A Rewilding Journey

Part 1 – Ruaha National Park, Southern Tanzania

Taking an exceptional fine art wildlife image is the end product to my work, but most often there is a journey involved to get to this point. I feel that if I do not take this journey and simply rock up as a tourist photographer, my resultant work is without a soul.

This particular journey involves having an understanding of what it takes to create and reestablish one of the world’s great wildlife areas, it’s about how dedicated people go about being the ones to do this, and through my exposure to these monumental efforts, be inspired that there is still so much hope out there to preserve great wilderness areas.

Throughout my life working with and enjoying wildlife, both marine and terrestrial, I have worn three hats with equal passion. Firstly, and in no particular order, as a naturalist and adventurer, secondly as a fine art wildlife photographer and thirdly as a conservationist.

On our latest expedition to remote parts of the far less travelled wilds of Southern Tanzania I got to wear all three hats in unison.

As a naturalist I seek out places that offer extraordinary biodiversity or wildlife behavior. As a conservationist I try to understand the issues that face these environments and species, and try to contribute in whatever way I can to help those engaged in preserving their future.

As a fine art wildlife photographer my most simple objective is to create engagement. I endeavor to do this by finding aesthetically pleasing wild environments as my canvas, and then hope to encounter charismatic wildlife that allow me to get close enough to photograph them negating the use of long lenses that most often create stereotypical imagery.

Most of the famous National Parks in Africa, such as like Amboseli, The Serengeti, Masai Mara, Okavango Delta, Etosha, Mana Pools, Hwange, Luangwa, Kruger and the Kgalagadi all have an established road networks and animals that are used to the presence of vehicles or people on foot.

Without giving it much thought, we think it normal in today’s safari experiences that we can either drive or be driven on generally excellent roads very close to wildlife that for the most part seem completely at ease with our presence.

In these truly wonderful but manicured wildlife environments, it is easy to forget the pioneers who stood tall to protect them, the challenges they faced and the unbelievable hard work it took to resurrect them from the ashes. In most of these parks, this hard effort took place before I was born a half century ago. I thought that after more than a hundred terrestrial trips to the great wildlife havens of Africa there was little that was unique left to see or photograph.

However, on our most recent expedition, the penny really dropped as to what a truly wild place is all about, what it takes to resurrect decimated wildlife populations from the ashes, and above all, why those of us who yearn for the tremendous rewards and natural highs we get from immersing ourselves in true wilderness, can continue to dream.

Down in the Southern third of Tanzania are two truly huge wildlife areas most people have never heard of, Ruaha National Park (24 000km2) and Nyerere National Park (37 000km 2).

I had always thought of both as hunting areas, areas that were decimated by poaching, and where wildlife was so traumatized that it was not sadly worth the effort of going there to see these places.

Our first stop was Ruaha National Park, and our destination Asilia Africa’s Jabali Ridge

My focus was wildlife, new habitat and photography, but it would be amiss of me not to mention the magnificent camp and its architecture set into a set of granite kopjes, or the truly exceptional staff and team that combine as well as at any camp we have stayed at in Africa.

My eagerness was to see the incredible baobab forests Ruaha is famous for, and hopefully photograph wildlife in them.

I find these folklore rich trees, said to grow more than 1200 years old, such an iconic symbol of our continent, and if you can find a strong subject adjacent to them without the clutter of bushes or other trees, they make for wonderfully engaging fine art imagery.

Arriving in Ruaha you are instantly struck by the fact that there are not just a handful of these trees, but in fact forests of them.

Driving with our passionate and genuinely enthusiastic guide, Samwell, through the baobabs was mystical. I saw thousands of trees that had outlived dictators, wars, famine, feast, drought and flood. I saw trees that had given shade to great tuskers and those of African, Arabic and Colonial origin that had tragically killed them.

In the trees lining the dry Mwagusi Riverbed we saw multiple leopards, wild dogs and lions, all of which were accommodatingly approachable. We saw seldom seen antelope like lessor kudu and Kirk’s dik dik, and gazed upwards at iridescent yellow-collared lovebirds that flashed from ficus tree to ficus tree, and sausage trees in between.

We went on drives where we seldom saw another vehicle as we sought out our imagery. It was wonderful, and felt wild.

For my style of fine art the photography the terrain here was challenging as much of the landscape is filled with a huge amount of botanical biodiversity. Beautiful to look at, but tricky to create imagery in isolation.

There were however moments where baobab, compelling russet colors and wildlife subject merged.

For anyone who is, however, interested in a portrait of a lion, leopard, elephant or buffalo, with a multitude of other species thrown in, you won’t be disappointed. There were very many drives where we got our fix of wildness and isolation, where we saw no other vehicle, we crossed rivers, scaled mountains, and ventured far off the beaten track.

So often I regale stories from our expeditions of being shipwrecked, cars destroyed or being extremely uncomfortable with any manner of heat, famine or plague our test.

Let me not kid you into believing we were in survival mode this time around for when we returned after our game drives we were ensconced in comfort.  Jabali Ridge is one of Africa’s most luxurious, yet still unpretentious, pieces of safari real estate with many surprises from food to décor, all of which were tasty and tasteful.

One of these surprises was the magnificent rim flow pool that nestled into the granite kopjes of the camp.

It offered not only a chance to cool down, but also to capture beautiful imagery of a rainbow of avian color such as waxbills, pytilia, cordon bleus and weavers as they slaked their thirst at the pools’ edges.

The scene was akin to a kid on a sugar high with a packet of bright crayons being asked to draw some birds.

After six luxurious nights and cuisine that would do any 6 star cruise ship or hotel proud, it was time to head off to the much fabled promised lands further to the South.

A Rewilding Journey Part 2 – Usangu Awakens

Copyrighted by Chris Fallows @2020