Day 6 in Botswana – August 15, 2017

On day 6 – August 15, 2017 – we initially observed a banded mongoose digging a trench without safety cones and trench shoring. Clearly, an OSHA violation. Banded mongooses are sociable creatures and are found in troops of up to 50 individuals. The sizes of the territories or home ranges depend greatly on the availability of food and the conditions of the area. The food of a banded mongoose includes a diversity of creatures such as insects, small reptiles such as lizards, amphibians and birds and their eggs. They also take small rodents and scavenge at times. A photograph of the banded mongoose we observed is presented below.

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Subsequently we observed an elephant come down to a pond on the Okavango Delta for a drink of water (see the two photographs below). As you can see, this was a thirsty elephant.

_56A2915.jpg_56A2929.jpgWe also observed an elephant with a damaged tusk (see the photograph below).

_56A3305.jpgSome facts about tusks. First, all African elephants grow tusks, but only some male Asian elephants have tusks. Second, no two tusks are alike; researchers who track elephants use the appearance of the tusks, along with the ears, to identify individual elephants. Third, if a tusks breaks, it will not grow back. Tusks are teeth and just like our teeth, if one is broken, it stays broken. But unlike our teeth, a tusk can continue growing from the root if that isn’t damaged. It’s not unusual to see an elephant with only one tusk because the other was injured to the point that it stopped growing. Fourth, we can tell an elephant’s age by the length of its tusks. Fifth, after big tuskers are killed off by poaching, it artificially creates a larger pool of elephants with small tusks or none at all. In recent decades, several African parks have seen an uptick in the number of elephants being born without tusks.

We also observed elephants giving themselves mud baths (see the photograph below). Mud baths serve a critical purpose for elephants. Under the harsh African sun, the heat and ultraviolet radiation can be deadly, and with their few hair and sweat glands, they have to find other ways to cool off. Romping around in mud or spraying mud on their skin not only cools them down, but provides a protective layer to shield their body from the sun’s rays and it is also relief them from insect bites.

_56A3317.jpgSimilarly, we observed elephants throwing dust on themselves (see the photograph below). Elephants like to play in the dirt, and for good reason! Though their hide looks tough, elephants have sensitive skin that can get sunburned.When they throw dust onto themselves, it is done not only to help cool down but also protect the skin from insects and parasites.

_56A3470.jpgAnd later in the day, we observed a roan antelope with oxpeckers (the birds) eating insects (probably ticks) that it found on the roan antelope. Oxpeckers graze exclusively on the bodies of large mammals.

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Day 5 in Botswana – August 14, 2017

Today, we ventured from the camp at Khwai River, Okavango Delta. The Khwai Tented Camp is located on a community-run concession on the eastern border of the Moremi Game reserve, on the banks of a lagoon flowing into the Khwai river, which acts as a boundary between the reserve and the community area.  Besides the day-time drives which can feature Africa’s big attractions – lion, leopard, wild dog, elephant, buffalo, hippo and giraffe – guests at Khwai Tented Camp are able to explore nature after sunset with a night drive. This activity is not usually permitted in the National Parks or Game Reserves, and allows an up close and personal experience with some of Africa’s nocturnal and / or more elusive animals. The camp also provides the opportunity to explore the great stands of leadwood and mopane woodlands as well as open grasslands and banks of the Khwai River on foot.

The sunrises at the Khwai River, Okavango Delta were gorgeous as the photograph below demonstrates.

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Besides the beautiful sunrise, we also saw an elephant and a leopard.  Botswana is home to one-sixth of the world’s elephant population. They often are found on the seasonal fringes of the Okavango Delta, especially in the Moremi Game Reserve, which forms part of the Okavango. The Okavango Delta forms part of the home range of thousands of African elephants. They migrate in their thousands between the Okavango, Linyanti, Savute and Chobe regions. They are drawn by the need to find water and fresh food. The annual flooding of the Okavango Delta takes place in the driest part of the year when food and water are scarce; so many thousands of elephants pass through the region. There are, however, elephants that are resident all year round. Mostly small bachelor herds that stay around the swamps. These bachelor herds may only join the larger female led herds to mate when a female is in estrus.

