A Lion Cub At Sunset – Weekly Travel Photo

Lion Cubs Playing at Sunset

With a glimmer of light reflected in its eye this young lion club relaxed with its brothers and sisters in South Luangwa National Park in Zambia.  The cubs’ mothers were out hunting and enjoying some free time away from the kids, leaving them to lounge in the late afternoon sun, chew on each other’s tails, and generally do all of the things you’d expect over-sized kittens to do.

Make sure to head over to flickr to see the rest of the album.

Would you like to see previous Weekly Photos? View past travel pictures here. This photo was taken on a Canon T3i (600D) Camera.

The Lion Cub’s Gaze – Weekly Travel Photo

Lion Cubs Playing at Sunset

This magical moment happened in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park while I was on safari.  We had stumbled onto a group of five lion cubs between the ages of 4-6 months just before sunset. Their mothers were off hunting and the cubs were taking a much-needed break after a day full of exploring and childish antics.  This cub in particular was feeling quite relaxed, though he still kept a close eye on us.  He repeatedly lounged around, rolled onto his back, and then stared at us almost as if inviting us to head over and to give him a tummy scratch.  His gaze was incredible and cut right to my core. Hands down some of my favorite moments from the Safari.

Make sure to head over to flickr to see the rest of the album.

Would you like to see previous Weekly Photos? View past travel pictures here. This photo was taken on a Canon T3i (600D) Camera.

Startled Lions – Weekly Travel Photo

Lions Started by Elephants - Chobe

While watching a small pride of young lion and lionesses relax in Chobe National Park, Botswana we were treated to an entertaining sight.  The ordinarily confident lions were brought to their feet and startled out of their lazy late afternoon naps when an ambling group of Elephants accidentally wandered into their midst.  While the elephants were somewhat alarmed and surprised it was the lions which found themselves giving way.  After a short, undignified sprint, the lions seemed to notice that we were all watching, slowed to a controlled amble and then plopped back down into the grass.  But, not before changing direction so that they could keep a close, if casual, eye on the elephants.

Would you like to see previous Friday Photos? View past travel pictures here. This photo was taken on a  Canon T3i (600D) Camera.

Safari: The Emotional Side

One Eyed Leopard

Let’s face it, when the time comes to set out for a safari, most of us have a pretty simple checklist.  We want to see amazing animals in wonderful natural settings.  Among the most desired animals are predators – big cats, crocodiles, hyena, eagles and whatever other top animals are around.  But, we don’t just want to see these animals lounging around napping lazily under a tree.  No, we want to see them active, animated, and hunting.  The capstone moment of most safaris, the holy grail if you will, is the kill.  That moment when a leopard bursts from inaction or casual stalking into the embodiment of  natural selection – a sleek, powerful, awe-inspiring killing machine.

Wild Lionesses - South Luangwa, Zambia

As it happens, you find yourself breathless with excitement. Sliding to the edge of your seat, looking on, body locked into place. It is the type of heightened attention and expectation every movie director dreams of.  It is addictive – long in the making and ever so brief in the realization.  Then, usually in near silence it ends.  The predator catches its prey, locks its jaws onto it, and begins to bleed away its life force.

Wild Leopard at Night - South Luangwa, Zambia

It’s at that point that reality hits you. The realization that you’ve just participated in an ancient tradition: the theater of death.  The Romans had their colosseums, the Mayans human sacrifice  and we…well…we have war footage and reporting, with the occasional hanging or lethal injection thrown into the mix. For me it brings to mind the mental image of a crowd assembled, gathered in front of a raised platform crowned by a red-stained wooden block.  The gathered throng of humanity chanting in glee, excitement building, riding that balance between disruption and expression.  Then, the fall of the axe, the end of a life, and the euphoric sense of life retained that washes through the crowd followed by awkward silence.

Leopard Kill in Tree - South Luangwa, Zambia

As a species we are fascinated by our own mortality and all of the ways it can be explored.  As we advance, the majority of us become further and further removed from death.  We live longer and lose our friends and family far less often. Our food comes to us carefully cut, prepared, and pre-packaged.  We are the world’s most successful predators and death dealers but, we are also simultaneously often the most removed from death and the act of life-taking.   These traits combine with our somewhat unique ability to feel empathy for all living creatures into a strange cocktail of life and death.

