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Category Archives: Expeditions

Outer Mongolia

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I remember from my childhood that there were certain places in the world so far out there that they seemed almost mythical; Timbuktu comes to mind. Others were places whose name equated with punishment – to be sent to the Siberian Salt Mines for example. The threat of banishment was reserved for Outer Mongolia. Oh! I wish I knew then what I know now! Having once again returned from this amazing country I wondered how my upbringing would have been different if my parents, at the height of my naughtiness had bundled me up and sent me to Outer Mongolia.

For sure I would have learned at the ‘School of Hard Knocks’, it is a tough place, producing tough people. I would have learned to coax milk from the stubborn teats of camels, the art of extreme horsemanship, a reverence for nature, camaraderie, the importance of family, deep friendships, a sense of welcoming, survival skills to overcome the harsh winters, religious tolerance, minimalist living, an appreciation of the wide outdoors and a constant longing for the taste of hard curd. All-in-all not bad qualities to carry through life.

Regarding education and worldliness it is always a surprise to us how globally aware a herder in the Gobi Desert often is. Many times, for example, in the ‘developed’ world when answering people that I live in Ecuador they ask “Where is that?” In a nomadic herder’s ger (felt tent), through a translator, when learning I live in Ecuador they might say “Oh!” Between Colombia and Peru. “How is your president doing?” One of the positive benefits of a previous Russian occupation being the Russian radio access.

After a short absence since we were last in Mongolia (Reneé and I for a period even had an apartment in Ulaanbaatar (UB), the capital, for 6 months) we were keen to see changes. Apart from the heavy increase in traffic made up of a huge influx of 2nd hand Toyota Prius’s from Japan I only have good things to report. The atmosphere was friendly, pleasant and much less ‘Russian’ than before. Eateries were vastly improved as was service, hotels and shopping.

Over our journey through the Altai Mountains in the west with the eagle hunters, to the ever-changing scenery of the Gobi Desert we reaffirmed many old friendships and formed friends from past acquaintances. Mongolia, to us is much closer to heaven than the hell of old.
We are all guilty of something (overwork, succumbing to the pressures of stress etc.) and if anybody out there thinks that they also deserve some time in banishment then let us know!
Pete Oxford

 

Ecuadorian Volcanoes

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Over the past few weeks we have been doing something that perhaps we should all do more often: take time out and explore locally! Lucky for us, here in Quito, Ecuador our ‘back yard’ includes Cotopaxi National Park, Antisana Ecological Reserve and the Chimborazo Forest Reserve. We have photographed, hiked, cycled and actually relaxed – all in the company of these Ecuadorian volcanoes!

Cotopaxi National Park

We were lucky at Cotopaxi National Park to have a beautiful clear day in a typically cloudy season. The perfectly symmetrical volcano was fully exposed, spewing clouds of vapour from its caldera, there were blue skies above and even the occasional puffy white cloud. Cotopaxi is the highest active volcano in the world and a personal favourite of ours. Many a fond memory returns as we set foot into the biome. We remember spending a lot of time camping with Chagras (Andean, poncho-clad cowboys who range the high paramos to round up fighting bulls). Indeed we published an entire book on the Chagra culture, entranced as we were with their incredible unsung way of life. This visit was no exception, we got to ‘hang’ with them again, marvel at the horse tack, the stirrups and longest lassos in the world.

Antisana Ecological Reserve

The Antisana Ecological Reserve is an area well known for having a healthy population of Andean condors. Incredible birds they have a rich history in Inca and Ecuadorian culture. During our time in the park the low cloud cover, brought the condors lower to the ground. Once almost extinct in Ecuador, condors are thankfully beginning to make a comeback, I have even seen one over Quito before now! Nevertheless our highlight of this trip was in fact another bird – the carunculated caracara. These curious and intelligent birds of prey were seemingly everywhere. We were even able to walk up to one with a freshly killed Andean lapwing that it was ripping into. The peak of Antisana Volcano teased our visual sense as it shyly offered glimpses between the clouds, enticing our promise to return again soon.

