7 Wildlife Wonders

I’ve had a long successful career as a Wildlife Photographer and Tour Leader. During the last 16-years of wildlife photography, I’ve travelled to every continent, and fulfilled many of my bucket list aspirations. It’s been a career literally full of wildlife wonders.

Here, is my top 7 Wildlife Wonders. It’s really an impossible list to fulfil, as new encounters and experiences constantly vie for position in the top rankings. Maybe next year, I’ll pen a new list. But, for now, while I’m writing, these are my 7 magic moments in no particular order…

Emperor Penguin Crèche (December 2009)
Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Cape Washington, Antarctica with Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II and 600.0 mm lens at ¹⁄₁₂₅₀ sec at ƒ / 7.1 on ISO 200

Emperor penguin chicks

For years I had dreamt of visiting Terra Incognita, the fabled frozen land of Antarctica. Like many in this industry, I grew up on an Attenborough TV diet. To be stood on the ice, just a few metres from a gaggle of young downy grey Emperor penguin chicks just blew my mind. A true wildlife wonder!

I didn’t care that it was practically a white out scene, nor that I’d lost feeling in my fingers. I certainly didn’t care that I had to be physically removed from the ice. It will always be one of the greatest highlights and privileges of my life.

Roaring male lion (November 2011)
Photograph by © Elliott Neep captured on 07/11/2010 16:05:49 in Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya with NIKON D3S and 600.0 mm f/4.0 lens at ¹⁄₁₆₀ sec at ƒ / 4.0

The Lion’s Roar

There are memorable and enduring natural elements that an image cannot capture. Smell is one. The other is Sound. I have been around big cats and predators for many years. I have heard lions and tigers growl and snarl, elephants trumpet and silverback mountain gorillas beat their chests.

For me, there are two sounds in the natural world that make the hairs on my entire body stand on end and send an innate primeval shiver down my spine – howling wolves and the roar of lions in the night. One of the greatest experiences in nature is having a mature ‘pride male’ lion roar beside you, with your heart pumping, lungs resonating and bottom squeaking!

Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus) in front of glacier
Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus), roaming melting fast ice, dwarfed by landscape in Hornsund, Spitzbergen

The Polar Bear

There are many ‘memorable’ firsts. But, I could not think of anything more memorable than seeing my first polar bear as he roamed across fast ice, deep in a frozen fjord in Spitsbergen.

Some of my clients would have been sorely disappointed with this distant view. However, this was more real and more meaningful than having a bear stand against the hull of your expedition ship. In one snapshot, you could understand so much more.

The scale was epic. The sheet of fast ice was immense, but still dwarfed by the size of the glacier. On the ice, a tiny creamy-yellow dot bumbled along – the embodiment of a solitary life. I couldn’t help but think “How on earth does a polar bear manage to hunt prey out here?!”

Polar Photo Safari: Want to see polar bears in their true habitat? Join my in July 2019 as we venture to Wrangel Island!

Royal Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris)
Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Bandhavgarh N.P., India with Canon EOS 10D and 100.0-400.0 mm lens at ¹⁄₂₀₀ sec at ƒ / 5.6 on ISO 200

Infant Tiger Cubs

One of my most wondrous encounters has been greatly publicised as it was so rare and so intimate. Suffice to say, that finding a litter of infant tiger cubs is one of my most cherished memories.

The encounter was highly emotional with everybody watching from the elephant (including the grizzled mahout) were in floods of tears. Yes, I am an emotional softy, but I would challenge anybody not to be moved by something as precious as this.

For ten glorious minutes, Bandhavgarh and the rest of the world disappeared as four blue-eyed, toothless tiger cubs suckled from their mother.

Read my guide: Everything you need to know about photographing wild tigers.

Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta)
Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya with Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II and 600.0 mm lens at ¹⁄₅₀₀ sec at ƒ / 6.3 on ISO 400

Flamingo Hunting Hyenas

Some animals are very unpopular. The hyena is the proverbial bad guy in almost all wildlife documentaries – savagely and ruthlessly tearing up the weak and scavenging fresh prey from lightweight cheetahs. I arrived in Lake Nakuru with the same disdain that is shared by many. However, during a thirty-minute encounter, my ill-informed views were entirely overthrown.

From the lake shore, a pair of spotted hyenas made several mock charges into a flock of flamingos. Each time, they ran, stopped and watched. After several attempts, they came back to shore and rested, rolling lazily about. The flamingos gradually returned to the shallows, ignoring the seemingly preoccupied hyenas and that is when they struck.

Both hyenas charged-in and each seized a lame pitiful flamingo. They had been testing the flock to find the weakest birds. Those with injuries, that couldn’t take flight quickly.

Crater Lion (March 2011)
Photograph by © Elliott Neep. Photographed in Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania with NIKON D3S and 24.0-70.0 mm f/2.8 lens at ¹⁄₈₀₀ sec at ƒ / 10 on ISO 400

Ngorongoro Crater

Despite its overwhelming popularity and tourist over-saturation, Ngorongoro Crater still has the ability to turn your creative grey matter into wanderlust purée. I return year after year as I know that unique combination of highland macro-climate and those sheer crater walls can produce the most incredible, jaw-dropping scenes.

Find yourself a quite corner in the afternoon when the clouds begin to build, track down the lions, elephant, rhinos or herd animals and cue the ephemeral magic of Ngorongoro.

Read my guide: Top camera gear essentials for the African photo safari.

European Badger cub (Meles meles)
European badger (Meles meles), young cub foraging in daylight, England, UK

Woodland Badger Cub

I first photographed badgers in a secluded beech woodland in Buckinghamshire. I thought, “If I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it properly!” So, I spent everyday at the sett for over two months, rain or shine.

When the badger cubs emerged, I was one of the first things they saw. Unfortunately, this remarkable experience was tinged with sadness. We had a cold and dismally wet May, which evidently took its toll as I found one of the cubs had died – its body dragged out and left near the sett entrance.

I buried the little thing some distance away. That was the lowest point. The most rewarding came a few days later. I was in my usual spot, when a badger cub (this one pictured above) appeared in the long grass. It bumbled over and curled up next to my leg and promptly went to sleep.

Although I rationalised that it just needed some body-warmth, how can you not feel touched when shown such trust from a wild animal?

Elliott Neep

Currently based in Oxfordshire, UK. Experienced professional freelance wildlife photographer, writer, and photographic guide with portfolios from East Africa, India, Arctic, Antarctica and British Isles.

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