Photographing the Gallotia lizards – Part 5: Gallotia caesaris gomerae

Boettger’s Lizards (Gallotia caesaris) are for La Gomera the same as Western Canaries Lizards (Gallotia galloti for Tenerife — the most common and widespread reptile species. The population on this island is of subspecies G. c. gomerae. Someone who doesn’t want to go to La Gomera but wants to see or to photograph them can do it on Tenerife where G. c. gomerae occur in the town of Los Cristianos because they are being brought there by ferries. In turn, G. galloti already occur on La Gomera, for the same reason.

Boettger’s Lizards are really omnipresent on this island. You can find them on the coast as well as in the middle. Since La Gomera is small and there are no high mountains, there are no barriers that would isolatе populations, causing evolution of subspecies. You can drive around the island in less than a day and would see everywhere G. caesaris looking the same.

The adult individuals of G. caesaris are much smaller than of G. galloti. Males look a little larger than medium-sized European lacertids — such as sand lizards (Lacerta agilis) — and aren’t as colourful as the males of G. galloti.

As usually with young lizards, they allow a closer distance than the adults. However, this isn’t a big help when you are trying to photograph them with a wide-angle lens: The distance is still too large because the lizards are small. This image shows young G. caesaris gomerae shot with a 25mm lens in their habitat at Playa del Inglés.

Feeding gallotias was for me not only a method for getting closer but an act of help the animals to survive in this hot season, particularly after their natural food sources were distroyed by fire.

Overall, G. caesaris on La Gomera appeared to me not as shy as G. galloti on Tenerife. The minimal distance they were allowing was 2-3 meters. Of course, it was too far for photographing with wide-angle lenses, but close enough for good shots at focal length of 150 – 300 mm. For close-up photographs, the lizards needed to be caught. Just like with G. galloti there were no chance to do it with hands, but the method with fishing rod worked with large males very well.

Like other Gallotia species, the adult Boettger’s Lizards feed on fruits and green plants. Therefore, they could be attracted by pieces of banana or other sweet fruit put in a place suitable for photography. In hot sommer months there is not only enough food for them but also water. Therefore juicy fruits may be especially attractive also as a source of drinking water. In fact, I was very surprised to see so many G. caesaris active in areas without any obviously eatable vegetation and without water. Different than on Tenerife, there aren’t so many prickly pears plants, or maybe no at all, because I haven’t seen any. On Tenerife theirs fruits were the only significant source of food for gallotias in this season. Such food was much less available or absent on La Gomera.

It is hard to show in photographs a real scale of the disaster that stroke La Gomera in 2012. More than a quarter of natural sites turned to ash as a result of the most severe fire in the history of the island. The neighbour island — La Palma — is visible here in the background.

The summer 2012 will certainly remain in the history of La Gomera because of the most severe forest fire catastrophe this island had ever seen. As a result, more than a quarter of the endemic laurel forest was destroyed. In huge areas of La Gomera nothing remained but ash. I was glad to notice that large numbers of gallotias survived the fire, but at the same time it was heartbreaking to see them desperately searching for food in what was only ash. When I was in such places and had fruit I was giving them and some water to gallotias, but, of course, I wasn’t able to feed all of them who suffered the fire.

For photographing G. caesaris gomerae I recommend to bring a lens with focal length of 150-300 mm. This can be a macro or a telephoto lens. If it would be a 150-180mm macro lens, you would need to use it with a teleconverter now and then. For telephoto lenses you may occasionally need macro extension rings — to make the work distance shorter. I also recommend to have a tripod and a lot of patience — to be able to sit and wait till the lizards appear from their sleeping places in stone heaps.

Boettger’s Lizards can be found absolutely everywhere on the island where there are places for them to bask. In the central areas that are covered by forest, they live at road sides, near stone heaps, or at rocks. I was photographing them in such locations and in the shrubs that grow near Playa del Inglés at the foot of Risco de La Mérica — the distribution area of Gallotia bravoana.

In the summer the sunshine is very bright. Since G. caesaris have dark colouring, and the males are almost black, they need to be photographed only in the early morning hours when the shadows aren’t too deep. The best approach is to notice where a colony of G. caesaris lives and to come the next morning to this place before the lizards appear, to set up the camera on a tripod and to wait. In later hours a flash may help to lighten up the shadows.