Chimborazo Forest Reserve

Our most recent trip brought us into the home of indigenous people living in the shadow of Ecuador’s tallest volcano. Chimborazo which stands at over 6,200m and is in fact the farthest point on the planet from the centre of the Earth! Not only were we welcomed by such a warm community but in our travels we were also greeted by another group – though this one much more tentative. We were very pleased to see the population of wild vicuña now thriving after a reintroduction to its native landscape some twenty-seven years ago. The vicuña, for those of you that may not be familiar is a species of camelid which was bred by the Incas to create a famous domestic hybrid – the alpaca. The only wool collected from a vicuña is from its wispy chest hair, one of the finest wools known from the animal kingdom, it is extremely valuable and soft. As opposed to the other domesticated camelid from South America, the llama, (which was bred from the more coastal guanaco to be used as a pack animal) the alpaca also has an abundant fleece of fine, soft and warm wool.

Now, we admit that part of the reason for visiting these areas was purely selfish – we love being outdoors and any opportunity to take new photos of Ecuadorian volcanoes is always welcome. However, there are ulterior, Pete Oxford Expeditions motives at work as well. In just under 3 months we will be leading a couple of 14 day expeditions to the Galapagos Islands, and we have been scouting potential pre or post expedition adventures to share with our friends that are coming! I would say that any of the above would serve as an exciting balance to any Galapagos itinerary, now the challenge presents itself: which do we choose?

As an aside we have only two spots left on the November Galapagos expedition so jump aboard the S/S Mary Anne with us, spend 14 days exploring the landscape and wildlife that inspired Darwin and then maybe explore mainland Ecuador for yourself for a few days in the Avenue of the Volcanoes all close to Quito.

Until next time, keep exploring!

Pete & Renee

Sailfish – Ocean’s Ambassador

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I was just inspired by a similar piece published by Paul Nicklen, a good friend and hero of ocean conservation. Below is a similar piece I wrote some five years ago, and have to concur with Paul that my experience with Sailfish was as surprising, emotional and exhilarating as anything I too have ever experienced in Nature.

We must learn to respect and conserve our ocean’s predators.

“Don’t end up as a kebab!” my friend Pete Atkinson Skyped me after I’d told him about my upcoming adventure.

It was March, in Mexico, off the Yucatan Peninsula on Isla Mujeres, and it was six o’clock in the morning. I was on the dock, ready to board one of the fleet of a dozen high-tech, game-fishing boats, each bristling with fishing poles, out-riggers and antennas. Clients and crews were cocky with anticipation. Fishing was good – the annual migration of sailfish was in full swing.

Sailfish are one of the most highly prized gamefish in the world. The sport fishing industry sells them as “providing thrilling leaps and a powerful and acrobatic fight”. Personally, I have to admit that I just don’t get it. I fail to understand how the terror of a magnificent, hooked fish, in its desperate attempts to evade death can be entertaining, whether it leaps out of the water or not. Nor do I understand how we view the fish as “providing” such a show as if it were doing it obligingly to please a human audience.

Nevertheless my three compañeros and I were no exception, we were also there to get amongst the sailfish. Our intentions however were different. We wanted to peel back the barrier and witness one of the world’s most incredible fish in its natural environment – from underwater.

Sailfish are members of the billfishes, Istiophoridae, family (which includes all the marlin, the spearfish and sailfish). They are a designated Highly Migratory Species (HMS) and will swim an average of 200,000 miles, through international waters, in their 16 year lifetime. They can grow quickly in their first year reaching up to five foot in length but from then on their growth slows considerably. They are one of the most inshore ranging of the billfish feeding on flying fish, halfbeaks, sardines, small tuna, squid and octopi.

The problem of course is how do you find a few sailfish in a vast expanse of open water. Despite their size of up to nine feet in length and in excess of 120 pounds, they remain elusive. Except that is when they gather to feed.

