Posted by: Andrew Skelton | 17/11/2011


Hippo, originally uploaded by

As you will have gathered by now, I really love going to Zoos; it’s not because I like to see animals in captivity, I just enjoy being as close as I can to the natural world (and with a fence or sheet of glass between us in the case of some of the creatures – the Black Mambas at London Zoo look particularly evil though they’re not as bad as their reputation… not that I want to give them a chance to repudiate such myths) but I have started to become increasingly frustrated with the various establishments I’ve visited of late. Whilst the enclosure, tanks, pens, paddocks etc are more conducive for their well being, I can’t seem to translate the photos I have in my head to reality whilst there. Whilst it may have something to do with my abilities it also has a lot to do with the access and obstructions I encounter whilst trying to photograph the animals.

A case in point is the One-horned Rhino at Whipsnade Zoo. These animals have a great enclosure, and always seem happy enough when I visit, happy enough to regularly produce offspring (stressed animals, like people, aren’t very good at producing babies) but I’ve yet to get a photo that I’m pleased with of these armour plated behemoths. Of course their well being is far more important than any silly photos I may want to take, and with 3000 creatures left in the wild, their well being is paramount. I’ve mentioned before when discussing White Rhino, that I would like to photograph them from ground level looking up at them allowing me to give a sense of size and scale to these impressively large animals. It could still be achievable even with these cages though the One Horned Rhino don’t take kindly to people transgressing their domains (having had one charge at me – I don’t think I’d last very long if I.. sorry, when I was caught!).

Today’s image is actually of a captive hippo, but was taken whilst visiting Kenya. I’ve mentioned Haller Park before, a nature reserve on the outskirts of the bustling Mombasa, which was created on an old cement works site (the cement works is still there, they’re just mining a different section now). The Park is home to two hippos who have the run (and they can run, though you wouldn’t think it) of a lake and lush grounds – as enclosures go, it can’t really be beaten. To supplement their diet, but mostly to coax these lumbering giants from their watery residence, they are fed each day allowing tourists to witness just how big these animals are. The day we visited was the one bad day’s weather we had in our time in Kenya and with the lush and prolific vegetation, light was rather poor for photography. I know I know, that’s all I seem to complain about… the light levels, but without good light we photographers have to rely on wide apertures, and high ISOs – the former of these, increases the price of the telephoto lens as the numbers get smaller ie an F4 600mm is much more expensive than an f6.3 (if such a lens existed), where as the latter tends to impede the clarity of the image, ie it adds noise. Ideally I would like to have a low ISO (800 or so would be fine), at f4 at anywhere around 1/2500 of a second to ensure a crisp image – all for £50. Perhaps I just live in the wrong country!

* One of my favourite Sigur Ros tracks, which if you’ve watched any of the Natural World series from the BBC of late has been used to beautifully complement the majestic sights capture for the programme. On a side note the lead singer of Sigur Ros, Jónsi, has scored the whole of the movie “We Bought A Zoo” which, starring Matt Damon (as Ben Mee), is based on the book of the same name all about Dartmoor Zoo (see it’s a small world.. I just wouldn’t want to paint it).



  1. Planning a zoo trip for our grandson and also a trip to the local Botantical Gardens. Thank you for this.

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