I am extremely proud to announce that one of my photos has been awarded a finalist award in this year’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year (WPY) competition, the most prestigious wildlife and nature photo competition in the world with 48,582 photos submitted. The shot is a wide-angle close-up of Marabou storks feeding on a zebra carcass. Here is the story behind the photo:
During my normal rounds tracking lions in the Serengeti NP, I came across a zebra carcass. Some vultures were feeding on it but soon left. As the great wildebeest and zebra migration was going through the area, carcasses were plentiful and the vultures hadn’t finished their meal, giving a chance for the Marabou storks standing by to get some scraps. I took the opportunity to put my camera right in there.
I put a wide-angle lens on and placed the camera near the carcass with a remote trigger connected to it. I drove off and placed myself about 30 meters away and waited. Pretty soon the Marabous approached. At first, they were a bit sceptical about the camera, especially when it rattled, and gave it long looks. But quite soon they started ignoring it and were seen picking some pieces of meat, right in front of the lens.
At one point, one of the Marabou storks even grabbed the cable connecting the remote trigger with the camera. With the tip of its enormous beak, it pulled gently and when realizing it wasn’t edible it let go again, but, it had tilted the camera a bit, giving me leaning horizons from thereafter.
While I was sitting in the car and taking photos of the scene I suddenly became aware of a hunt next to me. A hyena was chasing and slowly closing up on a young Thomson’s gazelle. The gazelle steered right in the direction of me. I don’t know if it was luck or if the gazelle actually searched for refuge in my presence, but, when it was only a matter of seconds before the hyena would have caught its prey, it slowed down, obviously not wanting to get any closer to my car. The gazelle had saved itself, by luck or not, and reunited with its mother who had helplessly watched the whole chase.
I returned my attention to the Marabous. The light was nice, the storks were doing what I had hoped they would do. I knew I was getting some pretty cool shots. But, I could never dream that one of them would once be awarded in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition in the Birds Behaviour category.
When the sun was soon about to set, the Marabou storks were getting satisfied and had started losing interest in the carcass. So, when a hyena approached, they took flight to find a night perch. But I started getting nervous. I saw that the hyena had spotted the camera and approached with interest. It went straight up to the camera and sniffed it. Hyenas have one of the strongest bites in the animal kingdom and even a nibble of curiosity could crush my camera and destroy the photos in it. I waited until the exact moment when the nose of the hyena touched the camera. Then I pressed the trigger. The camera rattled with seven frames a second and had the effect I had hoped for. The hyena got startled and ran away. I quickly drove to the camera and picked it up.
The photo can be seen together with the other winners at the WPY exhibition in the Natural History Museum in London. There will also be a travelling exhibition visiting many places in at least 60 countries. A book with all these photos will be published soon; “Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Portfolio 27”. The Natural History Museum in London will also produce a wide range of merchandize with the winning photos. So, if you have always dreamt about a Marabou stork ornamenting your coffee mug, now is your chance.
See more photos in the Serengeti Gallery.