In 1998, a wannabe wildlife photographer’s dream came true when Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened. You can find all kinds of animals at every turn within the park and learn about them. There were three specific locations at Animal Kingdom I wanted to try my super zoom lens, the Nikon 80-400VR, on during my trip last December to Walt Disney World. They were the Kilimanjaro Safari, Pangani Forest Exploration Trail and Maharajah Jungle Trek.
Kilimanjaro Safari is a ride on large vehicles which are designed to give a bumpy ride. In the past, I’ve used 200mm zoom lenses with much success. The Nikon 80-400VR is much heavier at 3 pounds than those shorter lenses. I was a little worried about being able to steady it even with Nikon’s vibration reduction (VR) technology. This proved to be a problem and, when the ride vehicle was in motion, I found it nearly impossible to get any non-blurred photos at 400mm.
The lens did allow me to get a photo I’ve never been able to get on all my previous safari trips. The cheetahs are very far from the road the safari jeeps use and, being cats, are either not in view or sleeping. On this day, they were in full view and posing! Using the lens at it’s full 400mm focal length (which is 600mm on my Nikon D70 1.5x cropped body), I was able to get the following photo which is cropped from the original.
The Pangani Forest Exploration Trail is a walking trail featuring African wildlife from Naked Mole Rats to the mighty Silverback Gorillas. One of the highlights for me on the trail is the colony of Meerkats. Like North America’s Prairie Dogs, Meerkats have a sentinel member keeping watch of the surroundings when other members are out of their protective burrows. This Meerkat portrait shows the nice bokeh (out of focus background) of the Nikon 80-400VR lens shooting wide open at f/5.6 and 400mm focal length.
The trail features a family troop of gorillas in a large compound with great viewing locations for people to see and photograph these magnificent animals. Here is a picture of the leader who reminds me of the gorilla, Kerchak, in Disney’s Tarzan animated movie. Normally, I would discard a photo like this but his eyes make this one a keeper.
Another walking trail, the Maharajah Jungle Trek features wildlife from the continent of Asia. I was fortunate to catch the Komodo Dragon alert and the Nikon 80-400VR gave me the reach to capture this portrait of a species you wouldn’t want to be this close to in the wild.
The Asian Tigers are in a compound themed as ruins of a jungle palace. The residents act as royalty often lounging and sleeping as big cats often do. I try to be there in the late afternoon when they are more likely to be active as they are feed about a half hour before park closing. I have gotten many sleeping and resting tiger photos so I was thrilled to get a few on this trip as they moved about.