Photographing the Gallotia lizards – Part 4: Gallotia galloti

The Western Canaries Lizards (Gallotia galloti galloti) on mountain Guaza are extremely shy — particularly the adults. Although I was noticing them moving in the dry vegetation, I could rarely see the animals themselves. It appeared to me that the population density in this place was not that great than of G. g. eisentrauti that I observed in the north of the island. Young G. g. galloti have different pattern than young G. g. eisentrauti. To me it appeared similar to the pattern of young Gallotia intermedia that I had seen on photographs. Therefore I thought first that I was seeing G. intermedia. When I saw the adult gallotias which were definitely G. g. galloti, I recognised my mistake.

According to my observations, the lizards were feeding mainly on fruits of Opuntia in this extremely dry season. Here you see a juvenile G. g. galloti doing it.

There are three subspecies of Gallotia galloti on Tenerife. Two — G. g. galloti andG. g. eisentrauti — live on the main island where they are very common. The distribution area of the first covers the south and the far west of Tenerife, while the second lives in the north and the east. The mountains in the middle of the island appear to serve as a barrier between them. The western border is very easy to recognise because the transition from galloti to eisentrauti is very sharp: When you are coming by car from Buenavista del Norte towards Punto de Teno after you passed the tunnel you’ll find only lizards of the nominate subspecies. At Buenavista and all the way to the tunnel there are still lizards of the subspecies eisentrauti. The eastern border between subspecies should be caused by Anaga mountains. I personally didn’t observe the point where it happens.

A population of the third subspecies — G. g. insulanagae — exist only on a small rock near the coast of the Anaga Peninsula at the eastern end of Tenerife — Roque Fuera de Anaga. I have seen only one image of a male of this subspecies. Therefore I am eager to photograph these lizards myself. Unfortunately it is difficult to organise. The place is very easy to find. You have to come by car to the village Garachico and then to hike to the lighthouse. After you reached the lighthouse you’ll see a triangle rock standing in water less than a kilometer away from the coast. That’s the Roque Fuera de Anaga.

A real problem is to reach the rock. Although it is a protected area, no special permission is required to visit it as far as I know — but you need a boat. I hadn’t any and didn’t even try to organise one because local people in this area speak only Spanish, and with my poor command of this language I wasn’t able to find a fisherman and to negotiate with him. When I went to this place, I didn’t know that the rock is so close, I was only planning to photograph the landscapes of the Anaga Mountains. Now I know that Roque de Fuera is very close to the coast of Tenerife and can be reached by a normal fisherman boat — worth an attempt if would visit this place again.

Baiting with small banana pieces works well with all adult gallotias.

To me Gallotia galloti is the most beautiful species of this gender and eisentrautiis the most beautiful subspecies of it. Males are large and particularly colourful. Also females of G. g. eisentrauti have more clear body pattern and more bright colour than of G. g. galloti. Many males of the nominate subspecies have larger blue areas on their sides but the striped pattern isn’t so well recognisable. Adults of both subspecies feed on plants and like sweet fruits, such as banana, peach, strawberries, that can be used as bait, to attract them to a place where you can better photograph them. Of course, even then they remain shy and can be easily scared by sudden movement. However, even when they have run away they return very soon to the fruits.

With much more shy G. g. galloti a more crude method is effective — capturing. Gallotias are very quick and see very well. In the hot season, when I was there, adult G. g. galloti weren’t allowing to approach them closer than 6-8 meters. G. g. eisentrauti appeared to me generally less shy. In towns, for instance in Puerto de la Cruz, the lizards were allowing a distance of just 2 meters or even less because they were accustomed to the presence of people who often even fed them. Nonetheless, in most populations that I visited the only way to a macro or a close-up shot of a Gallotia galloti was to catch it. Since the lizards escape in thick thorny vegetation or in rocks before you approach them, you can’t do it with hands. I was using a fishing rod with a snare. It worked fine on adult animals.

When gallotias are active their bodies are very warm. Anyway they felt warmer than for instance of sand lizards I often had a chance to hold in hands. The body even of a large adult lizard feels soft — probably due to small scales that cover it. When caught, first it attempts to bite but very quickly stops any resistance and remains motionless as long as your hand is closed. As soon as you loosen the grip just a little the lizard will immediately attempt to escape, and usually will succeed. So you have to be very careful and quick when photographing. It is not like with many other lacertids that would usually stay in place for awhile after you have removed the hand: A gallotia will disappear even before you have noticed it. Therefore, when you are handling a gallotia be prepared for only one shot that you will need to release in a fraction of a second. If you have a quick reaction and if there are no escapes in immediate proximity, you may be able to catch the lizard again with a free hand and return it in position in front of the lens. Even then sooner or later it will run away.

