I Just got back from Kenya, where I was working on a science and photography project with my friend and colleague Jake Goheen. In addition to being a stellar model for setting up camera traps, Jake is one of the best ecologists I know; he’s made some really cool discoveries about the role that predators, large herbivores, and even ants, play in shaping ecosystems.
Jake wanted pictures of the elusive “aard” beasts. Aarde means “earth” in Afrikaans/Dutch and probably refers to the burrowing behavior that these animals exhibit. We were after both the aardvark, which translates fairly accurately to “earth pig” and the aardwolf, an evolutionarily unrelated critter that is not actually a wolf, but instead a dwarf hyena. Both the aardvark and aardwolf are insectivores and mainly eat termites. We weren’t sure how to camera trap an aardbeast, but we figured setting on a termite mound couldn’t be a bad place to start. My first non-travel day in Kenya, I piled into a Land Rover with Jake, my fiancée Jessi, Simon (Jake’s research assistant), and a massive pile of camera trap gear.
Jake drove us to a spot that was thick with termite mounds and we started looking for signs of aardbeasts. We didn’t find any fresh burrows, tracks, or other clues, so we picked a random termite mound and plopped a camera trap on it. I set up some pretty conservative lighting with a key light on a stand off to camera-right, an on-axis fill light on the ground, and a rim light in case we got an animal on top of the mound. I switched up the lighting and composition a tiny bit during the set but nothing major.
The camera ran for a week before getting disabled by what I assume was a herd of cows. I didn’t get a single shot of an aardvark or aardwolf, but I wasn’t too distraught–in just seven days, nine different species of mammal stepped in front of the camera. Waiting for me on the LCD screen were shots of a bat-eared fox, a giraffe, several goofy-looking camels, bats in flight, and the five critters featured below, which were kind enough to pose in the camera’s focal plane.
And over a stretch of 7 minutes…
Every shot from this set put a huge smile on my face, especially the one of the two jackals, which is probably my favorite from the whole trip.
The day after we left Jake bumped into an aardvark while driving back to camp at night. It was only the third one he’d seen in his whole life. I wish I’d have been there to set a camera on it’s burrow, but hopefully I’ll be back before too long.
More pictures to come…