NEW VIDEO POST… I just posted a new video to my YouTube Channel “Travel Guide and Photography”…
This is the seventh video in a seven part series on Alaska and the Inside Passage. This video focuses on Where to View and Photograph Wildlife. I have been a professional photojournalist and published since 1979. I have lived and worked on cruise ships for the past 11 years and spent eight of those years in the summer cruising to Alaska… Enjoy the video, information and photographs…
The Panama Canal — which transverses two oceans through the deep tropical jungles of Central America — is one of the world’s most incredible feats of modern engineering, and the only way to truly appreciate its grandeur is on a cruise ship.
The Panama Canal system is considered to be one of the manmade wonders of the world.Construction of the 82-kilometer waterway was begun by France in 1881.
But due to a series of engineering and logistical problems, as well as a high mortality rate of workers as a result of heat exhaustion and malaria, the project was halted three years later.
In 1904, the United States picked up where the French engineers has left off, and the arduous effort to build the conduit began again in earnest.
Ten years later, the magnificent canal opened for business.
A massive levy system was incorporated that crossed the Isthmus of Panama to raise and lower ships 85 feet above sea level.
This allowed ships to take advantage of Gatun Lake, a manmade lake constructed to shorten the excavation of the jungle and the monetary costs and the deaths associated with construction.
For 93 years, the Panama Canal system carried thousands of ships through its waters.
And in September 2007, a new project began to widen the canal.
When this work was completed in May 2016, the new construction allowed today’s supertankers to take advantage of the canal, which beforehand would have been impossible.
When traveling through the Panama Canal on a cruise ship, you can experience the sights and sounds of passing through the locks and witness the beautiful landscape of Panama.
From the vast surrounding jungle to the expansive Gatun Lake and thrill of passing under the Bridge of the Americas and the Centennial Bridge, it is an unforgettable journey.
Your ship will navigate its way across the Continental Divide by waterway, and you will be able to witness the entire process from the deck of your ship.
Your cruise ship journey will start in one of the ports in Florida or in California, depending on your direction of travel. Along the way you will visit a number of ports, including those in the Caribbean, South America, Central American and Mexico.
If your cruise sets sale from Los Angeles, your first port of call will be in Mexico, at Cabo San Lucas, Baja California..
This once sleepy fishing village located at the end of the Baja peninsula, known as Lands’ End, has developed into a busy city and tourist destination.
A key stop for many cruise ships, Cabo has become known for its mild weather, beautiful white sand beaches that stretch for miles, world-class golf courses, hotels and resorts, and its premier sportfishing destinations.
From the myriad of shops filled with trinkets to authentic Cuban cigars to expensive jewelry and activities like fishing, whale watching, horseback riding along the beach, camel rides in the desert, you will never be at a loss for something to do in Cabo. And that does not take into account swimming with dolphins, glass bottom boat rides or scuba diving and snorkeling in the warm crystal clear waters.
Depending on your itinerary, you may stop at any one of the countries in Central America. It could be Guatemala, where you can take an excursion to the colorful city of Antigua, which sits at the foot of a volcano. The little town’s streets are lined with colorful buildings, shops and restaurants.
Or maybe your ship will make a stop in Punta Arenas, Costa Rica, where you may find yourself in a small wooden boat navigating the crocodile, filled waters of the Tarcoles River as you travel through the jungle.
Another frequent stop for cruise ships making this journey is Cartagena, Columbia.
With its rich history, a trip to the old town known as the Walled City or to the colorful Barrio Getsemaní, you’ll find yourself surrounded by numerous cafés and shops.
For those looking for jewelry, Cartagena is known for its quality and reasonably priced emeralds.
If you are not into crowds and prefer nature, try visiting the National Aviary of Colombia outside Cartagena, where you will be treated to over 135 different species and thousands of birds.
Rounding out your Los Angeles embarkation, you will visit the Caribbean and, depending on which ship and itinerary you have, it could be Aruba, Grand Cayman, Curacao or a private island owned by the cruise line.
It is important when deciding on what ship or cruise line to choose that you make sure to research the ship’s itinerary and accommodations.