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The remainder of the day was engaged with an observation of a leopard. As the photograph below indicates, any type of cat likes their scratching post. The Moremi Game Reserve is one of the best places to observe leopards. Leopards are elusive, and a leopard sighting is always a highlight of a Botswana safari. Leopards will spend the majority of their time on the ground, and not in trees. Leopards will pull their kills into trees, however, whenever needed to keep them out of reach of other predators, which we later observed in Zambia.

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Day 4 in Botswana- August 13, 2017

On Day 4 we moved from our tented camp at Xakanaxa to a tented camp at Khwai. This camp was located east of the camp at Xakanaxa, and still in the Moremi Game Reserve and the Okavango Delta.

We were all moved via a Land Rover 4 x 4 over dirt and paved roads. Even though we were on the move, we still observed wildlife alongside the road and off the road including an elephant, close-up, a water buffalo, a variety of birds, and a pride of lions including cubs. In making this trip, we passed a number of villages in Botswana. Many were simple grass huts, such as the photograph below. The bathrooms were located outside, in this case at the left of the photograph. While this is “foreign” to western practices, Botswana is consistently ranked as one of the strongest-governed countries in Africa, especially in its role in containing corruption, regionally ranking the highest in both the World Bank assessment and Rule of Law Index. Botswana believes and practices ‘Ntwa kgolo ke ya molomo’, which means ‘disputes are resolved effectively by debating them to a conclusion, and not by going to war’.” The country is known for having strong personal freedoms, scoring high in both freedom of the press and personal property rights. Conservation has also been a strength of Botswana’s government, which has led to tourism driving 12% of overall GDP.

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While on the move, we encountered an elephant using the same dirt road that we were driving on. The elephant, needless to say, got the right of way. The elephant gave us a warning by turning and facing us head on, with its ears extended and held out at its sides with its head held high and tusks raised. The elephant is trying to make itself look bigger and intimidate us. It worked. A photograph of this elephant is presented below.

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We also observed a Little Bee-Eater in the process of eating a bee. Little Bee-Eaters are a photogenic birds, not only because of their striking colours, but they also have an interesting character. Little Bee-Eaters often fly in flocks of four and five and, when they are not hunting as a team, they are usually posing together on a branch. Bee-eaters obviously eat bees. While they will pursue all types of flying insects, honeybees predominate their diet. Indeed, the world range of the bee-eaters is nearly congruent to the native world range of the four species of honeybees.

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We observed puku antelopes. (see the photograph below). Puku are easily overlooked as they can be confused with lechwe or impala. They are slightly smaller in size and stouter in general appearance than the impala. Puku are nearly uniformly red. The males have smaller horns than the lechwe and impala.They occur in the dry fringes of swampland and rivers and are never far from water. Like their close relatives, the lechwe, they live in segregated herds with a territorial male separating thebachelors from the female herd. If, however, the bachelors are submissive their presence in the territory is tolerated.

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And we observed a saddle billed stork (see the photograph below). This is a huge bird that regularly attains a height of 59 inches, a length of 56 inches, and a 7.9 to 8.9 foot wingspan. It is probably the tallest of the storks, due in no small part to it extremely long legs. The long bill measures from 10.7 to 14.2 inches. The sexes can be readily distinguished by the golden yellow irises of the female and the brown irises and dangling yellow wattles of the male.It is spectacularly plumaged. The head, neck, back, wings, and tail are iridescent black, with the rest of the body and the primary flight feathers being white. The massive bill is red with a black band and a yellow frontal shield (the “saddle”). On the chest is a bare red patch of skin, whose colour darkens during breeding season.

_56A0844.jpgAfter the birds, we then encountered a pride of lions, including cubs. A series of photographs of the pride is presented below.

