African Sand Storm

by Greg du Toit

The portion of the Great Rift Valley that bisects southern Kenya is known as the Gregorian Rift Valley and I was privileged enough to be based there for a period of time. This portion of Masai-land, is occupied by the Loodokilani clan of the Maasai tribe, whose attire is dominated by white beads, with less traditional red colouration than is worn by neighbouring clans. The Maasai are indeed indigenous conservationists who refuse to eat wild meat and who do not fence off watering points. They are also pastoralists who traditionally do not grow crops and all of these factors combined, means that one finds not only wildlife but indeed a functioning ecosystem in Masai-land. In fact, two of Africa’s most famous parks, the Serengeti and the Masai Mara, lie in the heart of traditional Maasai territory!

The tribe used to occupy a vast territory stretching from north of Nairobi all the way to southern Tanzania and refreshingly, they have refused to adopt western ways but, as a byproduct of this, they have been cajoled by politicians and the likes, and been squeezed into a small territory along the Kenya Tanzania border, whereby they no longer enjoy a fully nomadic lifestyle. As a result, parts of Masai-land are heavily over-grazed and desertification is a very real concern.

The combined result of all the above is that now, spectacularly huge dust storms sweep the floor of the rift valley. The winds moving ahead of the rain, sweep up tonnes of dust, creating a scene that looks like Armageddon! I have numerous times stood on the wall of the rift valley and watched such a storm sweep past, chocking the rain clouds on its way, but on this particular day, I chose to drive onto the floor of the valley. Heading straight for the storm, I managed to frame this stallion that for some strange reason had not bolted with the rest of the heard? It was eerily quite as I squeezed my shutter button and it felt as if this stallion and I, were the last surviving creatures on the planet! When the storm hit, I could see no more than a metre in front of me, and I felt very much alone for the next hour. Sitting in my Land Cruiser, completely enveloped by the swirling orange dust, was one of the most surreal and peaceful experiences I have had as a wildlife photographer.

Technical Details: Nikon F100, 200mm lens, Fuji Provia 100F film (remember that stuff?)

Subject: Plains Zebra (Equus burchellii)

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