Growing up many great conservationists inspired me, but the first to really impact my life was the late Austin Roberts. The zoologist, in his will and testament, asked that a suburban block be kept aside for birdlife. My childhood home was one block away from the Austin Robert’s Bird Sanctuary and this is where I spent a considerable part of my childhood, learning about and falling in love with nature and birds. It is wonderful for me to think that someone, who passed away before I was even born, has impacted my life so significantly. I am reminded of the old saying that it is on the shoulders of the giants who came before us, upon which we stand.
At my high school’s wildlife society I was privileged to listen to other wonderful conservationists talk, the likes of the late Kenneth Newman, Clive Walker and the late Dr Ian Player, who spearheaded ‘Operation Rhino’ and brought the rhino back from the brink of extinction in the sixties. Listening to Dr Player talk about his life of adventure and purpose, I decided that I too wanted to become a game ranger and a nature conservationist. While I have no formal training in photography, I am however a qualified Nature Conservationist and working now as a professional wildlife photographer, I see myself both as an artist and a conservationist. I believe that wildlife photographers all around the world have a vital role to play in nature conservation. Our cameras, and sometimes our accompanying words, are weapons that simply give wildlife a voice as we speak for those who cannot.
It is human nature to protect that which we love. This is hardwired into our very DNA and so; we do not need to be taught to protect the very things we love. Whenever a beautiful wildlife photograph is shared, an appreciation and love for that animal increases. Eventually, with the combined collective effort of photographers all around the world, the love, respect and appreciation for wild animals will grow to a point where people will simply refuse to let these animals disappear. This is the hope that I, a wildlife photographer in this modern world, cling to. I see myself, as we all should, as an ambassador for wild animals.
“Images have the power to affect how we feel about the natural world and therefore how we treat it.”
Having said all of the above, of course what is also often needed, on a more practical and urgent level, is money. Yes, finance that is channeled into powerful conservation projects that are making a change and a difference is definitely needed. As a wildlife photographer, I have a valuable commodity in the form of highly exclusive (1 of only 10) limited edition wildlife prints that can be sold or auctioned off. It therefore makes sense that I donate these prints to charities to help conserve the very animals that I spend my life photographing. But which charity or conservation projects should I donate to?
My plan was to find a conservation project that was small enough for me to be able to work alongside with and of course one that is really making a difference. I also wanted to back a project whose work I believed in and what better way to do this, than by having actually witnessed their conservation successes on the ground, with my own eyes. And so it came to pass that I became the official Conservation Ambassador for a lion project in Kenya called Rebuilding The Pride. The project operates in the south rift valley of Kenya, a place where I lived, and indeed where I cut my teeth as a wildlife photographer, back in 2004-2006. During that time there were only 12 or so lions in the area and I am happy to report that there are now many more (40 plus), and this is largely thanks to Rebuilding The Pride, who work alongside the local Maasai to help support and facilitate coexistence.
“Lions are the very image of majesty and indeed of Africa itself.”
These are no ordinary lions that we are trying to protect; they are free ranging lion, living outside of a formal park or national game reserve. A large percentage of Africa’s remaining lion population does in fact occur outside of protected parks and what a sad day it will be when the only lions left in Africa are the ones in parks, surrounded by dozens of safari jeeps and minivans. This cannot happen on our watch but one of the really sticky points around free ranging lion populations, revolves around conflict between lion and livestock, and this is exactly where Rebuilding The Pride comes into play:
Teams of lion monitors are deployed every day to track and find lion. This way the project is able to communicate to the villages and herders information about lion whereabouts and activity, and this in turn allows them to make educated decisions abut where to graze their livestock. Added to this service, Rebuilding The Pride operate a 24 hour hotline allowing the community to report lost livestock to the lion monitors, who then facilitate a rescue operation to return the lost animal to its rightful owner. Speed is of the essence as livestock must be rescued before lions find them and before the villagers come into contact with either lions or other dangerous game, like elephant and buffalo, while looking for their lost livestock (often in the dark).
The above-mentioned projects are just two ways in which the Rebuilding The Pride team are actively, and practically, working to make a difference. Currently we are raising money to buy a pick-up truck for the Rebuilding The Pride project so that lost livestock can be loaded effectively, and returned to the Maasai before conflict occurs. To date I have hosted 3 talks and exhibitions in Kenya and the USA, and managed to raise in excess of $25 000, through various fund raising initiatives for the Rebuilding The Pride projects. Through introducing the project to the Remembering Lions initiative and facilitating a trip to show the good work being done, I am happy to report that a further $32 000 was donated, which has been used to buy the aforementioned pick-up truck.
I also run photo safaris to the area and I have hosted 6 safaris to date, thereby actively reinforcing with the community, that their wildlife has a real and tangible value. If you would like to help and learn more about Rebuilding The Pride, and meet the lions, researchers and the Maasai, then please do get in touch. It is a wonderful photographic safari that promises a wild adventure far off the beaten track and also includes photographing flamingoes from a helicopter.
“Within the last 20 years or so lion numbers have fallen by almost half.”
In concluding I must just add that wildlife conservation is not only about protecting wildlife. It is as much about helping and conserving people as it is about saving animals. If human populations the world over, but especially those surrounding wildlife, are not looked after, then what hope does our planet or the wild animals inhabiting it really have? This is a key reason why I support Rebuilding The Pride as they work with both lion and people, helping ensure coexistence. It is also the reason why I often donate prints to charities that are not necessarily only wildlife based.
Only when people are being looked after can we guarantee that animals will be too. This is a simple fact outlined in Maslow’s hierarchy. Below is a list of some of the charities that I support through the donation and auctioning of my limited edition fine art prints and books. In most cases I handle the printing and shipping costs of the prints myself, which means that every cent raised has gone to the charity:
Game Ranger Association (ranger support)
Painted Wolf Wines (wild dog conservation)
Choc Cows (kids with cancer)
Mad charity (underprivileged education)
Rebuilding the Pride (lion conservation in Kenya)
Guild Cottage (to help sexually abused girls)
Philile Foundation (to build a school for the underprivileged)
Bethany Home (for school fees)
Fight With Insight (for troubled youth)
Lawyers Against Abuse (for gender based violence)
Remembering Wildlife (for rhino, elephant, great apes and lion conservation)
Pretoria Boys High (wildlife society book prizes)
The Boucher Legacy (rhino conservation – marketing material)
Children in the Wilderness (facilitating sustainable conservation of rural children in Africa)
Gondwana Conservation Foundation (Rhino conservation, children and community involvement)
Rhinos Without Borders (5% of the total RACK accommodation cost is paid over by the Oryx Conservation Fund, for all my safaris going to Great Plains properties)
Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation ($50 per client per safari is paid over by the Oryx Conservation Fund, excluding safaris going to Great Plains properties)
Wildlife Ranger Challenge In November 2020, Global Wildlife Conservation will host a sale of wildlife photography from 20 of the world’s leading wildlife photographers to support ranger teams in Africa that have been most severely hit by the economic implications of COVID-19. The lack of tourism has resulted in many rangers being furloughed or losing their jobs, leaving many families destitute and wildlife unprotected. This sale was suggested by a number of photographers who have spent their lives photographing species and ecosystems protected by rangers and are committed to helping during this difficult time. A full 100% of the proceeds will be distributed by the Wildlife Ranger Challenge, administered by Tusk Trust, to the rangers on the ground, providing a lifeline to their communities as well as iconic wildlife such as elephants, pangolins, rhinos, and lions. 4x extra large limited edition Greg du Toit prints have been donated to this good cause.
“Great pictures of nature have one thing in common – they are unforgettable.”