_56A1165.jpg_56A1197.jpg_56A1461.jpg_56A1006.jpgAnd lastly, we encountered an Italian tourist who had rented a 4 x 4, with a snorkel for getting though streams, and did what you would expect a male to do: to drive where you should not drive. He promptly got stuck.  We had to haul him out. Did not even bother to thank us; just drove on.

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Day Three – Botswana – August 12, 2017

This was the third day that I spent at the Moremi Game Reserve, the day of August 12, 2017. I had left Seattle on August 6; so this was one week after I had left Seattle.

The Moremi Game Reserve rests on the eastern side of the Okavango Delta and was named after Chief Moremi of the BaTwana tribe. The Moremi Game Reserve covers much of the eastern side of the Okavango Delta and combines permanent water with drier areas, which create some startling and unexpected contrasts. In the Moremi Reserve one experiences excellent views of savannah game as well as bird-watching on the lagoons. There are also thickly wooded areas. Although just under 1,900 square miles, the Reserve is surprisingly diverse, combining mopane woodland and acacia forests, floodplains and lagoons. 70% of the Reserve is consists of the Okavango Delta. A map of the Reserve is presented below. The city of Maun (the third largest city in Botswana with a population of 56,000), the city where the plane landed that I took from Johannesburg, is in the bottom right corner of the map. After I landed, I traveled to and camped at the Xakanaxa area of Moremi Game Reserve in the famous Okavango Delta. That is in the top area, on the right, near the Third Bridge. We stayed at this camp on the nights of August 11, 12, and 13.

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On this day, August 12, we were fated to see much the same as the previous day: wildebeests, zebras, ostriches, red lechwe, giraffes, hippopotamuses, boars, wild dogs, and a variety of bird life.

Pictured below is a red lechwe. The Lechwe is a medium-sized antelope, closely related to the Waterbuck. The ram stands about 3 feet at the shoulder and has a mass of about 175 pounds The hindquarters are noticeably higher than the forequarters. Reddish brown on the upper parts and flanks and white on the under sides and inner legs. The fronts of the forelegs and of the hocks are black and it has white patches around the eyes. Only the rams carry lyrate-shaped horns. The hooves are distinctly elongated, which is an adaptation to the wet and soggy substrate of their preferred habitat. In Southern Africa the Red Lechwe is found only in the Okavango swamps in Botswana and the Linyanti swamps of the Caprivi Strip, Namibia.

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Pictured below is one of the wild boars (or warthogs) we sighted, part of a family. Warthogs are day animals and spend most of their time looking for food. They are normally found in family groups. Warthogs have the peculiar habit of kneeling on the front knees while feeding and foraging. They shelter in burrows at night, which they enter tail first. The young may be taken by eagles and jackal with lion, hyaena, cheetah, leopard and crocodile being the main enemies of the adults.

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The picture below depicts a lilac breasted roller. The Lilac Breasted Roller feeds on grasshoppers, beetles, occasionally lizards, crabs, and small amphibians. They take prey from the ground. They make unlined nests in natural tree holes or in termite hills. Sometimes they take over woodpecker’s or kingfisher’s nest holes. They lay 2-4 white eggs, which are incubated by both sexes for 22-24 days. At 19 days the chicks are fully feathered and grayish brown. Rollers get their name from their impressive courtship flight, a fast, shallow dive from considerable elevation with a rolling or fast rocking motion, accompanied by loud raucous calls. All rollers appear to be monogamous and highly territorial.

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Pictured below is a southern yellow-billed hornbill and two grey go-away birds. The two grey go-away birds is a bold and common bird of the sub-saharan Africa, present in arid to moist, open woodlands and thorn savanna, especially near surface water such as that found in the Okavango Delta. They regularly form groups and parties that forage in tree tops, or dust bathe on the ground. Especially when disturbed, they make their presence known by their characteristically loud and nasal “kweh” or “go-way” calls. The outhern yellow-billed hornbill feed mainly on the ground, where they forage for seeds, small insects, spiders and scorpions. This hornbill species is a common and widespread resident of dry thornveldt and broad-leafed woodlands. They can often be seen along roads and water courses. The hornbill beak is huge in comparison to its body and can account for up 1/6th of the entire body length.

