Winning Location

Issue 5 (November 2009)

Namibia is a photographer’s dream – that is no secret – but even we were surprised when we saw the latest Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition. No fewer than six of the winning shots in 2008 were taken in Namibia, with more in 2009. Here are our favourites.


An exhibition of winning shots is currently touring the UK, sponsored by BBC Wildlife Magazine and the Natural History Museum. For details type ‘Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition’  into the search engine of the Natural History Museum


ImageBottle In The Wind by Koos Van Der Lende

At first, the vast plain looked empty. Flat, dry and windswept, it stretched some 75km between the Kuiseb canyon and the Walvis Bay road in Namibia’s Namib-Naukluft National Park. Then Koos noticed a lone tree, stubby and stubborn in the gravel. “I set up four big reflector boards with stands and used a compass to plot exactly where the sun would set,” he says. “The wind was blowing exceptionally hard, but it didn’t bother the tree, which has grown leaning with the wind.” Bottle trees survive in such hostile places by storing water and nutrients in their trunks. “I was just so amazed that this empty, barren world could be home to this fat, happy little tree.”


ImageSkeleton Coast by Andy Biggs
Andy peered through the scratched airplane window and wondered how he could convey the giddy heights of the Namibian sand-dunes. He didn’t have long to decide. The dense sea fog from the cold Benguela Current was being sucked inland over the Skeleton Coast, and the sun would soon sizzle it away. But for an hour the fog draped itself over the endless sandy crests and corrugations. “I wanted to capture the way shafts of sun piercing through the mist highlight the textures of the sand,” says Andy. The huddle of Cape fur seals – a dark smudge on the narrow strip of beach – give a sense of the vastness of this wilderness. 


Ancient Survivors by Koos Van Der Lende
Two leaves, a stem base and roots. That’s all there is to a welwitschia. Yet this simple arrangement means the plant can cope with the most desiccated of environments, where no more than 15mm of rain falls each year. It takes root where no other plant would dare try. Its curved leaves, split with age and singed by the hot ground, funnel the morning dew down to the roots. Some individuals could be more than 1500 years old. These living fossils are so unlike anything else they warrant a genus all their own – and a classic portrait. Koos photographed his subject, which is at least 200 years old, in Namibia’s Messum Crater, close to the Skeleton Coast. “I loved the circle the leaf made on the left-hand side, and used 12 reflector boards to bounce the sunlight back to get the detail.”



Image Bee-Eater Ballet by Chris Van Rooyen
A boat moored on the Zambezi was the perfect hide from which to observe the colony. At least 1000 carmine bee-eaters were breeding in this area of riverbank, in Caprivi, Namibia – one of the largest colonies in southern Africa. Whenever a loitering raptor drifted too close, a burst of carmine would explode from the numerous burrows. Activity was constant, and the birds never stopped chirruping to each other as they chased insects. “I had the distinct impression some were just having fun,” says Chris. “They would weave around in the wind, hover in the updraft created by the riverbank, and then fold their wings to parachute back into the nest-hole.”


Sand Sprinters by Dan Mead
Far away and sprinting – that was the kind of ostrich sighting Dan was used to in Namibia. Then, late one morning, on a dried-up riverbed on the Skeleton Coast, he came across a lone ostrich chick. It was struggling to keep up with the rest of its family some distance ahead. The mother was in the lead, scouting, and seemed to have judged the situation – a straggling chick, a strange vehicle, a vulnerable family – because her next move took Dan by surprise. “She suddenly turned sharp right and headed straight up the nearest dune,” he says. “It must have been 100m high and at an angle of 30 degrees. The sand slipped away under their feet. It was an amazing effort”.   At the top, the mother waited for her family. The little straggler finally caught up with its siblings, and the whole family disappeared over the crest of the dune.  



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