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Welcome Everybody

Hello - Welcome. The purpose of this site is to document my experiences photographing wildlife and nature throughout Australia and abroad.  I hope you find the content interesting and educational, and the images  cause you to reflect on how important it is preserve natural places and their inhabitants.

All wildife has been photographed in the wild and animals are NOT captive or living in enclosures.

For me photography of the natural world is more than just pretty settings and cuddly animal photos. It's a concern for the environment and the earth all living creatures must share.

Note that images appearing in journal posts are often not optimally processed due to time constraints.

You are welcome to comment on any post.

 

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Conservation Matters.....

Tuesday
Mar202012

Photography Can Be Difficult Sometimes – Current Diving, Indonesia

I recently returned from a three week diving trip to Indonesia.  I wanted to dive some of the lesser visited areas in the Alor region; an area renown for its very strong “switch-back” currents, eddies, and up-wellings.  A switch-back current is a current that proceeds in one direction at the surface but changes direction below the surface.  Often these currents are difficult to identify and can alter direction and velocity without any apparent “localized” reason.

Diving a Steep Wall and Point

I was diving on a steep wall which plummeted down to some unfathomable depth.  The dive began along the wall in the sheltered region of the reef.  My partner and I descended to around 25 meters making our way to the point of the reef which jutted out into the blue.  Reaching the point at around 32 meters we swam directly out into the blue water to observe large Dog-toothed Tuna and Spanish Mackerel and the odd shark that patrolled the point.

Closely watching bottom time (the time allowed at a certain depth with minimal chance of decompression sickness), we proceeded back to the wall to ascend to where a break-through was located.  The idea was to swim through the break-through and ascend slowly over sand to a shallower depth to the complete a safety stop.  

Is that a Current Developing?

The current developed literally from nowhere.  At first it was mild and swimming against the current wasn’t an issue.  I’d be watching a school of barracuda hanging behind us and a lone shark swimming lazily behind the school.  Stopping and securing my self to the sandy floor with my fin depressed into the sand, I waited for a photograph.  Several minutes transpired until I thought I’d captured a decent photograph.

Meanwhile, the current increased in intensity and angling downwards, began to drag anything along with it.  Swimming “cross-tack” like a sailboat in the wind, we proceeded over the sand, hiding behind the lee of a coral bommie for a quick “breather”.  I was a little slower than the others as apart from taking photographs of the barracuda; I was dragging a heavy Subal housing and twin strobes through the water.

The current then altered course and began to sweep the sandy sea floor perpendicular to the wall; our reprieve behind the bommie quickly disappeared as I and three other divers were propelled along the sand – back to slightly deeper water (15 meters).  Frantically we clawed our way, at a ninety degree angle to the current, along the current swept rubble-like bottom to shallower water.  Finally, we reached the safety of the lee of a bommie allowing us further reprieve from the current.  This was at 10 meters water depth.

Low Air

Everyone’s air supply was marginal at this stage; mine was sitting on 100 BAR – certainly there was enough air to complete the dive safely without current, but the exertion of swimming in the current had increased consumption markedly.

The current continued to increase in intensity and it was now impossible to swim against the current or perpendicular to it; it was too strong.  Even turning your head sideways to the current was a recipe for disaster, as your face mask was almost sucked from your face.  Looking at my dive partner I saw that her yellow snorkel was quivering like an Indian’s arrow head in a bowl of jelly.  The sand on the sea floor was whipped up like a, Iraqi sand storm!

Entangled, Iraqi Storm and Low Air

One by one, we let go of the bommie to literally fly across the sand making our way to a shallower depth for the mid-water safety stop.  This was when my problem occurred.  As I let go of the large piece of coral rubble, the current propelled me into an unseen coral bommie behind me.  My regulator and high pressure hose (despite being clipped closely to my body) became entangled in the coral.  Turning my head, I could see my dive partner looking at me, but it was impossible for her to reach me in the now raging current.

LEFT:  Lone silver tip shark swims behind schoolling barracooda.