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The bird pictured below is a Greater Blue-eared Starling. It breeds from Senegal east to Ethiopia and south through Eastern Africa to northeastern South Africa and Angola. It is a very common species of open woodland bird,  but uncommonly striking to birders for whom the greater blu-eared starling is a magnificent bird with spectacular plumage.

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Pictured below is the Great White Egret. A Great White Egret normally has a yellow bill except for a short time when breeding, when it turns black. Also known as the common egret, large egret or great white egret or great white heron, this bird is a large, widely distributed egret. It builds tree nests in colonies close to water. The great egret stands up to 3.3 feet tall, this species can have a wingspan of 4.5 to 5.5 feet. Apart from size, the great egret can be distinguished from other white egrets by its yellow bill and black legs and feet, though the bill may become darker and the lower legs lighter in the breeding season. In breeding plumage, delicate ornamental feathers are borne on the back.

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Day 2 in Botswana – August 11, 2017

Today, we began to explore the Xakanaxa area of Moremi Game Reserve in the famous Okavango Delta, in the northwest area of Botswana. The Xakanaxa Lagoon is where the desert meets the delta, where waterways are surrounded by dense mopane forest and make for an excellent birding location.

Mopane (pronounced Mo-pa-ni), is the dominant tree in the wooded areas, in dense stands that provides a safe refuge for rare, timid, large antelopes, especially Greater Kudu. We encountered every type of mopane habitat – the towering cathedral woodlands called Xakanaxa (pronounced Ka-kana-ka), the classic climax mopane woodland and, in the drier and harsher habitats, extensive stretches of scrub mopane. Rainfall from the Angola highlands surges 745 miles (1,200 kilometers) into the Okavango Delta, creating a unique wetland that supports and sustains a huge diversity of wildlife.

Moremi lies on the eastern extremity of the Okavango Delta and has many types of habitats, including wide-open floodplains, marshes, ox-bow lakes, riverine forest, lagoons, papyrus-fringed channels, vast reed-beds of Miscanthus and Phragmites, woodlands, and savannah. The variety of habitats of the Okavango makes it a truly wonderful area, and all the major habitats and ecotones of the Okavango are preserved here. As a result of the extreme variation of habitats, the diversity of both mammals and birds is excellent. Moremi is among the best game reserves in Africa for viewing the endangered African Wild Dog, especially around Xakanaxa, which is also home to a large herds of African (Cape) Buffalo. The African Wild Dog’s range covers the territories of at least four prides of Lion, which we may see flanking the ever-moving herd of buffalo. Breeding herds of African Elephant move between their browsing areas in the mopane forests and the fresh water of the Okavango. Red Lechwe, one of the more unusual antelope species, is commonly found here.

On safari in Botswana, the best action and beautiful light is early in the morning and late in the afternoon until dusk. After morning game drives, we enjoyed camp-cooked lunch followed by a break. Then we went on an afternoon game drive to be in the field for the best light, as well as for the magic hour of dusk to dark when nocturnal animals become active.

One of the animals we saw was a herd of Kudu, a species of spiral-horned antelope. The kudu is one of the stateliest animals in Africa and in particular the male with its long spiral horns. Kudu can weigh as much as 420 to 600 pounds, and be as tall as 55″ at the shoulder.  See the photograph below.

2017_August _0224.jpgWe also saw a herd of Steenbok, a common antelope found in southern and western Africa. Steenbok are petite antelope. See the photograph below.

2017_August _0447.jpgAnd, at dusk, we saw a hippopotamus grazing on land. The common hippopotamus, or hippo, is a large, mostly herbivorous, semiaquatic mammal. The hippopotamus is considered to be very aggressive and has frequently been reported as charging and attacking boats. See the photograph below.

2017_August _0543.jpgElephants are commonly encountered in Botswana and Zambia. Botswana banned commercial game hunting in 2013. However, one of the long-term impacts of elephant poaching has been elephants being born tukless. In some areas 98% of female elephants now have no tusks, compared to between 2% to 6% born tuskless on average in the past. A photograph of an elephant we saw on this day is presented below.