We slipped away from the dock, scanning the surface out to the horizon in earnest as we motored into blue water. We were not in fact looking for the sailfish themselves – but frigatebirds. With a 6-7 foot wingspan and only a 2-3 pound body weight these aerial masters dotted the sky, lazily cruising on outstretched wings. They were hungry and they too were, indirectly, looking for sailfish.

Then, a mere hour into our day, on the horizon we spotted what we were looking for – more frigates. This time, the birds were flying in a concentrated funnel, swooping down to the surface to snatch sardines from the water. We were already kitted up in wetsuits, weightbelts, long fins, masks and cameras and excitement levels were high. By the time the skipper had reached the meleé and turned our stern into the action, we were lined up on the back rail, filled with anticipation ready to jump.  ‘Délé, Go, Go!” shouted the skipper and we launched ourselves in to the water. The difference between what we had seen in air, watching the frenzy of the frigatebirds, coupled with the occasional, tantalizing glimpse of action below, to what we witnessed as we passed through the invisibly thin surface, was, quite literally a world apart.A large, living, silver ball of polarized sardines was being kept pressed against the surface by as many as 50 swift, dark shapes criss-crossing below and to the side. Sailfish! We kicked frantically, cameras at arms length aiming at the action and firing away with super wide lenses. We were lucky so far but this could well be our only encounter of these elusive fish. The sardines were trapped and the frigates were maximizing on the bonanza held within their reach by the hunting sailfish. As we sped forward, the closer our approach, the more awesome the spectacle became. The whole group was working like a pack of wolves, they were cooperating in the hunt in the typical manner of other apex predators. Lions cooperate, wolves do and so do wild dogs and hyenas, yet for some reason we don’t normally associate fish with any character or individuality but merely within the limitations of ‘tasty’, ‘tonnage’ or ‘something to hook’ – let me tell you, now is the time to take another look.

Indeed, humans largely view fish as a resource. We continue to pull them out of the ocean as if the old adage were really true “That there are plenty more fish in the sea.” That may have been true a century ago when fishing pressure was low and the playing field was more level, when we did not totally outcompete the fish with advanced technological capabilities to find and catch them by the hundreds of thousands of tons, and, also, in a time when there were only 2 billion not 7 billion people on the planet. Today however all the billfish populations are at an all time low, several species may already be close to a non-viable population number and may not recover sufficiently once the present long-lived adult population begins to die off while the current kill rate is maintained.

As we moved in yet closer to the hunting pack we began to make sense of the apparent chaos. The prey were being herded into a tight bait-ball. Sailfish would swim close and flick up the huge sail-like dorsal fin like a fence to consolidate the sardines, another would work the opposite side while others stayed below. Colour patterns instantaneously flashed on the bodies of the hunters from a purple-with-blue-spots, to a dramatic silver-and-blue-striping, to a stunning coppery-bronze colour; the revelation was that they were actually communicating. Reminiscent of squid or cuttlefish (mere mollusks), they appeared to be using a kind of chromatic semaphore. The meaning was lost on us except that as they turned in, one at a time, to the bait ball to feed, they most often lit up with a metallic bronze as if signaling “It’s my turn, I’m going in!” Their sails would erect explosively with the whooshing sound of a zip fastener and they would swim until their bill was inside the bait ball. I had been told that they would slash at the sardines with their rough-edged bill and stun a few fish to pick up later. The truth was so much more elegant as, with an almost imperceptible sidewise motion, (virtually only a vibration) it was enough to knock a sardine senseless which was scooped up there and then on the fly. The satisfied sailfish pulled out, the sardines baled up tighter and then another hungry hunter would flash bronze and move in effortlessly to the bait ball to grab itself a bite to eat. Through close observation one could see that the whole process was in fact ordered, refined – gentlemanly almost.In all my travels and close encounters with nature, to be in the intimate company of 50 Atlantic sailfish, in blue, oceanic water was already, after 45 minutes, a major wildlife highlight in my life. Part of the beauty of the experience was the fact that these top predators, who knew exactly that we were there, accepted us completely and let us simply observe.