When caught and put in position for a close-up photograph G. galloti look depressed for the first second when you are photographing them. However, it doesn’t make sense to wait longer: As soon as the animal takes a more natural pose, it escapes. Therefore, it is extremely difficult to obtain a decent wide-angle or macro image of G. galloti. I am not really satisfied with those that I managed to get during this trip and will repeat the attempts as soon as I have another opportunity.

Adult gallotias are strictly territorial — both, males and femals. Neigbours who attempt to trespass will be fought and chased by the owner of the territory. During such quarrels the animals usually are squeking loudly. Along with strictly vegetarian diet of adult animals, the ability to vocalisations is probably the most amazing in this lacertid gender.

The easiest approach, although not always resulting in artistic images, is shooting with a telephoto lens. At some locations I was using a 150mm macro lens — sometimes with a 2x teleconverter — with quite good results. It proved to be particularly useful for photographs of younger animals of both subspecies and of adult G. g. eisentrauti. For adult G. g. galloti I needed a 300 mm f/2.8 super telephoto lens. Quite often, I had to shoot through vegetation; then the large aperture of this lens was particularly helpful. However, carrying both lenses along with other equipment is difficult and doesn’t make much sense. A 2.8/150mm or 2.8/180 mm macro lens in combination with a teleconverter lens is more lightweight and more flexible alternative that I would recommend in this case.

View from Acantilados de Los Gigantes at Teno Cape — habitat of Gallotia galloti galloti. The neighbour island, La Gomera is visible at the horizon.

The best locations for photographing Western Canaries Lizards in natural habitat I have been to during this trip were Teno Cape (Punto de Teno) and Guaza Mountain (Montaña de Guaza) — for G. g. galloti, and Anaga Peninsula — for G. g. eisentrauti. Of course, the lizards are very numerous and easier to approach in towns and villages, and thus are easier to photograph, but the urban surroundings may be visible in your pictures, particularly if you’ll be using wide-angle lenses.

To be continued in Part 5: Gallotia caesaris gomerae.

Security paranoia in airports: How far will it go?

I still remember how it was about 3 decades ago: The only concern of a photographer passing the security check when travelling by airplane was that the film doesn’t get damaged when it was x-rayed. They were letting your photo bag run through a machine, and the whole procedure took only a couple of seconds. Nothing bad was happening also to films, but the newest scanners soon got a sticker claiming that the x-raying was “film safe”. Then I wasn’t carrying so much equipment with me as these days, therefore I can’t report more details from my own experience. However, I can recall about several flights back in 80s and 90s when I had “electronic devices” in my hand luggage, such as a walkman, that the security checks were targetting only items completely prohibited for carrying on board, such as weapons, amunition, inflamable materials, etc.

Then the terror acts of 9/11 happened. Allegedly, the hijackers of the aircrafts were armed with knives. In consequence, also items that not only are but even resemble a knife – scissors, nail files, etc. – were prohibited in carry-on baggage. Once when I was flying from Nuremberg to Kiev via Paris I forgot a small Victorinox knife in a pocket of my coat. It passed the security check in Nuremberg without any problems. In Paris they found it and confiscated.

My luggage before check-in at an airport.

My luggage before check-in at an airport.

Subsequently the paranoia of security policy makers and of airport companies was only growing. In the next years, they prohibited to carry liquids on board – claiming that they may be used for mixing a bomb. Then they told that someone attempted to smuggle an explosive material through security check in shoe soles. Since then, in many airports you have to take off your shoes, so that they x-ray them while you are walking barefooted through a magnetic scanner.

Today, if you want to travel by airplane, you have to lay off your privacy and sense of shame. More sophisticated person scanners were developed and introduced in some large airports, such as Amsterdam Schiphol. First they were showing the body of the person scanned along with the objects he or she has in the pockets. After protests, this was changed, and now the security staff sees only a standardised shape of a man or woman with the suspicious areas marked. Of course, you have to take out everything from your pockets and to remove the belt from your trousers before that procedure. Nonetheless, after scanning personal search follows: You are being pawed.

Travelling by airline that was once a pleasure and a great experience has become in this century just an unpleasant procedure that one needs to go through in order to get to a certain place on the planet. Comfort and luxury remained in the past; in the 21st century, airports and flights are associated more with harassments by security staff and insane regulations. Were that terrorists, or airport companies, or security firms who have made and continue making personal rights and comfort of passengers subordinate to prevention of supposed security risks? Since regulations and procedures are different at every airport, I doubt that universal requirements and standards exist for this. It looks like airport companies or even the security firms that they hire define checking procedures according to what they believe to be adequate. I travel several times a year through the same airports and observe that the procedures change very frequently and without any obvious reasons. In the same transit airport that you passed flying somewhere the security check may be completely different when you’ll be returning in a few days. In fact, I can’t remember that the procedure was two times the same when I was travelling in the past years since 2001.

