On the west side of the Ngorongoro Crater just before you enter Serengeti National Park there is an area called Ndutu Conservation Area. Ndutu has become a favorite place of mine and other photographers because there are mobile tented camps where you can stay right in the park. This means you can get out into the park just before sunrise. We always see many animals in this area. This year we spotted several cheetahs. One one particular morning we spotted a cheetah and her cubs in the beautiful morning light. I was lucky enough to get this shot of them sitting behind a tree branch just staring at me.
Two cheetah cubs in the early morning light, Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa
It was hard trying to shot sunsets as we were supposed to be back at our tent camps before the sun went down. It would have been very difficult for the drivers to find their way in Ndutu because it is mostly off-road driving. I’m still amazed that they would find their way in the daytime! We got lucky one evening as we were able to stop near our tent site to get this sunset as the animals were running and kicking up the dust.
Sunset in Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa
The story of this cheetah and the baby Thomson’s gazelle is a sad one. Our guide told us that they have seen what happened before but it was still very hard to witness. I have not posted photographs of the episode because they are just too sad. The guide told us that sometimes a cheetah will catch a very small baby Thomson’s gazelle and “play” with it similar to the way a domestic cat might play with a mouse. The cheetah does this in the hopes of attracting the gazelle’s mother to come and rescue the baby. Once the mother turns up the cheetah then attacks the mother. Nature is brutal.
Cheetah in the rain with baby Thomson’s gazelle, Ndutu, Tanzania
I watched this female cheetah poke her head up and down while hiding in the marsh. She was hiding her very small cubs. I saw her pick one up and move it. There were male lions in the area and she could smell them. I took this panorama because it seemed so unusal to have a cheetah’s head sticking up out of the marsh at Ndutu.
Cheetah pokes her head up out of the marsh to investigate two male lions sleeping at the marsh’s edge, Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa
Female cheetah carrying her very young cub in her mouth in the marsh, Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa
Two cheetah brothers running in Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa
Female cheetah in the rain, Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa
Cheetah chasing zebras in Ndutu, Serengeti, Tanzania, East Africa
Four cheetah siblings in the early morning light in Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa
Cheetah cub running in Ndutu Conservation Area, Tanzania, East Africa
Cheetah cubs playing in Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa
Cheetah watching zebras in Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa
Cheetah and her four cubs resting in the shade, Ndutu, Tanaznia, East Africa
One morning just as the sun was rising we watched these two beautiful male lions get up from their resting area and walk almost a mile to a watering hole. The backlit lions walking in the dust made for a wonderful photo.
Two male lions walking to the watering hole just after sunrise, Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa
Here is a shot of one of the male lions drinking at the watering hole.
Male lion drinking at the watering hole, Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa
I love to take photographs of the stars and night sky in Africa and Ndutu is one of the best places I have found. It is very dark since we are camping out in tents and the sky in the southern hemisphere has so many different constellations to see. One night before we headed out to photograph I asked my two Masai guards to pose for me in front of my tent. I light painted them for about five seconds and it made a nice shot. They stayed with me at night and guarded against lions and other animals as I photographed the night sky. It was an amazing experience and one I would not have done without their help!
Two Masai warriors guarding my tent at night at Ndutu Wilderness Camp, Tanzania, East Africa
Here is one of the shots I got while the Masai warriors were protecting me. It is a 20-second exposure showing the Milky Way and the Magellanic Galaxy clouds. These galaxy clouds can only be seen in the southern hemisphere.
The Southern Hemisphere night sky with the Milky Way and Magellanic Galaxy clouds, Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa
Almost full moon, Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa
One of the other photographers on the trip was a really outstanding bird photographer and loved to take photographs of eagles in particular. We were kidding each other about who would be able to get shots of the long-crested eagle in flight. One afternoon I got really lucky and saw a long-crested eagle. I waited until he took off and was able to get this shoot of him in flight.
Long-crested eagle (Lophaetus occipitalis) in flight at Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa
Because we stayed at the Wilderness Tent Camp we were able to drive into the park and get into position to take very dramatic sunrise photos like this one.
African sunrise, Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa
While we are out driving looking for lions, cheetahs and leopards I always like to stop and grab shots of African birds. I saw all these birds in a bush in the middle of nowhere in Ndutu and asked the driver to stop so I could get a shot. He told me that they were African pygmy falcons and not seen that often, especially a group of this size. I was able to photograph them as they few off. Beautiful birds.
A flock of African pygmy falcons (Polihierax semitorquatus), Ndutu Conservation Area, Tanzania, East Africa
A flock of African pygmy falcons (Polihierax semitorquatus) taking flight, Ndutu Conservation Area, Tanzania, East Africa
Another dramatic event took place one afternoon at the large watering area. We spotted several female lions positioning themselves in different areas behind trees. We watched as they studied the wildebeests and zebras cautiously making their way to the water. The female lions remained very still and stayed in their positions until all at once the lion nearest me took off and ran at full speed toward the watering hole. The mayhem was instantaneous as the wildebeests and zebras turned around and ran like crazy in the other directions kicking up enormous amounts of dust. It was hard to tell what was going on with all the dust flying but I knew instantly that a wildebeest had been caught as I heard the sound on my left. When the dust settled we watched the female lion smother the wildebeest by clamping onto its nostrils and holding on. I won’t post photos of what happened next but that is how nature works. It is one thing to see something like this on a BBC special and another thing entirely to see, hear and experience it firsthand in Africa.
Female lion in Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa
Female lion hiding behind a tree just before hunting wildebeests, Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa
Two female lions sizing up their prey, Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa
Wildebeest spots the lions behind the acacia trees just before the attack, Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa
Female lion creates chaos at the watering hole as the hunt begins, Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa
Female lion goes after wildebeest at the watering hole, Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa
Female lion confronts a wildebeest, Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa
Female lion attacks a wildebeest, Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa
Male lion, Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa
It rained one day while we were in Ndutu much to the delight of our drivers and the animals. Lake Ndutu had been very dry and the alkaline dust was being blown everywhere. The morning after the rainstorm I was lucky enough to get this sunrise shot with the pre-dawn colors reflected in the lake. It was the only time there was this much water in the lake. On a previous visit the lake had been full and we saw hundreds of flamingos flying around and feeding.
Sunrise over Lake Ndutu, Ndutu, Tanzania, East Africa