Yet, these ambassadors of the high seas are threatened, like so much else in the oceans of the world. Even before humans have learned enough about their basic biology, from the moment we have been able we have rapidly and very effectively, been systematically ridding the planet of sailfish. Nor do we understand the consequences. We do know that apex predators in general are the keystone species of ecosystems and without sailfish being present in their pivotal role anything could happen. Maybe no billfish would mean that baitfish numbers exploded, just as no lions results in too many grazers and bush turning to desert so, an explosion of baitfish might eat all the plankton. But, guess what, 50% of the planet’s oxygen comes from oceanic plankton. Who knows what will happen? Whatever happens, if the trend continues, it will not be good.

Why are they threatened? Throughout their range sailfish regularly encounter 30-40 mile long lengths of monofilament nylon, laced with tens of thousands of baited hooks. Easy prey, the sailfish take the bait and drown on the line. The cruel irony is that these highly NON-selective fishing methods are actually targeting tuna and swordfish, yet alongside the dead sailfish may hang a drowned turtle or albatross. Sailfish have a rather tough, undesirable meat and are not even allowed to be landed commercially in the USA. When the fisherman comes to haul in the longline he berates the catch of “trash” fish, turtles and birds as a waste of hook space and they get tossed overboard to pile up on the sea floor. Unbelievably these incredible fish are caught for no other reason than to be thrown away as “by-catch” – a politically correct euphemism meaning carnage and waste.

I could no more imagine killing one of these animals as I could a lion. Of course there are people who would like to do both and I would say to those people “What’s the point? Haven’t we done enough damage to the planet, our home, already?” “Why not just trash your bedroom, your living room or your back yard – surely it’s the same?”

As the bait ball was being eaten smaller and smaller, the desperate sardines became individually more and more vulnerable. Occasionally one would break out from the ball and try to take sanctuary in our wetsuits or use us as a shield. An alert sailfish would soon swerve in perilously close to catch the errant sardine and, as thin as a knife would flex its body and shy away at the last instant in a supreme show of athleticism, the long, pointed bill missing my face by a foot or less. It was then I remembered Pete Atkinson’s comments and knew that if a sailfish had the will it could pierce my body with it’s sword, like a hot knife through butter. Malice was absent however and I felt guilty on behalf of those of my species whose only thought was to wrangle a hooked one.

Over Guyana

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The Essequibo River is the longest river in Guyana, and the largest river between the Orinoco and Amazon. Rising in the Acarai Mountains near the Brazil-Guyana border, the Essequibo flows to the north for 1,010 km through forest and savanna into the Atlantic Ocean.

I’m looking forward to getting back in the air and doing some more flying over Guyana! Presently in Georgetown, the capital which lies below sea level and defended from the ocean by a Dutch-built sea wall. It’s tropical, very tropical here right now and I’m guessing even hotter than Hades.

This small country, the third smallest in South America, is highly diverse, largely due to the stunning variety of topography. With Suriname, Venezuela and Brazil for neighbors it is surprising that English is the official language making travel easy. Less than 1,000,000 call Guyana home and most of those live on the thin coastal strip involved in the rice or sugar cane industries. Anything inland of the coast is known as the ‘Interior’ and a huge percentage of Guyanese have never crossed its threshold. A shame indeed as nearly 75% of the country is still intact, composed of distant and dramatic Tepuis, savannas dotted with extensive wetlands and millions of hectares of beautiful primary rainforest where jaguars can  be seen regularly!

The objective this time, after having published one successful book on the area is to show off this diversity, from the air, to wow the Guyanese and hopefully to instill a sense of pride in their country. Without that basic requirement, we believe, conservation is not possible. Working in collaboration with WWF Guyana and the Guyana Defense Force helicopter crews we have a lot of work ahead of us and I intend to post as regularly as an internet connection allows. Wish us luck!