Lioness Feeding on Hippo

It’s one thing to watch a clean kill, the type of kill when a predator goes head to head with a healthy adult and wins.  Either because of superior strategy or  surprise and power.  But, when that kill ends up being a newborn, it is far more difficult to watch.  The indiscriminate brutality of nature violates the way we emotionally connect with other species – from the  polar bear or lion that kills and eats their cub to the crocodile that feasts on a baby water buffalo while its mother watches helplessly from nearby.  These are the moments that often reduce safari-goers to tears. A mixture of the cold, harsh nature of natural selection combined with the beautiful reality of the way the world works.

Hyenas Feeding - South Luangwa - Zambia

But even more difficult are the complicated kills.  The kills which include a mother baboon and her still dependent baby or slow kills made possible through disease or injury. It is in these moments that you find yourself most torn.  The moments where every fiber of your body demands you act and involve yourself but, intellectually you know you are supposed to remain the neutral observer.  I recall watching footage of a baboon kill made by a leopard.  As they’re prone to do, the leopard dragged the corpse up into a tree but was then surprised to discover a baby baboon still clinging to its mother’s corpse. The baby was just weeks old, still un-weaned. The footage continued with the leopard trying to adopt the baby baboon. Cleaning it, keeping it close, and gently caring for it. What happened a few hours later I cannot say.  But it was brutally hard to watch.  I can only imagine the heartache it must have caused for the people on site watching it unwind in real time.

Hyena Feeding - South Luangwa

My baby baboon moment came in South Luangwa when we came upon an injured hippo. Large and powerful, it’s back bore the scars of countless fights. When healthy, I doubt there was another creature besides other hippos and the rare elephant within 100 miles that could have challenged or threatened it.  Yet it had broken its hind legs somehow.  Stranded and able to stand on its front legs in a sitting position, but unable to do more, it was just a matter of time before nature ran its course and the predators felt safe enough to approach. It faced an ugly death – the piercing bite of a predator or the slow pains of starvation, sun stroke and dehydration.

Hyena Feeding - South Luangwa - Zambia

By that evening, the first predator had found his courage.  It was a leopard who carefully stalked and explored the hippo’s range of motion and ability to defend itself before eventually starting to feed at one of the two soft points on a hippo.  Given the hippo’s thick hide the only place most predators can get through the tough skin is right underneath the hippo’s neck, and/or beneath the hippo’s tail. Our leopard had begun to tear into the soft flesh beneath the hippo’s tail.  Satiated, he strolled a few feet away and settled down to clean himself just as we arrived. He watched as two hyena approached the scene. The hyena picked up where the leopard had left off digging deeper and deeper into the hippo as blood covered their faces and pulsed onto the ground.  Through it all the hippo could only lay there, periodically pulling itself up on its front legs, a silent witness to its imminent death.  Video chronicling the entire process from start to finish is available here.

Hyena Feeding - South Luangwa

We couldn’t interfere. Oh how we wanted to!  Our guide had a gun, the hippo was obviously not going to survive.  Even had it regained the ability to move its legs, the gaping hole where its anus had once been left no doubt that death was quickly approaching.  Would it really make a difference to shoot it and to end its suffering?  The reality is that it would.  Our role was to remain neutral observers and not to interfere in the natural cycle;  to look on and experience nature’s will.   We did – fighting the inner battle to look away but drawn to the wildness of the spectacle unfolding before us. When we couldn’t take it anymore we headed back to the comfort of our camp; to the casual half-truth of hippos sleeping happily on river banks and lazy leopards napping in grass fields.   To see the darker side of nature was hard but after all, this was part of the reason we had come –  to see nature, all of nature, at work.  To follow the process, the circle of life, and to face the harsh realities of the African bush.

