Kim and Bounce Bonding – PHOTO ABOVE CREDIT: PENNY WOLHUTER
Acclaimed wildlife filmmaker and photographer Kim Wolhuter is the third generation of game ranger in his family – in fact his grandfather Harry Wolhuter was the first game ranger in the Kruger National Park with the Wolhuter Trail named after him. Harry being a National legend for having killed an adult male lion armed only with a knife after it had pulled him from his horse.
Kim has been based at Mashatu for the past 14 months filming a documentary on hyenas, among other things – causing rather a worldwide media frenzy recently when he was given a ‘pedicure’ from an overly friendly cheetah!
Claire Roadley caught up with him in the bush and see what he has been up to!
Tell us a bit more about the man behind the lens?
As a boy I always wanted to be in the bush and having finished school all I wanted to do was to go and live with the bushmen. I was sent to boarding school in Johannesburg at the age of 10. I remember waking up one night and hearing lions. I thought I’d lost it. It was some time later I found out they were calling from the Johannesburg Zoo several kilometres away. My wonderful caring mother wouldn’t allow me to become a bushman and sent me to University. I was always extremely shy and the bush was a place for me to be myself without any pressure from society. But over the years I’ve got to grips with myself and will now freely chat up any one… :o) I very much believe in personal fitness working out almost every day. I’ve made a pact with myself that I have to be able to keep up with my daughters until they’re 21, not ever wanting them to think of their dad as being old. (Problem is they took up Rhythmic gymnastics and I couldn’t see myself prancing around throwing and catching ribbons… ;o) ) I’ve got 4 years to go, but it definitely doesn’t end there. I also eat healthy, sometimes eating from the bush by example from baboons.
Please share a little with us about your background in conservation studies/ training etc?
My first university holiday I couldn’t find a holiday job. I asked my mother to phone that ‘guy’ we knew in Swaziland and tell him I’d come and work for free. Ted Reilly said “With pleasure and tell him to bring his own food.” I ended up spending all my varsity holidays there gaining the most invaluable practical bush experience from a man who never tires physically, never sleeps, who’s bush knowledge is on a par with the bushmen, and every animal is cared for long before himself. Having completed my B.Sc degree in Grassland Science I managed Santhata Ranch to the east of Mashatu for 3 years. That was 30yrs ago. (I’m convinced I only got that job because of my grandfather (and I’m so not complaining), because whenever the owners came to stay with guests I was always introduced as “Kim Wolhuter of Wolhuter fame”. Thanks granddad! He still comes in handy…) I then took up the position of Warden of Mlawula Nature Reserve in Swaziland where I spent a couple of years.
We know you are currently living at Mashatu – but where exactly are you based/do you sleep and so forth?
I built myself a camp under a huge Mashatu tree on the banks of the Limpopo river. I’m back ‘home’ now having lived on the Limpopo about 15kms downstream 30years ago on Santhata Ranch.
Where I’m based and where I sleep are often 2 very different places. So yes I’m based under this iconic Mashatu tree and I do have a bed there, but I sometimes wonder why. I spend most of my time sleeping on my camera box in my open vehicle. I have a little mattress, 60cm x 120cm, that I’ve spent more time sleeping on than a bed in the last 28 years that I’ve been film-making.
How and why did you switch from game ranger to film maker?
I had never thought of wildlife film-making as a career. I was in the wildlife field as a ranger/wildlife warden following in my father and grandfather’s footsteps. The great filmmaker Richard Goss, who I was at school with, contacted me and asked if I’d like to go film-making. My answer, “Why would I?” At the time I was the Warden of Mlawula Nature Reserve and was up against a lot of opposition for having caught the legal advisor to the board poaching in the reserve. I was exposing the chairman for corruption and they’d started to make my life really unpleasant and unsafe. I had nothing to lose joining Richard and has to be the most grateful move of my career. I filmed with Richard for 6 years and then took the leap on my own having no idea what I was doing. I suppose I just got lucky.
What films/documentaries have you shot to date?
• SISTERHOOD – BBC production on Spotted Hyaenas
• STRANDWOLF – BBC/National Geographic co-production on Brown Hyaenas
• BEAUTY AND THE BEASTS – National Geographic. Leopard and Warthog.