Pete Oxford

The Pantanal – A Journal Excerpt from Pete Oxford

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The best wildlife viewing in South America?

We are in the Pantanal, Brazil, a place very dear to us at Pete Oxford Expeditions. I was one of the first photographers to get a critical mass of professional wild jaguar images and one of the first, I believe, to have Pantanal jaguars grace the pages of National Geographic Magazine, including a pull out, double page spread and a front cover in some editions. Reneé too has been coming here for years and declares it her favorite place on the continent!

Today we returned from the river, nostalgically, along the raised Transpantaneira road towards Cuiaba. We had come primarily to watch jaguars, until fairly recently one of the hardest cats in South America to see in the wild. Everywhere other than the Pantanal the jaguar remains elusive and mostly nocturnal. We set out early every morning and from our comfortable speed boats we scour the river banks looking for the cats, training our eyes and binoculars on any little spot we think might be attractive to our quarry. We imagine ourselves in their spotted skin and ask ourselves where WE would be if we were a cat. As our eyes are trained and a visual search image develops the job becomes easier. Our success on this expedition however was unprecedented. In 9 ‘game drives’ in our speed boats, we saw 11 individual cats in 13 sightings. That’s an impressive average of nearly 1.5 jaguars per drive or about 3 per day! We watched a mother with two cubs, followed jaguars hunting at the river’s edge for kilometers, saw them leap into the water after caiman or just chill – watching us.

With heavy hearts we left our floating hotel, boarded our boat for the last time and made our way towards Porto Joffre. In a final goodbye we had an incredible sighting of a Brazilian tapir crossing the river in front of us! South America’s largest land mammal, a relative of the rhinoceros, the tapir seemed to not even notice us at all. We waited for it to reach dry land where it stopped for a drink before heading off into the bush.

Before we eventually made it to Cuiaba airport for our onward flight to our post extension at the spectacular Iquazu Falls we had some pretty cool subjects for our final 24 hours etched, back to back, on our memory cards! A tapir, hyacinth macaws, caracaras, a tamandua, crab-eating foxes, a caiman with an anaconda, an ocelot, hawks, kingfishers, owls, storks, herons, waders, capybaras and even a great potoo.

A fantastic way to leave this spectacular Brazilian wetland. Until the next time Pantanal and we can only hope we have another group that is as adventurous and fun as this one was. See you all soon for another Big Cat reunion!

Cheers,

Pete Oxford

King of the Jungle? Maybe not for long!

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Lion numbers are now down to a tenth of where they were 35 years ago. With only 20,000 left in the wild, are we going to sit back and watch them go down the same path as the tigers? From 100,000 in the1900′s, to less than 4,000 in the 1970′s. Today the move in the U.S.A to Protect African Lions Under Endangered Species Act is a step forward but not nearly enough to save them in the long term. Lions in Central and West Africa will be listed as endangered, but in southern and East Africa they will be classified as threatened. Trophies could still be imported from nations where lions are listed as threatened — as long as they meet the standards set under the special rule and the animals were killed legally.

Cecil was not the first male lion to suffer the fate when straying outside of a protected area and falling prey to a hunter. Thanks to social media it finally got the world’s attention. Two years running when we visited Hwangi NP in Zimbabwe, we learned that the dominant male we had photographed the previous year had since been hunted. This has been an ongoing problem in South Africa too.

While I was sitting in the departure lounge in OR Tambo Airport, Johannesburg a few months ago, I was sick to my stomach listening to hunters recall their exciting adventures while visiting my country. “And while we were waiting (probably at a baited site or waterhole) a hyena came in so we shot that too…”

Man is living outside the laws of nature with trophy hunting and always going for the prime individuals, but hunting is only a small part of the equation in the demise of the lions.

