“There is always magic happening somewhere in the wilderness. And for the last fifteen years, I have worked to place myself and my camera in the right spot at the right time for the story that nature wants to reveal.
“For one of my projects, a few game trackers and I hiked deep into the forest to check my camera traps. I had set the cameras up along animal trails, and for weeks at a time, they were ready to shoot the moment an animal walked in front and broke the infrared beam. I was trying to capture the elusive mountain bongo, a massive antelope that had once been thought to be extinct in the wild.
“Getting to the trail was an adventure. It wasn’t long before my skin felt the electric tingle of the ubiquitous stinging nettles that littered the forest. The nettles could have been avoided, but all senses were on hyperalert for more consequential dangers.
“The game trackers and I hiked through a buffalo maze, an expanse of short bamboo where we were constantly crouching and slipping in the mud. The visibility was so limited I could barely see the person in front of me.
“This was the Aberdare National Park in Kenya, and it is my most productive stomping ground. Unlike the grassy savannah, it is nature in three dimensions. The tall trees and steep terrain allow up-and-down movement as well as side-toside. Savannah animals act within a circle, while the animals of the Aberdares act within a sphere.
“Familiar animals can appear so differently here. Many of its resident species have a melanistic doppelganger, a dark counterpart to match the dim forest floor. The slender mongoose, the genet cat, the augur buzzard, the white-tailed mongoose, the serval, and the leopard typically have a wide variety of colorations and patterns. But here they can be found in pure black. There are giant, twisted, gnarled trees that resemble wrinkled sages. Marbleized tree stumps, worn smooth from years and years of elephant tummy scratching, are totems to the itch, sculpted from scratch.
“Once we arrived at a camera, I checked the results. The frame was static, yet the camera caught more than twenty species. There were times I was not so fortunate and the cameras would be facing upside down and covered with mud. The camera’s LCD screen showing the red-handed culprit moments before lights out—the extended trunk of an elephant or the inquisitive face of a monkey peering into the lens. Once we arrived to find nothing at all: the camera, strobes, and sensors removed by thieves. The region is remote and the terrain is treacherous, yet in these mountains, poachers are present and act with impunity.
“It took more than three years to capture a photo of a bongo, and never once have I seen one in the wild. The image will last, but the future of the animal is less certain.”