Austin Stevens Adventures

Friday 19th February 8.00pm

Continuing this week is the wildlife adventure series with Austin Stevens. In this instalment, the intrepid photographer heads to the Serengeti plains to pit his wits against the ultimate predator. Austin’s challenge is to capture an image of a lion on the hunt – but it is not going to be easy. After spending days with a suitable pride, Austin realises that he will have to work through the night if he is to get his shot.

Austin’s latest adventure takes him to his home continent of Africa and to the Serengeti plains in northern Tanzania. With over 3,000 lions resident in this area, photographing one should not be a problem. However, whereas most tourist images capture the predators at rest, Austin needs to catch them at their very best – during a hunt. “It’s going to be the ultimate test and extremely dangerous,” he says.

To give himself the best chance of success, Austin leaves the open plains in favour of wooded areas near watering holes. Lions prefer these locations owing to the cover provided by the long grass and trees. “To get the photographs I’m looking for, you need all the cards stacked in your favour,” explains Austin. He has timed his trip to coincide with the great migration, when over one million wildebeest and zebra descend on the plains to feed on the lush greenery. It is not long before Austin’s instincts are proven correct. Fresh tracks show that a pride of lions is nearby. “This is it – this marsh is exactly what I’ve been looking for,” he enthuses. “This is going to be a great place to stake out!”

Having found his spot, Austin sets up camp for the night. However, the following morning brings a new challenge. Austin rises at sunrise to get back on the trail of the pride, but his clapped-out jeep breaks down, bringing the morning’s search to a premature end. Austin is left with no choice but to head to the nearest village on foot – in the middle of lion country. Luckily, the local Masai come to the rescue and are able to furnish the visitor with a functioning Land Rover. With his vehicular problems solved, Austin returns to the marshland and eventually comes across a family of lions. Among the group are two females and six young cubs. “That’s incredible – this pride is exactly what I was hoping for!” he says. “Now the lion stakeout really begins.”

Unfortunately, the trail has gone cold by the next morning. With no sign of the lions, Austin suspects they have already started hunting. It takes Austin another 24 hours to catch up with the pride, by which time he is too late – both females and all six cubs are feasting on a zebra they must have killed during the night. Austin is elated to have found the predators again, but disappointed to have missed the action. “I just missed the kill!” he says. However, he is sure he will not have to wait long for another opportunity. “With plenty of mouths to feed, these lions will need to hunt again soon,” he says.

Over the next few days, Austin is foiled again by his elusive quarry. Vultures circling overhead guide him back to the pride, while also suggesting he has missed another kill. On this occasion, the unfortunate animal is a wildebeest. “My only chance is to be with these lions at dawn,” Austin concludes. “Now that they’ve moved into more open territory, I have a way of making that happen – but it’s going to be risky.” As the sun sets that evening, Austin kits out his vehicle with thermal-imaging equipment and prepares for a night with the lions.

In the pitch black of a Serengeti night, Austin is forced to rely entirely on his thermal-imaging camera. “This makes me very nervous because I don’t know where I’m going,” he says as he edges the Land Rover forwards into the dark. But his persistence pays dividends when he stumbles upon the females on the prowl. “Finally, all the pieces are in place,” he whispers. Will Austin manage to get the shot he wants, or will he be defeated by the king of the jungle?

Friday 12th February 8.00pm

Continuing this week is the wildlife adventure series with Austin Stevens. In this instalment, Austin heads to Sri Lanka for a close encounter with some wild Asian elephants. The ultimate goal of his mission is to photograph a rare tusked bull in full charge – from directly in front.

Having spent a number of years photographing elephants in his native Namibia, Austin Stevens knows just how dangerous these wild creatures can be. However, he has put his fears aside in an attempt to gain the perfect picture – a head-on snap of a tusked adult male in full charge. “Believe me, that’s a whole heap of trouble,” he says.

To get his shot, Austin heads to Sri Lanka, home to 4,000 Asian elephants. The search begins in Kandy in the central highlands of the country, where many animals are domesticated for load-bearing and religious purposes. While he is in the city, Austin is lucky enough to witness a lavish Buddhist ceremony featuring 60 ornately decorated elephants – some of them big adult males with tusks. Since around only 70 of Sri Lanka’s elephants are ‘tuskers’, this is a rare sight – but the size of the tusks gives Austin something to think about. “[This is] probably my most foolhardy assignment yet,” he reflects.

Leaving the tame animals of Kandy behind, Austin travels 50 miles north to the tropical lowlands where patches of jungle hide herds of wild elephants. In the dry season, the herds are drawn out of the dense undergrowth in search of water. “There should be great gatherings of elephants coming to drink.” says Austin. “I’m hoping to get into these herds and take close-up photographs.”