It takes years for a fragmented lion population – either from hunting, contraception or miss management to establish themselves as a functioning pride. Lions living in small, fenced reserves, who regularly come in contact with other lions do not always behave the same as those that have more space to roam. They change between groups frequently. They don’t always kill the cubs belonging to other lionesses. Many of these reserves don’t have hyenas or nearly enough of them to help maintain lion numbers either. Lions eat a lot! Small reserves don’t always have the numbers of plains game to feed them. Some of these excess old males land up on canned hunting farms.

Pete and I lived in a reserve in South Africa for 2 years and lion management was an eye-opener to us. It was horrific to me to learn how casually this is undertaken. No science behind who dies or who gets moved and basically they’ll ship them off to who ever will take them. There are reserves that are culling lions. Believe it or not – it is easier to cull a lion than to obtain a permit to relocate it. With a species now listed as endangered – how can we even consider culling healthy lions. In South Africa’s Kruger National Park (KNP) – our biggest park – tests show that both antibodies to the viruses that cause feline Aids (Feline immunodeficiency virus or FIV) and the bacterium (Mycobacterium bovis) that causes bovine tuberculosis are present in their lions. KNP is home to about 2,000 lions, basically a tenth of the lions left in the wild and potentially they are all sick! Again, I ask myself – how can it be possible that we are allowed to cull healthy lions in other areas? The alternative is contraception. But after several years on contraception the females become sterile so that is not the answer either.

The range of lions has shrunk. There is a move to repopulate lions into areas where they have been hunted out.

In 2013 we photographed the relocation of 4 lions to Malawi… One died in the airplane but the others are now doing well in their new home and have bred.

This year 7 lions were successfully trans-located to Akagera National Park in Rwanda. The cost of relocating lions is enormous but worth it. We must persist and facilitate this.

We are at a point with world lion numbers where every single one counts. We have also been fortunate to see the Asiatic lions in the Gir forest of India. Their numbers are so low they are barely a viable population but they do know every animal. With African lions we need a database of every individual in the world so they can be managed correctly. We need habitat for these animals to roam freely and severe punishments for poaching – where the end use is in Asian medicine, as well as a total ban on hunting. With today’s new protection act we are one step closer to shutting down one of the problems. With social media we all have a voice so let’s shout about it…

Anybody who is still not convinced should watch the movie Blood Lions.

“If we want to ensure that healthy lion populations continue to roam the Africa savannas and forests of India, it’s up to all of us — not just the people of Africa and India — to take action,” –Dan Ashe, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service.

With Christmas around the corner let us consider donating to a conservation organization to protect lions in place of buying presents. I would be happy to recommend some.

Reneé Bish

Alone in the forest

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Although I have a powered paramotor at home here in Quito it is just too high and unfortunately I became quickly out of practice. So, working on a book on the Huaorani people of the Ecuadorian Rainforest, I decided to get an even bigger propeller on my back by way of a helicopter!  I needed to get into a remote village and stay with the tribe. The chopper pilot was reluctant. Indeed, the Huaorani have a fearsome reputation for spearing uninvited visitors. We had no GPS coordinates but simply a rough idea of compass bearing and distance. Flying low over a sea of rainforest canopy we saw nothing so decided to climb. The two of us searched diligently for a football pitch sized clearing. Almost at the point of having to return we finally saw what we were looking for  and made our approach to land. The pilot was screaming into my headphones that he was not going to shut down the engine and hovered with the skids just above the grass. I had to jump out and face the consequences! An elder approached, I stood my ground, and when we were face to face (more correctly his face to my chest) the pilot was ready to yank the joy stick and leave me to my fate. To my eternal relief the old warrior took off his feathered crown and placed it, in a gesture of welcome on my head! It is now a prize possession on my shelf at home.

