What made you decide that being a safari guide was what you wanted to do?
That’s a great question to start with! The idea of becoming a safari guide was something that first popped into my mind when my cell mate and I were chatting about what we were planning to do when we got out of prison, and it just seemed like the natural, next step to take…Okay, maybe my real story is a little less interesting than that.
Truth be told, it was about the only thing that I ever dreamt of doing as a kid, and it took five years of studying in an unrelated field for me to realise that I only had one life, and the time was right to go and live out that childhood dream.
In 2006 I made the decision that after completing my BSc Honours degree in Geography and Environmental Management, I would take a year off and go become a guide for a little while. Take a few photos and basically just get this desire to live in the bush out of my system and then carry on with real life, find a job, meet my wife, get married and have kids…. Needless to say, it is now 2018 and this has turned into one very long gap year!
Your wildlife photos are amazing. How did you get into photography?
Strangely, that was also my cell mate who got me onto that! No, I cannot actually recall where the enjoyment of photography came from, but I know that when i got my first digital DSLR camera back in 2004, my interest in photography suddenly grew as I became immersed in the digital revolution.
Little did I know that a few short years later I would be spending all of my savings buying the bigger and better photographic toys that I had only ever dreamed of previously. If I am honest, it was actually my desire to be out in the bush taking photographs that drove me to making the decision to take the break from my studies and become a guide.
I guess I should have realised that was the logical course to follow when I started spending considerably more time participating in wildlife photographic forums on the internet than I did reading the scientific journals that I should have been reading during my final year of studies. Once living in the bush, and being presented with an endless stream of photographic opportunities, experience became my best teacher, and I think I learnt the most from the mistakes I made.
You also like to write? What are your favourite stories to tell?
During my first few years as a guide, I used to keep a little diary (very manly, I know!) of my daily sightings. After some time I decided that rather than having to tell my family what I was seeing and experiencing each day, I would start a daily blog about my sightings (with the accompanying photos), and so I did this for the lodge that I was working for at the time.
Over the years, the blog grew and grew, and eventually I was asked to contribute to blogs for several nature magazines and social media platforms. It was then that I started moving away from simply writing about the sightings to writing more about my experiences, my stories and some of my quirky takes on the bush.
In time, I was given a monthly column for Africa Geographic magazine, and I loved sharing my funnier moments in the bush with a receptive audience. I love laughing at myself, so some of my favourite stories to share are those where I have made a complete fool of myself, be it about my phobia of frogs (and subsequent ejection from the driver seat of the Land Rover I was in control of until a frog started climbing up my leg), or the way that animals have a love of doing the exact opposite of what I say they will do! I just love sharing my stories about game drives, they provide a way for people not living in Africa to share some of the experiences vicariously through me.
What is the most exciting/scary thing that has ever happened to you while living in the Timbavati?
I had spent many years bemoaning the fact that I didn’t have nearly as good-a-story to share as most guides had. Then, one fateful November afternoon I climbed off my vehicle to go and track a leopard’s drag mark with my tracker and that was when all that changed.
My tracker and I had split up to go and see where the drag mark went, but after walking around for a short while and seeing no mark, I realised that the kill must be somewhere between the vehicle and myself, so I turned around and there, not 10m away, was the dead impala – I knew it was dead as they don’t usually sleep with their legs in the air like that!
I whistled to my tracker to let him know I had found it, and we met up and started walking back to the Land Rover when, for a reason I still cannot explain, I decided to go and have a look at the carcass to see how much the leopard had eaten. I had taken one step when a nerve-wrecking growl emanated from the dead impala.
My focus shifted all of one meter to the right of the carcass to see the leopard lying there. Crouched. Poised. And suddenly rather pee’d off that I was showing interest in her carcass! The next few seconds will remain an eternal blur, but before I could start backing away from the scene to the nearby vehicle, she was already coming full-tilt in my direction!
Every muscle in my body wanted to run, and in fact, I managed to take one step towards “safety” when a clear and concise voice in my head said “don’t run”, and thankfully, my body listened! I turned back to face the leopard that was now less than ten meters away, and closing quickly.
A moment in time passed slowly when she looked like she might veer off to my left, but it was not to be, and a split second later she was smacking the ground about three feet away from my legs with her outstretched paws, whilst continuing to snarl her utter displeasure at me. It felt like an eternity, but after a few seconds of my shouting, clapping and dodgy dancing to ensure her claws couldn’t rip my calf muscles off my legs, she turned and ran off into the bush, leaving me at long last with a story to tell, and the need to get some new underwear!
What is your favourite subject to photograph and why?
It’s not frogs, I can tell you that! Despite my aforementioned encounter, I do still love leopards – possibly because it is very difficult to take a bad photo of one! And I would have to say that they do remain my favourite subject. Putting their unbelievable beauty aside, I think it is the fact that leopards are fairly active cats, even in the daylight, and that makes them so enjoyable to photograph. Even when they are not doing anything very active, the way that they can make the long limb of a Marula tree look so comfortable makes for great photographic opportunities.
For a very similar reason, I do also enjoy spending time photographing elephants, but they have the added advantage of having the most amazing textures in their thick, wrinkled skin that provides for a host of different photographic opportunities when spending time watching them.