Elephants

Elephants are the largest currently living land animals. They are forever associated with Africa as one of the 'big 5' a phrase coined by hunters and referring to the five most difficult and dangerous animals in Africa to hunt on foot. Hunting has thankfully reduced significantly but these magnificent beasts still hold a unique awe and magic.

They are truly massive with a large male standing over 3.5 to 4 meters at the shoulder and weighing up to 7,500 kg or 8 tons. The largest ever recorded weighed in at 11,000 kg. Calves can weigh as much as 120 kg at birth.

They are very social animals living in highly structured family groups led by the eldest female, or matriarch. The social lives of male and female elephants are very different. The females spend their entire lives in these tightly knit family groups made up of mothers, daughters, sisters, young males and aunts. Adult males, on the other hand, live mostly solitary lives.

When photographing elephants the normal rules of getting down low and on a level with the animal obviously don’t apply although some really stunning shots can still be achieved from just such a low angle. As with lions, elephants in the popular safari destinations are habituated to vehicles but it still pays to be careful as these are massively powerful beasts and the guides certainly treat them with respect.

 
Play time
 
Play is very important to young elephants as they seek to cement their family bonds and learn about their surroundings. These two young females were having a riotous time playing in a small lake sometimes rolling over and completely submerging with only the tip of their trunk sticking up to allow them to breath. Play was fun with a lot of splashing but also very tactile with much touching of trunks.
  
Young Female Elephants at Play

The Elephant on the right has a particularly young face.

Lens used Canon 300mm-f2.8. Camera settings ISO 125, f3.2, 1/1,000 sec. Distance 46.4m

Young Female Elephants Playing

Lens used Canon 300mm-f2.8. Camera settings ISO 125, f3.2, 1/1,000 sec. Distance 46.4m

Young Female Elephants Playing

Lens used Canon 300mm-f2.8. Camera settings ISO 125, f3.2, 1/1,000 sec. Distance 46.4m

Young Female Elephants Playing.

Lens used Canon 70-200mm f2.8 @ 175mm. Camera settings ISO 200, f4, 1/800 sec.

------- Young female elephants playing in small lake - Tarangire Tanzania -------
 
 
 
Old boys in the NgoroNgoro Carter
 
Many of East Africa’s "big tuskers", as the older males with especially large tusks are called, have been hunted and killed for their ivory. Inside the crater they are relatively safe as the area is patrolled 24 hours per day by armed guards ostensibly protecting the rhino population.
 
Some of the old bulls inside the crater have extremely long tusks. Although much larger than those you would easily find outside the crater these as large as would have been the case before poaching was rife. On the photos below notice especially the receding brow line which is the distinguishing feature of bull elephants and the depressions in the temples which denote extreme age.
 
“Big tusker” male elephant.

Lens used Canon 600mm f4. Camera settings ISO 200, f4, 1/1,250 sec. Distance 98.3m

Two “Big tusker” male elephants.

Lens used Canon 300mm f2.8. Camera settings ISO 100, f4, 1/1,000 sec. Distance 42.9m

“Big tusker” male elephant.

Lens used Canon 300mm f2.8. Camera settings ISO 100, f3.5, 1/1,000 sec. Distance 45m

“Big tusker” male elephant.

Lens used Canon 600mm f4. Camera settings ISO 200, f4, 1/1,250 sec. Distance 97.2m

------- Old "big tusker" males - Ngoro Ngoro Crater Tanzania -------
 
 
This old bull elephant had just been for a mud bath in one of the lakes in the crater. He isn’t quite as old and hasn’t the depressed temples or quite as large tusks of the older bulls but the laboured walk and deeply wrinkled skin betrays his extreme age. The wide angle shot shows the great benefit of photographing in the carter in that the background is the lush green background of the crater side. 
“Big tusker” male elephant.

Lens used Canon 300mm f2.8. Camera settings ISO 100, f2.8, 1/1,000 sec. Distance 51m

“Big tusker” male elephant.

Lens used Canon 300mm f2.8. Camera settings ISO 100, f2.8, 1/1,000 sec. Distance 46.4m

“Big tusker” male elephant.

The shorter lens allows the capture of the verdant green background which is the side of the crater.

Lens used Canon 70-200mm f2.8 @95mm. Camera settings ISO 100, f2.8, 1/1,250 sec.