The pilot shut down, we unloaded and the helicopter left. I was now alone (for weeks) with the Huaorani and was immediately accepted as family. And, as you can see from the second picture it was fun to be a novelty! In their culture what was theirs was mine. Everything was a pleasure being around them, the comedy, laughter, generosity and just being close to nature – immersed in primary rainforest. I had my cameras, my solar panel and my computer as trappings of the culture that I quickly felt distant from but I was unable to fully reciprocate their welcome. I slept in a tiny tent that I had brought but had to keep a small padlock on it. You see, to me a computer cable was just that and highly necessary to my work being a success, to a Huaorani it is a pretty cool thing, strong enough to be able to tie up almost anything, from dead peccaries or monkeys to hanging a blowgun on the wall of the hut! I learned so much from these people, referred to as uneducated savages by many. We could all learn from them!

Pete Oxford

Conversation Conservation

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After giving a talk at WildSpeak in the Carnegie Institution for Science on Monday I don’t seem to have stopped talking. It was a great event, organized by the International League of Conservation Photographers (ILCP), with a hugely positive and interactive audience. What is a conservation photographer, I hear you ask? Both Theo and I are Founding Fellows of the ILCP and, along with Jami, Reneé and the rest of the League our objective is to further environmental and cultural conservation through ethical photography. We use imagery to effect change. Our belief is that an image transcends boundaries, instantaneously, across cultures, age groups and genders. An image, after all, is worth a thousand words. As conservation photographers we differentiate ourselves from being ‘simply’ wildlife photographers by using storytelling to expose threats and problems surrounding a conservation issue. In other words, clicking that shutter is not the end of the image but the beginning. Yesterday we spent the entire day at Flint Hill School in Oakton, Virginia. It was an awesome day! It was a day of incredible positivity. The students were so unbelievably well informed, already donating time, money and effort to the San Diego Zoo rhino program, or planting a native-plant butterfly garden or a host of other self-initiated projects. In this day and age of mostly negative conservation stories these students (and after 7 talks we met the entire school!) gave US hope. They inspired us to keep going, battle harder and lobby louder. I was completely refreshed by this upcoming generation who wanted a better world and already, in first grade, knew the consequences of excesses and damaged ecosystems. We talked our hearts out, offered ways we could all help and already, with feedback from the teachers, have been told that they are now living our suggestions. A totally rewarding experience!!

Pete Oxford

Reneé snorkeling with a whale shark

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My most special experiences are in the presence of wild animals, observing their natural behavior and where they seem oblivious of me, content to let me share their world. The encounter will be forever etched in my memory but thanks anyway for being there to take the pic Pete

The biggest office in the world

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How often do we hear people saying how lucky we are to have such an amazing job, how glamorous it must be or alternatively, when are you going to get a real job or I love travel but wish I had done more when I was younger…

There is no doubt that we try to live our lives to the fullest and we often flippantly reply to these questions with remarks such as, “Yes, we seem to have the biggest office in the world” or “why would we want a ‘real’ job?” In fact, we have often said that, while folks in the modern world, have been working and saving their entire lives in order to finally be able to travel to exotic destinations when they often should have done so previously. We, on the other hand have earned way less money but don’t need as much as we are already at those same destinations! It’s all a question of perspective.

What is seldom understood, however, is how tough the life of a wildlife photographer can be (or a trip leader for that matter!). We have sat, for example, for 12 days in a 40 degree centigrade dry stream bed in Madagascar, covered in flies before the first sighting of our subject (a fossa) and for nearly 3 months, mostly in a freezing blind, waiting for wild Iberian lynx or dangled on a rope 40 meters up in a rain forest canopy in front of a harpy eagle nest, interesting, yes, but none of it glamorous as one might be led to believe.

A real complication for us in this digital age of photography is the need to carry a computer and backup hard drives to download the images – yep we actually do have office work! The nature of our work is often in remote areas where power is an issue (thank you www.voltaicsystems.com for sorting that out!), where, even in the biggest office in the world, there is no desk or comfortable chair, where it could rain on you at any time, where inquisitive spectators may appear over your shoulder, where insects bite and are attracted to the light of the computer screen, where you often have to keep your rubber boots on, where… where…

We wouldn’t change it for the world!

Reneé Bish