Your accommodations can range from the basic inside cabin to a spacious luxury suite, depending on your budget. You will also find specialty restaurants, various shops and five-star spa facilities, replete with a beauty salon, massage options and acupuncture services.
And when you consider that your travel, cabin, entertainment and meals are usually all included, the cost of witnessing this extraordinary feat of engineering can be very reasonable.
As I have written and photographed Alaska many times over the last 7 years, I want to focus on maybe some images of Alaska that you have not seen before. Many of these images were taken this past summer 2019.
The summer cruise season is upon us, and there is no place better to cruise at this time than Alaska. I firmly believe that everyone should cruise to Alaska at least once in their lifetime. It is nothing short of magnificent.
There are many ways to reach Alaska, including driving or flying, but nothing offers the spectacular views, convenience or entertainment of a modern luxury cruise ship. There are no luxury hotels at the ports, but the accommodations on passenger ships range from modest, budget-priced cabins to luxurious staterooms.
Depending on your itinerary, there are several ports of call where you can embark, including Seattle, Washington, and Vancouver and Victoria, in British Columbia. Typically, Alaska cruises last seven days, but there is a 10-day cruise leaving from San Francisco. Another port where you can embark or disembark is Whitter, Alaska, for those wanting to visit Denali National Park.
Travelling the Inside Passage through British Columbia and Alaska allows you to appreciate the stunning landscapes and fresh air while relaxing on your private balcony as the ship glides through the calm waters. You may also see an array of wildlife, including orcas, dolphins and humpback whales, as well as bears, mountain goats and bald eagles.
On most cruises, you will visit three ports of calls Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway, each of which have their own charm and distinct personalities. Each town has numerous restaurants, places to shop and what seems like an endless amount of tours and shore excursions. Tours are offered both from the ships and from private companies.
I have spent seven summers traveling to Alaska and the Inside Passage as an acupuncture physician on various cruise lines which has given me an insider’s view and perspective. Here are some of my favorite tours:
Two of my favorites are located in Ketchikan, a town of approximately 14,000 residents and Alaska’s first city. It is also the second-rainiest city in the United States, averaging 13 feet a year. Be prepared for downpours, but the majority of the summer season, the weather can be very nice.
Aurora Birds and Bears encompasses all of Ketchikan’s sights and sounds and specializes in custom tours. The owner/operator Rich Lee is a Native American of the Tlingit tribe. He was born and raised in Ketchikan, giving him a distinct advantage over many of the tour operators that are summer transplants.
During a three-hour tour, you will be offered a history lesson on Ketchikan, enjoy the rainforest and a waterfall and visit “real” totem poles, not replicas. Lee’s biggest expertise, however, is locating wildlife. Many times on the tour, we encountered black bear, deer, bald eagles and, at times, even orca and whales have been spotted from the shore.
My other favorite is the Deadliest Catch Crab Fishing Tour. If you are a fan of the television show, you might be interested to know that the Aleutian Ballad of season two is now homeported in Ketchikan. Captain/owner David Lethine and his crew of merry misfits are all seasoned crab fisherman of the Bering Sea and share their vast knowledge during the three-hour tour. This hands-on experience enables you to hold live crab, spotted prawns and other creatures of the sea.
The highlight for many is a side trip to Annette Island, where dozens of bald eagles await your arrival. As the boat nears the island, 30 to 40 eagles leave their perches like a swarm of mosquitos as the crew toss herring into the water. It is literally like ringing the dinner bell as the eagles fly within feet of the boat, attacking the water in their quest for a free meal. It is truly incredible to behold and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
In Skagway, I highly recommend taking a flight over Glacier Bay National Park with Paul Swanstrom, the owner/pilot of the Mountain Flying Service at the Skagway Airport. This seasoned Alaskan aviator provides an unforgettable experience with each seat having a window allowing you to witness the grandeur of mountain peaks crowned with white virgin snow. Fly over multiple glaciers as they wind their way through the valleys of the countryside on the way to the sea. Flights range from one to two hours, with the option to land on a glacier or a remote beach.