Today the airport security staff doesn’t search only for prohibited items anymore. It appears that they don’t know themselves what to search for, hence they search for everything that they consider to be dangerous. What is just a short unpleasant routine check for the majority of passengers for professional travellers carrying “non-standard” items in hand luggage is often a much more complicated and annoying procedure.

Usually a photographer would take as much equipment as possible in hand luggage on board – not only because it is fragile and costs a lot but also to reduce the weight of the main luggage that normally is limited to only 3kg in the economy class. Although the weight of the hand luggage is limited too (usually to 5-12kg), it is rarely being controlled by airlines – particularly if the size of the bag doesn’t exceed the officially allowed.

I always carry lenses and camera bodies only in hand luggage. Sometimes these are flashes and other electronic devices. Of course, if I have a laptop computer on the trip, I also bring it with me on board. I pack all this as compact as possible in order not to attract attention and because only one bag is allowed in hand luggage. Including the weight of the container (bag or case) my hand luggage usually weighs around 15kg, i.e. much more than officially allowed. However, even when they noticed that at check-in, in KLM and Lufthansa they allowed me this overweight agreeing that these items can’t be put in the main baggage. Then I was either requested to give the bag to stewards on boarding so that they keep it on appropriate place during the flight or to take out some items and put into other bag thus making the weight of each bag to fit the allowed limit. When I travel together with my wife, I take even more equipment in hand luggage in a second bag. Even then the weight of both bags usually exceeds the limit however.

Of course, my hand luggage that is full of electronics always attracts attention during airport security checks, but every time to very different extent. To reach a destination outside the EU, I always need to change the airplane in Amsterdam, Paris, Frankfurt. Sometimes there are even further transit airports on my way. In each of them not only the procedure but also the security regulations are different. In Africa and Asia the whole luggage is being run through scanner and after that usually inspected manually three times – when you enter the airport building, by customs, before boarding. Usually they want to see every time all that you have in your bags because photographic equipment looks suspicious on their monitors. I am sure that not only photographers but any professionals travelling with equipment are suffering these multiple controls. I am also sure that many such people go to countries like Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia or Tajikistan, but neither airport officials nor airlines seem to care about their comfort. Before you take your sit in the airplane, you have at some airports two or three times to take off your shoes, to put everything out of your pockets, to take off and on the belt, to pull the laptop of the bag… Then because the content is still looking suspicious (of course!) you have to open your bag and let the security man take out everything and control every item. This is what they usually find in my hand luggage: 8 lenses, 2 camera bodies, 2 flashes, remote flash triggers, remote camera triggers, satellite phone, mobile phone, laptop, dozens of rechargeable batteries, foldable solar panel and battery, binocular, cables, battery chargers, a couple of two-way radios, GPS… You can imagine what questions are asked by security staff and custom officers in such countries as Russia, Uzbekistan or Cuba. Even in Amsterdam when they see my luggage this makes their day: They inspect every piece of it asking what is it for.

When I was passing the Amsterdam airport this month on my way back from Central Asia they even went further – requesting me to take all items out and to put them on trays. Since my wife was with me, we had two bags. Even tripod heads were in hand luggage – not because they are fragile but because their are expensive. They requested me also to put them on a tray: At my remark that it isn’t electronic equipment the man who was checking my bag reacted that it is an item that is “looking massive”. (Hence, “massive” items in your luggage are now also under general suspicion!) As always, I also put everything that was in my pockets on a tray: iPhone, keys, wallet…; I took my watch off my hand and the belt off my trousers. Then I walked through the scanner: Only underwear, socks, shoes, trousers and shirt were on me… However, as usually in this airport, it ringed. Then, of course, a security man felt up every part of my body with his hands. I one day there’ll be a crook who would invent explosive underwear, would they make passengers to take off their pants and bras for inspection?

Indeed, what should come next: How far this paranoia and the harassments during security control in airports may go? This is what I am always thinking when I am travelling by airlines. Why there aren’t any globally valid rules and guidelines for security control? What sense do all the insane precautions in Schiphol Amsterdam have when the control of the flights that are landing there is much more slack at airports of departure? Why the same passengers with the same luggage are being controlled up to three times before they reach the aircraft? Is theoretical reducing (not completely avoiding!) of the risk of a terrorist incident really so much more important than comfort and privacy? Or are that just security firms who are making profit?