Hyenas Feeding - South Luangwa - Zambia

There was a certain beauty to it all.  Not in the hippo’s suffering which lasted for hours as more and more hyena showed up and continued their feast.  But, rather in the sum of the experience.  What had started with an afternoon spotting of an injured hippo, turned into a two and a half day process as we watched the hippo’s corpse feed hundreds of animals.  What had started with the leopard and hyena, quickly was followed up by a small army of hyena, small scavengers, and then at least a hundred vultures. Where I expected rot and waste, we watched as the corpse was picked clean in just over a day until all that was left was the white skull and massive spinal column that had once given the hippo life.  There was beauty to the full cycle, to the interaction between creatures, to the efficiency of the natural food chain.

Hyenas Feeding - South Luangwa - Zambia

While I still feel shreds of guilt over not being able to do anything to end the hippo’s suffering, understanding the role it played in the greater circle of life makes a huge difference.

Embracing death is part of the safari experience.   It can be shocking and deeply unsettling. It provides an insight into nature and into our own hearts and minds. It explores who we are, where we come from, and is a cold reminder that life is built upon other life.

A special thank you to our guides at Shenton Safaris who kept us safe and walked us through the process.  

Lounging Lions – Friday’s Weekly Travel Photo & Product Review

Lion Cubs Playing at Sunset

Lion cubs in just about any context are pretty adorable.  After all, they’re kinda like giant kittens and who doesn’t like kittens?  Well.  A few lost, wayward souls seem to. Luckily for lion cubs, even most of the folks who don’t like kittens seem to love lion cubs.  That childish/kittenish charm was part of what made the moment behind this photo so magical.  We came upon a group of five cubs ranging from four to six months old during our Safari in South Luangwa while in Zambia with Shenton Safaris.  As we approached they rolled over and looked at us lazily.  They apparently decided we weren’t a threat and looked too chewy to try nibbling on.  For the next 20 minutes they allowed us to sit a few feet away form them firing off a series of amazing photos.  A few of the cubs were feeling lazy, but several had a performer’s personality and clowned a bit for the camera – rolling over, staring at us, and posing in profile.  This shot is of one of the more active characters in the group!

The chance to see these amazing creatures completely free and in the wild was a wonderful experience and one that left us all with goosebumps.   It’s amazing how different the overall moment is from those spent viewing lion cubs in a zoo or watching cubs which have been domesticated.  There’s the natural vibrancy that comes from their hard lives and the lifestyle they live that is unlike anything you can see anywhere else!  It’s also why I encourage you all to add spending time near wild lion cubs to your bucket lists!

Would you like to see previous Friday Photos? View past travel pictures here. This photo was taken on a Canon T3i (600D) Camera using a Canon IS 55-250mm lens.

Product Review

A few weeks ago the folks at InspireMyCase reached out to me with an offer to try one of their custom phone cases.  Curiosity piqued but not entirely convinced I agreed to give it a try. The part that really caught my interest was the ability to upload one of my photos, to slap some text onto it, and then to turn that into a high quality case for my iPhone 4S.  Given how dreadfully unattractive or boring most iPhone cases are this seemed like an enticing service and an easy way to advertise VirtualWayfarer while out and about.

I logged into their custom web-panel and then set to the task of trying to decide what image I wanted to use.  Which, to be honest, was the most difficult part of the entire process.  The interface worked smoothly and made customizing the image easy.  It also made it simple to see what my final design would look like.  My only complaint was that the text customization options were somewhat limited. So, while I had initially hoped to do “INSPIRE CURIOSITY” and then to add “VirtualWayfarer” underneath, the interface wouldn’t let me enter an independent second line.  Given how small an iPhone case is and that you want your font to be pretty large, this makes sense.  I also could have just manually added the text onto the image itself if it had bothered me.  In the end simplicity won out, and I ended up finishing and ordering my case which arrived about a week later.

Product Review
Photo taken on my iphone 4s

I decided to add this product review to this particular post because the Lion Cub photo above is the one I used for my case image.  So far I’m really happy with it.  The plastic is thicker than I expected and very sturdy. The color, gloss, and print quality are all fantastic and also better than I expected.  The image is sharp, the text is clean and sharp, and over-all the case beat my expectations.  I’ve also received a lot of nice comments about the shot and the case since I started using it.

The cases aren’t cheap, but then again for a custom printed item like this they’re really not that expensive either.  As an added perk 20% of the purchase goes to the non-profit AngelMule.