If you want to see whales, the capital city of Juneau is the port to book your whales excursion. There are numerous tours with a wide variety of options, including everything from private yachts to limited load tours to those offering a salmon bake and wildlife quests.
My personal favorite is the Discover Alaska Whale Tour. This limited load and small boat tour has a naturalist on board who will share scientific knowledge and research on whales and other sea life that you may encounter. The windows open in, so even in poor weather you are warm and dry and have ample opportunities to take photographs.
Yet another place to see and photograph whales is in the port of Icy Strait. This is not a common port of call but by looking closely at the different itineraries of the different cruise lines and ship you will find a number that do go there.
One of the many reasons people cruise to Alaska during the summer is to experience its glaciers, many of which can only be reached by cruise ship. Words are hard to come by when trying to explain the sights and sounds of these glorious towers laced with blue ice. You will witness history as these living structures march only to terminate at the water’s edge and calving into the sea.
For more information on cruising to Alaska and its ports, my book “Alaska and the Inside Passage – A Guide to the Ports, Tours and Shore Excursions,” covers this in greater detail, including my favorite restaurants and more excursions to explore.
What I think sets my book apart from most tour guides on Alaska (outside of my wonderful writing and insightful knowledge of the area, of course) is that I have included plenty of my own photographs (not stock photos). Consequently, my book is designed not only a travel guide, but also as a coffee table book. It is visually rich, but is small enough to travel with so that you can always have the information at your fingertips.
I would like to close this entry with a few more shots taken this year… the summer of 2019.
A bucket list item for me… It took seven summers but I finally was able to photograph the Northern Lights. What sets this image apart for me is if you look close from mid upper to the upper left in the photo is the Big Dipper… just being at the right place at the right time.
Near Juneau a large meadow in full bloom with the Mendenhall Glacier in the background.
After spending five days on safari in Ingwelala Private Game Reserve with Emile Sprenger de Rover, Liza and Greg Parker it was time for Part Two of the adventure.
Greg and I said our goodbyes to Emile and Liza and we headed out on a two-hour drive to the Kruger National Park in South Africa. I have heard of Kruger like just about everyone and I could not believe I was finally going to go on a photo safari there.
Greg being a native of South Africa has been there numerous times and arranged our accommodations for the next five days. His favorite place in the park is Orpen Camp, which we will stay at for the first three nights.
Orpen is a small camp and consists of a handful of small cabins, a small store and guest check-in facilities. About one hundred yards away just beyond the fence that surrounds the camp is a waterhole that many times is frequented by game.
After unloading and setting up our cabin Greg and I jumped back in his car for an afternoon drive making note of the time the gate closes for the evening. Greg is very knowledgeable of the area having spent so much time there photographing its wildlife and had a few ideas where to go immediately for that time of day.
A few minutes from camp down the main paved road Greg turned onto one of the many dirt roads that winds through the reserve. We were headed to a waterhole and bush area that he knew would more then likely have wildlife.
As we grew near there was a small heard of elephants ranging from large adults to small baby elephants.
I was amazed on how comical the baby elephants appeared. They would stumble, sometimes running into the larger elephants as they walked trying to keep up tripping over their own feet.
It really was a laugh watching them and we found ourselves lowering our cameras just to watch the show. Other times they seemed to be resting in the shade of the other elephants to get out of the hot mid-day sun.
Greg and I watched the herd slowly moving through the groves of trees and bamboo eating their fill. Many times we were only ten to fifteen feet away from these magnificent creatures as our cameras clicked away in unison. To be fair Greg would generously position the vehicle or lean back so that I might get the better angle for the best shot.
There was more then one time a mother elephant seemed a little upset that we were so close intruding in what she deemed to be “her space” and would stating advancing towards the car. Greg would laugh at me when I would calmly say “don’t worry mama we are just taking pictures, we are not going to hurt your baby with the camera clicking away”. After which he remarked that he did not know of another “first timer” that was so calm during a false charge from these huge animals.
I attribute this to my days with my grandfather that was part Native American. He showed me how to read the wildlife and how to read the warning signs they will portray. You must remember at all times these are wild animals, they will attack and kill you if threatened, especially here in Africa. You are in their backyard they are not in yours.