2017_August _0644.jpgWe also saw zebras. In Botswana only the Burchell’s zebra occurs. The zebra is the national animal of Botswana. Zebra are generally migratory animals and in Botswana there are two annual migrations. The zebra of Botswana have a shadow brown stripe in the white stripe. This distinguishes them from the zebra of east Africa that do not have the shadow stripe. See the photograph below.

2017_August _9660.jpgAnd then we saw wildebeests, also called gnus. Wildebeest often in graze in mixed herds with zebras, which gives heightened awareness of potential predators. We observed a wildebeest grazing with a herd of zebras. There was a time when 500,000 wildebeest moved across the sands of the Kalahari in Botswana to graze on the nutritious grasses in the valleys of the Central Kalahari. This migration was second in sheer numbers only to the Great Migration of the Serengeti Ecosystem in East Africa. However, the wildebeest population of Botswana has dropped by more than 90% in the past twenty years. This results from an agreement with the European Union to buy Botswana’s beef on condition that the country controlled the movement of wildlife into the domestic herds’ ranges in an attempt to stem foot and mouth disease. What the government did was to erect a series of fences across Botswana. These were generally done without thought for the wildlife, such as the wildebeest. The fences have prevented the migration between the wetlands of the north and the dry central Kalahari after good rains when the Kalahari was lush and watered. A photograph of a wildebeests are presented below.

2017_August _9811.jpg And then we saw a herd of impalas. For predators, impalas are the McDonalds of the Serengeti – everybody eats there. In fact, on the previous day, we saw a partially eaten impala in a tree. The impala is the most widespread antelope in northern Botswana and, due to its abundance, this elegantly beautiful antelope is generally overlooked by visitors on safari – except when it is hanging in a tree or being eaten or chased.A photograph of the herd is presented below.

2017_August _9941.jpgAnd finally, the roads in Botswana are, in some instance, not meant for the faint of heart. Few of the roads (25%) are paved. You will need a 4 x 4 to travel in the national parks. The roads can be little more than soft sand, and without a suitable vehicle, that’s where you’ll stay. The photograph below indicates some of the problems we encountered in the Moremi Game Reserve in Botswana.

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Day 1 in Botswana – August 2017

I left for my trip to Botswana (and Zambia) on August 6, 2017 and did not arrive at the mobile tented camp in More, Botswana until August 10, 2017. I flew from Seattle to Amsterdam, Holland; Amsterdam to Johannesburg, South Africa; Johannesburg to Maun, Botswana; and Maun to the the Xakanaxa airstrip (a dirt airstrip) in the Moremi Game Reserve in Botswana.  I had overnight stays at Amsterdam and at Johannesburg.

Moremi Game Reserve is located in northern Botswana. The reserve was the first in Botswana to be declared as a reserve by a local tribe, in this case the BaTawana tribe. In 1963, the widow of Chief Moremi III set this land aside.  The area was later enlarged to encompass a greater portion of the Okavango Delta.  The Reserve occupies around 1,850 square miles. The habitats within the Reserve range from semi-arid mopane scrub (a locally abundant tree species), and wetter areas with mixed woodland, tall mopane woodland (also known as cathedral mopane), mixed woodland, riparian woodland and large grassland areas. The Reserve includes a dry peninsula; however, 70% consists of the Okavango Delta.

In the first three nights at the Moremi Game Reserve, I stayed at a mobile tented camp – Camp Moremi. Camp Moremi was a  rustic,  mobile tented camp (nothing permanent), with each tent providing an “en-suite bathroom” (no ceiling and open to the sky), cots, and a shower that consisted of an overhead bucket. In the morning and the afternoon, went on game drives conducted in open 4×4 safari vehicles.

After I arrived at Camp Moremi in the afternoon of August 10, we immediately left for a game drive in the Moremi Game Reserve. On our first game drive, we saw baboons, red lechwe (a medium-sized antelope), giraffes (the world’s tallest mammal), hippopotamuses, a leopard, wild dogs, and lions.  On this first game drive, I took 1,883 photographs.