• BLACK-JACK HIGH-STAKES – Survival Anglia on Black-backed Jackals
• IMPALA BASIC INSTINCTS – Survival Anglia on Impala.
• STALKING LEOPARDS – National Geographic on a male leopard. Emmy Award
• PREDATORS AT WAR – National Geographic on Africa’s predators. 2 Emmy Awards
• HYENA QUEEN – National Geographic on hyaenas. Nominated for an Emmy Award
• SAFARI SISTERS – Animal Planet, my daughters and me in the bush.
• A DOG’S LIFE – National Geographic on African Wild Dogs.
• MAN-CHEETAH-WILD – Discovery Channel on cheetahs.
Which is your favourite – if you HAD to pick?
It’s always hard to pick a favourite because at the time of shooting you become so emotionally attached with your subjects. Leopards were brilliant. Wild dogs amazing. Cheetah so intimate. Hyaenas so intelligent and caring. Lions never high on my list… ;o) (somebody once asked is that because they attacked your grandfather? How absurd, especially when my grandfather actually killed the lion with his knife as it was dragging him off to feed. True legend!)
You won an Emmy Award for your movie “Stalking Leopards”, shot at MalaMala Game Reserve in Mpumalanga. Are there any other career highlights that you are particularly proud of?
Predators at War, also shot at MalaMala, won 2 Emmy Awards. I’ve also won several photographic awards and had a leopard story published in the National Geographic Magazine where I got even more lucky and got the cover story.
But those are material things. There is something else that beats all of that, which I’m even more proud of. Many years ago I was asked if I could take this young girl, Olivia McMurray, out filming with me. She was only 14 and was terminally ill, her body not producing red-blood cells. Every 3 weeks she has a full blood transfusion. She was a keen photographer and loved wildlife. She’d never been away from home before and came to spend several days with me in the bush. I told her to bring some of her photographs (We were still shooting slides in those days.) so I could advise her before we went out. I was filming hyaenas at night at the time. I put Olivia on the back of the vehicle, gave her my camera gear to use and off we went. I’d be filming and I’d look back to see how Olivia was doing, she was clicking away and just looking so natural and in control of the camera. I had her slides processed after her trip and was blown away by them that I told her to enter the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition in London, the biggest wildlife photographic competition in the world at that time. She entered in her age category 14 – 17yr old. She Won the category and got the Runner-up award and was flown over for the awards ceremony. There is nothing that makes me more proud than having been able to give her the opportunity. (Amazingly Olivia is now 25 and soon to be a qualified veterinarian, living life to the fullest.)
Can you tell us a bit more about your current project at Mashatu and your relationship with Tumelo, Bounce, Quuss and the rest of the hyenas?
How many pages do you want me to write? Hyaenas unfairly get such a bad press! And the Lion King didn’t do anything to help them. Before I tell you about my most amazing friends, let me put the public’s perception of hyaenas into perspective. A British news agency contacted me about the picture of the cheetah nibbling my toes and within days they had it in 5 national UK newspapers. The same agency contacted me about the image below a few months before. Today they still can’t find anyone who wants to publish it. Why? Just because it’s a hyaena? Or because my feet are more marketable than my mug…
So I have a serious mission to accomplish – trying to change people’s perceptions on these amazing animals. One of the ways I believe I can accomplish this is by people seeing me interacting with them in the most natural way. When people surf television channels, they get to hyaenas and keep surfing. But if they get to hyaenas and see me sitting there with them, they stop and think holy smoke is he nuts, and they watch the programme. Once I’ve got them hooked they will stay because they will be so amazed at what these animals are all about. And really, it’s no big deal working with wild hyaenas. Just understand and respect them and you will discover how amazingly affectionate they can be.
Selfie… Back to my friends. This picture is Tumelo, a young female hyaena I befriended last year. She would regularly come to me for scratches and was amazingly trusting of me. I had been working on cheetah for a while and when I went back to Tumelo a few weeks later I found her limping badly. She’d been beaten up by other hyaenas. She lay down in the shade of a Shepherds tree. I joined her, she obliged, even in her injured vulnerable state. She let me pull the scabs from the bite wounds on her neck. She let me lift her back legs to inspect her injuries. Wow! So so so incredibly trusting and all the while her mother watched lying about 5m away. Sadly I haven’t seen her for several months now. I did get reports some time ago that she’d been beaten up again. Why?
