The element of cuteness in African images almost always comes down to baby mammals. Most family viewers and judges cannot resist the innocence and often awkwardness of the very young. The interaction with each other or their parents always adds impact to images. On the African plains the offspring of the big cats are relatively easy to see and photograph. Lions, cheetahs and to a lesser extent leopard cubs are the most common of the cats to encounter. Serval and caracal are far more elusive and finding their young is a relatively rare event. To get good images though requires patience and a good understanding of behavior.
Cheetah. On the Maasai Mara in the period of August to October when I have been present there is usually several opportunities to see young cheetah with their mothers. On my first trip we saw seven cubs with one mother. Up to eight cubs are born but usually only 2-4 survive to independence. They are totally dependent on the hunting ability of their mother and have to avoid lions, hyenas and leopards. The female cheetah raises her family on a knife-edge.
Featured below are two groups of cubs. There were three near the Intrepids Camp in October 2006. They would pose with their excellent hunter Mom in the early morning light. In August 2012 there was a female cheetah with 4 cubs near the Ashnil Camp. Both sets liked scanning the surroundings from termite mounds and this provided photographic opportunities free generally from the omnipresent grasses.
Elephants. I have seen baby elephants in most locations I have photographed in Africa. The elephants in the Samburu Park generally have a red tone due to rolling in the dust from the local ochre soils.
The members of the herd are generally very protective of the youngsters and will form a large grey wall around them if any danger is perceived.
Contrary to what you might believe the young elephant needs lessons on how to use it’s trunk. The following 5 images illustrate such a scenario. Junior enters on stage holding Mom’s tail. He goes to the feeding station for a top-up. Mom wants to wean him and get him to use his trunk to eat grass. She shoves him into the trunk-tutoring position. The lesson proceeds but junior finds the pliable appendage is as easy as eating rice with a rubber band…….he leaves in a huff but is hastily restrained and later brought back to the teaching stage.
Lions. Lion cubs are full of mischief and their mothers have their paws full. The following four images illustrate the stages in the life of a young cub. The first image shows a very young cub with Mom. Getting images of Mom carrying junior in her mouth is a prime target. Image 2 shows a female feeding three cubs that would appear with milk-smeared mouths. Image 3 shows two cubs involved in a game of tag. The cubs in a pride will have games before night descends and sometimes the Moms will join in……great to see. Image 4 shows that cubs, like young boys, don’t like Mom doing their hair.
In an additional 3 images the featured lioness has two cubs and they are a handful…..playing games behind her back, tackling her and generally trying to get themselves lost. She summons them and one errant cub gets special attention and a clip in the ear for his tardiness when summoned. He later does a flying cuddle on his mother and keeps making a general nuisance of himself.
Black-backed Jackal pups are cute with their interactions and you should be familiar with the location of dens in your patrolled area during the 'baby' season.
Additional images include the outrageously cute Bat-eared Fox pups, Ostrich chicks, a young Maasai Giraffe and his inexperienced mother and a young Topi feeding from the breast.
The key once again with photographing cute youngsters is patience and understanding.
To be continued.............