The meeting was a presentation of African wildlife photography from professional photographers and tour leaders Tony and Carol Dilger (www.tonydilger.co.uk). We were treated not only to some suberb animal photography but, refreshingly, to an informative and highly entertaining commentary of the stories behind the pictures.
Tony and Carol lead regular safaris to Africa every year, based around places that they know intimately: the South African Kruger National Park and the Kalahari Desert in Botswana. These are two contrasting regions both in terms of landscape and in terms of the variety of animal species that live there. The Kruger is perhaps the better known of these safari venues and we were treated to spectacular images of so much more variety than just the ‘Big Five’ of lions, leopard, elephants, buffalo and rhinoceros (White and the near extinct Black). We also got giraffe, cheetahs, monkeys, baboons, wild dogs, hyenas and a range of antelope, not in static poses but engaged in their natural behaviours. We learnt the term ‘pronking’ for the leaping of imapala, designed to exhibit their agility to predators and thereby deter their attentions. Of the Big Five, the ferocious mating behaviour of the lions was perhaps the most spectacular, although a series of images of the stealth positions of a leopard hunting its prey was a more intriguing spectacle to witness at close quarters.
Of course the plight of the rhino in being driven to near extinction by poaching was something that the Dilgers were keen to illustrate in their presentation. The geopolitical overlap of the Kruger park with impoverished Mozambique to the East is a major driver of this iniquitous trade.
In the Botswana part of the Kalahari, the dust and sand of the desert environment contributed to some wonderfully atmospheric images of the animals there. Springbok replace impala as the resident antelope and there are meerkats, foxes (Bat-eared and Cape varieties), Eagle Owls and Brown Hyena that are also characteristic of the region. Perhaps most strikingly the Desert has its own breed of lion – the Black-maned Lion – which, as well as the mane colouration, is larger and more muscular than its counterpart elsewhere in Africa. These lions need to be fitter because of the larger territories they need to patrol in the desert where their prey is less dense and competition with other prides is more intense. The Dilgers amazed and amused us with an anecdote about their encounter with a pair of the lions. Normally asleep under shady trees in the daytime sun, these two animals sauntered over to use the rear and the front of the vehicle as sleeping places. An unfortunate battery failure at this point lent a certain frisson to the situation, given that the vehicle could no longer move and nor could the electric windows be closed. All was well in the end when, after some hours, a passing vehicle came to the rescue with jump leads and darkness encouraged the lions to take off.
The evening finished with a short film of stunning landscapes of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland that Tony and Carol visited in the mobile home that is now their permanent UK residence. This is a location for another of the tours that they lead, when they are not giving inspirational presentations of the kind that we applauded enthusiastically tonight.