One of the more interesting observations was a leopard, resting after an impala kill, at the bottom of a tree, after consuming some of the impala. The impala itself was resting on a branch in a tree besides the leopard. You can see the photograph of the leopard below. I took this photograph with a Canon 5D Mark IV, 100-400 lens at ISO 320, f11, and 1/60 second. The leopard did not move for a long period of time.

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After we left the leopard, we encountered a pack of wild dogs that were on the hunt. You can see the photograph of part of the pack below. The wild dog on the right was wearing a tracking collar. Wild dogs have been identified as an endangered species, with the current population  estimated at roughly 6,600 adults. The African wild dog has strong social bonds, stronger than those of lions and hyenas. The African wild dog lives in permanent packs consisting of 2 to 27 adults and yearling pups. The average pack size in  in Moremi Game Reserve contains an average of 8 to 9. The species differs from most others in that males remain in the natal pack, while females disperse. The African wild dog approaches prey silently then chases the prey in a pursuit clocking at up to 41 mph for 10 to 60 minutes. I took this photograph with a Canon 5D Mark IV, 100-400 lens at ISO 400, f11, and 1/500 second.

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We then encountered a group of female waterbucks. The waterbuck was described by Earnest Hemingway as ‘no more ruggedly handsome animal in all of Africa‘, and with its long forward-sweeping horns and large size (in males). These waterbucks were alert for carnivores, probably the wild dogs. I took this photograph with a Canon 5D Mark IV, 100-400 lens at ISO 160, f5.6, and 1/125 second.

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We then drove to the rural airstrip, and encountered lions mating on the airstrip. The lions were oblivious to us and to a plane that attempted to land. The plan had to abort the landing, circle around, “buzz” the lions on approach, and then circle around and land. Within a pride of lions, the territorial males are the fathers of all the cubs. When a lioness is in heat, a male will join her, staying with her constantly. The pair usually mates for less than a minute, but it does so about every 15 to 30 minutes over a period of four to five days. Lionesses have a gestation period of three and a half months. Lions live up to about 18 years old in the wild. I took this photograph with a Canon 5D Mark IV, 100-400 lens at ISO 400, f11, and 1/400 second.

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I took this second photograph of the lions with a Canon 5D Mark IV, 100-400 lens at ISO 400, f11, and 1/250 second.

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I took this third photograph of the lions with a Canon 5D Mark IV, 100-400 lens at ISO 400, f14, and 1/3200 second.

2017_August _8533And that was the afternoon.

Day Three – Carnivale di Venezia 2017 – February 19

As any photography workshop I have ever taken, we were up early today. We were at St. Marks Square by 6 am to photograph models. The models that are serious about Carnivale di Venezia were up early as well.The Venice Carnival is famous for its stunning masks and costumes. Different from other carnivals in the world, the majority of the costumes refer to the attire of the Venetian noblemen and women in the past. The Carnival is in fact one big historical re-enactment. The costumes are often excessively decorated with lots of attention for detail. Some are real pieces of art and required hours of work. You will notice that they often match one another, either by using similar colours or a matching design. This is especially the case for couples, but it is also done for families or small groups of friends.

It’s said that the Carnival of Venice was started from a victory by the  Venetian  Republic in the year 1162. In the honour of this victory, the people started to dance and gather in St. Marks Square. Apparently, this festival started on that period and became official in the Renaissance.  In the seventeenth century, the baroque carnival was a way to save the prestigious image of Venice in the world.  It was very famous during the eighteenth century. However, under the rule of the King of Austria, the festival was outlawed entirely in 1797 and the use of masks became strictly forbidden. After a long absence, the Carnival returned in 1979.  The Italian government decided to bring back the history and culture of Venice, and sought to use the traditional Carnival as the centerpiece of its efforts. Since then, approximately 3 million visitors come to Venice every year for the Carnival

The photographs below represent some of the more interesting models that I saw on this day.