Day two started at dawn when the gates opened. It was a gray day, with dark clouds and spilling rain over the grasslands and bush. It had been a very dry season causing a drought so the rain was much appreciated. It made photography more challenging with the changes in the light and contrast often being very flat or having to use much slower shutter speeds then we would have preferred when shooting wildlife. After all they are living creatures and on the move much of the time.
Our quest this day was to photograph lions that thus far had eluded us and we were not to be disappointed. After driving for about an hour came across a pride of two males, three females and three cubs. They were in the grass and under a couple of low trees. We watched and photographed the pride under the dark and rainy skies for about two hours. The lion cubs mock attacked each other learning skills that will help them later in life.
The females roamed the area looking for game or huddled with one of the males.
We then left this pride and decided to look in a couple other areas where we heard of other lion sightings. Following another dirt road we came across a small pride of three males lions sleeping. Every now and then one would stretch and roll over revealing it huge belly that was stuffed with a previous kill.
There was also one lone female with this group that was injured. She would get up and walk limping unable to put any weight on her right front leg. Greg remarked that if this did not heal there was a very good chance that she would be left behind by the males and eventually die.
We did spot one more small pride of lions as we continued down the dirt road, stopped to take a couple photographs and continued our drive.
As it was getting late Greg decided that we should travel to the waterhole to see if any wildlife had returned to cool off from the days heat. A large male lion was drinking at the waterhole. Greg assured me this was a great chance to get an unusual shot, as it is not something witnessed very often.
The following events that transpired left us awestruck in disbelief. First it was what we were witnessing and second as serious photographers what we were able to capture and record.
To read the entire story of the day and the heartbreaking events that occurred please look at the blog post from April 21, 2018. “Death of a King”.
The next day we decided to return to the area that we had previously photographed the first pride of lions. The day had a bright blue sky with a few scattered clouds the lighting was much better and would make it much easier to get a quality photograph.
We arrived but the pride of lions was gone. We continued down the road in hopes of locating them. Instead we were rewarded by finding a couple cheetahs that were close enough to the road to reach with our lenses. We were able to get a handful of shots before they became bored with us and disappeared into the bush.
We decided to make a day trip and long drive to an area that we had heard that rhinoceros had been spotted. It was a long drive to the southern edge of the park. We decided to make an adventure of it traveling the back roads in hopes of photographing other game along the way. Unfortunately it was fairly bleak and not much was seen or photographed.
Arriving near where the rhinos had been spotted we drove slowly both of us scanning the bush for any sign. Then Greg called out “rhino!” Just a few yards away there were two rhinoceros rambling through the bush only stopping to grasp young leaves off a tree or to eat grass here and there.
Greg kept driving as I kept trying to keep track of the two rhinos that were darting in and out of the bush. We would stop when we could with Greg positioning the car so that I might get a shot. Luckily we both were able to get a few photographs before they turned and ran deep into the bush out of view.
Day Four and Day Five were on our way to another camp, Skukuza for two nights. Skukuza was a much larger camp then Orpen but not so large to be uninviting. Greg and his family have spent many days there on safari and another favorite he enjoyed. There are many different accommodations from small cabins to large homes, a restaurant, large gift shop and sits right on the banks of a large river.
Our hopes this day was to photograph a leopard, the only one of the Big Five that had eluded us. Greg said he knew of an area that once had a leopard that was near to camp. The drove down the main road as we scanned the grasslands and the bush. Circling back when Greg suddenly stopped the car. My heart raced in hopes that we found the elusive cat.
Instead what Greg spotted was a Verreaux’s Eagle Owl. As an avid birder Greg was very excited and said in the bird world this was just as an important sighting as a leopard. It was very regal as it sat perched on the limb of a tree watching as Greg and I raised the cameras and clicked away.
At one stop at a blind overlooking a large body of water we were able to photograph a number of hippopotamuses including a baby hippopotamus.
At the same location there was a very large Nile crocodile sunning itself in the mid-day sun.
While overhead in a large tree a fish eagle scanned the water.