To my Russian speaking readers:

В рамках фотопроекта, начатого два года назад, я планирую очередную поездку в Эфиопию в конце декабря 2014 – начале января 2015. Общая продолжительность – 2 недели, из которых 10 дней отводится на съёмки в горах Бале на юго-востоке страны. Основным объектом съёмки является эфиопский волк (Canis simensis), находящийся под угрозой вымирания вид семейства собачьих, эндемик Эфиопии. Вся мировая популяция этого вида насчитывает менее 400 особей, из которых две трети обитают в горах Бале.

Данный сезон выбран специально, так как в это время недавно родившиеся щенки начинают выходить из логова. Это даёт возможность снимать этих пугливых животных с достаточно близкого расстояния в несколько десятков метров. В остальное время года волки не подпускают к себе ближе чем на 200-300 метров. Кроме того, в это время года в этой местности уже заканчивается дождливый сезон, но ещё не начался засушливый. Поэтому флора особенно богата, а пейзажи особенно красивы.

(Уже отснятый материал в менее благоприятный сухой сезон можно увидеть здесь:

Ориентировочные даты поездки: 25.12.2014 – 08.01.2015

С подробным описанием планируемой поездки можно ознакомиться на этой странице:

Хочу особо подчеркнуть: Это не фототур, которым я руковожу. Я отправляюсь на фотосъёмки и приглашаю вас присоединиться в качестве спутника, разделив со мной расходы. Максимальное количество участников – 4 человека. Один из них – я. Поездка состоится при количестве участников от одного до четырёх.

Если вы заинтересовались или у вас появились дополнительные вопросы, со мной можно связаться в любое время одним из многих способов: через этот форум (послав личное сообщение или ответив на этот пост), по электронной почте (адрес указан на сайте на станице “Контакт” –, через Фейсбук, Твиттер, Гугл+…

Photographing the Gallotia lizards – Part 2: Gallotia bravoana

The access to the area with the remaining population of Gomera Giant Lizard (Gallotia bravoana) was relatively unrestricted although this species is listed as critically endangered. This place — Risco de la Mérica (La Mérica Rock) — is right behind Playa del Inglés — a popular beach of Valle Gran Rey. It has a very distinctive pyramidal shape and therefore is easy to find. It is also on any map of La Gomera with a scale of 1:40 000 or less, along with the breeding station of the conservation project “Centro de Recuperacion del Lagarto Gigante de la Gomera” (or “Lagartario”) which is right in front of the rock. The entire area north of Playa del Inglés is officially protected as a nature reserve. The access to it is open to everyone who obeys the usual rules for such conservation areas — “Do not litter”, “Do not disturb wildlife”, “Do not make fire”, etc. — which are also stated on an information board placed at the beach.

Risco de la Mérica - terra typica and the entire distribution area of Gomera Giant Lizard (Gallotia bravoana). The information board is telling about a conservation project supported by the EU. One of the aims of this project was building a fence in front of the habitat of the lizards. This fence collapsed after the project was finished, and the protection area was looking abandoned when I visited it.
Risco de la Mérica – terra typica and the entire distribution area of Gomera Giant Lizard (Gallotia bravoana). The information board is telling about a conservation project supported by the EU. One of the aims of this project was building a fence in front of the habitat of the lizards. This fence collapsed after the project was finished, and the protection area was looking abandoned when I visited it.

I stayed in a hotel nearby for 5 days and could reach the rock within a few minutes. I made 3 excursions to it attempting to find the lizards. The wall where the lizards live is looking west. In the morning this slope is cold because it is completely within a shadow of the rock. The sun starts coming out to this side of the rock at 10 a.m., and in this season at noon it is already burning with full power. There was no sense to come earlier than 10:00 a.m. or later than 11:00 a.m., i.e. there was only 1 hour for work — when, according to my estimation, the lizards might be basking and not hiding.

View at La Mérica rock (Risco de La Mérica) through a window of my hotel room — the terra typica of Gallotia bravoana and the stronghold of the last population of this species.
View at La Mérica rock (Risco de La Mérica) through a window of my hotel room — the terra typica of Gallotia bravoana and the stronghold of the last population of this species.

The rock is in reality larger than it appears when you are looking at it from the town. The base of it is completely covered by debris that you have to pass to reach the the stony wall and to start climbing to the levels where the lizards live. It is very difficult to walk on this field of smaller and larger stones, and I needed about an hour to cross it.

