Life On The Wild Side

To get the ul­ti­mate wildlife photos you need to be in the right place at the right time in the right ve­hi­cle…

Land Rover Monthly - - Contents - Story: Pa­trick Cruywagen Pic­tures: Hannes Lochner

How one man’s De­fender en­ables him to cap­ture the best in wildlife pho­tog­ra­phy and film

“To take his in­cred­i­ble wildlife and land­scape im­ages Hannes lit­er­ally spends years with his sub­ject”

No hu­man life is com­plete with­out a trip to wit­ness the mir­a­cle of na­ture that oc­curs each year in Botswana’s Oka­vango Delta. Try and imag­ine the scene. It’s where at the height of north­ern Botswana’s dry sea­son, the flat, dusty Kala­hari desert plains are trans­formed into a wildlife Gar­den of Eden thanks to the mother of all wa­ter dis­charges from the Oka­vango River. The wa­ters of Oka­vango Delta be­gin their re­mark­able jour­ney hun­dreds of miles away in the An­golan high­lands, be­fore mak­ing their way south and across Namibia’s Caprivi, and fi­nally they flow over the thou­sands of square kilo­me­tres that make up the Oka­vango Delta, bring­ing with them life – and wildlife)

It is here that the award-win­ning wildlife pho­tog­ra­pher and au­thor Hannes Lochner de­cided to shoot (with his cam­era, of course) the im­ages for his fifth book, Planet

Oka­vango. Now any­one who has ever done a trip to the Oka­vango Delta will tell you that the best way to view its mag­nif­i­cence and unique­ness, is from a light air­craft or moko­rro (the lo­cal name for a wooden dugout). Or for those in a hurry there is al­ways the op­tion of a tinny-type boat with an out­board mo­tor.

To take his in­cred­i­ble wildlife and land­scape im­ages Hannes lit­er­ally spends years with his sub­ject. He has al­ready done three books on the Kala­hari and for that he spent five years liv­ing there. In fact, he logged over 800 nights of camp­ing in the red sands of the Kala­hari and 100,000 kms of driv­ing his 1998 De­fender 110 300Tdi, when shoot­ing the book Dark­side­ofthekala­hari. Hannes does not travel alone, his fi­ance and wildlife film­maker Noa Köfler ac­com­pa­nies him. She is also the rea­son they chris­tened the De­fender Noa’s Ark. We think that is a good name con­sid­er­ing all the wa­ter driv­ing it has had to do in the Oka­vango Delta.

LRM caught up with Hannes in Maun, Botswana, just as he was shoot­ing the fi­nal few im­ages for his lat­est cof­fee table book Plan­e­toka­vango.

How im­por­tant is this De­fender to your work?

I now use my De­fender for all my pho­tog­ra­phy work. I can­not do the same in a Toy­ota Land Cruiser be­cause it has a kak* sus­pen­sion sys­tem. I used to own a Toy­ota Hilux but af­ter about three years of work­ing on my Colour­soft­hekala­hari book I de­cided that it was too small and so I started look­ing for a dif­fer­ent ve­hi­cle.

My De­fender has lit­er­ally been through hell to be hon­est with you. We’ve used it in the Kala­hari and now in the Delta and it’s still work­ing very hard. The only thing it does not like are long dis­tances. Just like any other Tdi it was not meant to go on tar roads and so I try not to take it on any. Nor­mally when I take it on Tar­mac some­thing goes wrong but when it’s in the bush then ev­ery­thing seems to be fine. It’s a great bush ve­hi­cle be­cause it’s very for­giv­ing when you are driv­ing over ob­sta­cles. I can­not be more com­pli­men­tary about the stan­dard Land Rover sus­pen­sion

Where did you find the De­fender?

A friend of mine saw it for sale in Swakop­mund, Namibia, for around £8000 at Di­et­mar Fleiss’ garage and so I went to have a look at it. It was his per­sonal desert travel ve­hi­cle and I knew straight away that I wanted it.

Maybe the fact that it had a gal­vanised chas­sis from a 1981 One Ten V8 had some­thing to do with it? We had to con­vert it into a film ve­hi­cle and Di­et­mar did the con­ver­sion for me.

Tell us what he did?