At one point a large monitor lizard crept out of the bush flicking its tongue until located a beetle here and there.
Close to sunset a waterbok slowly quenched its thirst unaware that only feet away lay a Nile crocodile.
While in South Africa on safari we photographed a number of elephants, cape buffalo, baboons and wild dogs. We also saw a number of the antelope family including impala, waterbok, bushbuck, duiker, klipspringer, kudu, sharp’s grysbok and steenbok. We were also able to capture wildebeests, zebra and giraffe. Unfortunately yet again the leopard had eluded us but it was not for lack of trying.
Please visit an upcoming post for additional photographs of the wildlife that I was able to witness and the images I was able capture while on safari in South Africa for you to enjoy.
Lets take a break from the storyline and enjoy some photography. Over the years as a nature photographer I have really become interested in photographing birdlife throughout the world. South Africa was no different and offered and abundance of different birds that I had never seen before. I diverse variety of species, size and color was truly amazing. This is just a sample of what South Africa has to offer the avid birder.
It is funny how things work out. When I first entered ‘Photo Safari in South Africa’ on my Bucket List I had no idea how this was going to happen… and then it did.
In 2015 I was working as an Acupuncturist at Sea on the cruise ship Island Princess where I met Liza Parker and we quickly became friends. Liza was the spa manager on the ship and my boss.
Like virtually all of the spa staff she was in her twenty’s and beginning her career and her life. Everyone but me that is, I’m in my sixties and closer to the end of my career then I am the beginning.
During the summer of 2015 we were making weekly cruises to Alaska and the Inside Passage. At one point Liza told me her parents were coming on board and fulfilling one of there bucket list items of cruising to Alaska.
When they arrived Liza introduced me and I quickly became friends with her parents Greg and Gillian. Greg and I clicked immediately as he was also an avid photographer. Before leaving Greg invited me to come to his home in South Africa and vowed to take me on a photo safari.
It took some time due to unforeseen circumstances. I contacted Greg in 2018 at the beginning of the year and said, “I’m coming and will be there in April.” Greg began the task of planning our trip. Over the next couple months Greg and I traded emails deciding where we were going to go. To be fair Greg did all the work and I just agreed.
I arrived in Durban, South Africa in early March just days after my contract ended on the Ruby Princess. I stayed in Durban for a week visiting one of my shipmates, Jillian Sunker. I enjoyed Durban with Jill as my guide, introducing me to local dishes and she worked hard to make me feel at home.
Durban Beach, South Africa
There are two things that I find truly rewarding working on cruise ships. One is you are able to see the world and in eight years I have been to seventy-two countries and hundreds of ports, many multiple times. The other reason is the many friends you make, some of which will become life long friends like Jill and Liza.
After leaving Durban I flew in Johannesburg and was met at the airport by Greg and Liza. We drove to Pretoria where they have been long term residents and dropped me off at the apartment I rented for a week before we were to leave on our safari. View from my apartment Pretoria, South Africa
The week flew by and Greg, Gill and Liza took me on several day trips around Pretoria, taking me to dinner and showing me many of the landmarks. One of the evenings I was invited to a braai, what we Americans call a barbeque at their home.
This is where I met a family friend Emile Sprenger de Rover and his wife Jane. Emile in the recent past was a manager at the Ingwelala Private Game Reserve, an honorary game warden and has a small cabin there. He was kind enough to be our host, guide and driver at Ingwelala and allowed us to stay at his cabin.
A couple days later we left Pretoria just after sunrise to make the 6-hour drive to Ingwelala. During the journey we traveled through the city of Pretoria, the outskirts and into the countryside. Then the climb began as we wound our way through the mountain passes only to stop at a roadside stand to get a drink and admire the handmade items.
Roadside stand mountains along the way to Ingwelala
Upon arriving the four of us Emile, Liza, Greg and myself began to set up camp. It took only a short time after which we grabbed our cameras and climbed onboard Emile’s game vehicle and headed into the bush for an afternoon drive that extended well into the evening.
Entrance gate Ingwelala Private Game Reserve
We bounced along the maze of dirt roads and through dry riverbeds. I was amazed how Emile kept track of where we were, literally every road looked the same with only slight variations. Greg, Liza and I did our best to scan the grass fields, look under and in every tree and bush for game and birdlife.
