Category Archives: General

General articles about the natural world

Someone to Watch Over Me

The Herd, Seen
Elephants are like us, at our best. Their natural demeanor is easy, they are concerned with each other, careful, comfortable in their own company.

Copacetic, Commensal, Communal
They eat, sleep, drink together. Same bed, same bowl, same cup.

Someone to Watch Over Me
African Elephant & Chacma Baboon
Motobo National Park
© 2020 Mark Seth Lender
All Rights Reserved

The chacma baboons are awake. Their calls echo out of the caves in the kopjes, bouncing off the rounded boulders of which the kopjes are made and down towards the waterhole below. 



Down, and down, the chacma baboons come to drink, using all four limbs that are both hands and feet. They come in the narrow slot when it is light enough to see but just before sunrise when it quickly becomes too hot. But that is a convenience. If they have to make a choice between heat and night they will choose heat. For all their agility baboons fear the dark. Like us. Like the animal who became us: small, and with sweet-tasting flesh, and easy to kill. 

Or maybe not. 

The canine teeth of a male chacma baboon are stronger and longer than the teeth of a leopard, and very sharp, and the baboons know exactly what those teeth can do. 


As much as it is only a wake-up call it is also an announcement.

Nearby, there are petroglyphs in the overhangs. Stick figures drawn in thin red lines of ochre. The people depicted there, who chose to show themselves carrying bows and arrows and long spears? This is the sound those people heard. And the ones who came before them. And even before that. As far as any living creature knows the baboons in their prowess have been here forever.

Along the edge of the waterhole The Elephants’ Junior now approaches the drinking baboons. For The Elephants’ Junior, hardly more than a baby, they are just another means and method of amusing himself. He harangues them with his trumpeting, stamps his feet, flaps his ears, waves his little trunk. He is hardly formidable but he is bigger than they are and that is usually enough. 

The baboons know what his game is, and most of them leave.

Most of them.

Not The Baboons’ Biggest.

The Baboons’ Biggest is large even for a chacma baboon and all he does is give The Elephants’ Junior, alook.

The Elephants’ Junior’s eyes grow wide. He leans back stopped in his tracks (like a cartoon character putting on the breaks except for the lack of dust and sound effects). And realizes what he’s up against. And that he’s made… a mistake.

Behind The Elephants’ Junior, unnoticed by him, The Matriarch’s Sister, seeing what has transpired (or is about to) ambles over. She stands well behind The Elephants’ Junior, silent and very still. There is no tension in her demeanor, all she has done is to make herself present. 

And now The Baboons’ Biggest is looking not at The Elephants’ Junior but at her. 

The Elephants’ Junior, following the gaze of The Baboons’ Biggest, glances behind him, but his demeanor does not change, because –

Even now The Baboons’ Biggest is reluctant to leave making it apparent just how much, he would like, to take a piece out of that little elephant. But he is not stupid. And The Baboons’ Biggest can visualize the following scene only too clearly: The Matriarch’s Sister standing on a stain in the dirt consisting of fur and teeth that used to be, himself.

The Baboons’ Biggest turns and slinks up the hill and into the kopje, and The Elephants’ Junior in triumph kicks dirt after him in his retreat. 

No one will be bothering The Elephants’ Junior.

Not today.

Field note:

I make frequent reference to my use of a still camera. Animals give cues expressed in movement, gesture, facial expression and gaze directed within and between species (and also to us) that are too subtle and too fast for the unaided human eye to recognize, much less decode. Only a photograph will fix things in place long enough to be studied and understood. In the way the animals intended them to be understood. This is something not even slow motion can accomplish unless the resolution is extremely high and even then it would be necessary to review individual frames. After a while one does acquire an intuitive sense of what animals are thinking and in broad strokes what they are trying to convey but without the intervention of the camera, the precision and nuance are mostly lost to us.

There is a cost to looking through the lens. It robs you of the pleasure of direct experience. The great memories of my life among wild animals, the ones that are most vivid and often most meaningful, are recorded in the mind’s eye and nowhere else. When people ask what kind of camera gear they should bring with them I generally say, none. There are thousands of photos and hundreds of photographers with better photos than most of us (myself included) will ever take. Unless a very particular kind of research is your goal, use your eyes, your ears, and make memories. 

Memory is where Elephants’ Junior and Baboons’ Biggest resides. None of it is on film. Valerie who was standing beside me remembers it the same way I do and just as clearly. Though the story happened decades ago, we both see the events exactly as they unfolded, wide screen, full color. 

