Emotion in wildlife photography

Over the past two weeks I have spent time with a giraffe cow and her newborn calf. This giraffe cow is easy to identify as she has a damaged left ear. The guests and I have experienced many delightful moments watching the calf learn how to use its long legs. The floppy eared cow has covered some serious ground across the Mara North Conservancy and I have observed her in many different locations. The one thing that is consistent is that she is always on her own and not with any other giraffe. I have been pleased with the images I have captured of her and the calf. I found myself becoming excited whenever we found them, I was invested and looking forward to documenting the calf’s development.

Since arriving in the conservancy, I have heard stories of a lion called “Half Tail” his heritage is from the world-famous Marsh Pride, a pride that has been documented by well-known film makers and photographers. The guides and past guests talk about Half Tail and his cranky reputation. They also talk about his beautiful dark mane and how impressive he is. I was excited to photograph this lion.

A few days ago, on our morning safari with guests we received a call to say Half Tail was back in town. We set off to find him. As we approached the sighting I saw an adult giraffe standing nearby. She looked familiar and as she turned I saw her floppy ear. Her calf was not with her. She was staring directly at Half Tail. My heart sunk. In that moment I knew that Half Tail had killed her calf. I felt a lump in my throat as we approached Half Tail. I saw a giraffe calf in his giant paws, its little chest cavity completely open. I felt a wave of shock and emotion flow through my body. I tried to hold back tears but could not. I have been travelling and photographing wild animals for over twenty years but never have I felt emotion like this. I felt a pang of embarrassment as our lovely guests passed me some tissues. I could not pick up my camera. Was this unprofessional of me? I should be in control of my emotions. I am a serious wildlife photographer… NO I am a human that feels empathy, sadness and compassion. The floppy eared giraffe cow stood staring at the lions for the entire day. 

We decided to go back to Half Tail in the afternoon, my emotions were calm. I wanted to finish the story and document this infamous Lion. It was most fascinating watching Black-backed Jackals trying to steal a piece of meat from Half Tail, he was not having it! 

I would love to hear from other wildlife photographers that have become attached to their subject and have had a similar experience. I think we are always told to be tough and not show emotion when it comes to documenting wildlife. We are human and as a friend and brilliant wildlife photographer told me the other day “Empathy and compassion are emotions so often missing from most of humanity. Feeling them makes you a better person, despite the pain they so often bring”