A new day is dawning in Africa. In the early morning light a black-backed jackal saunters across a clearing to a waterhole where he arranges himself into a motionless fur-ball under a lone tree. The winter air is still and chilly, the sky just beginning to pale on the horizon. This is the tableau before us as we sip our coffee in the secrecy of the underground hide where we have settled ourselves, our cameras at the ready. An hour or so earlier, as we made our way here from camp, a solitary cheetah had strolled out of the pre-dawn gloom – an auspicious start to our day!
As the sun begins to appear over the horizon, its warming rays light up the grassy plain. The stillness is about to be shattered as guinea fowl start chattering their way down to the water, kudu bulls step out of the foliage, and soon masses of turtle doves are fluttering in for their morning splash in the water.
This is the mighty Kalahari, Southern Africa’s largest desert, home to hundreds of species of birds and animals, some not found anywhere else in the world. I am a guide and wildlife photographer, this is my home country, and a morning like this is what I dream of. The atmosphere here is extraordinary, and the myriad photographic opportunities are as vast as its beautiful grasslands. And all right here, in our own backyard.
A couple of hours drive from Maun is Ker & Downey Botswana’s Dinaka Camp. This is where I am sitting, hugging my mug of coffee and double checking my camera settings. Thanks to the prevailing Covid crisis we have the whole place to ourselves.
Our solitary jackal knew exactly what he was waiting for, and at the chosen moment he transformed into a flying predator, running low and hard at the flock of unsuspecting doves. The doves flushed into the air. The jackal leapt, snapping his jaws. A chaotic scene! Sadly all he snagged this time was a mouthful of feathers, but undeterred, he spat out the feathers and changed his approach. This was clearly not the first time this had happened, and he repeated his attack on the flock at the other end of the pan.
This remarkable scene played out over the course of the morning, an intriguing chaos, constantly delighting and challenging the photographers in the hide. The photographic opportunities were dramatic and plentiful, but also very tricky in terms of composition and focus. The jackal being so close meant that his movements and speed were exaggerated, and it took extreme skill just keeping him in the camera frame.
Over the next 3 days, a group of 6 jackal kept us well entertained with their hunts and family antics. We spent every morning in the hide from sunrise until about 11 am, during which time our eyes were firmly fixed on our viewfinders. Pop outside for a toilet break and you might miss something!
There are experiences when, as a photographer, you feel immensely satisfied with a shoot, images in the can, a job well done. The Dinaka expedition was not like this though. Despite taking over 5000 frames, I still feel there is more. There are surely some very intense and unique moments which I have not yet captured. It is for those that I cannot wait to return!
About the photographer: Daniel Crous comes from a small town in northern Botswana called Maun which is the gateway to the Okavango Delta. With one of the World’s largest intact wildlife areas on the doorstep it is no surprise that his photography centres on wildlife and safari culture. He is a professional safari guide and specialist photographic guide, leading trips in various parts of remote Africa. His aim is to provoke an emotional response from his photographs.
His images have been published in a number of publications including Discover Botswana. Daniel has always had a huge draw to the natural world and enjoys creating exceptional experiences in the wild for anyone who travels with him. He is also a videographer, and regularly shoots promotional videos for safari operators. He provides photo workshops to teams of safari guides, to improve their photographic guiding skills.
Apart from photography, adventure and fishing are what makes him tick. Daniel has completed a number of expeditions including driving a Tuk-Tuk 2700km across India to raise funds for Rhino Conservation Botswana and a solo hike through the Central African Rainforest.