Friday, February 11, 2011

Ten Biggest Safari Mistakes and Lessons; Number Nine...

Be aware of people when you are trying to photograph wildlife
In National Parks, it is common to see signs that say "Be aware of wildlife". I think the signs should also warn photographers of people who scare wildlife :) 

In Jasper a few years ago, I was on a highway when I noticed an osprey in a tree with a fish in his talons. I was so excited. I pulled over in the ditch, got my camera and lens ready and quietly got in range of the bird as he enjoyed his meal. Tourists noticed me with my camera and pulled up beside me. I was so excited as I don't have any pictures of ospreys. They asked me what I was up to, so I pointed out the creature and whispered "osprey". I figured the whispering would be a dead give away that they could quietly enjoy the sighting from their car. The next thing I knew, four doors slammed and of course the bird flew away instantly. I still don't have a picture of an osprey. Lesson number one: If you have a great wildlife sighting and a tourist asks you what you are looking at, remember this phrase "pretty flowers". If you don't I can almost guarantee that most tourists will scare the animal away. They will get out of their car and attempt to get closer with their point and shoot cameras. Many people will even attempt to get closer (too close) even if that animal is a bear or an elk during the rut, so if they don't see the animal, the safest thing for many tourists is to know that you are looking at pretty flowers or something else boring.

Beware of people on safaris. When we hire a guide on safaris, we save longer and pay extra to have a private guide when ever possible. Several years ago we were on a grizzly bear safari. At $500 per person, we got in a boat with a guide and another family with two small children. We boated out two and a half hours to the estuary where the grizzlies were. We got within 150 meters of them when the mother panicked and insisted that we leave. She figured the grizzlies were going to attack the boat. I suppose it would have been a terrible photo shoot anyway because the children were bored and fidgety, so any pictures that day would have been very challenging anyway. The guide obliged, my ten pictures were terrible and for a thousand dollars, we got to spend about ten minutes 150 meters away from grizzlies on shore. What a waste of a day and money!

The next year we went out to the coast again. We tried again, but this time photographed them from the tree stands. Thankfully, our second experience was much more successful. No children, only a group of adults who actually wanted to see the grizzlies. We went with Tide Rip Grizzly Tours. Our grizzly pictures this time were much more successful. We watched 17 grizzlies as they fished, played, ate and had the occasional play fight. It was a lot of fun.

I am delighted that I learned this lesson before we went to Africa. It is one thing to have a bad photo day or two when you are a two hour flight from home. It is another thing to learn this lesson after you have saved up for a year to fly half way around the world, only to sit in a land rover with fidgety tourists who may want to go back to the camp early so they can have drinks and a massage. 

Long story short: Most people enjoy a quick view of wildlife, but aren't necessarily interested in trying to get a great image. The average tourist and the average photographer are interested in getting very different things out of the safari experience. Be aware of people while on safari and be very aware of the people who you are on safari with!

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