Air Alarm – “Bingo Fuel”

Worse was to come, for as turned my head to look for my partner, the regulator was torn from my mouth; I could not reach it.  The current had extended the hose which had become caught in the coral.  I reached for my alternate air source, pulled it from its reciprocal and breathed some welcome air.

The air alarm then began to flash and send its “beep beep beep” aural message to warn be I had reached, what pilot’s call “bingo fuel” – 60 BAR, enough air to reach the surface and do a safety stop with a little to spare.  I always was at the safety stop at 50 BAR.  Now I was caught in coral at 10 meters!  The reason for the low air alarm became evident when I reached for my alternate air source; it was free flowing due to the current depressing the purge button!

My heavy Subal camera housing and twin strobes were angled away from me in the direction of the current.  The camera was acting as a sea anchor stopping me from disentangling the regulator hose and HP Hose from the coral.  The camera housing was attached to by BCD by a quick release clip – should I release the clip?  Fighting the current, I attempted to disentangle myself to no avail.

Should I Dump the Camera and Make a Free Ascent ?

Looking towards the surface I noted my dive partner had aborted her safety stop and had surfaced.  She was being propelled up, down and over, by the large surface waves the current had generated – at least she was on the surface and relatively safe.  I began to debate whether a free ascent maybe the only option, as my air was precariously low at this stage.  The surface was churning mass of white water…..

I released the camera housing from my BCD and watched as the camera bounced along the sand to become lodged in a crevice of a rock; the strobe and arms shuddering in the current, but the housing seemed to stay put.  Relieved of the sea anchor, I quickly disentangled the regulator, which was relatively easy after removing the drag of the camera housing, changed my air supply back to my main regulator and began to deploy my safety stop anchor.

Letting go of the bommie, the current propelled me along the bottom.  I literally flew toward my camera, grabbing it and clipping it back onto my BCD.  I had just clipped in when the current pushed me against another coral bommie.  I was careful not to repeat the previous experience and began to inflate the safety anchor balloon with my alternate air source.  I wanted the dive boat to know where I was located.

Balloon rushes towards the Surface

The partially inflated balloon speed to the surface as the air expanded due to decreasing pressure, but the current was too strong and the line deployed at a 30 degree angle.  The spool which held 50 meters of line was spinning crazily as the line deployed in the current.  Air was low, the alarm having stopped at 20 BAR.  I didn’t have the time to retrieve the line.  I pushed off from behind the bommie and used the current to propel me in a controlled manner towards the surface – maintaining contact with the line and safety anchor balloon, which by this time had been collected and secured to the dive boat which awaited me at the surface.  Completing my safety stop at 5 meters was uneventful other than watching the world fly by at 15 knots and watching my air gauge indicate 2 BAR!

Unavoidable

Looking back at the experience, was it avoidable; probably not.  The currents in this area are susceptible to change at short notice and are known for their ferocity.

The currents are one reason why the diving is so good at locations such as this, as where there are currents there are big fish which predate on smaller fish and so forth.  Some dives it feels as if you’re swimming in an ecosystem surrounded by a hive of aquatic activity.

Certainly my air supply was marginal; however, I lost probably 30 BAR of air as a result of the purge button on my alternate air source being depressed by the current.

It's a Pity

It's a pity I didn't shoot a few frames of underwater video to show the ferocity of the current.  I was far too busy dealing with other more important things.  However, here is a short video clip, taken from the dive boat, showing the strength of the currents in this area.

Indonesia Currents, Alor Region from Anaspides Photography on Vimeo.

Training and Experience

SCUBA diving, like photography is relatively easy, until the situation gets beyond the norm. It's then that training and experience pay dividends.

Training is not everything; you can have twelve dive cards from open water to specialty diver and still be inexperienced, although you may believe yourself adequately prepared. Certainly, nearly anyone can dive in good weather and sea conditions.  It's only when those conditions alter that problems may arise.  It an unfortunate aspect of diver training that many unhealthy, overweight individuals receive diving cards because they have the ability to "pay" – rather than the ability to perform.