Cat Vanishes


Cheetah Climbs Termite Mound-9285   Cheetah Climbs Termite Mound-9297   Cheetah Climbs Termite Mound-9238
Cat Vanishes
© 2017 Mark Seth Lender
All Rights Reserved

Out in the valley of the Maara, Cheetah is ready to rise. Yawns. Turns over belly up. Tucks her paws, cat-like, against the fuselage of her chest. That tail that is the length of her from hip to shoulder curls, and unwinds. And with the weightless grace of all her kind rolls, onto her paws and strolls in to the evening, that is day to her.

Hidden in the tall grass is a termite mound. She knows the place. Has used it before. Looks back. looks again (to be sure no one is watching) and in her long legged stride, climbs the steep sides and sits, head high, unblinking.

In these flat lands height is mountain and redoubt. Vantage point is safety. Line of sight, command. Seeing first determines who will eat today and who will not and whom among the seen… will be eaten. The crocodile at water’s edge pretending to be stone; leopard dropping from an overhanging limb without a sound; lion stalking close and stealthy on the plain, for each and every one the eye is life or death.

With Cheetah? The eye alone is not enough. Like light itself, Cheetah is a thing of speed! Speed is Cheetah’s second sight. Speed in short bursts is her edge, bright and sharp. Her claws wear, dulled and blunted to the stubby nails of a dog. Her jaws are weak, just wide enough for the small things she can run to ground. With Cheetah the chase is everything.

Cheetah owls her head: One side. The other side. Back again, searching. Nothing found she takes her time, stretches as she climbs down (hind legs and tail in the air, her belly low). Blade thin, she slips into the night like paper through the slot.

At a distance her head appears again, a spotted mask of light and dark, her stare as orange as the afterglow, her eyes unwavering.

The land turns black and white.

The grass whispers.

Cat… vanishes.

Field Note:

Cheetah Bookends-2    Cheetah Bookends-0162
Cheetah is legend. For grace and speed and for beauty. Lithe and light she is lacking in the brute strength of the other great cats. Cheetah has her limits.

Cheetahs can only take small game – what they can both outrun and grab by the throat – and to do that they need a particular set of conditions. First and foremost space, but not just any space. Cheetah needs open space. And open space, thanks to human beings, is – like Cheetah – vanishing.

All around the Maasai Mara the land is being fenced in. Fences mean cattle and cattle are a head-to-head competitor of the worst kind. They take both grass and water from the game and in disproportionate amount – there are few grazing animals more inefficient than a cow, especially the rugged variety of the Maasai. The herders prize their cattle, and though their wrath is generally reserved for lions, they are instinctively wary of the great cats. Cows are wealth to Maasai, not just blood and milk and sometimes meat, but status. Fifty cows will always be better than twenty, one hundred better still. And for those who cannot afford cows there are goats, who chew the grasses right down to the root.

And every day more cattle.

And every day more fences.

Fences do not make good neighbors when Cheetah is your neighbor and that neighbor needs to roam.

Equally deleterious, Maasai are permitted to bring their cattle through the Mara for water during drought. Drought is now most or at least much of the time, and if the herder goes slowly, well, not his fault if the cows nibble along the way. The increasing number of cows, people, and lack of space and especially lack of water leads inevitably to conflict. A small shooting war is burgeoning in Kenya in the Laikipia as herders lash out at people they see as competitors for increasingly sparse resources.

Perhaps Maasai will learn to see their wealth as more broadly based than in cattle alone. But in order for that to happen, other means of wealth (and they do exist in Kenya) will have to be broadly shared.

But ultimately, if any part of the natural world is to survive there will have to be fewer humans.


Including us, including here.

Cheetah in the Grass-9939


African Wildlife Foundation is one of the premier African-run conservation organizations, whose mission includes local partnerships across Africa in an attempt to find ways that wildlife and people can coexist, each to the benefit of the other. To learn more visit:

To hear my broadcast of Cat Vanishes, visit Living on Earth.  It’s the last segment in the program:



Close Encounter with a Tabular Iceberg


Tabular Iceberg, fragment of Larsen B-6853

Just off the Antarctic Peninsula at 63°0’58” S 57°40’52” W, I encountered a tabular iceberg [an iceberg that looks like a huge tabletop]. By the position, I believe it to have been a fragment of the Larsen B Ice Shelf that broke up in 2002. But “fragment” doesn’t do justice to what I saw. Picture New York’s Central Park, made of ice, and 120 feet high.

Tabular Iceberg, Leading Edge with Antarctic Petrels-7062

To give you an idea of the scale, the Antarctic Petrels soaring in front of the leading edge of the berg have a wingspan of one meter! In order to take a photo of an entire side, I had to wait until our ship had steamed some miles past. The tabular iceberg that just separated from Larsen C is many orders of magnitude larger than the giant pictured here.