As you can see from the pic­tures this is not a stan­dard De­fender, it’s about 10 cm wider on each side. Do­ing cof­fee table books is not a very lu­cra­tive busi­ness and so we had to watch our pen­nies with the con­ver­sion. We had to cre­ate some­thing that was com­fort­able for work­ing in as you have to spend ev­ery sin­gle day in it for years on end. While Di­et­mar’s De­fender was de­ser­to­ri­en­tated we needed some­thing that would be com­fort­able in wa­ter, es­pe­cially when we moved to the Delta. I changed the dust snorkel to one for wa­ter. Other ma­jor changes in­cluded: the open­ing in the roof, rooftop tent and the side pan­els which fold down. I need all round panoramic views for my pho­to­graphic and Noa’s film work.

It’s ba­si­cally a hard top but you can take the windows, pan­els and wind­screen down or off. Once Di­et­mar had fin­ished all the me­chan­i­cal work we tack­led the in­te­rior and built the cup­boards that we needed. Seats were re­placed with B&W wa­ter­proof cases or boxes plus mounts all round for the cam­eras. Now it’s the ul­ti­mate De­fender wildlife film­ing and pho­tograph­ing ve­hi­cle.

Do you re­turn to base camp each night?

We’ve spent lots of time shoot­ing at hyena dens and will then just sleep in the roof top tent while on lo­ca­tion. The rea­son for this is that you want to be there for the rare mo­ments when the cubs come out of the den and so you have to be there all the time. It’s a stake­out of sorts re­ally. We did the same when shoot­ing leop­ard cubs in the Kala­hari.

While shoot­ing in the Delta we spent sev­eral nights at an ele­phant car­cass to see who would be com­ing to visit it. The smell was not great and it made sleep­ing hard. It’s not al­ways pleas­ant be­ing a wildlife pho­tog­ra­pher. Noa is just an ex­ten­sion of us and what we do. It’s our of­fice and our world. You’ve been liv­ing in the bush with your De­fender for eight years now. What’s the best off-road tyres? In the Kala­hari we used Bridge­stone All-ter­rains. They were not cheap and we lost loads of tyres. So when two

“What this De­fender has gone through is un­be­liev­able. It’s seen some of the most in­hab­it­able places and is still go­ing”

would go I would just buy the cheap­est tyres that I could get my hands on.

We were spon­sored by Supa Quick for our Delta ad­ven­ture. They gave us four Pirelli Mud Ter­rain tyres and re­mark­ably we still have three of them on Noa’s Ark. It’s my fault that we lost one of them as I drove into a stump that cre­ated a 10 cm hole in the side­wall. Plug­ging it was not an op­tion. The Delta is all about sand, mud, wa­ter and grass driv­ing. When you go off-road in the long grass you can­not see sharp sticks or other hid­den ob­jects. So ev­ery sec­ond or third day you are plug­ging tyres. These Pirellis lit­er­ally have hun­dreds of plugs in them yet they still do the job.

We nor­mally stay out in the field when shoot­ing for about three weeks be­fore re­turn­ing to Maun (the last big fron­tier town be­fore go­ing into the Delta). I then take the tyres to the tyre shop and they patch the tyres from the in­side. We al­ways carry two spares with us. I start to get ner­vous when we loose two spare tyres.

Would you de­scribe your­self as a bush me­chanic?

This Land Rover lives in the bush. So when I need a part it gets flown in. That is the great thing about the Delta. All the safari com­pa­nies need boat or car parts so as long as it is not too big it can get flown in. I have a me­chanic in Maun who I call on the sat phone and he get gets it for me and puts it on the plane. I get the parts within 24 hours. I then have to put on my hum­ble hat, jump into the Toy­ota Land Cruiser and fetch it from the air­field which is about 90 min­utes away. I then in­stall the part my­self and we are good to go. If it is some­thing very tech­ni­cal then I drive back to Maun to get it sorted. I have never not been able to drive it to Maun. It has never let me down and has been good to me.

De­scribe the me­chan­i­cal dif­fi­cul­ties of the Delta.

We have a lot of prob­lems with the con­tam­i­na­tion of the diffs and so we have to of­ten open them up. The seals are not great and they suck in wa­ter, not ideal when you’re spend­ing long pe­ri­ods driv­ing through wa­ter. So you have to change the oils very reg­u­larly.

Any tips for the mak­ers of the new De­fender?

I like the square look of the De­fender. If they make it rounded then that would be the end. They must keep it as it is, though it should be wider. When you work in a De­fender and you have loads of cam­era gear, you are ba­si­cally sit­ting on top of the win­dow and you can’t turn. That is why we

This page: Af­ter a few years in a Hilux, Hannes needed a bet­ter ve­hi­cle – the De­fender proved per­fect and was soon mod­i­fied to take wildlife photos

This page: Af­ter a few nights camped by an ele­phant car­cass, Hannes got great shots of the an­i­mals feast­ing on it

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