Frans Lanting is renowned as one of the world’s leading wildlife photographers. Here are his 5 picks for Africa's most fascinating wildlife hotspots with incredible photography possibilities...
Madagascar is a naturalist’s wonderland. Everything in Madagascar is different. It has a very high degree of unique species. It has come down a very different evolutionary course to the present.
Madagascar isn’t very easy to photograph. Travel in Madagascar can also be challenging. There are no big herds of hoofed animals. There are no big cats. You have to work harder, but the rewards are commensurate.
Everyone loves the lemurs, of which there are dozens and dozens of species. Some of them are easy to find in protected areas, while others are extremely obscure.
Madagascar is so diverse. It’s like a miniature version of Africa, with everything from tropical rainforests to desert to grassland and coastal areas and dry forest in-between. To do the diversity of the island justice, you have to go for several weeks at least.
The Okavango Delta, in my opinion, belongs on the shortlist of places you have to visit if you have the opportunity. It’s a singular phenomenon, an oasis in the middle of the desert and a magnet for wildlife. It’s breathtakingly beautiful and quite diverse around the periphery. It’s a real haven.
There’s also the famed Kalahari Desert that surrounds the Okavango Desert, and stretches much further to the south and the west, which is a very different ecosystem. Things are not quite as dramatic as you can find around the Okavango. It has it’s own unique features, and there’s a substantial population of cheetahs and lions, and seasons migrations of hoofed animals.
Botswana is a country that’s taking care of its wildlife quite well, especially compared to a lot of other countries on the continent. I like to publicise countries and governments who are doing a good job, pointing out things that work well. Often the publicity I can attract to a place can lead to more people visiting there or more people working there, so then we’re pointing in a good direction.
It’s hard to avoid mentioning the Serengeti. For many people, it’s synonymous with African wildlife. We all grew up watching TV shows with the drama of life as it unfolds on the savannahs of Africa.
Kenya’s Masai Mara has become a magnet for tourist, and, frankly, it’s quite overrun with people. There’s no effective control over the number of people who come into the Masai Mara, which leads to regrettable congestion around special wildlife sightings. It’s not my favourite place to go to anymore. Conservancies outside and around the Masai Mara are more controlled. They offer better experiences, if you’d rather not be sitting there next to 20 or more vehicles.
In Tanzania, though, you can go to places where they’ve put more restrictions on the movement of people. The number of people there is more dispersed. The grandeur of the Serengeti and, of course, the wildlife there is overwhelming, with everything from impalas and wildebeest to cheetahs.
If you really want to challenge yourself, then seek a destination in the forested parts of Africa. That’s where things become much more challenging technically for photography because you’re working in rainforest under a closed canopy. The light levels are lower. Animals are obscured.
All that also overlaps with logistical and political challenges, because places like the Central African Republic and Congo are troublespots. You have to be very careful in your planning to determine whether this is the right thing to do.
However, you have other countries, like Rwanda, which is justifiably famous for it’s mountain gorillas and it’s a very safe destination. It’s another of these life experiences that most people are profoundly affected by. It’s quite a trek.
Of course, there are mountain gorillas in Uganda and Congo too, but Rwanda has done an excellent job of protecting their gorillas. The price is indeed pretty steep for a permit in Rwanda [$1500]. But I would also argue that the money does not disappear into overseas bank accounts and that gorillas are priceless.
The desert area in south-west Africa, which covers Namibia but also stretches into Botswana and northern parts of South Africa, is incredible to explore. It’s part of the Kalahari, which adjoins the Namib desert.
The scenic qualities are quite remarkable. Even if you have no interest in wildlife, the sheer grandeur of the landscape and the seasonal qualities of the landscape makes it very appealing.
Of course, there’s plenty of fascinating wildlife too, including jackals, flapnecked chameleons and meerkats. The density of wildlife is, by definition, lower in desert areas. Also in Namibia, there’s a park called Etosha National Park that’s well known, where animals, including elephants, gather around watering holes, so you get to see the classic concentrations. In the other desert areas, you need to work a bit harder but it can be incredibly rewarding.
Frans Lanting’s new book Into Africa is out October 10, produced in partnership with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and the National Geographic Society, with support from the World Wildlife Fund. The 100 featured images include many of Lanting’s classic photographs, along with more than 50 new images.
For more on Frans Lanting’s photography, including workshops and exhibitions, see www.lanting.com.
You can order Into Africa HERE.