My 20 days of fieldwork in the Antarctic was hosted by One Ocean Expeditions.

Field Note: Rockhopper Penguins & Black-browed Albatross

Black-browed Albatross

West Point is a small island at the tip of the West Falklands. There, upon the high cliffs that rise like insurmountable steps, and inland among the rolling hills of tussock grass strange bedfellows nest. The cliffs are in the possession of a colony of Black-browed Albatross. No one else can get there.

The Place where only Wings will carry

In the tussock grass is where Rockhopper Penguins nest, the slope down to the sea at an angle just low enough that they can just barely, hop and scramble their way up several hundred vertical feet to build their nests and breed, and daily, hop back down again to feed. But wings will take you where feet cannot and in among the penguins pockets of the albatross. Because there is nothing to stop them.

Rockhopper Penguins and Black-browed Albatross on the slope

Neither species much cares for this arrangement. The greatest fliers and the greatest swimmers here argue over space and the mud and straw with which they build their cup-shaped nests. Loudly. Incessantly. They lock bills.

Albatross Arguing with a passing Rockhopper

They cry out.

Rockhopper Penguin Vocalizing

The sense of desperation conveyed is real. Both species are in decline. Fishing nets entangle the great wings of Black-browed Albatross. Fishermen steal the food on which Rockhopper Penguins depend. The climate itself is changing, and this also works against the birds. Faced with an ever warming ocean, the fish are moving south in search of cooler water. And at the base of the food chain, the krill are in serious decline. Many species of penguin depend directly on the krill, but now, so do men. Among others, Norway and Japan are already harvesting krill in quantity, and the Chinese are about to launch the largest krill processing boat in the world, crushing the source of life at its source.

Hard times ahead for everyone.


What you can do:

Call, email, write or visit the embassies of the countries with the largest take of krill, namely, Japan, South Korea, China, and Norway (contact information below).   Ask them to please reconsider the harvesting of krill. Go to your local health food store and urge them to stop carrying fish oil products made from krill. While your there, find out who produces krill-based fish oil and call them too. And please let me know how it went, MSL(at)MarkSethLender(dot)com.

Japanese Embassy
2520 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20008
Tel: 202-238-6700
Fax: 202-328-2187
Email: None listed

Royal Norwegian Embassy
2720 34th Street NW
Washington, DC 20008
Tel: (202) 333-6000
Fax: (202) 469-3990

Chinese Embassy Chancery
3505 International Place, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20008
Tel: (202) 495-2266
Fax: (202) 495-2138

Embassy of the Republic of Korea
2450 Massachusetts Avenue N.W. Washington, D.C. 20008
Tel: 202-939-5600
Fax: 202-797-0595

Mark Seth Lender’s fieldwork in the Falklands was made possible by One Ocean Expeditions,

The original broadcast of this recording can be heard on Living on Earth:  Albatross are the yodeling,laughing cry heard and the beginning and towards the end of the above recoding. The rapid high-pitched calls are Rockhoppers.


elephant-herd-at-sunrise-7087In August, 2016 I returned to Africa. It was twice a homecoming.  Because Africa, with its stone tools predating the time when we were even Human,\ is the origin of Us. And because it is the origin of me; of what I have become; of the thing to which I have dedicated my life, Wild things, and the Wilderness without which they cannot exist. The eyes I see with now are not the eyes of a quarter century ago. I set out went looking for difference, for what separates one from of life from another. Instead, I have come to see animals as like us more than apart from us. More than this, I know that without them we cease to exist. Literally perhaps (because the World without the Wild is unlikely to sustain us), but more important;y, because without Wildlife the part of us that is Human will die, of loneliness and shame. I fear for the Natural World.


There is something you can do for the wildlife and the people of Africa. Follow in my tracks. See these things for yourself. Go with small groups, go with local guides. If wildlife and wilderness are to survive at all, it will be because local people see their economic survival tied to these things.


I was hosted in the Maasai Mara by Don Young of Donald Young Safaris and by Nick Wood of Sekenani Camp.  I can recommend both without hesitation.  Between them, they support many families and provide the income that provides an education for the children of those families.  They make wildlife valuable and in our world today, without defined monetary value nothing survives.


You can visit the Mara with Don or Nick with complete moral clarity. Their tours in the Maasai Mara range from about $300 a day all inclusive, to about $950 all inclusive.  Save up.  Go soon. It’s worth every dime.

 – Mark Seth Lender  [MSL at MarkSethLender dot Com]

Sekenani Camp:

Donal Young Safaris:  [US office, Colorado Tel 303-4398462]