So, if a custom iPhone case seems appealing, consider checking out the folks over at InspireMyCase.

A Lion Cub’s Ferocious Yawn – Friday’s Weekly Travel Photo

Lion Cubs Playing at Sunset

There was a brief moment of hesitation. A quizzical look flashed across his furry face and then it started. His nose twitched. His ears circled slightly and then his mouth exploded open in a giant lion sized yawn. Only, he wasn’t a full sized lion yet. No, he was just a lion cub and as he yawned his tongue rolled free of his mouth leaving him temporarily in the most awkward of poses – a mixture between ferocious lion, tired house cat, and silly youth. That’s when I pressed down the trigger and snapped my photo.

This photo was taken just before sunset in South Luangwa National Park in northern Zambia. I was on tour with the amazing folks at Shenton Safaris when we stumbled upon a group of lion cubs relaxing in the late night sun. They tolerated our presence and lazily watched us as we quietly, but far more intently, watched them.

Would you like to see previous Friday Photos? View past travel pictures here. This photo was taken on a Canon T3i (600D) Camera.

The Danish Animal House! Photos From A Day at the Copenhagen Zoo

Copenhagen Zoo Mother Cat

In my effort to round out my Copenhagen introductory experience I quickly realized that the Copenhagen Zoo was a must visit.  With a reputation for being one of the best zoos in Europe it boasted stellar review after stellar review online. Eager to try and catch the 1PM feeding I pulled up the zoo’s website, glanced at a map and set off.  Unfortunately the trip to Fasanvej St. station (which I felt was the closest and easiest walk to the Zoo) took slightly longer than expected….and then I goofed. Instead of heading south, I accidentally began heading north and didn’t realize my mistake until I’d gone 3 or 4 blocks.   At which time 1PM was 5 minutes away and a light rain had begun to fall.  No longer on a strict timetable I ducked into a corner kebab shop and ordered lunch hoping the rain would pass in the 20 or so minutes it would take me to eat.

Copenhagen Zoo Tower

It didn’t and unfortunately it may have even picked up slightly.  But, un-perturbed I stepped out into the light rain and began backtracking towards the station before blazing a new southerly path.  The rain was relatively light and left me damp but lacked sufficient strength to send me running for cover. If anything it added a slight skip to my step as I found myself humming Singing in the Rain and splashing my way through a beautiful, sprawling palatial garden. After getting slightly lost I stumbled onto an open viewing area where the park opened up onto the back side of the zoo’s Elephant enclosure. In place of the high walls you’d expect blocking out non-paying visitors there was a low electric fence, moat, and railing.  From there it was only a matter of a few turns before I found myself standing in front of the Zoo’s entrance.

Copenhagen Zoo

Then I faced a small quandary. It was still raining, gray and showed no sign of letting up.  But, that’s how the weather had been the previous three days, and each time after an hour or so the clouds broke, the rain stopped, and the weather transitioned into beautiful afternoons.  I had the entire afternoon to wait it out, was reading my Dad’s book and had little desire to rush, so I opted to risk the 140 DKK ($28 USD) entrance fee and went for it. Once inside I quickly found my way to one of the Zoo’s small cafe’s where I secured a quiet corner table and began reading. Before long the rain stopped, clouds broke, and as one the animals and I left our dry hiding spaces to enjoy the sunshine and fresh, crisp, clean post storm air.

Copenhagen Zoo

After a quick stop in the Flamingo enclosure I found my way to the Lion’s den.  To my absolute delight the entire pride was out and active wandering the enclosure, playfully relaxing and from time to time babysitting the pack of small cubs.

Copenhagen Zoo

I couldn’t believe my luck.  Not only were all of the lions out and active, the enclosure itself was extremely conducive to viewing them with the usual close up cement walls with smeared and fogged up glass windows only taking up a small portion of the viewing area. The rest consisted of a large, long, and open railing wrapping around 1/3 of the habitat. With the lions out and about it offered an incredible view.  It was hands down the best chance I’ve had to view lions – normally in Phoenix and the other Zoo’s I’ve been in the view has consisted of little more than furry lion’s paws sticking out of the grass, or a long tail dangling from one of the enclosure’s small caves.

