Preservation safari

More than forty years ago, Manchester photographer and writer Ted Schiffman climbed Mt. Kilmanjaro in Tanzania for the first time, and has been going back ever since.

The landscape was spectacular, but so was the animal wildlife, which inspired his interest in photographing the elephants, lions, tigers and other animals of the region, he said.

They still do. But now there is a special urgency attached to the quest for the next amazing photograph - a concern that not far into the future, several species of "wildlife" will no longer be living in the wild, in their natural habitat - and surviving only in protected enclaves like a zoo.

Just as the snows of Kilimanjaro are receding, comparing photographs showing its white covered peaks from 30 or 40 years with more recent ones, so are elephants, lions and giraffes disappearing from the plains below and across a wide swath of East Africa, he said.

"The issues at hand, especially concerning wildlife in Africa that intrigued me so much in the last few decades are an exponential dilemma, (because of) the amount of poaching that's continuing," he said. "It's a devastating problem."

Poachers - hunters who kill animals for prized body parts - are decimating the herds of the once ubiquitous animals that symbolized the continent. About 100 elephants a day are being killed in Africa to satisfy a demand for the ivory contained in their tusks, largely driven by Chinese consumers, Schiffman said.

So what's a writer and a photographer supposed to do? Write a book about it, of course, and illustrate it with photos drawn from an extensive archive that goes back four decades.

Schiffman's last book was about treefrogs, and how they were "canaries in a coalmine" when it came to issuing a warning about climate change. Their diminishing numbers were a warning humankind could not afford to ignore. The same goes for elephants, lions and giraffes, even if the immediate cause for concern was more the result of illegal poaching, he said.

His three new books, "Elephants of Africa," "Lions of Africa," and "Giraffes of Africa," are written for younger readers. A page of text, in large, easy to read type fonts, contain some basic, though often not-well-known facts, offset against his photographs. They may be intended for younger readers, but some of the information will be news to older ones as well. For instance, who knew that adult elephants eat 500 pounds of food every day, and eat for more than 15 hours a day? Or that giraffes have several strikingly different skin patterns? Or that female lionesses do most of the hunting for their pride, or group, because they run faster than the heavier and slower male lions? Or that elephants can differentiate more than 4,000 different animal smells, and have a remarkable ability at mimicry?

"Everytime you do a book you do a lot of research and find out how much there is to know," Schiffman said.

The books are all self-published. Having spent the better part of two decades in the book publishing business, he is familiar with how they need to be laid out and designed. These three are the start of a series he hopes to produce, which will eventually add about 16 more titles, similar to this opening group of three. He produces them in lots of 100 each, he said.

But the specter of their extinction from their wildlife habitat drove Schiffman to do more than just document their lifestyle, and to raise awareness of their plight as well. If nothing is done, they probably won't be around in the wild for more than a couple of generations, he said.

A century ago, biologists reckon there were more than half a million lions roaming the plains of East Africa, he said; now those numbers have fallen to somewhere between 20-25,000. Often it is the local residents who do the poaching. The money to be had is simply too great for the often impoverished inhabitants to resist, he said. And while such poaching is illegal, regulating the unlawful killing of the animals has proven hard to stop, he said.

Schiffman returns regularly to the area, and is planning to take another tour group for a visual and photographic safari this coming August. Would-be natural wildlife photographers don't need a bulky collection of expensive equipment to get some riveting pictures of animals in the wild - a basic single lens reflex camera, with a wide angle lens and a moderate telephoto for close ups will often be more than adequate. A longer telephoto lens might come in handy for those dramatic up-close-and-personal pictures of the faces of lions, tigers and elephants, he added.

Of course, you're also in a car or a van, and you shouldn't try to startle them either, he said.

"If you're quiet, you can get some great pictures," he said.

For more information about Schiffman and how to acquire his books, visit his Web site at


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