When leaving Cape Town in June last year to photograph throughout Southern Africa, I knew things would be a little bit different to every other continent I have travelled in from North to South and East to West on our big blue ball. But I never expected that ‘Africa Time’ would mean so much more than the restrictions and broken clocks caused by the outbreak of the coronavirus.
As an Australian who has spent most of his adult life, nearly 30 years now, travelling our world, I might call myself a seasoned traveller and understand full well that all plans are subject to change. And as a wildlife and landscape photographer, I am usually found in remote places where connection to the outside world is limited or non-existent. So, I never really know what is going on out there.
I left South Africa and headed through Namibia, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, back into Mozambique for some more seafood, and then into Zimbabwe at the beginning of the year. And all seemed fine with the world, apart from a few hiccups with new and untested equipment as is usually always the case.
But COVID-19 had yet to arrive on the world stage as I explored the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe, where I was astonished at how lush and fertile the countryside was compared to many of the barren desert landscapes of the surrounding countries.
Eventually I found myself at Antelope Park in central Zimbabwe and decided to pitch my trailer for a few days and photograph the stunning watery landscape and its feathered admirers. During this time, I was fortunate enough to meet the owner of Antelope Park, Mr. Andrew Conolly, probably most famous for surviving an attack by a lion but unfortunately losing an arm in the process. I was immediately struck by his kind words, old mischievous smile and sheer vitality.
When some months previously I had entered Zambia from Namibia, I swung left and went to the remote Liuwa Plain National Park instead of turning right as most do to Victoria Falls. So after my first visit to Antelope Park, I took up Mr. Conolly’s suggestion of visiting their sister property at Wildlife Encounter at Victoria Falls on the Zimbabwe side. This property has the best lion feeding enclosure I have encountered anywhere with a cave-like viewing area that places you at eye level with the lions as they race in to devour their food. Being only a few metres from this action is quite unnerving at first. Especially when one of the lions charges the viewing fence and their hot breath and flying dirt hits you in the face – a unique experience.
I did not expect to find so many other different things to do at Wildlife Encounter on first arriving. But that was before I went for a bush walk with Nathan Webb, the operator of the park, and discovered my new mission; to photograph the very wily and elusive aardvark in residence in the bush on the edge of the park.
I called him ‘Andrew’!
And Andrew was a very cunning aardvark, but I am also a very persistent and patient photographer. After three weeks, I finally managed to get some photographs of him using my camera traps and was delighted and grateful to Andrew for finally allowing me a few images.
During those walks to check on my camera traps each day at Wildlife Encounter, I also photographed hundreds of different wildflowers and small insects hiding inside those flowers; wonders of our miniature world.
It was at this time that news of the spread and severity of the coronavirus was reaching us and foreigners started to make hasty plans to return to their home countries. As essentially a homeless wanderer with a Land Cruiser and camping trailer to haul around, what were my options?
But in the gravity of my situation as lockdown restrictions began, and true to his word, Mr. Conolly invited me back to Antelope Park. It is only during the hard times of adversity that true friends become apparent, and I totally value his generosity and integrity. Some may call it ‘Kismit’ or ‘fate’, but I am profoundly grateful to the Conolly family, not only for my own safekeeping, but for their care and dedication to maintain the livelihoods of so many in the local communities that are a part of Antelope Park’s greater family.
And while the times were hard and sacrifices had to be made during full lockdown with no money and meagre rations for all, we have all been in this together and survived.
My lockdown environment though was perfect, with a game park all to myself. I have been busy from sun-up to sun-down photographing the wealth of animal life here in such beautiful surroundings.
So, I have dedicated my time to doing the same as the rest of the Antelope Park family – by doing all I can to support a natural treasure for us all to eventually enjoy when the future allows.
Stay safe and positive. We are all faced with various challenges during our lives. This like others shall also pass with better times ahead.
Still homeless, but at home here at Antelope Park.
Shane Patrick White