final morning of my stint and we’d just taken a staff car out to the airstrip in a bid to see what might happen, we were incredibly lucky to find the 4 females and 5 sub adults all together and looking to hunt. I managed to grab this shot as these 3 lions looked towards a passing Topi, before choosing to pursue a family of warthog instead.

PHOTO 3: ‘Romi’ – February 2019

Romi is without a doubt a guest favourite in the Mara. Named after Romi Grammaticas, one of the founders of the Governors’ Camp Collection she is a stunning leopard and one who is often seen between our camps in the Masai Mara. This particular evening we were driving back in to Little Governors’ having already seen a leopard in the Kaboso area; our luck must have been seriously in that day as we then found Romi sitting on a fallen tree, unperturbed by our presence, posing for almost an hour allowing me to capture a great series of images. Thank you, Romi!

PHOTO 4: ‘After the Storm’ – October 2019

My favourite part of last year was just after the wildebeest had left and the elephants (my favourite subject to photograph) were returning to the Musiara Marsh. It had been a few months since I’d seen a family of this size as they are put off by the large numbers of wildebeest and so watching them cross the river and return to the area around camp was amazing. I spent one afternoon in the pouring rain observing this family of elephant and was rewarded with a series of images as they all changed direction towards the airstrip and made a direct line towards our vehicle. A heart stopping moment and a great experience.

In the 1930s there were as many as 10 million elephants roaming vast areas across Africa – today it is thought there are fewer than 400,000 left. Their numbers have declined mostly due to poaching for ivory and human-wildlife conflict.

PHOTO 5: ‘Doa’ – July 2019

An image that I have always wanted to try and capture. Male lions are seen regularly in the Mara and are in fact the reason many travel to the area. There must be thousands of images out there of the ‘Six Marsh Males’, but this one of Doa is of all the images I’ve taken, a personal favourite. My aim when photographing lions is to obviously display their regal essence and confidence that comes with being the top of the food chain. However they are also vulnerable, from other lions and sadly from people the world over. This image, while showing the majestic beauty of the animal also highlights a slight element of fear and vulnerability in his eyes, a look not often seen. Today, there are only about 20,000 wild lions left in Africa.

PHOTO 6: ‘Tira’ – September 2019

Without doubt one of the most magical moments of 2019, seeing Tira the ‘spotted’ zebra. Tira was melanistic, a genetic mutation cause by an abundance of melanin and as a result was dark with white spots.

The safari to find Tira was a seven hour marathon as we ventured down to the Tanzanian border, had a lunch stop at the boundary between the two countries and then headed in to the heart of the migration – following a WhatsApp pin I’d been sent the previous day by a colleague.

We were looking for a needle in a hay stack but in fact it was John, a trainee guide in the passenger seat who spotted Tira. We were the only car there and spent an incredible few minutes in her company before she moved too far away from the road. To make our safari even more astounding we then saw the ‘Tano Bora’ or ‘Fast Five’, the coalition of five cheetah males on our way back to camp. An incredible day!

PHOTO 7: – ‘Tano Bora’ – October 2019

Taken when leading a brilliant photography group from America who were all desperate to see cheetah – only for the Mara to really produce something special.

As half of the group had never seen a cheetah before we set out for the TZ border in search of the Tano Bora an incredible coalition of five male cheetah. We found them moving between trees in search of shade as it was approaching 10am and the sun was getting warm. I asked Robert our guide to position the car 100 meters away from them, down a hill with a group of wildebeest in between us and them – the hope being that they would hunt one of them.

As it turns out they did hunt a wildebeest, but not one we were watching. Instead they got up from where they were and began walking along the ridge we were below, allowing us to reposition and take a few photos before they charged down the far side and killed a young wildebeest.

An amazing experience followed by breakfast just over the hill from where the cheetah were having theirs. Cheetah are also sadly endangered – there are only about 7,100 left in the wild.

PHOTO 8: ‘Under The Canopy’ – May 2019

A sight I’ve wanted to witness for years and one of the rare experiences that lives up to its hype. Trekking with the mountain gorillas in Rwanda was fascinating, to be able to spend an hour in their company delicately manoeuvring between family members to try and capture the scene was enchanting.

Each had their own character and this silverback was particularly grumpy. Gorillas, despite living in rainforests don’t particularly like rain, so as the hour went by and the rain continued he became progressively grumpier, even spending great periods of time hunched over so we couldn’t see him.

In the hope that at some point he would look up, I moved in to what I believed would be the best position for a photograph and waited, watching the members of his family interact while doing so. Eventually the rain stopped and he sat up, looked delightfully p*ssed off by the weather (something as a Brit I can relate to) and allowed me the opportunity for a couple of photos before moving down the hill towards me to low and behold, fall asleep. An incredible hour I’ll never forget.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recently changed the status of mountain gorillas from ‘Critically Endangered’ to ‘Endangered’. This is a great testament to conservation efforts taking place and the good news is that their numbers are slowly but surely on the rise – there are about 1000 individuals in the wild.

PHOTO 9: ‘Embrace’ – May 2019

Having crawled through the undergrowth to try and get in to position to photograph Muhoza, the silverback of the family, I stumbled upon this beautiful sight of a mother and her juvenile, watching me approach through the undergrowth.

Keeping one eye on the silverback incase he sat up I spent a few enchanting minutes photographing these two as they watched me with curiosity, not fear, before resuming life as if nothing was going on. An experience I was definitely more blown away by than them.

All photo credits Will Fortescue, in-house photographer at Governors’ Camp Collection

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