Copenhagen Zoo Monkey

From there it was on to the monkey enclosures where most of the monkeys were relaxing, nibbling on food and enjoying the sun’s warmth. You’ll note that the little guy in the image above seemed to have it all figured out.  What better way to spend an afternoon than outside taking a nap in the sun?

Copenhagen Zoo Sunbather

Speaking of sunbathing, even this turtle in one of the internal butterfly and bird enclosures seemed to have it all figured out. Stuck inside? Can’t enjoy the sunlight? No bother – bring the sunlight to you! Personally though, I have a hunch he’s going to have a pretty difficult time getting a tan through that shell, it’s probably a smudge stronger than SPF 45.

Copenhagen Zoo

Attached to the butterfly enclosure was a large dark hallway lined with individually lit frog, insect and snake aquariums.  One of the largest served as home to a small army of brightly covered jungle frogs. While no doubt terribly poisonous to touch, their rich colors and vibrant markings make them some of the most attractive amphibians I’ve ever seen in person.

Copenhagen Zoo

A little further down the hall, however, was this lovely couple.  Closer to what one might expect these guys possessed a certain dinosaur esq look struck quite the pose. Quite the couple, relaxing and enjoying their vibrantly colored flower bed.

Copenhagen Zoo

From there it was on to the Chimpanzee enclosure which was completely inside and housed a surprisingly large chimpanzee population including grown males, females and young children.  I’m always torn on Zoos. On the one hand I love them for the opportunity to see amazing creatures up close and for the opportunity they present to protect endangered, injured, or domesticated animals. On the other hand – well, this photo sums it up pretty perfectly. There’s the sad sense of the jailhouse blues seeing some of the animals locked away in man-made enclosures.

Copenhagen Zoo

After winding my way out of the Chimpanzee enclosure I found myself entering another building.  This one, it turned out, was actually the back side of the outdoor monkey enclosures I had visited earlier and offered a mixture of in-door extensions of the enclosures as well as several smaller, entirely indoor areas for some of the smaller and incredibly adorable monkeys.

Copenhagen Zoo

From there it was on over to the Tiger enclosure where three of the large cats were relaxing and enjoying the sun…until, that is, this little guy woke up from his nap and got a bit bored.

Copenhagen Zoo Tiger

After a hearty yawn – at least I’m hoping that’s what it was – and a bit of stretching he did what any good natured cat would do.  Decided to stalk prey.

Copenhagen Zoo

On massive padded paws he slowly stalked his way towards his sleeping cage-mate…inching forward slowly….then eventually pouncing on his sleeping target who was, as you might imagine, not entirely thrilled at rude awakening. Oh, and have no fear. The above photo is completely innocent.

Copenhagen Zoo

The unamused cage mate quickly woke up and let his (or her) general disapproval be known – though you can tell by the provocateur’s ears that he was still finding the reaction absolutely entertaining.

Copenhagen Zoo

Unfortunately, as anyone who has ever ambushed a friend or family member in their sleep knows, while hysterical to watch, they do tend to be a bit grumpy after. This was no exception, but after a quick chiding the two collapsed to the dirt and returned to their lazy afternoon lounging, no worse for wear.

Copenhagen Zoo

Around the corner I quickly came face to face with the Leopard enclosure. As with the rest of the spaces in the Zoo I was shocked at how many animals the enclosure was home to as I counted four, possibly five leopards in their sprawling and thickly shaded cage.  Seeing the animals in such a social environment, many with young children or nurslings in tow really gave me a lot of added respect for the Copenhagen Zoo team and their approach.

Copenhagen Zoo

Located just around the corner from the leopards was a small otter enclosure.  These three goofballs had found the perfect perch for staring at passing tourists, often at eye level.  Their playful antics as they huddled, drying off in the sun’s warmth reminded me of the three stooges and one of their comedy routines.

Copenhagen Zoo

From there it was up, past two lounging red pandas to the sea lion enclosure. Not to be outdone by the otters the sea lion enclosure was in the midst of a feeding/show when I arrived. After barking on command, shaking hands, waving, and a plethora of other adorable tricks the sea lion’s trainers would send them off to one of the corners before calling over a new performer.