The wall is steep but not really vertical, i.e. anyone in good physical shape should be able to climb at least the lower half of it even without special equipment. The upper half is steeper but also not vertical. Most of it is free of vegetation. Some green plants persist only on ledges that are very easy to recognise even when you are standing at the bottom of the rock. Since adult gallotias of this species are strictly vegetarian these ledges can be the only places on the rock where they come to feed. Therefore it appeared logical to search there.

I reached the lowest of them carrying the backpack with photo equipment. Without this heavy load I could climb even higher. To be able to do get also the equipment on the rock one would need a ropes, nails and hooks. It should be also wise to wear body and head protection (helmet). I had nothing of that stuff. Therefore I stopped climbing when I arrived at the second such ledge and recognised that the slope was getting steeper. Leaving the backpack and climbing without it didn’t make much sense because I came to photograph the lizards. To continue without ropes and protection also appeared too dangerous. Therefore I searched the places with green that I had access to. After that I sat down on the highest ledge that I managed to reach and started waiting for the sun to shine at this place. It was 10:30 a.m., but the entire western side of the rock was in a deep shadow. One hour had to pass till the sunshine reached the place where I was sitting. It was quickly getting hot. I started searching again because it looked like the only time when the lizards, if there were any, should come out for feeding.

View from the habitat of G. bravoana at Punta de la Calera, Playa del Inglés and “Lagartario” - the breeding station. This photo was taken at 10:25 a.m. As you see, this side of the rock was still entirely in a deep shadow.
View from the habitat of G. bravoana at Punta de la Calera, Playa del Inglés and “Lagartario” – the breeding station. This photo was taken at 10:25 a.m. As you see, this side of the rock was still entirely in a deep shadow.

I searched very carefully all places with green vegetation that I could reach and was also using a binocular to look at the places that were higher. Unfortunately, I discovered neither lizards nor any other animals. The area appeared almost lifeless. Near noon the entire western side of Risco de la Mérica stood in bride sunshine and the stones rapidly got extremely hot. I could not believe that any lizards would stay on surface in these hours. It was also the time when lizards of the common species — G. caesaris — were disappearing, too. Even if G. bravoana don’t hibernate in this season, their daily period of activity should be limited to a couple of hours. Since such large lizards need much food and since the green plants are rare in their habitat, it appears to me unlikely that one or two hours would be enough time for finding and eating them. A lizard also needs some time for basking because its body has to reach certain temperature before the animal can feed.

Breeding station of a conservation and reintroduction project for Gomera Giant Lizard (Gallotia bravoana). Just behind it - the habitat of the only existing population of this species.
Breeding station of a conservation and reintroduction project for Gomera Giant Lizard (Gallotia bravoana). Just behind it – the habitat of the only existing population of this species.

I have no doubts that I was searching in the right place. The ropes that were hanging on the rock and that the researchers were using as climbing aid were another confirmation of this. Since I didn’t find even young individuals of this species who probably eat insects, I suppose that the lizards weren’t active at all in this hottest period of the year. Since the entire wild population of this species is estimated as 150-200 individuals and since this south-western wall of Risco de la Mérica is the entire distribution area of it, I can’t believe that the lizards were there and active but I’ve just overseen them. Therefore I have two recommendations for someone willing to find the giant lizards on La Gomera and for me if I should decide to go there again. First, the season should be colder — either spring or autumn, or even winter. Second, the search should be tried higher on the rock. Of course, it should make sense to contact an expert — a staff of the breeding station, or someone who conducted a research of this species.

To be continued in Part 3: Gallotia intermedia.

Photographing the Gallotia lizards – Part 1: Tenerife and La Gomera, 2012

The wildlife of the Canary Islands is scarce. No endemic mammals live there except bats. The largest mammals are introduced rabbits and domestic goats who now live free in the mountains. There are some interesting endemic species of birds, including the famous Atlantic Canary (Serinus canaria), the ancestor of the domestic Canary bird, which is very common. More exotic looking birds, such as parrots, either escaped from captivity or came from nearby Africa, and live also free on these islands. The proximity of Africa also explains the relative richness of the invertebrate fauna of the Canaries.

The focus of my interest and photography efforts was this time on Canarian herpetofauna which is pretty unique. All native species of reptiles are endemics of the islands. Amphibians were originally absent there, but now populations Stripeless Tree Frog (Hyla meridionalis) exist on all 7 islands of the archipelago. This species is widely spread on the European continent and was introduced to the Canaries in the recent history. Native species of snakes and turtles are also absent. Unfortunately an allian species of snake is found on Gran Canaria — Californian King Snake (Lampropeltis getula) — that now threatens the endemic fauna, particularly the lizards.