When I was young I went hunting almost every weekend with my grandfather who raised me. He was part Native American and had a reverence for the outdoors and all that lived there. He taught me much about how to find sign and spot game. I have used those skills in my adult life in hunting wildlife with a camera instead of a rifle. However I have to admit Liza has the eye of an eagle that far surpassed mine. I rationalized this thinking “well this is her backyard”.
During the drive we came across herds of impalas with young and old alike. It seemed almost everywhere you turned you would find anywhere from a couple to small herds of maybe 30 – 40 of these graceful antelopes.
It is the goal when on safari to sight the African Big Five. This consists of cape buffalo, elephants, lions, leopards and rhinoceros. I personally believe there should be a Big Six as cheetahs should be included. Over the ten days were photographed five of the six only lacking the leopard. We did come close one night but by the time we arrived the only thing left was the antelope the leopard carried into the tree only to return some time later that night.
Continuing our drive we also came across our first member of the Big Five, a cape buffalo. We rounded a bend in the road and there were two of these magnificent animals. They were only about twenty feet away as they stood staring at us. As with all game in the bush you must be on you guard. Cape buffalo has poor eyesight and known to charge without warning.
On the way back to camp that night we made a run to the dirt airstrip that had been cleared leaving foot high brush. When we arrived Emile took out two handheld spotlights and we scanned the airstrip. As we drove we pointed the lights into trees hoping to spot a leopard that was said to be in the area to no avail. We did notice dozens of red eyes staring in our direction and Emile remarked out they were blue wildebeest. Which are very strange looking animals during the day let alone at night on lit by the handheld spotlights.
Wildebeest at night
Back at camp that later that evening we relaxed and talked about the days adventure. This was old hat for the three of them but completely different from anything I have done in the past.
Later that night while eating dinner we look over our shoulder and there stood a spotted hyena on its hind legs licking the grill. All animals in the reserve are wild and so was this hyena. With a few shouts and waving of our arms he decided to back off.
Spotted hyena visiting camp
This is one reason you do not walk around camp at night. There were hyenas and even a leopard spotted within the camp while we were there. All of have attacked and killed those that did not give them the respect they deserve.
There were many highlights at Ingwelala and one of my favorites was photographing a lone hippopotamus. Hippopotamus are highly irritable animals and very protective of their home turf. They are known to have killed many people that ventured too close and feared. We were in a blind and a safe distance watching with cameras clicking away.
Then the hippo decided to give us a show. All of a sudden while swimming in its private waterhole the hippo slowly did a summersault stopping briefly with all four legs dangling in the air out of the water. It was quite a sight.
Hippopotamus on the roll
While in Ingwelala we photographed many different animals and birdlife. Even in camp we were visited by hyenas, dwarf mongoose, warthogs and nyala.
The Ingwelala River where we stopped for a lunch under a shade tree and admired the view.
Ingwelala River for a lunch break
During our five days at Ingwelala were well spent and something I will never forget. If you ever have the chance to go on safari do yourself a favor and go.
Greg Parker, Liza Parker and Emile Sprenger de Rover at Emile’s Cabin
First I would like to say thank you to all those that have honored Skybed Scar with your thoughts, your humanity and your love. His photograph has gone viral with over 120,000 hits collectively over a number of websites.
I’ve had a number of people ask me if the photograph of Skybed Scar is available… I’ve been updating my website today and I said I would let you know when it is posted…
Today is the day… Please visit my website to purchase of photograph of Skybed Scar or just to just the site and see the world through my eyes… I specialize in landscape, travel, fine art and of course wildlife photography…
We woke to a dark, cloudy day and rain in the Kruger National Park. It was Day Two of five in Kruger after five days of safari in the Ingwelala Private Game Reserve in South Africa.
Our agenda for the day was to locate and photograph lions, one of the Big 5 that had eluded us thus far. We have had plenty of other wildlife sightings over the last week including two of the other members of the Big 5, cape buffalo and elephants.