All the divers in my small group were highly skilled and experienced, ranging from Dive Master to Instructor level with each over 2000 logged dives.

Monday
Mar192012

VIDEO - Spotted Hyenas, Feeding Behaviour - Kenya

The video footage records the social interaction between hyena individuals when feeding.  The sequences were taken in Kenya and are of wild hyenas.  Unfortunately, the kill I observed was at night and most of the feeding occurred just before dawn on a rather dark and overcast day  :(  I was in Kenya mainly for still photography, so video footage was secondary.  Later, I will conduct a trip and only shoot video - and in much better light  :)

Spotted Hyenas, Feeding Behaviour - Kenya from Anaspides Photography on Vimeo.

 

Thursday
Mar082012

The Clan Den, Mating & Baby Hyenas, Kenya - East Africa

The Clan Den

The clan's social life revolves around a communal den. While some clans may use particular den sites for years, others may use several different dens within a year or several den sites simultaneously. Spotted hyena dens can have more than a dozen entrances, and are mostly located on flat ground. Spotted hyenas rarely dig their own dens, having been observed for the most part to use the abandoned burrows of wathogs, springhares and jackals. 

Dens have large bare patches around their entrances, where hyenas move or lie down on. Because of their size, adult hyenas are incapable of using the full extent of their burrows, as most tunnels are dug by cubs or smaller animals. The structure of the den, consisting of small underground channels leading to a mating spacious end-chamber, is likely an effective anti-predator device which protects cubs from predation during the absence of the mother.

Dens are used mostly by several females at once, and it is not uncommon to see up to 20 cubs at a single site. 

Mating

The spotted hyena is a non-seasonal breeder and is promiscuous; no enduring pair bonds are formed. Members of both sexes may copulate with several mates over the course of several years. Males will show submissive behaviour when approaching females in heat, even if the male outweighs its partner.

Females usually favour younger males born or joined into the clan after they were born. Older females show a similar preference, with the addition of preferring males with whom they have had long and friendly prior relationships. Passive males tend to have greater success in courting females than aggressive ones. Copulation in spotted hyenas is a relatively short affair, which typically only occurs at night with no other hyenas present.

This Looks Difficult

The mating process is complicated, as the female's reproductive tract is entered and exited through her pseudo-penis rather than directly through the vagina, which is blocked by the false scrotum and testes. Once the female retracts her clitoris, the male enters the female by sliding beneath her, an operation facilitated by the penis' upward angle. Once this is accomplished, a normal mating stance is adopted.

Steroids

The length of the gestation period tends to vary greatly, though 110 days is the average length of time.  In the final stages of pregnancy, dominant females provide their developing offspring with higher androgen levels than lower-ranking mothers do. The higher androgen levels - the result of high concentrations of ovarian androstenedione - are thought to be responsible for the extreme masculinization of female behaviour and morphology. This has the effect of rendering the cubs of dominant females more aggressive and sexually active than those of lower ranking hyenas; high ranking male cubs will attempt to mount females earlier than lower ranking males.

The average litter consists of two cubs, with three occasionally being reported. Males take no part in the raising of young. Parturition is difficult, as females give birth through their narrow clitoris, and spotted hyena cubs are the largest carnivoran young relative to their mothers' weight. During parturition, the clitoris ruptures in order to facilitate the passage of young, and may take weeks to heal.

Siblicide is 25%

Cubs are born with soft, brownish black hair, and weigh 1.5 kg on average. Unique among carnivorous mammals, spotted hyenas are also born with their eyes open and with 6–7 mm long canine teeth and 4 mm long incisors. Also, cubs will attack each other shortly after birth. This is particularly apparent in same sexed litters, and can result in the death of the weaker cub. This neonatal siblicide kills an estimated 25% of all hyenas in their first month.

Male cubs which survive grow faster and are likelier to achieve reproductive dominance; The  milk provided by the hyena mother has the highest protein content of any terrestrial carnivore, and its fat content is second only to that of the polar bear and sea otter.