 ------- Old "big tusker" male - NgoroNgoro Crater Tanzania -------

Family group Tarangire

Elephants are highly gregarious and form family groups consisting of an older matriarch and several generations of relatives. This family structure is extremely important and the basis of elephant society with the older females teaching and tutoring the youngsters and the aunts and cousins taking turns in looking after the younger members. Calves aren’t usually fully weaned till 4 or 5 years old. They are adolescent members of the herd till about 15 years old and although sexually mature at about this time don’t mate till over 20 and living till over 70. This family group in the Tarangire National Park are contentedly eating grass something they spend over 80% of their day doing eating perhaps 300 kg per day.
 
The soft background or ‘Bokeh’ was achieved by using a wide aperture. The lovely detail in the heads of the soft oat grass show up well against the elephants hides and add to the idyllic scene.
Content old matriarch.

Lens used Canon 300mm f2.8. Camera settings ISO 200, f4.5, 1/1,000 sec (exp bias +0.3). Distance 43m

Mother and calf.

Close cropped shots like capture the intimacy between mother and calf.

Lens used Canon 300mm f2.8. Camera settings ISO 100, f5, 1/1,000 sec. Distance 45.7m

Mother and calf.

Lens used Canon 300mm f2.8. Camera settings ISO 200, f4.5, 1/1,250 sec. Distance 47.3m

Family group.

The shorter lens captures the wider scene and the smaller aperture ensures all of the herd is in focus.

Lens used Canon 70-200mm f2.8 @ 153mm. Camera settings ISO 400, f7.1, 1/1,250 sec.

------- Family group grazing -------

Very young baby.

This baby elephant in the Ndutu Plains in Northern Tanzania is only a few days old. It sheltered under its mother most of the time and was relatively unsteady on its feet needing a helping hand – trunk – to lift it upright at times. In these early days, weeks and even months it will be watched over closely by the rest of the herd comprising mostly aunts, sisters, cousins and immature males. The entire family group will take turns in looking after it and in the first few weeks it won’t be allowed to wander off on its own. If it becomes even slightly separated from the rest of the herd it looks lost and pathetic as in the last of these 4 photos. In the early weeks a baby elephant won’t have learnt how to use its trunk which seems to get in its way.

Whilst adult elephants display great dexterity with the trunk it takes baby elephants a number of years to become truly expert in their use. At this very early age it is amusing to watch as they try to get used to the limb dangling in front of them. Often they get in a real muddle and become extremely frustrated.
Young baby sheltering under the legs of its mother.

The smaller aperture allows for all the legs to be in focus.

Lens used Canon 70-200mm f2.8 @ 200mm. Camera settings ISO 320, f7.1, 1/500 sec.

Young baby receiving a helping trunk to stand up

Lens used Canon 70-200mm f2.8 @ 200mm. Camera settings ISO 320, f5.6, 1/640 sec.

Setting off on its own on a ‘bid for freedom’.

The smaller aperture was again chosen to show the rest of the herds in focus.

Lens used Canon 70-200mm f2.8 @ 200mm. Camera settings ISO 400, f5.6, 1/640 sec.

Only a few yards from the all confidence gone !

With hindsight perhaps a larger aperture would have better isolated the baby from its surroundings.

Lens used Canon 70-200mm f2.8 @ 160mm. Camera settings ISO 320, f7.1, 1/640 sec.

------- Very young baby with family Ndutu Plains Tanzania -------

Young female feeding in Manyara national park.

This young adolescent female was feeding on the lush grass a shoots growing amongst fallen timber in a dried up river bed. She was a magnificent young animal. The day before we had seen a small family group including young calf in this same location it was highly likely they were nearby but out of site when this show was taken. The lowland forest at the entrance to Manyara is so dense it could easily hide a whole herd.

 

Young female feeding Manyara

It was relatively dark amongst the forest forcing me to use a higher ISO setting than I would have liked.

Lens used Canon 70-200mm f2.8 @ 70mm. Camera settings ISO 400, f2.8, 1/640 sec. Distance 11m

Young female feeding Manyara

I used a narrow aperture to show the tangle of trees around the elephant.

Lens used Canon 70-200mm f2.8 @ 50mm. Camera settings ISO 250, f5.6, 1/640 sec. Distance 12.5m

Young female feeding Manyara

Lens used Canon 70-200mm f2.8 @ 75mm. Camera settings ISO 250, f2.8, 1/500 sec. Distance 12.5m

Young female feeding Manyara

Lens used Canon 70-200mm f2.8 @ 70mm. Camera settings ISO 250, f2.8, 1/500 sec. Distance 11.5m

------- Young female feeding in dried up river bed Manyara Tanzania-------