Googled out – for wildlife photographers, trust in field expert works better than search expert…

Cheetah chase from Masai Mara

Visits to the jungle for making wildlife photos is always full of surprises, mostly pleasant ones. While surprises are abounding, to make it work for those great wildlife photos, one needs tons of patience and trust.

Patience as a trait is perennially challenged in a place like Masai Mara, as there is so much happening all over, every wildlife photographer you bump into, say there is something else bigger and better some distance away.  So one is always on the edge, worrying about letting go of a great wildlife image.

Trust in whom?

Being at best sporadic visitors to any particular jungle, we rely on expert online photographers to a large extent. However, there are these guys who are living the forest, are in know of the terrain and animals like back of their hand. I am referring to the person behind the wheels, your GUIDE. Trust him and you will make documentaries yourself, else you will only see all those great wildlife photos and films and keep cribbing that one can never see such stuff in the forest.

This photo story is a tribute to Raphael Mulei, our trusted partner in Masai Mara without whom we wouldn’t have witnessed the precision with which a Cheetah plans and executes it’s kill.

As wildlife photographers with some experience in the forests, little did we realise that when we first saw the Cheetah on a mound, we would be spending the whole morning session with her.

Because of abundance of wildlife and more specifically the BIG 5 at Masai Mara, sightings as you see above are given a pass, and we too were in the same mood. When she gets off the mound, runs across, Mulei announces that her next stop would be atop the jeep. In our excitement of wanting to see Cheetah on the jeep, we missed asking Mulei the reason for his prediction. He was dead right. She was soon seen on the roof of a jeep, which we were later told was the vantage point for zeroing in on her prey. We have one more thing ticked off from our “to see list” (Cheetah on jeep). As the Cheetah worked on her lunch, the occupants of the jeep had their best group photographs of their life.  Because Mulei’s instincts were bang on, our jeep had the best angle and light for making those satisfying wildlife images.

After spending considerable time on the jeep off she went with purpose.

Now the most athletic creature walks right into our jeep and our expectations run high, wanting our roof top to be the next. We were making grand plans to become “wild photographers” having selfies with Cheetah. The Cheetah disappoints and this tick mark would have to wait for an another day.

Little did we know at that point in time that Cheetah from the jeep vantage point view had zeroed in on her target and she now just have to wait to get it. She ambles past our jeep and stays put in the shade for a frustratingly long time.  Since we were so excited and engrossed in the sequence, we didn’t really notice the number of vehicles that had gathered for action.

This wait in the jeep with the Cheetah in the shade was for almost an hour, and in this time quite a few jeeps decided to move on, prodded by the occupants that there is no action. These are the times an Expert is to be trusted and not your Googled knowledge. The expert’s instincts work 9 out of 10 times because they observe animal behaviour and most importantly have archived experience of such situations. In that period of wait there was quite a few times we kept looking and gesturing Mulie, and his only reply WAIT. To keep our nerves calm he kept telling us that meal doesn’t come easy for these predators, they have to work hard for it.

As Mulei had rightly predicted a large herd of Wildebeest comes running across, we get excited that the wildlife photo action is about to start. The flock keeps moving in and across, however the Cheetah is still un-moved and she lets a fairly large section of the herd to move across. As the last section of the Wildebeest migration herd come in view, the Cheetah finally gets up and moves in the direction of the last few in the herd.

The Cheetah starts with an amble, then a jog, gathering momentum gradually but surely.

The final countdown of Cheetah chasing – After the initial preparation the fastest animal on the planet shows her skills. She goes full throttle direct at the Wildebeests herd and the wildebeest’s are frozen allowing us to manage the kind of wildlife image one always dreams off.

To our surprise at that great speed she does a turn and in our view finders we now see a Wildebeest calf running aimlessly, oblivious to the Cheetah chasing it.

Only then it strikes us that Cheetah’s mostly hunts calves, it had waited in the shade all the while to let the calf come in view for her to have a go at it.  The speed at which the Cheetah managed to get to her prey didn’t give any chance for the other frozen Wildebeest’s to help save the calf.

The cheetah brings the calf down and catches her breath as she takes the breath away from the prey.

So here it is, 120 minutes of planning the kill and exactly a few seconds of action if we exclude the sprint to the kill.  My Nikon D4 camera count says 40 odd frames after the initial sprint which means the actual action is in the range of 4 secs in all.  That’s the precision with which the Cheetah planned and executed the kill.

Polishing it off – While the cheetah is bestowed with speed, she lacks the strength of other large predators in protecting the kill for long. She has to polish off the kill as soon as possible since there are Hyena’s and Vultures who could scoop in on the kill.

The cheetah is at the job of digging on to the kill in a hurry un-concerned with our jeep next to her. She knows that the real vultures are, whom she should bother about with the kill.

So here we go content with our wildlife photos and the Cheetah with her kill.

This story wouldn’t have been possible without Mulei, who at every turn that morning had not only prepared us for the action but also positioned us perfectly for making those appealing wildlife photos.

Thanks Raphael Mulei for making our day and looking forward to be in the jungle with you soon.