With the help of a local farmer, Austin is soon on the trail of a lone bull. Fresh mud on the high branches of the trees indicates that the animal is not far away. “There’s an elephant walking right ahead of me,” he whispers. Sure enough, Austin’s tracking expertise leads him to within a few metres of the animal. Elephants kill 60 people every year in Sri Lanka alone, so it is important Austin approaches with caution. “I’ve got to hope I can read this guy like I would the guys back home,” he says. The bull is drowsy in the heat of the day, but poses no less of a threat to somebody encroaching on his territory. “That’s as close as I want to get to this guy,” Austin says, before taking his shots and leaving.

To have any chance of spotting a charging elephant, Austin needs to leave the relative safety of the forest and head out into the open. He sets off to Minneriya, an ancient reservoir in the north of the country. During the dry season, the water in this area recedes, leaving lush grassy plains that attract elephants – and other animals – into the open. After a two-hour walk, Austin stumbles upon a big herd of around 40 animals. “This is very unusual,” he enthuses. “Seeing this many together is really quite rare – looks like I’ve hit the jackpot!”

Austin quits his cover on the outskirts of the plain and edges forward, camera in hand. Before long, he is completely exposed and has attracted the attention of a large female, the matriarch of the herd. As the elephant approaches, there is nothing Austin can do but lie still. “Okay, we’ve got problems,” he says. “If she decides to charge, we’ve had it.” After a tense standoff, the female seems satisfied that the interloper poses no threat and leads her family away – leaving Austin with some great shots. “This is one of the most amazing elephant spectacles I’ve ever seen,” he says. However, none of the animals in this herd have tusks, meaning Austin’s assignment is incomplete.

For the elusive tusker shot, Austin drives 20 miles west to Kalawewa. Surrounded by swamp forests, this area provides more cover, potentially allowing Austin to get nearer to the animals without being spotted. Thanks to some fresh tracks, he is led to another herd – this one containing a huge tusked male. “With some luck, I might just get the money shot – a charging elephant!” he says. But with proximity to large tuskers comes a new danger – as Austin soon discovers…

Continuing this week is the wildlife adventure series with Austin Stevens. In this instalment, Austin heads to South Africa for a close encounter with the most elusive big cat on the continent – the leopard. The ultimate goal of his mission is to photograph a mother and cub together.

Austin’s latest escapade sees him return to South Africa on a mission to photograph leopards in the wild. Sightings of these big cats are very rare thanks to their secretive behaviour and perfect camouflage. More exceptional still are sightings of mother and cub – but that is exactly what Austin wants to snap.

The intrepid photographer starts his search in a dry riverbed, but can find no sign of any tracks. He then turns to local knowledge. Kopjes – small outcrops of volcanic rock – make great hiding places for leopards and their young. One particular kopje, Austin hears, is rumoured to be home to a leopard den.

Travelling across the savannah en route to the kopje, Austin spots an elephant herd out in the open and stops to take some shots – only to be charged by an angry bull. A little further on, his persistence is rewarded when he sees his first leopard. The cat quickly takes cover in the tall grass but Austin follows, eventually getting close enough to identify the animal as a male. It may not be the mother Austin was seeking, but it is a great encounter nonetheless.

Once at the kopje, Austin decides to search on foot. Being away from the vehicle in leopard country is extremely dangerous, with mother leopards particularly fierce when protecting their young. However, there are some hiding places that simply cannot be investigated from the safety of a Land Rover…

Austin finds plenty of signs of lions and hyenas on the kopje, but can see no leopards. What he does spot, however, is a whole herd of impala at a watering hole in the distance. Since impala make up much of a leopard’s diet, Austin decides to head to the water. Along the way, he makes an extraordinary discovery – a pack of African hunting dogs with five healthy pups. These wild dogs are amongst the most endangered carnivores in Africa and sightings like this are extremely rare – but this pack seems to be thriving.

Spurred by his good fortune, Austin spots his second leopard. It is only a glimpse but he now knows he is definitely in the right area for cats. Over the next few days, various sightings follow, but the encounters are too short to get any decent photographs. And the mother and cub have yet to reveal themselves.

To increase his chances of success, Austin decides to take a risk and explore a promising-looking ravine on foot. His gamble pays off when he finds prints of a mother and cub leading out onto the savannah. The lead peters out in the tall grass, but when Austin chases a rock python up a tree, he finds a fresh leopard kill lodged in the branches. Knowing the leopard will return to feed, Austin races off to retrieve his car and set up a stakeout.

After hours of waiting, the leopard finally returns. It is a female – and she has a cub with her. Austin gets the photographs he wanted, but cannot resist trying for one more shot. Manoeuvring his vehicle into position, he sits directly under the young leopard feeding in the tree. But with the adult female on one side and the cub on the other, Austin is in a very precarious position. Has he finally pushed his luck too far?

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