Typical landscape from the heart of the Serengeti.  The great migration passes through here in June of each year.  This may soon be a busy roadway with all the associated infrastructure.

Typical landscape from the heart of the Serengeti. The great migration passes through here in June of each year. This may soon be a busy roadway with all the associated infrastructure.

A few years back, primate researcher Jane Goodall wrote a wonderful book titled “Reason For Hope: A Spiritual Journey.” Ms. Goodall covered a lot of territory in that little volume, which is part autobiography, part animal science and a general commentary on the human condition. After shedding light on the best and worst aspects of our species, our world and what we’ve done to it, she signed off with a cautiously optimistic summary. It was an eloquent discourse on her belief that the benevolent side of humanity will ultimately prevail over all its inherent frailties. Her writing was powerful and sincere, but not entirely persuasive. Nonetheless, the book did leave the reader with the vague impression that perhaps there really might be reason for hope for the future of our planet and the life that it so graciously hosts.

I wonder if Ms. Goodall would revise her predictions after reviewing the proposal of the Tanzanian government to build a highway across the northern Serengeti. This area is the primary corridor for the great wildebeest migration that circles across the border into and out of Kenya every year. A simple roadway in and of itself probably wouldn’t pose a real physical impediment to the most spectacular wildlife migration on earth. But the problem is that roads bring traffic, and vehicles require fuel, and drivers require places to rest, food to eat and drinks to drink. In the aggregate, the impact of this proposal on the great migration would be catastrophic. It would severely hamper the efforts of several hundred thousand wildebeest and zebra in their eternal effort to live and procreate. The route to the north represents much more than a grand spectacle designed to dazzle the eyes and fill the hearts of us humans … for the animals it is quite literally a lifeline they cannot survive without.

It goes without saying that the tourism industry will necessarily suffer … not just in Tanzania, but in Kenya as well. If the Maasai Mara is made inaccessible to these animals, the Kenyan economy would certainly be damaged, perhaps irreparably. No migration … far fewer tourists … substantially less income from outside the country.

The African Wildlife Foundation has taken a strong position against the highway. In keeping with the tradition that has made AWF my favorite charity, their website has offered a well-reasoned, entirely rational and non-confrontational argument against the highway. Also consistent with their usual methods, they’ve offered the Tanzanian government a perfectly viable alternative to this abomination that would satisfy just about all parties. Let us pray that their ideas are adopted by those in decision making positions in East Africa.

The destruction of the migration would be unforgivable … and even as I write this I find it difficult to accept that the highway proposal is even being seriously considered. If the road becomes a reality I doubt that I’ll ever visit the Serengeti again. I couldn’t stand to be reminded of what was once so grand and majestic, but so far beyond the will of humanity to preserve. I think I will have lost my reason for hope.

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The hippo pool at Ngorongoro Crater.  Nikon D70 converted to infrared.

The hippo pool at Ngorongoro Crater. Nikon D70 converted to infrared.

After a half dozen or so photo trips to Africa, it occurred to me that it might be time to try something a little different.  I’d always been a color shooter but I thought it might be nice to see how the animals and landscapes look in black and white.

Zebra and wildebeest cautiously drinking at a stream in Ngorongoro Crater.  They were right to be wary ... there was a lioness in ambush on the opposite side.

Zebra and wildebeest cautiously drinking at a stream in Ngorongoro Crater. They were right to be wary ... there was a lioness in ambush on the opposite side.

Back in late 2004 I purchased a Nikon D70 camera … it was state of the art equipment at the time but has been relegated to a backup role since about 2006.  Late last summer I sent it to a company in Washington state called Lifepixel to have it customized.  Lifepixel removed the infrared filter, which means that now all the photographs it captures are black and white, with the general effect looking a little like an old black and white negative after it’s been processed.  The adjustments the company makes to the camera do affect its focusing and metering … Lifepixel advertises that, unless instructed otherwise, they calibrate the Nikon SLRs for optimum shooting with a Nikkor 18-70mm lens.  After the camera was returned to me, I bought and tested a used 18-70mm, but also experimented with a 17-35mm and a 28-70mm.  Everything worked well as long as the aperture setting was F8 or smaller.  Assuming that the camera could be made to work with any lens, I took it with me to Kenya last September and married it to an old 24-120mm lens … this is a near perfect focal length for general use.  It’s sufficiently wide angle to achieve dramatic sky effects but has enough zoom to capture quality detail in the wildlife shots.

Very young lion cub watching mother leave to hunt wildebeest.  Taken in Ngorongoro Crater.

Very young lion cub watching mother leave to hunt wildebeest. Taken in Ngorongoro Crater.

I should have tested the 24-120mm with the converted camera prior to departing the states.  Every image was soft and I can’t find a single one of the 300 or so that’s even close to usable.  In November, prior to the most recent trip, I took tripod, D70, and all my lenses to the back yard and set them up near the bird feeder for testing.  The 18-70mm was the best, but my other two wide angles were nearly as good.  The 24-120mm hadn’t improved any … the images were still poor.  In fact, they looked even worse because I had something to compare them to.  I learned this lesson the hard way.  Lifepixel steered me right on all fronts and they did a superb job with the camera.  I made an inaccurate assumption and paid the price for it. The testing I did in the back yard consumed about an hour and a half of my life … it could easily have been done prior to the September trip.

Lions sleep about 20 hours a day.  These were down for the count, oblivious to the looming storm.  Captured at Ndutu, Tanzania.

Lions sleep about 20 hours a day. These were down for the count, oblivious to the looming storm. Captured at Ndutu, Tanzania.

So … I took the 18-70mm with me to Tanzania and Kenya in February and used it almost exclusively with the D70.  I’ve only looked at about 10% of the images, but they’re clearly much better than last year’s.  I’m including a few samples with this post and will upload more as I work through them.

The great zebra/wildebeest migration is at Ndutu in February of each year.

The great zebra/wildebeest migration is at Ndutu in February of each year.

The large elephant herds at Amboseli seem to have recovered from the effects of the recent drought.

The large elephant herds at Amboseli seem to have recovered from the effects of the recent drought.

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