Cubs will nurse from their mother for 12–16 months, though they can process solid food as early as three months. Mothers do not regurgitate food for their young. Females are very protective of their cubs, and will not tolerate other adults, particularly males, approaching them.

Cubs learn Social Behaviour Very Quickly

Spotted hyenas exhibit adult behaviours very early in life; cubs have been observed to ritually sniff each other and mark their living space before the age of one month. Within ten days of birth, they are able to move at considerable speed. Cubs begin to lose the black coat and develop the spotted, lighter coloured pelage of the adults at 2–3 months. They begin to exhibit hunting behaviours at the age of eight months, and will begin fully participating in group hunts after their first year. Spotted hyenas reach sexual maturity at the age of three years. 

A Word About The Photographs

The photographs in this sequence were taken at a one of two hyena dens.  You will note that the colours of the hyenas are dull and rather flat looking.  This is because of the dust that is present within the coat's fur.  This region in Kenya is rather dusty, except after rain or when the light is low on the horizon.   

Hyena Coverage

In the last thee posts we've looked in depth at the spotted hyena; I like the animal.  But enough is enough and its time to farewell the hyena.  However, a short video will be posted in the Video Section in the not  distant future

REFERENCES: Heptner, V. G.; Sludskii, A. A. (1992). Mammals of the Soviet Union: Carnivora (hyaenas and cats), Volume 2.

Tuesday
Feb212012

Spotted Hyenas, Social Behaviour - Kenya, East Africa

Following through from my last post, we established that hyenas belong to an ancient lineage called  carnivora, are social animals, and live in a pack-like structure called a clan which, depending upon geography and food supply, can consist of up to 80 individuals.  Although hyena behaviour is similar to that of wolves, hyena clans are much more compact and unified than in a wolf pack.   

Hyenas use established dens, usually the diggings abandoned by another animal and enlarged for their purpose; often these dens are be used year after year.

LEFT:  Two spotted hyenas, tired from the group chase and kill of a young wildebeest, trot towards the carcass to join the que to eat their breakfast (next image).

Complex Social Behaviour

Spotted hyena societies are more complex than those of other carnivorous mammals, and are remarkably similar to those of some primates in respect to group size, structure, competition and cooperation. Like primates, spotted hyenas use multiple sensory modalities, recognize individual conspecifics, are conscious that some clan-mates may be more reliable than others, recognize 3rd party kin and rank relationships among clan-mates, and adaptively use this knowledge during social decision making. Also, like primates, dominance ranks in hyena societies are not correlated with size or aggression, but with ally networks. In this latter trait, the spotted hyena further show parallels with primates by acquiring rank through coalitions. However, rank reversals and overthrows in spotted hyena clans are very rare.  

Females Dominate Males

Females dominate males, with even the lowest ranking females being dominant over the highest ranking males. It is typical for females to remain with their natal clan, thus large clans usually contain several matrilines (alpha females) whereas males typically disperse from their natal clan at the age of 2½ years. The clan is a fission-fusion society, in which clan-members do not often remain together, but may forage alone or in small groups.

LEFT:  The social structure of the clan is clearly visible in this photograph; two hyenas wait their turn to eat as the dominant female eats her fill.

High-ranking hyenas maintain their position through aggression directed against lower-ranking clan-members.  Spotted hyena hierarchy is neopotistic; meaning the offspring of dominant females automatically outrank adult females subordinate to their mother. However, rank in spotted hyena cubs is greatly dependent on the presence of the mother; low-ranking adults may act aggressively toward higher-ranking cubs when the mother is absent.

Although individual spotted hyenas only care for their own young, and males take no part in raising their young, cubs are able to identify relatives as distantly related as great-aunts. Also, males associate more closely with their own daughters rather than unrelated cubs, and the latter favour their fathers by acting less aggressively toward them.

