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For many years now, I have been trying to capture an image of the critically endangered Black Rhino. These prehistoric beasts are not only globally threatened but also have a shy demeanor, inhabiting dense forests and thickets. On a recent photographic safari to Lake Nakuru, my hopes were indeed high but soon to be dashed...
On the 2nd day of my trip, I spotted a Black Rhino (Diceros bicornis) close to the lake shore. In my excitement, I hastily swung my old 1985 Nissan Patrol around and completely forgot about my camera, lens and flash perched upon a beanbag on the window frame! A ‘school boy error’ cannot justify this act of stupidity! I heard an almighty crash and this time it was not coming from a skittish rhino charging into the bush but rather from the barrel of my beloved Nikkor lens, bending as it struck terra firma. The soft volcanic soil did little to cushion the blow and my quest to photograph the ultimate Diceros bicornis image was hanging in the balance! Sitting solo and depressed around the camp fire later that night, I faced the painfully obvious, yet gut-wrenching reality, of having to return back to the big smoke of Nairobi! Could ‘Operation bicornis’ really be over before it began?
Deciding that not even drinking cold Tusker largers at my favourite watering hole in Karen could lift my spirits, I picked up my lens and very hesitantly focused on my Nissan’s number plate to assess the damage? The lens refused to focus, not even manually! I have spent a number of years in the bush whereby I have seen local bush mechanics resurrect all kinds of machinery. Be that as it may, I was reluctant to drop my precious lens off at the local ‘jua kali’ (bush-mechanic) garage in town the next day! After spending the next couple hours praying and playing with the lens, I finally managed to get it to a point whereby it would focus. Just prior to shouting “Yurika” and jumping over my campfire like a Maasai Warrior on speed, I learnt that my damaged lens only focused when racked out to 400mm? Any other focal length rendered the lens utterly useless! My intention for the shoot was after all to capture a portrait of a Black Rhino in its forest environment! I fell asleep disillusioned at having to photograph one of Africa’s largest land mammals with nothing but an exaggerated focal length of 400mm!
The next couple of days entailed me practicing using my disabled lens on White Rhino as I very fast learnt to judge distance at a focal length of 400mm! I also began to appreciate the wondrous versatility of a zoom lens versus a prime but that is an article for another day. Fast forwarding through the next few days of frustration, I finally decided that it was time to return to Nairobi and cut my losses. My last night camping was spent largely awake as a buffalo insisted on rubbing himself against my tent. Since sleep was evading me anyway, I decided to rise early and packed up camp in the dark with hundreds of reflecting buffalo eyes watching my every move. With my tent and camping kit thrown in the back of the Nissan, it was finally time to pack away both my bruised Nikon equipment and ego at the same time! ‘Viva in Spem’ is however my life motto, which translates to mean ‘I live in Hope’, and so it was that I decided to leave my camera out its bag and ready for 400mm action!
The drive through the reserve proved blissful with not another vehicle in sight and since I was making good time, I decided to take one last turn through the ancient Fever Tree forests that fringe the lake. It was a magical scene! Mist lingered in the predawn glow of the equatorial sun and the forests resembled something out of a children’s storybook. Rounding the bend on a narrow two-track I spotted a Black Rhino deep inside the forest interior and browsing on a fallen Fever tree. I became so excited that I began shaking, a problem reminiscent of my younger years as a wildlife photographer?
Jokes aside, my shaking hands were a major issue as my VR (vibration reduction) was not working and the forest interior was indeed dark. Framing my subject, my still functioning light meter, rendered a shutter speed of 1/50th of a second! Stuck on 400mm, I tried to judge my distance in such away that I would be able to render the prehistoric beast ensconced in its surreal habitat! Snuggling my lens deep into the beanbag, I tripped my shutter release button a few times over, in the hope that the splendid atmosphere and ambiance of the forest would translate into digital nirvana?
Having just processed the images, I am pleased to report that ‘Operation bicornis’ was indeed a success, albeit saved by the bell !!!
The end ...
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