Copenhagen Zoo

The sea lions were extremely responsive, playful, and as you’ll note in the image above quite talented. On more than one occasion I was surprised to see them leap out of the water to touch nose to suspended ball, or trainer’s finger tips.

Copenhagen Zoo

As the sea lions performed, the penguins in the partially attached enclosure immediately next to them fought for attention. Several forming small groups before waddling their way in front of each other where they proceeded to honk and peck at each other. Who knew that penguins rolled in gangs when imprisoned in the big house? From there it was on past a small pack of beautiful wolves enjoying mottled shade and into the bear section of the Zoo.

Copenhagen Zoo

There I was immediately greeted by this goofy little guy who spent the majority of his time lounging in the pool, looking guilty and playing with toys while his mother and two younger brothers wandered the enclosure causing trouble.

Copenhagen Zoo

While mom waited for dinner, and kept an eye on things from an interesting perch in the middle of the structure, two of her cubs entertained them selves as boys will…

Copenhagen Zoo

…in a playful, clumsy, and utterly adorable bear face-off. Nose to nose. Paw to paw. Standing as tall as they could they’d grapple before one would break away, racing a large circle around the enclosure before pausing to have at it once again.

Copenhagen Zoo

As time drifted by and I watched them play they eventually all gathered to wait while one of the zoo keepers rustled around behind the enclosure. Though it looked more like they were taking standing and walking lessons than waiting for anything in particular.

Copenhagen Zoo

Located a stones throw away from the brown bear family was the polar bear enclosure which serves as home for two large, gorgeous polar bears.

Copenhagen Zoo

Full of character one was kind enough to pose for me briefly, striking a classic pose which you might recognize from music videos and malls all over America.  After a quick pose he turned, sticking his tongue out at me and looking generally pleased with himself.

Copenhagen Zoo

As I’m sure you may have noticed by now, it seemed like every one was in the best of moods. Both animals and humans alike.  After watching him mime for the camera a bit more and shooting several more shots I set off past the leopard seal enclosure and towards the tunnel which winds under a road and into the second half of the park.

Copenhagen Zoo

The second half of the park is home to a number of animals, including this gorgeous and slightly ferocious mother caracal which you may recall from the start of this entry.  Let me tell you, few things stand out in my memory quite like making eye contact with her, perhaps 8 inches away from each other, face to face, as she stood on top of a barrel and expressed her annoyance with  my proximity to her little ones. After snapping two quick shots I respected her wishes and backed off giving her a bit of space.

Copenhagen Zoo

Her two little ones were adorable kittens with captivating eyes and pure, adorable, kitten innocence. They found their way to the floor to ceiling glass and playfully rolled around attacking small bugs, sticks of grass, and anything that happened to be in range, which included attempts – despite the class – to nibble on a few small children’s fingers and my camera strap.

Copenhagen Zoo

The far side of the Zoo contained a large giraffe family, several hippos, birds, zebras and to my surprise a large petting zoo and domestic exhibit including highland horses, several cows, pigs and chickens.

Copenhagen Zoo

The Copenhagen Zoo was absolutely incredible. I was blown away by the layout, the treatment of the animals, their general energy, and the magnificent way the day turned out. I truly couldn’t have asked for a better day at the Zoo. I’m absolutely thrilled with how my gamble turned out and hope to revisit to zoo again sometime soon. I already miss all of my new furry, feathered and scaled friends!

The photos in this post were shot on a Canon Powershot G11. Learn more about it and the Canon G12 here.

Animals in Spring

We often think of visiting the Zoo in the summer months.  Times when it’s hot outside and the escape to a small oasis with wild animals, great  palms and more sounds particularly alluring.  Yet the animals themselves feel that same urge to avoid the heat and crowds, particularly here in Phoenix.

On previous trips to the Zoo I’ve mostly encountered Giraffes huddled in the shade, Monkeys sequestered in small shady corners, and the occasional lazy Lions paw dangling haphazardly out of a cubby.   Taking advantage of a warm week in early spring, I opted for an off season visit. To my delight the animals were out in fine form enjoying the weather and providing me with an opportunity to record a bit of video. Enjoy!