Quuss is Bounce’s mother. She’s amazing in how she will be feeding on a carcass and will let me approach to within a meter to take photographs while she carries on feeding. But more amazing is how she lets me interact with Bounce. I first met Bounce when he was about 2months old. He was the only cub in the den and whenever I approached in my vehicle he’d coming bouncing out to say hello and realising he’d over-stepped the mark, go racing back to the den. And when I drove away he’d do the same. He was so full of life, so full of Bounce. I only started working with him when he was about 4months old.
Now this is the most remarkable thing – the sun was setting, it was still light, but I was also lucky to have the full moon following it on a beautifully clear starry night. I was at the den and Bounce was playing around near his mother. I got out the car, walked away and sat down. Bounce’s curiosity got the better of him. He kept his distance. I lay down. He crept closer, his whole body tense ready to bounce out the way. Another step closer, his neck stretched as far as it would go. Eventually I felt his wet nose on my big toe. I expected him to nibble or bite it, testing, as I’ve had other hyaenas do. He licked my toe and then very gently put his mouth over it, as if feeling it, then backed off. I was now watching him in the moonlight, which added the most amazing atmosphere to the whole situation. I could see enough but no definition. It was a while later and he came round to my hand and took my fingers ever so gently in his mouth. Why was he so gentle? So different to any other hyaena. He is just so special. As the night went on a young male hyaena arrived and the games began, chasing Bounce all over. They would run past a couple of meters away. Then Quuss joined in and the one time as they all wrestled in a ball they fell onto my feet, nobody the wiser. Later in the night Quuss suckled Bounce a few feet away from me. By dawn Bounce was walking freely up to me and wrestling with my finger. In one night this hyaena had befriended me! And he’s been like that ever since. Actually it just gets better all the time. I go walking with him and his mother. He’ll run off, come tearing back, bump into my leg and on. Then tearing back, stop at my feet, I give him a scratch on the back and he’s off again. He is my absolute hero. Never ever have I had such a relationship with any wild animal. It’s totally beyond Special… It’s currently night time and I’m typing this at the den. Bounce is lying up a couple of meters away.
Selfie… I’d been out my car filming, always trying to shoot from the animal’s eye level. The cheetah weren’t up to much and again it was that waiting game. I too was lying there chilling when this cheetah approached me. I’ve worked with cheetah before and wasn’t concerned – just curious to see how far she’d go. She approached with confidence, went down, first sniffed my toes and then tried a gentle nibble, which got a little intense and I pulled my foot. She backed off and lay down a few meters away…
What camera do you prefer to shoot/film with?
I shoot with the Panasonic Varicam 4K camera. Wonderfully robust and brilliant image. And mainly using the Canon 50-1000mm 4K lens. What a lens!
For my night work I’m using the Sony a7s for its low light capability.
My photographic equipment is all Canon.
How long do you plan to be in Botswana?
Still wondering how long that piece of string is. I hope to be here for many years to come working on a number of documentaries and at the same time promoting this unique area. I would like to get involved in the Greater Mapungubwe Transfrontier Conservation Area to help consolidate this as a really meaningful wildlife area. Not only using my films but also social media and the online space.
What are some of the best places your filming has taken you?
So much of Africa is the ‘Best’ place on earth, it all depending what your criteria are. And it’s amazing how just spending time in a place, you really get to love it for what it is. MalaMala Game Reserve in South Africa provided the best animal behaviour and great diversity. Etosha National Park, dry, remote and very contrasting seasons. Namib Nauklift National Park on the Namibian coast was intense. The winds blew gale force 24/7, but you had landscapes weathered by the winds that you find nowhere else and animals trying to eke out a living in these extremely harsh conditions. Malilangwe Game Reserve in Zimbabwe with its incredible diversity of habitats and subsequent diversity of species. When I came back to Mashatu Game Reserve after 30 years, it was only then that I realised what I’d been missing. I’ve been filming in thick African bush for 26 years and it’s become the norm for me. But when I came back here the huge open plains where the grass is never more than a foot high. The undulating terrain allows one to get onto high points to survey the landscape. And the landscape below is open savannah. The river systems that all converge on Nels vlei. The diversity of habitats and the amazingly relaxed nature of the animals. 30 years ago if elephants just saw a vehicle they would charge. Today they feed around and sometimes under the vehicles. I worked with the baboons for a while and within a week I was walking a couple of meters from them. AND then of course you have the hyaenas…
Which of your animal relationships has meant the most to you or are you most proud of?
As I said earlier, one always gets very attached to ones film subjects, so your best is always the one you’re currently working on. I had a wonderful relationship with the cheetah in Zimbabwe. I remember I hadn’t been working with them for over a year and was out walking one day. In the distance I saw a cheetah. As I approached I whistled. It’s a whistle I always use, not that they come running (sadly not) but it identifies me from any other person. This cheetah never acknowledged my approach. She never looked at me. Getting closer I saw it was one of the youngsters. Eventually I sat down about a meter from her. She still didn’t acknowledge my presence. How rude! Then a couple of minutes later she got up, came to me, and started licking my face! Probably the most special wild interaction that has ever happened to me. (Although Bounce is now verging on the EXTRAordinary!) I spent the next 3 hours walking and hunting with the cheetah before I left her having to get back to camp before nightfall. But as things are developing with Bounce I can see this relationship going beyond all boundaries, not just with him, but with the whole clan. Already his relationship with me has ‘tamed’ down most of the other clan members and I can walk around the den while they just lie and watch…
WATCH this Bounce!
I was trying to photograph hyaenas at a den and wasn’t familiar with them at all. This youngster, extra curious, was too close for photographs and more keen on chewing my lens. Without shooing him away, I gave him that little disciplinary “No” with my finger. Maybe he smelt the remains of my peanut butter and honey sandwich… Photo Credit: Taryn Burns
Some conservationists frown on the up close and personal way in which you interact with the wildlife. What is your response to your critics?
We have always made wildlife documentaries from the comfort of our 4×4’s. But something was lacking and we needed to engage the audience more, get them to really be on the same level as the animal and so we did all we could to film animals from their eye level. This meant special mounts on the vehicle that were lower to the ground or even getting out the vehicle and filming from ground level. The more I did this, remembering I spend at least 18months working with specific animals, so they got more and more used to me and started to approach and investigate me. These animals being leopards, hyaenas, cheetahs and wild dogs.
Then one day a hyaena came right up to me, I put my hand out expecting it to sniff my hand or nibble my fingers, instead she put her chin in my hand and put pressure on it resting it there. I reciprocated and started scratching her under her chin. Like a dog she loved it, lifting her head up so I could scratch all down her neck. From then on she would regularly come over for a scratch. I ended up developing the most amazing bond with this wild hyaena. But in the back of my mind there was always the philosophy that one shouldn’t touch wild animals. Where I got it from and what the reasoning behind it was, I don’t know. (When the president of the National Geographic Society, Gil Grosvenor, saw the footage of the hyaena putting its chin in my hand, he likened it to the time the chimp came and touched Jane Goodall.)
A similar thing happened when I worked with a family of cheetah for 2 years. I had stopped filming them and was walking in the bush when I saw a cheetah in the distance. Realizing it was one of ‘my’ cheetah, I whistled and approached. She seemed to totally ignore me looking the other way. I hadn’t seen her for a year and thought at least she could show some excitement at seeing me again… I sat down a couple of meters from her and still she didn’t acknowledge my presence. A couple of minutes later she came over to me and started licking my face. Wow, complete recognition and so wanting that contact. I reciprocated stroking her. She loved it. What an amazing bond.
Suddenly I was coming to understand why touch is so important in these situations. We film animals from our vehicles and they get used to the vehicle. But there is no doubt, that even though they accept our presence up to a point, they always have that thought in the back of their minds, “Why does this steel monster keep following me?” They don’t get anything from it, it’s just always there. Much the same goes with me out the vehicle filming them. They come to accept/tolerate me, but again there is always that niggling thought in their minds “why is he following me?” They aren’t getting anything from me and so will never be able to fully trust and bond with me. They will always have that niggling concern. But I need the animals to bond with me so that they totally lose that concern and become completely trusting of me being around them.
For this to happen I need to give them something. We have to remember for animals, life is all about food and procreation. I can’t feed them as that causes all sorts of complications, and sex is obviously not a factor, but what I can give them is love and affection, something that both the hyaena and cheetah had themselves invited. Suddenly I realized that by doing that I was breaking down that ‘niggle’ and now I was truly bonding with these animals in such a natural way and in a way that now allowed me to document their lives in the most natural way possible without them being concerned with my presence. When the cheetah were on a kill feeding, I could stand over them or the kill to film different perspectives and NEVER did they growl or hiss at me. When your dog is feeding and you go near it, it growls at you. My cheetah never did and so allowing me the most special relationship with these animals that you will never have even with your domestic dog or cat. We’ve seen many documentaries with cheetah in captivity. Even when they’ve been there for years, every time the keeper goes into the pen with or without food the cheetah charge and slap the ground. They don’t do them any harm, but the aggression is there. I never had that. Very special.
Now I’m not saying you should ‘try this at home.’ These are dangerous animals and it takes me quite some time to develop these relationships. I’m not doing it to prove a point, I do it to be able to bond with them so I can get these amazing shots from angles that engage the viewer and actually get the viewer to feel what it’s like to be that animal. I could of course use remote controlled mobile cameras to get right in there, but the problem with that is the animals react to these machines and are suspect of them and so behave unnaturally. What I do is just so natural.
And it’s important to realize I don’t just do this for the sake of touching the animal. They’re inviting the contact and I’m giving them the love and affection they’re inviting. I’ve been approached by broadcasters wanting to get one of their presenters to come and touch my animals for a show they’re making. When I ask why they want to touch the animals, they never have an answer. “Just because.” Of course I don’t allow it.
I have wondered if getting animals used to my presence on foot won’t make them vulnerable to attack from other people should they venture outside the reserve, because now they’ve ‘lost’ their fear for humans? I always whistle when working with my animals, a very specific whistle that identifies me from other humans. But the sad truth is that we have so habituated these animals to our vehicles that any vehicle inside or outside the reserve can approach right up to them.
So getting back to “To touch or not to touch?” When the animals invite contact it’s a fantastic tool to allow me to bond with the animals so they can go about their lives in the most natural way possible. Of course one could go on to say that one’s presence affects their behaviour, but so does one’s presence in a vehicle. Just the fact that we are out there filming these animals, our presence, will of course be affecting their behaviour in some way, and I believe that what I’m doing reduces this even further.
So after many years of questioning myself on the matter I now realize touch is a fundamental tool that allows me to bond in a very natural way with wild animals…
It’s important to understand that it is not my mission to touch wild animals. That would be a very wrong approach to have. When I’ve been spending so much time with an animal it eventually gets to the stage where the animal invites the contact and that’s when I reciprocate. That’s when my whole being there changes from just being tolerated to actually bonding with the animal. To want to just walk out there and touch an animal means you have lost respect for it and you will never get to bond with it.
Do you ever carry a weapon on you just in case?
It’s really important that in all that I do I NEVER carry a weapon and anybody working with me is not allowed to carry a weapon. The reason here is simple. With a weapon one loses respect for the animal, pushing the boundaries and when the animal retaliates – what right does one have to shoot the animal because you have over stepped the mark and lost respect for it?
Can you tell us about your future plans?
I do what I do because I love what I do. My work is my hobby. There is no other job in the wildlife profession that you spend so much time in the field and that’s where I want to be. I plan to carry on developing these special relationships with wild animals and from a scientific point of view, trying to understand what this all means. Because of these relationships I get to see animal behaviour so up close and so personal and see things that a scientist will never see sitting in a vehicle. Hopefully my relationship with these wild animals inspires people to want to do more to save our natural world and more importantly to save habitat. With man’s numbers exploding and taking over more and more natural habitat, we really have to strive to be saving more habitat, reclaiming what we can but more importantly saving what we still have.
What inspires you?
I’m inspired by humanity. It appears almost everybody wants to save our rhino and elephants, (and we will) except for those few greedy individuals. Unfortunately for many the task ahead seems too big. We keep feeding people with so much negative about our natural world they can’t cope. They think their little help just isn’t going to make a difference. We need to change our approach and be more positive. There is no doubt that no matter who you are, we all have an inbred desire for the natural world. Whether from the streets of New York or the slums of New Delhi we all love beautiful nature, it’s inherent in us. But sadly the world has a way of only feeding us with the negative, so much negative about every day extinctions and destruction that we feel overwhelmed and that it’s all too late, that we’re wasting our time. We need to change that, that the world sees all the good out there, animals, plants, insects, land all being saved and then they really want to act. I believe my interactions with these animals inspires people and the imagery I’m able to shoot, so up close and personal, that it really engages the audience and they actually get to feel what it’s like to be that animal. My relationship with the animal also gives people that emotional attachment, and once we’ve got people loving what they see, we can get them to act.
When I bond with these wild animals (Never feeding them!) I develop a relationship that goes beyond what you will ever have with your dog or cat (you have to feed them.) To be at one with these animals is something hard to describe but it gives one a sense of being. It’s made even more pleasurable when I can share this with the rest of the world. That inspires me.
What three words would your friends use to describe you?
I’ll ask the hyaenas… Probably Whoop, Giggle and Laugh.
Have you had many heart-stopping moments?
My scout, Godfrey, came to tell me he’d seen a lone young elephant walk past camp and it wasn’t well. The two of us went walking looking for it. We got to this flat area with scattered Illala palms. These palms were still bushy and only about shoulder height. I walked into a clearing and the next thing a lioness came charging from about 60m away. As I watched this ‘fire-ball’ advancing on me, I saw 3 tiny cubs ducking off into the Illala palms. I know one isn’t supposed to run from a charging lion and I didn’t, but not because that was what I was supposed to do but probably because I hadn’t a clue what to do. I was still young, about 25, and my bush experience was still limited. She came hurtling towards me and only stopped when I told Godfrey to stop running. She was about 10m snarling and growling at me. I stood frozen. It seemed like eternity but probably not even 5 seconds and she turned and ran off. But she ran off to the west and her cubs had disappeared to the east. We headed south! Just then Godfrey shouted “She’s coming!” I couldn’t see her. Then she stepped out from behind a bush about 200m away and was coming at full charge. She ducked behind another bush using it as cover and kept coming. We had a few seconds to spare and scaled the young leadwood tree next to us, almost pushing each other out the way to get up. She charged right to the base of the tree and stood there growling at us her tail twitching frantically from side to side. Thankfully she didn’t have ideas of climbing the tree. Then she left. It was some time before we left the safety of the tree and headed home, totally having forgotten about the elephant we’d gone in search of…
I’ve had many other experiences to get the adrenalin going and in some cases lucky to be alive, but each one is a learning curve and I think I’m getting better at it the older and wiser I become…
Do you have an amusing story to share about life in the bush?
When I’m out walking with my film subjects I make a point of not being seen by guests on safari. They’ve come to Africa to see wild animals, not some dude. Also seeing me out there sort of breaks the aura of Africa for them. I was walking with baboons one day following a drainage line with a little more vegetation than the surrounding savannah areas. The baboons were feeding on Acacia seeds. I heard a vehicle and made sure to stay out of sight, which was fairly easy among the Acacias. Up on the rise a few hundred meters away were 3 giraffe that had seen me and they had all turned to stare at this apparition. The vehicle saw the giraffe and knowing that they usually only stare at a predator, they had to investigate. Suddenly, the vehicle that was driving passed, was now headed straight for me. I tucked myself behind an Acacia that was dense and had its branches all the way to the ground. I could now hear the people talking and the excitement levels going up. The baboons were feeding all around, not concerned with my presence. I watched the game drive as it went passed, but it didn’t go passed, it turned and was now circumnavigating MY tree. We played cat and mouse around the tree. Having a done the full circle they continued up the drainage line and then left totally confused because there on the hill the giraffe still stared but here in the drainage the baboons were chilling and feeding. If there was a predator in there the baboons would know…
When is your favourite time of the year in the Reserve? We’ve been enjoying all your yellow flowers pics!
A change is a good as a holiday and every season brings something fresh from the previous season, although the dry season is the longest, but it brings in the dust, the sunsets, visibility. The greens of summer transform the place into a well manicured golf course. And then the flowers, the carpets and carpets of yellow flowers. AND they’re not bad eating I discovered when walking with the baboons. I would follow them all day without food or water, so snacking on flowers helped relieve a few hunger pains and load me with that little extra testosterone that one finds in these Tribulus plants. Not that I really need it :o)
Who has been the biggest inspiration/influence in your career?
There is no doubt that my grandfather and my father were a great inspiration and in everything I do today, they’re always in the back of my mind. I was lucky enough to grow up in the Kruger National Park, but sadly my dad died when I was 5, my grandfather dying earlier in the same year. My mother was always wonderful in taking us to the park in our school holidays to stay with other ranger friends. Then when at University I used to spend all my holidays working in Swaziland, for free… :o) It was there that I learned so much from a man who has done so much for conservation. Ted Reilly’s intimate knowledge of the natural world, his very physical hands-on approach definitely moulded me into who I am today. Quite ironically the first time I met Ted, I was on my way to work there and my car broke down just outside the reserve. He came to fetch me with his brother-in-law, Howard Kirk. Instead of going back to camp we were headed out filming frogs for the night, Howard being the filmmaker. Not even then did I think of film-making as a career… Still today, almost 40 years on, Ted continues to inspire me with his knowledge. It was about 12 years ago that I was for the first time able to teach my mentor something and give him an experience he will never forget. I’d been working with my hyaenas at MalaMala and Ted who’d been the Warden in the area about 40 years before but never been back, came to walk and spend time with these amazing animals almost recognising him as one and totally accepting his presence. (Ted Reilly – It can be said that all conservation in Swaziland today has its roots from Ted Reilly. When wildlife was being decimated across the country in the ‘60’s Ted set aside his farm Mlilwane and captured the remaining animals across the country and Mlilwane Nature Reserve was born. Ted approached the late king Sobhuza II to help stop the plunder of Swaziland’s wildlife and the king supported him as does King Mswati III today. Ever since then Ted has been the king’s advisor to conservation in the country.)
What is the best advice you recall?
Wear shoes! (Ed – from these photos I’m guessing Kim doesn’t take this advice too seriously :o) )
Your Facebook page is very popular and we love following your daily adventures. It’s amazing that you can be running barefoot through the veld one minute and sharing your experiences with the world on your Blog the next. How do you balance life in the bush with sharing your experiences and making sure the message that our planet needs protecting reaches those with the power to help?
As a wildlife filmmaker a lot of time is spent waiting, waiting for your subjects to do something, although not the case with baboons who are constantly on the move. But working with predators there is lots of waiting. I’m typing this right now at the hyaena den. It’s dark and I’m surrounded by millions of stars and my film subjects passed out having killed an eland last night. I like to write when I’m in the field as I get a lot better feeling of the place, my surroundings and can put this across in my Blog to actually transport the reader into my world.
Selfie… I wanted people on my blog to get to really understand what all this yellow beauty was about and I felt the only way to do that was to sit amongst the flowers and write about it…
On a personal note, I’m intrigued … how do you get wifi in order to share your photos and videos?
Helicopter…. ;o) I’ve put up a huge aerial at camp that beams a signal to Mashatu’s aerial that beams to SA. Pretty amazing where technology takes us today. Also I have phone signal over most of the reserve. When I worked here 30 years ago, making a phone call meant a 2hr drive, cross the border into SA and the phone was on a party line, one of those phones you ring and wait for the operator… At the age of 25 it was hard to keep a girlfriend or even have one…
You too can experience the wonders of Mashatu – but thankfully without needing to find a comfortable camera box or tree to sleep under!
Mashatu (www.mashatu.com) is located in the Northern Tuli Game Reserve of Botswana bordering South Africa. Known as the land of giants Mashatu is a photographers dream come true with spectacular landscapes and vistas, vast spaces and prolific wildlife from the gigantic to the miniscule – but renowned for its predators and elephant herds. Mashatu is all about adventure beyond the game drive with horse-back safaris, cycling safaris and walks in the wild. Accommodation is at Mashatu Main Camp or Mashatu Tent Camp. It is a 6 hour drive from Johannesburg or you can fly non-stop straight into Limpopo Valley Airfield on Mashatu from OR Tambo (a scheduled service running on Sundays and Thursdays by Angel Gabriel Aeronautics in association with Comair).