It was awesome, though a trifle terrifying, to be staring right into the lion’s eyes. Thankfully, it all happened safely, via my computer screen. It was the photographer, Glyn Edmunds, who was taking the risks. He was just 10 feet from the lion, but taking his images from the relative safety of a small Suzuki 4X4 and well-experienced in wildlife behaviour, having been to Africa for over twenty-five years and having photographed for the last six years for the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, in Kenya.
I was looking forward to seeing lots of stunning images of African wildlife, discovering how the pictures were taken, and receiving background information about the conservancy. I was not disappointed! Glyn did not bother us with lots of technical details about his images, beyond the fact that he is a Canon-user, who likes to work in RAW, and prefers a 70-300mm lens. Rather, it was an opportunity to sit back and enjoy a veritable cornucopia of amazing, pin sharp images. Glyn only deals in quality images. As he says on his website: ‘It is very hard to describe quality, as it includes sharpness, contrast, composition, colour and depth of field, to name just a few, but however you measure it, it is always visible and makes the image stand out!’
There was a lot of patience involved in Glyn’s picture-taking – predicting where animals would be, what they would do next, and ‘habituation’ – letting them simply get used to you being there, particularly timid animals, such as antelope. He knew he could safely get down on the ground in front of the last surviving Northern White Rhinos on the planet, as they’d always been ‘very good, the times I’ve been with them’. Rhinos ‘don’t bother you unless you do something stupid!’, he explained. Though, rather him than me!
I was impressed by the sheer love and admiration Glyn showed for the wildlife. He loved the comical Secretary Bird, flapping its wings to pull its legs out of the mud and then giving Glyn ‘a look’ after finally releasing itself. He appreciated the ‘super-super-intelligent’ elephants who were clearly enjoying splashing water around. And then there was the ‘cheeky chappy’ chimpanzee, Manno, who had been rescued from cruel captivity in a private zoo in Iraq, where his keepers had even encouraged him to smoke cigarettes! Manno was being rewilded – when he first arrived at the Conservancy, Glyn explained, his touch was very gentle, but now he would rip your arm off, which is how it should be as he reverts to being a wild animal!
Glyn’s pictures were a mixture of single images, sequences and brief video clips. A favourite video brought us face to face with a group of elephants walking towards the photographer. One of the most stunning sequences was of a lion, full on, yawning and eyeing Glyn every moment. He also employed sequences to tell stories about particular aspects of the Conservancy, such as the anti-poaching dog unit or an intervention to save the life of Euni, a lioness injured by buffalo horns. Equally, sequences were useful to document various aspects of how elephants communicate with each other – we learnt how they touched noses to show friendship, how they would ask to play, and how they would say ‘I am not a threat’ and ‘I want to be your friend’.
Perhaps the most poignant images were not of wildlife at all, but of plaques in the Rhino Cemetery, an area of cairns commemorating rhinos killed by poachers. It was a truly sad spot in Glyn’s talk as we came face to face with such cruelty. However, thankfully, the Conservancy has now been poacher-free for over four years. I was impressed by Glyn’s mutual relationship with the subjects of his photography. As well as taking their images, he is keen to give something back. And he does this through his support for the Conservancy, sharing his images with Ol Pejeta, publicising their work and even generously donating the fee from this evening’s talk. Perhaps this is what made his photos stand out as not just another gallery of images from a safari tour!