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When local herdsmen poisoned eight lions after losing three cows in early December the news caused worldwide outrage. That is because the lions belonged to the Marsh Pride, the TV superstars of the BBC’s Big Cat Diary , and the resulting publicity has seriously damaged the reputation of Kenya’s premier tourist destination. 

Your African Safari is pleased to partner with The Ultimate Travel Company to feature this exclusive interview with Brian Jackman, co-author of The Marsh Lions and freelance journalist, regarding the recent event and its impact on tourism.

Brian, you’ve highlighted the issue of what went wrong, but why has it happened and what has led to this pivotal moment?

This was a situation that has been building up for a number of years as the Masai and their livestock were able to enter the National Reserve with impunity due to local corruption and poor governance. The result was an accident waiting to happen. The Marsh Lions were not the first to have been speared or poisoned in retaliation for killing livestock, but they were the most famous lions in the world–hence the resulting publicity! The use of poison only made things worse. This is a relatively recent phenomenon. In the past, warriors would take up their spears and hunt down a culprit suspected of stock killing. Today poison bait is used, which is not only deadly but totally indiscriminate, killing everything that ingests it, including scavengers such as hyenas, jackals, eagles and vultures. 

What future will the Marsh Lions have?

Sadly, the Marsh Pride as such is no more. The lions of Musiara Marsh have been driven from the core area where they had lived for generations. They appear to have split into three separate groups of lions and are taking their chance elsewhere – one group having crossed the Mara River and taken up residence in the area known as the Mara Triangle.

The trouble with the Marsh Pride was that their territory was situated close to the edge of the National Reserve and was directly in the way of the invading cattle incursions that have been taking place every night. One day, a new pride may take over the marsh area as it has everything lions need – prey, water and shelter in which to hide and raise their cubs. But this will never happen until the cattle are kept out of the reserve, and in any case the ancestral lineage of the Marsh Pride has been broken beyond recall.

What should Kenya do to end the conflict between people and predators?

Kenya has already done much to try and resolve this age-old conflict – especially in Northern Kenya where the Northern Rangelands Trust, a not-for-profits organisation, has been working hard and successfully to empower local people to benefit from the presence of lions through eco-tourism. What needs to be done to protect the lions of the Masai Mara sounds simple: uphold the law and stamp out corruption. As one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the Mara ought to be a national park, but politics have made this an impossible dream – until now. Maybe it is time for President Uhuru Kenyatta to step in and save the Mara and its lions before they are lost forever.

Does more need to be done to protect the lions?

For Africa as a whole, I would place the lion on the endangered species list and ban trophy hunting.

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What distinguishes a great photograph from a vacation snap shot? It’s tough to explain but relatively easy to see. Many people go on an African safari hoping to capture amazing wildlife photos to document their trip, wow their friends, and maybe even make some prints for their home. Of course, you’ll need the right equipment and a good handle on the technical aspects of photography and your camera’s settings (more on that here ), but you also need that little extra something. Great safari photos require great light, perfect timing, and a little bit of luck.

Here are a few tips to help you when photographing animals on safari:

1)  Learn the rules of photography

Photography is full of rules. The “rule of thirds” is great to keep in mind—don’t put your subject or the horizon bang in the center of your photo. Instead, mentally break your image into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, and compose so that major elements of your picture fall along those lines.

Shoot with the sun at your back so the subject is nicely illuminated and you can achieve a balanced exposure with no blown out highlights (areas of the photo that are completely white) or lost shadow detail (areas that are completely black). Don’t trust the playback on your camera’s LCD; learn how to use the histogram to make sure. For the same reason, shoot during the “golden hours” around sunrise and sunset for soft light without harsh shadows.

Carefully frame your subject. For wildlife and the big five, compose so that the subject is facing into the center of the picture rather than out of the frame. Give your subject some breathing room—show the environment around it rather than zooming in as far as possible. On that note, make sure you don’t cut off body parts with your framing. Don’t cut off ears, horns, tails, or wings, especially.

2)  Break the rules

Rules are made to be broken, so experiment with ignoring the rules above. A centrally placed subject in a stark environment often has a very pleasing symmetry. Under or overexposed images can have a mysterious and artistic feel. Shooting directly into the sun creates interesting silhouettes (often you’ll have to underexpose by several stops) with the potential for sun stars (use a very small aperture). Zooming way in on wildlife can make for interesting abstract images.

3)  Get eye-level with your subject

The angle you take photos from has a huge impact on the final product and is one of the easiest ways to go from safari snapshot to great wildlife photo. In general, you want to take photos from as low an angle as possible. Shooting from your subject’s eye level instantly creates a more evocative portrait. It’s difficult to get low in safari vehicles, which are specifically designed to give you a high vantage point. On an open vehicle, you can try to shimmy down beside the seat or shoot with live view while holding your camera as low as possible.

The seat next to the driver is the best for getting low, but sometimes your view will be obstructed. In East Africa, where many safari vehicles have pop up roofs, avoid the temptation to shoot from there, rather try shots from the base of the window. At some sightings, it might even be possible to slide out of the vehicle and shoot from the ground…but make sure to ask your guide first!

4)  Reconsider your subject

Let’s face it. There are millions of great, close-ups of lions and leopards, and we’ve all seen them. When you’re at a sighting, grab a few shots of the main subject, then experiment with other ideas to get something more original. Show the wildlife in the setting of its wider environment, capture the experience of being on safari by including people or vehicles in the shot. Think beyond the big five, and keep an eye out for other interesting subjects—birds, insects, plants, landscapes, and even the lodge where you’re staying!

5)  Timing is everything

Wildlife photography is all about timing. Timing means being out when the light is right—usually early or late in the day. It also means the right time of year. Some safari destinations have clear, crisp skies some months and dusty, distorted, murky air in others. Dramatic weather formations, more common in the rainy season, are an import aspect for landscape shots and sunsets.

The most difficult of all is being in the right place at the right time to capture the action. That’s all about luck for most safari goers with only a few days’ worth of game drives. Professionals spend weeks, months and even years at a place to capture iconic action shots. But, you never know when you’ll get lucky and see something incredible, so be alert, observant, and expect the unexpected by making sure your camera is primed and ready. This is especially important first thing in the morning when you might have wacky exposure and ISO dialed in from the previous night. You don’t want to be fumbling with settings when you happen upon a fleeting moment of action. 

Klek Uganda Tours

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The vision of Klek Uganda Tours is to develop an indigenously owned tour company with international partnerships and networks that will operate in the entire East African Great Lakes Region, which includes Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya and Tanzania. Klek Uganda Tours seeks to provide a first-rate flexible service to its customers and promote the image of East Africa as an unequalled tourism destination in the world.