KNP-201505_Z2Q5704

Burchell’s zebra (Equus burchelli), Muzandzeni, Kruger National Park, South Africa

Canon EOS 1DX, Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM lens (1.4x built-in extender not engaged) @381mm. Exposure of 1/800 sec at f/9 set manually. ISO 800

I have visited Kruger many, many times and have sometimes observed Zebras having a sparring session, but on my most recent trip during May 2015, I was fortunate to see a full scale battle between two stallions (of course about the right to three mares that were in close proximity to the fight). We had just stopped briefly at the Muzandzeni picnic spot, near where we were staying at the Talamati bush veld camp. One stallion intruded on the other which was accompanied by three mares and this started off the whole battle. We quickly got back into the Land Cruiser and moved closer to the battle scene where we had a fairly good view of the proceedings.

It was a dullish day with high cloud which turned out to be fortunate from a photographic point of view. We were positioned into the sun (the only possible viewing spot) so the clouds helped to flatten the light. I set the aperture at f/9 to give a slightly deeper depth of focus as the two zebra were moving erratically , sometimes side-on and sometimes head-on. This necessitated a higher ISO to keep the shutter speed up. I set the exposure manually as the light was fairly constant, but the background was constantly changing which would have made automatic exposure erratic.

The battle involves much chasing about with one zebra trying to bite the other on the throat or the softer portions of flesh just behind the fore or hind quarter. The following number of images shows some of this very well with both stallions trying to get as low as possible (Good tip for the Springbok scrum!!). After about twenty minutes the one stallion seemed to gain the upper hand (or should I say, the upper jaw) and it then chased the other away. Whilst this chasing around was going on the three mares were agitated by the battle around them and at times they seemed to join in on the chase. The one stallion did suffer some bites on the throat with signs of bleeding.

All images were captured using a Canon EOS 1DX and a Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM lens with a built-in 1.4x extender. A few of the images had the extender engaged, but mostly the extender was disengaged. I have set a custom auto focus mode with the AF configuration tool to: tracking sensitivity -2, Accel./decel. tracking +2 and AF pt. auto switching to +2. This gives maximum flexibility in terms of the subject movement. I used single point AF and the 1DX got just about every images’ AF spot on. Images were processed in Adobe Lightroom®, Adobe Photoshop® and I used a high pass type sharpening tool to help clear some of the dust that was clouding the scene.

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The Prize