Pho­tog­ra­pher Justin Cleaver tells us what he has learnt

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Spend­ing ex­tended pe­ri­ods in the wild – o en alone – has a orded me the chance to get to know my­self.

Time has a way of forc­ing us to get in­tro­spec­tive, to ques­tion ev­ery­thing.

I have al­ways found clar­ity of thought and a feel­ing of peace in na­ture. Walk­ing in the bush is when I feel most con­tent and alive – and most vul­ner­a­ble – with a sense of the wide-open world and a de­sire to re­con­nect to it. The more time I spend learn­ing about an­i­mal be­hav­iour the more I un­der­stand hu­man­ity and its com­plex­i­ties.

The geno­cide of rhi­nos is shock­ing enough, but learn­ing about the dif­fi­cul­ties these pre­his­toric beasts face re­pro­duc­ing and nur­tur­ing their young in the wild has opened my eyes to what a mam­moth task pro­tect­ing them is.

I was for­tu­nate enough to visit a pri­vate game farm from time to time and see­ing how suc­cess­ful they have been in their rhino-breed­ing project. My sin­cer­est grat­i­tude goes out to all the men and women, whose ded­i­ca­tion of­ten goes un­no­ticed, com­mit­ted to pro­tect­ing wildlife and con­serv­ing them for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

Kevin Richard­son, ‘The Lion Whis­perer’, taught me that there’s a bond that can be formed be­tween man and beast.

I was brought up on books about Elsa the Lioness in

Kenya and the bond she formed with the Adamsons, but to see the love and ex­cite­ment the lions have for Kevin was as­tound­ing. He’s some­one I re­spect and, in many ways, envy for his re­la­tion­ship with these big cats. We only ever see the pho­tos, how­ever, and not the years of nur­tur­ing and com­mit­ment that went into form­ing those bonds.

My trav­els in Africa have given me the clear opin­ion that, what we need to save wildlife pop­u­la­tions, is tourism.

It was ex­plained to me at Phinda Pri­vate Game Re­serve that if the beds are empty there is no money to put to wildlife preser­va­tion.

It is the re­al­i­sa­tion that, by pro­tect­ing the en­vi­ron­ment and up­lift­ing the lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties, ev­ery­one ben­e­fits when it comes to tourism.

In life, grat­i­tude is fore­most.

I have been for­tu­nate through­out my life – but I’ve also ex­pe­ri­enced hard­ship, lows and loss. It’s these losses that made me re­al­ize that, in pur­suit of life’s highs, you need to be will­ing to risk ev­ery­thing.

FROM LEFT: PHO­TOG­RA­PHER JUSTIN CLEAVER; THE KAROO; JUSTIN AS A CHILD WITH HIS FA­THER, WHO IN­STILLED IN HIM A LOVE FOR NA­TURE

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