Photographer Justin Cleaver tells us what he has learnt
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