Certainly, lizards are the most exciting and unique group of vertebrates on the Canary Islands. Around 16 species of them are currently recognised there, and all are endemics. Most species, or subspecies, are endemic to a particular island, but, unfortunately, some of them were brought from there to the neighbour island in the recent past — most probably as “passengers” on ferries.

Western Canaries Lizard

I concentrated my activities on true lizards of the endemic genus Gallotia. Only 7 species of them are currently recognised which can be found only on the Canary Islands. I decided to make a small project consisting of three or four trips with a goal to photograph, if not all, then at least most of them in the wild. Chances for that are quite good, except two species — La Gomera Giant Lizard (Gallotia bravoana) and El Hierro Giant Lizard (G. simonyi) — that are bred in captivity at special farms, and are difficult to access in the wild.

Interestingly, populations of all three rarest species of Gallotia that are regarded as closer relatives — G. simonyi, G. bravoana, G. intermedia — are remaining only on the western and southern coast of the island each of these species is native to — El Hierro, La Gomera, Tenerife. I haven’t yet seen any scientific theory explaining why it is so. Did these species ever live on other sides of those islands? If so, why did they remain only in the south-west? Certainly, there should be an ecological reason. If it would be found, it may also explain why the attempts to artificially establish their new populations in other places were failing. Obviously, the habitats of all these species are very similar: steep, almost wall-like slopes of high rocks, facing the ocean, with scarce vegetation. The ecological specialisation should have been an obstacle for their wide distribution on the islands, unlike the other two species of Gallotia that are very common throughout Tenerife — G. galloti — and La Gomera, and El Hierro — G. caesaris. These and other two species — G. stehlini and G. atlantica — are ecologically much more flexible, and therefore evolutionary more successful.

When I was planning the destinations of this trip, the main reason why I chose Tenerife and La Gomera was the existence of 2 species of Gallotia on each of them, with 2 distinctive subspecies of one of them — G. galloti — on Tenerife. I thought that with some luck I would photograph 5 taxons of these lizards in one trip. Unfortunately, that were only 3 at the end.

I suspect three reasons why I failed to find both most interesting species — the “giant lizards” of La Gomera and of Tenerife. The first and most important reason was the season: It had been an extremely hot and dry summer; very few green plants were remaining. Even in less hot places than rocks I was seeing not so many individuals even of common species. I suppose therefore that the majority of lizards were hiding continuously from the sun or even hibernating. The second reason was the difficulty of the terrain that I underestimated in my planning. When I was seeing those habitats on photographs, of course, I was understanding that G. bravoana and G. intermedia live in a rocky area, but I didn’t recognise that to photograph them one would need to literally climb walls. If I knew that I would need it, I would have prepared myself for this. The third reason was my limited knowledge of the places where to search for these lizards. Ideally, there should be a local guide or a consultant. I didn’t know myself such an expert and had no time to find one because the decision to go to these region was made quite spontaneously. Therefore, there was nobody during this trip who could help me with exact knowledge of localities where the lizards can be found.

To be continued in Part 2: Gallotia bravoana.

I am looking for 3 travel partners to join me on my next trip to Central Asia

If you are a nature photographer or a nature photography enthusiast, come with me to one of remote and rarely visited by foreigners corners of Tajikistan.


This season is the best for photography of Tien-Shan Brown Bear, and good for Siberian Ibex and Tajik Marhor (a.k.a. Screw-horned Goat – a critically endangered species whose last population still remains only in this area). My main goal will be photography of these subjects. Other participants of the trip will be able to chose photography subjects according to own preferences and priorities.

Photographing Marhors, or Screw-horned Goats, is my main goal for this trip. Here you see a photograph that I made during my trip in July 2013 when the season wasn't favourable.

Photographing the last population of Marhors, or Screw-horned Goats, is my main goal for this trip. Here you see a photograph that I made during my trip in July 2013 when the season wasn’t favourable.


This short trip goes to an area at Peak Julius Fučik and near Pyanj River at the Tajik-Afghan border (marked with red dot on the map below).

The red circle indicates the destination of the trip I plan in 2014

The red circle indicates the destination of the trip I plan in 2014

The place where we are going to stay is situated near Afghan-Tajik border on the mountains at the right bank of Pyanj River, in vicinity of Peak Julius Fučik.

The place where we are going to stay is situated near Afghan-Tajik border on the mountains at the right bank of Pyanj River, in vicinity of Peak Julius Fučik.


The trip will last for only one week (7 days) – between March 24 and April 6, 2014. The final dates have to be agreed between the participants. I chose this season because it is optimal for photography of bears, very good for landscapes and good for ungulates. Therefore these three subjects can be covered in this one trip.