Greg Parker and myself set off in our private vehicle rather then in an organized game drive from the reserve. This allowed us to wonder freely at our own speed and in locations of our choosing. Greg has been to Kruger many times and a life long resident of South Africa and an avid photographer.
After about an hour of driving we came across a small group of four cars that had stopped and pulled to the side of the road. Located in the high grass and within several low-lying trees and brush was a pride of lions consisting of two males, three females and three cubs.
We spend almost two hours photographing the pride as the rain continued under the dark skies. During this time the cubs played with mock attacks on each other, the males remained separate from one another only clashing once and the females roamed the grasses or lay next to one of the males.
At one point a female walked through the grass calling for her cubs. She covered an area of about the size of a football field and disappeared behind us. I continued to take photographs out the car window, as you are not allowed to leave your vehicle in Kruger for safety reasons and for the well being of the animals.
In a quiet voice Greg leaned over and said “Larry look in the side view mirror”. Glancing down I saw the lioness approaching the car on the shoulder of the road only a few feet away. I asked if I should roll up the window and Greg said just to be quiet, still and calm.
She walked right next to my open window. I could have literally reached out and touched her as she kept walking past me without a care in the world. She veered to her left entering the field again calling to the cubs, which now were running towards her.
Soon after we began driving again in search for more wildlife and hopefully another pride of lions. We were not to be disappointed as within 30 minutes about ten miles away we spotted another pride. This one consisted of three males and one female. The female was injured and could not put any weight on her right front leg as she limped around the out stretched male lions sleeping in the mid-day sun. Every now and then one would roll over with their huge bellies stuffed from a recent kill, legs flopping from one side to the other.
After spending time photographing two prides we continued down the dirt rode in search of other opportunities neither of us having any idea of what we about to witness.
We decided to try an area where we found a small herd of elephants the day before that was near a watering hole called Rabelias Dam near Orpen Camp. Upon arriving we notice a large male lion crouching on the shore.
As our cameras clicked away you could see something was off, his posture just did not look right. On closer examination looking through the lens his left hind leg was protruding and at a strange angle. After he had his fill of water he struggled to his feet hardly able to stand. What you did not notice while he was drinking, he literally was nothing but skin and bones.
He slowly moved away from the water and staggered as if he was drunk towards a small rise. Every few steps he would stop to catch his breath, his head hanging low until he had enough energy to take a few more steps. Upon reaching the rise he turned to face the water hole and began his slow descent to the ground. About half way down he collapsed the rest of the way. It was evident he was in his last days if not his last hours on this earth.
As we continued to watch this once beautiful and strong lion a small herd of elephants arrived at the waters edge. The elephants drank, played squirting water into the air over themselves and others to cool down from the days heat.
One of the larger elephants left the others and walked towards the rise not far from where the lion had collapsed as if to stand guard over the herd. At first he did not notice the lion lying low in the grass about 30 yards away trying to stay out of sight.
Then in an instant the elephant reared, ears outstretched and flapping as he took several steps back, trumpeted and charged the lion. Upon hearing the elephant start his charge all the other elephants started to charge as well, trunks in the air trumpeting as the ran towards the lion.
Maybe in his younger more virile days the lion would have tried to make a stand, at least roar at the top of his lungs. But not now, now it took every bit of energy he had to get to his feet turn and run.
After everything settled down Greg and I drove to find the lion. We found him lying in the grass, exhausted unable to move. We were no more then five feet from him as he lay dying in the shade of a tree. Dropping my camera we stared at one another locking eyes for what seemed for an eternity. I just wanted him to know that he would not die alone as he struggled to breath, his chest rising only every so often. Then a last twitch of an ear, his last breath, he was gone. The King was dead.
Over the years as a photojournalist I have photographed people that had lost everything in earthquakes, fires and landslides, people that had been injured, people that were dying but I have never photographed anything as sad as this majestic animal, the true king of the beasts and master of his domain. I will never forget what I was so privileged to have witnessed.
Later we learned that the name of this noble lion was Skybed Scar. The lion was well known in the Kruger National Park where he roamed and ruled for many years. He lived free and he died free.