Review - "Predators: Tales of Wild Tails" with Simon Palmer, 18 Jan 2021

A review by Janine Scola - "Predators: Tales of Wild Tails" with Simon Palmer, 18 Jan 2021
What a great evening we had in store – and for me personally, a trip down ‘memory lane’. From the world of IT, Simon made the switch to wildlife photography and in particular Predators. In being able to have the opportunity to travel and see these amazing animals, he wished to give something back and, in the process, became a UK Ambassador for Africat – a foundation based in Namibia.

Simon explained that there are two reserves where Africat are based, one just outside Etosha National Park in the north of Namibia called the Namibian Lion Trust and the other a little further south, based in Okonjima where the priority is the Cheetah. In such a vast and contrasting country, there are now only 650 lions remaining in the wild in Namibia. Through the Lion Trust and a dedicated and innovative vet, these lions are monitored and given regular health checks. Some of the female lions have radio collars, each at a cost of $3000 and last about two years – these have a dual purpose, in that they transmit the ranges within which they hunt and due to the GPS system, Africat and MLT can become aware if they get come into close contact with the farming communities. In addition, some collars emit a mortality signal if an animal is in trouble or they are reacting to potential poaching situations. So a valuable ‘piece of kit’!

In giving the background to Africat, Simon delighted us with some wonderful candid shots of lions and an insight into their unique muzzle markings by which individuals can be identified. So, if you ever get up close – and possibly uncomfortably so – and you can see the small spots where their whiskers emerge and the mottling on their nose – and live to tell the tale, you will be able to say which lioness you had the pleasure of meeting!

On the technical front, Simon uses two Nikon DSLRs and his favourite lens would be the 70-200mm. He shoots in Matrix and Raw and on the post processing side, has Capture 1 and Affinity, and if he wishes to convert to Mono then Nik Silver FX Pro is his choice. But in essence, his mantra is to create Natural images, possibly going into “Art House’ style dependent on what is required.

One of his shots showed a sedated lion’s paw set alongside his own hand for size comparison – put simply you would not wish to get in a fight with one, and that is without his claws out! With the changing dimension of the farming communities and their lands, it has been all too easy to stray into the ranges of these predators. The Africat Foundation has set out to educate the local farmers and by working in unison, have started to diminish the conflict between human and beast. In the small schools dotted around this vast, tough landscape, the children – the next generation to inherit the land from their fathers – are being educated in how best they can all work together. Africat assist in installing corrals to protect the livestock – and with a great mobile network, can soon assist and spread the word that lions are on the prowl.

The second half of Simon’s talk, centred on Africat in Okonjima. On one of his early morning drives, he and his guide were tracking Wild Dogs – with the signal getting louder, to the point where they should have been in front of them. Not so – on turning round - without a GPS - the Wild Dogs had been tracking behind them all the time! Another endangered animal with about 1400 remaining. Africat have also collared several of these animals to monitor their movements and their health. They are clever predators, stalking and hunting their prey in well organised packs. Again, these have their own unique ID markings on their bodies which stay with them from a puppy to the end of their adult life.

But Okonjima is all about the Cheetah – this elegant and amazing animal. Another endangered animal and where Africat step in to assist where necessary and in time return them to the wild. They have a shallow genetic gene-pool and this is monitored to avoid in-breeding, to the point of sterilisation in some cases. The sad reality is that of those cubs born into the world, very few reach adulthood, by being predated themselves. Regular health checks are maintained and as with the other animals mentioned, have their own unique markings by which to identify individuals. Spot configuration! And the two dark lines which run down from the eyes to either side of the nose, believe it or not, this has evolved as ‘anti-flare’ and reduces the glare into their eyes. With the health checks, comes a regular check of their eyes for any grass seeds, if left unattended, this will cause blindness. For the squeamish, they are also prone to ‘Cheetah Fly” - in vast numbers – and if you weren’t feeling itchy before, you were after seeing this image! Through the innovation of the vet, an inoculation has been produced and given to the cheetahs, which seems to have magically wiped out this irritant. One little snippet – unlike the lion, the cheetah cannot retract their claws – ouch! Simon then showed a wonderful array of cheetah images – including sitting on the top of a termite mound!

And lastly, to the Leopard that can also be found in this area. Amazingly there are 34 on this reserve, with Africat placing collars on most, to monitor such a high density in number. Interestingly, although their ranges crossed, they appear to happily co-exist with each other – the warthog might not be too impressed! Like most wildlife photographers, for Simon it was to achieve the shot of the leopard in a tree. The trick – look for a hyena with a lot of interest looking up a tree – likelihood is there will be leopard, legs dangling and his kill neatly stashed in the branches out of reach of said hyena!

An excellent evening, wonderful images giving an interesting insight into the life of these predators in the unforgiving landscape of Namibia and the work of the Africat Foundation.

To finish the evening, Simon highlighted his recently released book “Paw Prints in the Sand”, detailing the work of Africat since 2011 alongside Simon’s stunning images of these magnificent predators. All monies raised go directly to the Africat Foundation and can be obtained from cheetahworld.com


~ Janine Scola