With 4 persons participating, the trip is going to cost each of us around 1400 USD which is a fixed price requested for local organisation and logistics: around 200$/day x 7 days (are to be payed to local organisers upon arrival). This includes accommodation, meals (full board), transportation on road, services of a highly experienced guide, if necessary, also services of porters and helpers on terrain. This relatively high cost per person per day has the following reasons:

  1. The location we are going to is a private game reserve. The prices for stay and work there are set by its owners. It is one of few places in Tajikistan where it is almost guaranteed that you photograph a bear. It is also the only one place in this country and one of few in the world where opportunities to photograph marhors are guaranteed.
  2. The activities of every photographer have to be tailored for his needs. There will be no such thing as group of photographers walking together and photographing the same subjects. Instead everyone will receive personal services.

Alcohol drinks, personal expenses (shopping, cigarettes, medicine, etc.), personal preferences (such as special food and drinks), tips are not included and have to be payed extra.

Additionally we may need some money on the arrival and departure days (for food, etc.) – not more than 50 or 100$ per day. However, it depends on whether we will spend some time in the city or go directly to the location. In the last case no extra costs have to be expected.

A return flight from Europe to Dushanbe or Kulob costs around 360-700€ depending on the city you fly from. A flight from US (East Coast) should cost around 1000$. A tourist visa to Tajikistan costs around 60US$.

I expect the total cost of this trip for travellers from Europe not to exceed 1800€ (including flight).

What to expect

  • Opportunity to photograph the 3 species of mammals mentioned above at a distance of 50-100m. (Note: Of course, as with any wildlife, it is a matter of luck how close you get to the subject: It may be closer or farther than this.)
  • With some luck, there are chances for sighting or even for photography of Snow Leopard and Asian Porcupines.
  • Good opportunities for bird photography.
  • Fantastic scenery – great opportunities for landscape photography.
View at Pianj River and the mountains in Afghanistan

View at Pianj River and the mountains in Afghanistan

Alpine meadow at Fučik Peak

Alpine meadow at Fučik Peak

View at Fučik Peak.

View at Fučik Peak.

View from Tajik bank of Pyanj River at an abandoned village in Afghanistan.

View from Tajik bank of Pyanj River at an abandoned village in Afghanistan.

What will you need

The minimum requirements are the following:

  • A camera with a telephoto lens (minimum 300-400 mm), if you are interested in wildlife photography, and a wide-angle lens (for landscapes). If you aren’t going to photograph but only are interested in watching wildlife, you’ll need a binocular.
  • You have to be reasonably fit but no special physical training or skills (such as mountaineering) are necessary. It will be possible to choose for you personally such daily activities that will match your preferences and physical condition. However, to get the best results from this trip you should be able to walk for 3-5 hours at altitudes of 1000 – 2500 m above sea level and to climb (by walking) mountains and hills with stony and rocky slopes of  25-45°.
  • The accommodation and meals will be provided by a local family in their house that they maintain as a base for foreign hunting tourists. It is a stone building, but not a five-stars hotel. You should be open-minded to accept some reduced comfort and tolerant to local customs and traditional way of life.
  • Good hiking shoes – suitable for walk on rocky terrain. You may also find hiking poles helpful.
  • Warm cloths – for temperature down to -10°C – and windy weather.
  • Some knowledge of English or German – to be able to communicate with me and other members of our group.
  • Insurances: It’s up to you which insurances you will have when you go on this trip. I would recommend to get at least a good health insurance.

What you will not need

The following isn’t required for this trip:

  • Tent.
  • Sleeping bag and mat.
  • Camping utilities, such as stove, dishes, etc.
  • Knowledge of local language.
  • Own food supplies (except maybe some special food that you would like to have for your own)


Although the area this trip goes to is in immediate proximity to Afghanistan, it is absolutely safe. Tajikistan is a very peaceful country inhabited by very friendly and polite people. It is separated from Afghanistan by Pyanj River – a broad and very quick stream that is almost impossible to cross, particularly in this season. Afghanistan is a very big country, and extremist activities and political instability are focused in other parts of its territory than the area at the border to Tajikistan.

Please note: This is not a photo tour that I am leading. I organise this trip for my own photography work and finance it for myself with my private money. To reduce its cost for me, I am inviting not more than 3 persons interested in photography or wildlife watching in this region to join me as a partner and to share expenses. No payments in advance will be required.

Everyone interested in this trip is welcome to contact me via personal messaging on this site or using contact information on my website: