Missing Kenya

I have been home for 3 days and am missing the wide-open spaces and inky black skies of Kenya. I replay the orange-blue sunrise and hot, dusty sunsets and listen for the echoing whoops of heynas at night. I return again and again to the faces of so many wild lives that passed their days before my eyes…and I am thankful.

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Posted in wildlife

Happy Thanksgiving: Wild! Blessings

Giving Thanks

wight_caspershmom_0U7A0219Happy Thanksgiving to all my Canadian friends and family. Today I am giving thanks for all the amazing creatures I have been fortunate enough to spend time with and photograph. From the lions of Africa to the hummingbirds of Central America to the grizzlies of Canada, each encounter has been a blessing.

Capser the Cub

wight_casperpeace_0U7A7107I met this young grizzly cub on the Chilko river in autumn 2012. It was his first salmon run and his unsual blond fur made him quite easy to identify. We nicknamed him Casper and I had the opportunity to photograph him and his mother almost every day for a week. Most of that time they were swimming the shallow waters picking up salmon that gads recently spawned. It wasn’t really “fishing”…more like “shopping.” On one particular day we saw 27 grizzlies on the river–an abundance of wild blessings–but young Capser was always the highlight. He always seemed to have his eye on the camera. I will long remember the quite moments spent with this little guy and I hope he has grown into a strong  independent adolescent still fishing the waters of northern BC.

Happy Thanksgiving. I appreciate you visiting my site and looking at my work.

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World Rhino Day: Tales From A Photographer

World Rhino Day September 22–5 Species Forever!mouthfulA mountainous marvel of animal engineering, the rhinoceros is like no other. Leathery and lined, massive and muscled, his noble horn a cautionary prelude to a quiet, determined stare. The rhino is at once, a prehistoric relic and a 21st century icon.wight_2mountains0U7A09020U7A0902

World Rhino Day Statistics

I cannot imagine a world without these iconic creatures. And yet, this could happen–in my lifetime. In South Africa, where approximately 80% of the world rhino population lives, Save the Rhino has reported 618 known rhino killings as of July 31, 2014. This is just short of 2012’s annual total of 698 and on the way to surpassing 2013’s devastating count of 1004 deaths. (http://www.savetherhino.org) De-horning, injecting horns with toxins and legalizing the trade in rhino horn–all contentious debates circling the ticking time bomb of extinction.

In the past seven years I have encountered wild-living Rhinosceritidae fourteen times in three countries. They have been an exciting part of this life-changing journey towards becoming a wildlife photographer. As a visual storyteller, my aim is to invoke a passionate awakening in the soul; to lift the imagination to that remarkable place where, in a single moment, the heart connects with the mind and leads one to think and act in new ways–ways that could end the senseless killing of the earth’s wild life–the senseless killing of the rhinoceros. They are running out of time…

Rhinos I have Known

I saw my first rhino in 2007 in the ngorongoro crater. Truthfully, I wasn’t convinced. It may just as well have been a boulder submerged in an acre of mud. I would have to take ranger Moody at his word and embellish my story with tales of spinning wheels and splattering muck.

I would finally be rewarded with my first sightings at Phinda! Experiential travel company and Beyond have been very committed to rhino conservation on the Phinda Reserve. It is an excellent big 5 destination and it would be here, in 2008, that I would have my first chance to photograph rhinoceros. Being chased by storms and heading towards camp, our ranger Pip quickly lurched the Land Rover over the ditch. He headed off-road, bouncing us straight towards the blackening skies and …two black rhinos! We followed at a safe distance as they grazed towards the hillside. For a brief moment the sun broke through the ominous clouds, spilling a rainbow behind them. This was truly an African pot of gold. They turned towards us, halting our progress, allowing me to quickly captured my very first rhino photo, Pair of Blacks. (Or, for those of you with loftier imaginations, The Two-headed Rhino.)

wight_TWOHEADEDIMG_4034IMGThe following day would bring a rhinoceros encounter of the very close kind! Coming up on four grazing white rhinos on the roadside, we pulled over to enjoy their company. I was up in the third bench of the truck, my boot propped up on the open side, when a very calm and massive male wandered towards me. Coming closer, eyes on mine, his impressive horn dipped well into the minimum focus distance of my 70-300 F4-5.6. He sniffed my boot and backed away, seemingly very satisfied with my hygiene. It’s a wonder I had the presence of mind to hit the shutter…wight_phinda_MG_4160

The Rhinos of Kenya’s Lewa Downs

In 2010, with a more defined vision and a bag loaded with a Canon 7D and new L lenses, I landed in Kenya’s Lewa Downs. I had specifically chosen the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy as it has a conservation mandate and is home to 10% of Kenya’s rhinos. It did not disappoint. Within twenty minutes of landing I was photographing my very first Crash of Rhino! For the next three days we saw black, white or both, on every drive.

wight_crash_MG_9232wight_profile_MG_9519_MG_9519On our second afternoon we noticed a dark shape on the hillside and two sharp horns dissecting the long, golden grass; a black rhino Mom with her very young calf. We kept a good distance so as not to stress the family but the little one caught wind of us and stood at attention until curiosity got the best of Mom and she slowly lifted her bulk. Gazing at us for several moments and determining we were no real threat, they provided a lovely photo op until Mom stared us into retreat.wight_Lewa__MG_9681_MG_9681 - Version 2 Family Portrait (Plus One)Family Portrait (Plus One)Lewa afforded several opportunities to get quite close to rhinoceros, providing valuable learning situations. Keep a close eye on your f-stop–especially for portraits. Depending on how close you are, with a full-grown adult looking straight at you, it can take a full stop or two to achieve a depth of field that captures both a sharp eye and the tip of the horn.wight_F_Stop_wight_MG_9524_MG_9524

A Baby White Rhino in Sabi Sands

Last year in South Africa I was again blessed with remarkable opportunities to photograph rhinos. Given their solitary and secretive nature, they are not easily found, at times requiring serious off-road searching. It was no different at both Kirkmans and the award-winning Leadwood Lodge in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve–a brilliant destination for Africa’s Big 5! On a late afternoon drive, stealing glimpses through the dense forest, I spotted a Mother and calf on the other side of the river, their distinct gray forms jumping out against the light sand. Off we drove down steep banks and across  sandy flats to where a four-month-old white rhinoceros was doing his best to nap. His giant ears earned him the nickname Little Shrek and provided the ultimate parasite snack bar for a hungry oxpecker.

Wanting to capture a different perspective and get as low an angle as possible on his face, I wedged myself between the seats and stretched out on the floor, steadying the 400 F4 DO on the door-less opening of the truck. Little Shrek, still new to the concept of a symbiotic relationship, endured the bouncing oxpecker for about two more minutes before rousing himself. On his way back to Mom he gave us a courageous mock charge–or perhaps a delightful little happy dance.shrekTrypI generally find I am always making sacrifices photographing in the wild. Luckily for me, Shrek didn’t have much of a horn, but the light was low and I was looking to capture his entire body in focus. Depth of field could not be sacrificed so I was left pushing the ISO on the 5D Mlll to 2500, which was quite workable with some noise filtering.

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Rhino in the Rain

I am often asked if I am ever afraid in close proximity to our planet’s greatest predators? I confess, I do live with one deep fear–never having enough light! It is often during the low light of early morning or just prior to sundown, when the action ignites. Throw clouds and a rainstorm into the mix and you can be searching for a workable exposure. That was the case with my next Sabi Sands encounter. We had left camp in an early drizzle, but it wasn’t long before a complete downpour had me scrambling for my Gortex and making sure my camera was equally decked out in rain gear. The weather may have been unforgiving and the light fleeting, but luck was on our side as our ranger spotted an adult white rhino. He was not easy to reach but our open-sided vehicle was strategically piloted, bouncing between thorny brambles and termite mounds, getting us very close indeed! The light was flat and the wind threw the pounding rain in different directions, making it tricky to keep the glass from spotting. Droplets clung to the thorns and leafless branches while dull, dried grass popped with snatches of amber and rust as the earth erupted in colour. Wandering through it all, this magnificent square lipped male, his usual light gray hide now a dark, almost purple colour. The only sound was the rain slapping the hood and the heavy swish of the rhino grazing his way past us. Shooting at f4 with my 70-200 F4 L IS and pushing the ISO up to 10000, I worked hard to, at the very least, bring home a memory of this otherworldly encounter.wight_rain_0U7A1591

World Rhino Day: Remembering Shida

I have been very lucky to meet so many rhinoceros, but perhaps the most memorable encounter was with a seven year old black rhino that, sadly, is no longer alive. Since 1977, the world-famous David Sheldrick’s Wildlife Trust has rescued more than 150 baby elephants and they have also cared for 10 black rhino orphans. Shida was one of them. He arrived at Shedrick’s in 2003 at two months old and grew to be a strong, independent male. Eventually released to live freely in Nairobi National Park, he would often return to the orphanage to visit his old keepers, get a free meal and rub horns with his blind friend, Maxwell. As a foster parent of Shedick’s elephants, I visited the orphanage in 2010 and was delighted to find Shida on one of his visits. Eating safely within his old stockade, I spent time within arms reach of the young rhinoceros. It was deeply affecting. I left that day with a full heart having seen the tremendous work these people do on behalf of their charges and to have met so many young animals with hope for a future because of this work.

Sadly, Shida’s life was cut short. He died on March 18, 2011 after an unfortunate altercation with an adult male rhino. I am grateful for having met him–like every animal, he was a unique and emotional individual with a history, a family, friends and a home. Shida would help shape my intention as a wildlife photographer; when I lift my lens to make an image, I push to see beyond what they are, and seek to capture who they are.

Thank you Shida.wight_Shida_MG_2202

World Rhino Day is September 22-5 rhino species forever!

 

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A modified version on this post was published in this months issue of Wildlife Photographic.

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The Chimpanzees of Fauna: Seeing Past the Bars

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Chimpanzees in Sanctuary

For the past two and a half years I have been fortunate enough to volunteer my time photographing the incredible chimpazees at the Fauna Sanctuary outside Montreal. This extraordinary place is home to 12 remarkable apes, 5 monkeys and a menagerie of rescued farm animals. The chimps and monkeys have, for the most part, arrived here from medical labs, zoos or the entertainment industry. Because of humans, they no longer live a free and natural life in the wildnerness and are reliant on caregivers in sanctuary to tend to thier needs.

Chimpanzees are large, wild animals with tremendous strength and intelligence. After spending more than 20 years alone in a small lab cage, enduring endless medical procedures, no creature could emerge without physical and psychological scars. So it is for these chimpanzees. They live with their pain, with their memories; saddled with demons and struggling with illness. They are courageous souls who have had to develop new life skills, adapt to unnatural environments and learn to trust, or at the very least, rely on humans–the very apes responsible for their lives in captivity.

sueWight__0U7A0694I am honoured that most days they allow me to photograph them. Believe me when I tell you if they do not want their picture taken, it does not get taken. They walk away, turn their heads, hide, threaten or, more emphatically, spit water at me. They commuincate clearly to me–it is their choice.

It is my responsibility to portray them with the dignity they deserve and I seek to reveal their remarkable personalities, their complex relationships and deep emotions. My objective is always to tell their story in a truthful and respectful manner.

Frankly, I am awed in their presence. They just as easily disrupt as inspire my creative process! I am humbled when I am with them. I learn so much from the remarkable caregivers who try to make their lives easier and more enjoyable, allowing them to make desicions–choosing where they wander, who they spend time with, what they eat…always trying to provide them with choices.

On Chimpanzees and Cages…

handWight__0U7A8371Let’s be perfectly clear; these chimpanzees did not choose to live this way. This is our doing. Our choice. When I have an image posted of one of these sentient beings living at Fauna and I read comments that some people dislike or would prefer not to see the “cages” or the “bars,” it bothers me for several reasons.

To begin with, the chimpanzees at Fauna do not live in “cages.”

These are the cages many of them once lived in. This is an actual cell from LEMSIP that now sits in the woods on the Fauna property, out of sight of the chimpanzees, but very much present to anyone working or visiting the property. These were the bars they once lived behind…

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…these are the cages, that thankfully for these twelve chimps, have been left behind.

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Their living space at Fauna is enclosed, absolutely, with electric wire, metal, locked doors, concrete walls, and even a moat. But they have acres of land, both inside their chimphouse with its enormous ceilings and bright, unbarred windows, as well as on the acres of islands dotted with treehouses, hammocks and climbing structures. Elevated above the islands and leading away from the house are iron skywalks with canvas covers. The chimps can walk around outside, find quiet places to nap or be with friends while still enjoying some protection from rain and wind.

However, they need to stay safe. Their caregivers need to stay safe. So, they need to be enclosed.

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So, why is it that we do not want to see the metal? Do we feel less guity seeing them without the bars? We are so privileged to give witness to their lives–an opportunity that should never have been afforded us–should we not accept the terms that we created for them as they live this life they did not choose? To me, with or without the bars, they are the same remarkable, powerful, thoughtful and emotional chimpanzees. This is who I see. This is who I photograph.

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When you are looking at one my photos of the Fauna chimps, you are seeing what I choose to show you. I make an emotional and creative decision. Of course I like to see the chimpanzees without obstacles in front of their beautiful faces. I push my skills to discover better techniques for creating images that will make the bars “disappear.” The work is difficult and long with more failure than success. But when they choose to co-operate, I feel they have offered me a great gift and that I must not let them down.

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feetWight___U7A2135I do this work because I want to represent them and to help tell their stories. For these chimpanzees, their lives, their stories–past and present–take place behind bars. That will not change. Be mindful that as a photographer I am creating an image–making a moment. Regardless of what I choose to show you in my photos, make no mistake; the enclosures–the bars–they are always present…but lets all remember why they are there.

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For these twelve chimpanzees, thankfully, their home is no longer a cage. But there will always be locks, electrical wire and bars. Perhaps we can all look a little harder to see past them.

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All photos © NJ Wight

Thank you Gloria Grow for all that you do and for inviting me into this world. I am forever grateful.

For more images of the chimpanzees of Fauna:

In Their Hands: In Support of Steven Wise

95% Chimp

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You can support the Fauna chimps by purchasing Originals! Fauna Art Cards.

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