Wildlife of Tsavo: Elephants and Lions

Tsavo National Park is one of the largest wilderness reserves globally and includes some 16,000 square miles of protected land within the African Nation of Kenya. This park is larger than many East Coast states in the U.S put together and offers a wealth of wildlife photography opportunities. It is also one of the most important regions in the world in regards to the conservation of many endangered species of wildlife including the African Elephant and the rare Mane-less Lions. Both of which can be photographed on the Great Walk of Africa.

The African Elephant is on the vulnerable species list with roughly 415,000 living in the wild globally and considered a vulnerable species. In 1967 there were about 30,000 elephants who called Tsavo home. By 1988 due to poaching the elephants for their ivory – the population plummeted to 5,300 before improving to around 12,000 animals recently due to modern conservation efforts and eco-tourism. While this recovery is great progress there is still a long way to go and the survival of the African Elephant is far from guaranteed.

African Elephants are massive – and an incredible site to behold and photograph. Their gigantic forms dominate the skyline and their presence commands a sense of awe. Ever heard the battle-cry of an adult male African Elephant – it will make you cringe! These animals weigh over 11,000 pounds – with the females being smaller at only 6000 pounds! They can also reach top speeds of over 15 miles per hour – capturing a charging elephant on camera is a site to behold – make sure to have those shutter speeds up!

When photographing the Elephants in Tsavo National Park it can often appear that there are multiple varieties due to their coloration. Often one will see elephants in shades of red, grey and brown – but they are all African Elephants. The soils in the park take on a red-ish hue and the elephants can appear red-ish after taking a dust bath. Elephant dust baths protect their skin – the dust serves as an important anesthetic and has the added bonus of shining their tusks!

Aside from Elephants it is certainly possible and probable to photograph Hippos, Wildebeests, Gazelle, Zebras and of course Lions. The male lions of Tsavo National Park do not have manes – which makes them a strange and unique creature to photograph. The park is home to about 675 Maneless Lions and Kenya as a whole has around 2000 of these unique creatures. The males are often larger than other lions and typical prides have only one male as opposed to between two and eight. Male mane-less lions also are unique in the lion world in that they actively participate in hunting – which is normally the role of the female lion. There are many hypotheses or potential reasons for these lions not having manes. It is possible that the Tsavo mane-less Lions have heightened testosterone in comparison to other species of lion and more akin to the now extinct lions of Nubia and Egypt which had similar characteristics. It may also have to do with the fact that landscape of Tsavo has thorny vegetation or that the mane acts as a mechanism for temperature regulation. Either way these rare lions are incredible to witness and photograph.

We will be departing for Kenya in June – so if you’d like a chance to photograph African Elephants or the rare mane-less lions AND the idea of trekking 100 miles across Kenya’s vast wilderness landscape – then join us on the Great Walk of Africa this year! You can read more about this trip by clicking here.



Don’t Miss the Next Session of BCJ “Live”

Image Review: Wildlife Edition

with Russell Graves & Kenton Krueger
Tuesday, March 2nd, 2021 at 11 am (Mountain)

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