Leaving Deception Valley

It’s not called Deception Valley for nothing.

Camping in the bush is by far the best way to see African wildlife. Being able to examine lion footprints from the night before right outside your tent is exciting enough, but being able to meet some of the smaller creatures; desert mice which nest under the tents (and nibble cables), African wildcats which come to catch the mice, curious hornbills and the African stink ant, one of the largest ants in the world, all contribute to the experience and understanding of how the ecosystem works. But camping is usually best in warmer climates.

Two days ago, another Antarctic front arrived, not that it wasn’t already very cold at night. Now the temperatures dropped to below zero on the valley floor - and when the vehicle moved, the windchill dropped the temperature to as low as -15. This was itself is a major problem for us. The clothing we needed to stay warm was very restricting and batteries of all kinds ceased to function properly. But it was the lions which were our biggest problem now. We noticed with the thermal camera that the tops of the dunes on the valley* edges were a couple of degrees warmer than the valley floor. On very still nights (most nights), a clear thermocline (A clear boundary between gas or liquid of two different temperatures) was visible. Cats don’t like the cold, and it looks as if our lions had disappeared into the dunes - where we can neither film nor follow them - until either the weather warms up, or a breeze breaks up the thermocline and warms the valley floor again. For three days we found no signs of lions that we could film, heard no roaring (one of our main means of finding them), and saw no tracks or kills. It was time to leave the Kalahari...

*Using the term 'valley’ loosely here. The ‘valleys’ around here are usually about a kilometre wide and completely flat on the floor where short grass grows. On either side are fossil sand dunes covered in scrub, which rise as much as 20 metres, but are generally about 10 metres high

these images are made using our image-intensified camera, the 'starlight camera' can film clear images at night using only the light of the stars.


xl said...

Is the lion in the masthead photo one of those which you are tracking?

I really like your filming vechicle setup. Is this a special configuration for the night lion filming project?

That starlight photo is beautiful. What size lens is it?

Great report guys!

Madame DeFarge said...

The starlight photo is lovely. I'm really envious that you are able to see such things - but maybe not in such cold.

ammonite said...

XL - that handsome devil was a lion that hasn't been seen since.

The vehicle is modified for filming although our vehicles are modified much the same whether filming night or day.

We think the lens used was a 15mm fisheye

Madame Defarge - This camera really is getting extraordinary images - but the cold is not helpful

Anonymous said...

could paste that star photo on the wall and spend much time gazing at it....
can lions read? is that why "filming vehicle" is pasted on the side? so they (the lions) can poise, spring into action, roar, etc, on cue when the vehicle appears?

kate said...

that starlight photo is fantastic!

My cat likes to sleep on a heating pad (turned on of course) maybe you should make a huge solar-powered heating pad that you charge during the day and the lions will come sit on it at night, in the perfect spot to film of course. :) OK, so that's a dumb idea, but it would be cool if it were actually possible.


ammonite said...

Deborah - Lions are very big show offs and appreciate the warning that they are getting their chance to star in 'Botswana's Got Talent'

Kate - Yep, it works for all cats give them warmth, they sleep