Licking – A cross between a cat and dog

Hyenas groom themselves often like members of the cat family, and their way of licking their genitals is very cat-like (sitting on the lower back, legs spread with one leg pointing vertically upward). However, unlike other felines, they do not "wash" their faces. They defecate in the same manner as other Carnivora, though they never raise their legs as canids do when urinating, as urination serves no territorial function for them. Instead, hyenas mark their territories using their anal glands, a trait found also in other members of the carnivora, but not canines and felines.

Vocalization

The spotted hyena is very vocal, producing a number of different sounds consisting of whoops, grunts, groans, chattering, lows, giggles, yells, growls, laughs and whines. During the mating period and when young cubs are around the den, the vocalization can often reach crescendo level. At night, it’s quite common to hear hyenas chattering and yelping as they go about their nocturnal business.

I spent considerable time with the hyenas and never tired of their company.  Observing  their individual antics, behaviour, hunting and hierarchy was fascinating.

Later, I'll unravel some of the mystic associated with hyena mating and we'll take a closer look at some hyena babies within the den.  Then we will say goodbye to the hyenas and spend sometime with the highly endangered black rhinoceros.

REFERENCES:  Wozencraft, W. Christopher (16 November 2005). "Order Carnivora (pp. 532-628)"

Saturday
Feb042012

Spotted Hyenas, Kenya - East Africa

Continuing with the African theme.  Despite vehicle issues and occasional appalling weather conditions, wildlife was plentiful. 

Whilst tracking cheetahs, I had observed a number of spotted hyenas and was keen to photograph some of the hyena behaviour at a den.  Finding a den isn’t that difficult if you have an off-road access permit; we were driving long distances daily and we already knew the location of three hyena dens.

LEFT:  An adolescent spotted hyena walks toward the camera.

Order Carnivora / Family Hyaenidae   - Hyenas

The family Hyaenidae consists of three species; each living within a broad habitat range within Continental Africa.  The smaller and shy brown hyena (Hyaena brunnea) occurs only in southern Africa and the Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta) and the rarer Striped Hyena (Hyaena hyaena) inhabit East Africa.

Although the spotted hyena is not endangered – its numbers are actually increasing due to the decline in African wild dogs numbers, research is still conducted my scientists interested in hyena behaviour and population distribution.  Although not commonplace, you see the odd hyena sporting a fashion accessory in the name of research: a tracking collar that emits either a GPS location or a radio transmission beep so researchers can track the individual.

Social Behaviour

The spotted hyena is the most social of the Hyaenidae in that it has the largest group sizes and most complex social behaviours. Its social organisation is unlike that of any other Carnivore, bearing closer resemblance to that of primates (baboons and macaques) with respect to group-size, hierarchical structure, and frequency of social interaction among both kin and unrelated group-mates. However, the social system of the spotted hyena is openly competitive rather than cooperative, with access to kills, mating opportunities and the time of dispersal for males depending on the ability to dominate other clan-members. Females provide only for their own cubs rather than assist each other, and males display no paternal care. Spotted hyena society is matriarchal; females are larger than males, and dominate them.

A Highly Successful Animal

The spotted hyena is a highly successful animal, being the most common large carnivore in Africa. Its success is due in part to its adaptability, cunning and opportunism; it is both an efficient hunter and a scavenger, with the capacity to eat and digest skin, bone and other animal waste.

LEFT:  A spotted hyena carries the mane and mandible of a recently brought down and killed wildebeest.

In functional terms, the spotted hyena makes the most efficient use of animal matter of all African carnivores. The spotted hyena displays greater plasticity in its hunting and foraging behaviour than other African carnivores; it hunts alone, in small parties of 2-5 individuals or in large groups. During a hunt, spotted hyenas often run through ungulate herds in order to select an individual to attack. Once selected, their prey is chased over long distance, often several kilometers, at speeds of up to 60 km/h.

I witnessed several occasions when a pack of hyenas attempted to separate a young wildebeest from its mother, and I have a fond memory of a pack of ten hyenas trotting over a rise on a hill at dawn after a night’s long-range hunting patrol. 

I my next post, we will look at the mating rituals of the spotted hyena, delve a little deeper into their complex social behaviour and have a look at hyena pups within the den.

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