How did you manage to get so close to these animals for these photographs?
Generally, the places I photograph the animals are national parks and reserves, in which the animals are somewhat habituated to human presence. Then factor in the huge amount of time we spend with the animals, waiting for them to present themselves for their portrait, as it were. Combined, they allow us to get pretty close without being really bothered by our presence.
What is the longest that you waited for one of the portraits in your book?
Eighteen days. "Lion Before Storm—Sitting Profile," for example. I went back to that lion—because I loved his face—17 days in a row just to sit there and watch him flat on his back, sleeping. On the 18th day, a storm finally came in, and the second that the wind ahead of the storm smashed into his face, he sat up, and I got four photos in 20 minutes. ("Portrait of Lion Standing in Wind" and "Lion Before Storm" are two others from the series.) The irony is that having waited so long for something interesting, the shots are so perfect for wind direction, that some people think that I photographed the lion in a studio with a wind machine.
Also, "Giraffes in Evening Light." I waited three weeks without a photo before this one, mainly due to the weather conditions, as so often is the case. Again, many people think this shot must be photoshopped, but all those giraffes in those exact places under that exact sky is what you can see if you wait long enough, or are lucky enough—there were plenty of tourists there witnessing the same sight.
Do you think it is important that you feel a connection with the animals, or understand their dynamics and daily routines, to capture the sense of intimacy in your photographs?
I don't pretend to feel any kind of special connection with the animals. I just am fascinated and obsessed by them. Do I need to understand their dynamics and daily routines? I guess it helps to some degree, but their routines are not very routine on the whole. You pretty much have to go with the flow.
Have you returned since taking these photographs to see how your subjects are faring?
Yes. As much as one can. This coming year is going to be the most bleak of all with the terrible drought that East Africa is currently experiencing, and the explosion in poaching as a result of the renewed Chinese demand for ivory.
Poaching of elephants financed by the Chinese has exploded once again in the last few years. In 2005 ivory cost $400 a kilogram. Today, it is $6,000 a kilo. As a result, about 10 percent of Africa's elephant population is killed every year, about 30,000 elephants a year.
What kind of steps do you think a reader who is inspired by your book could take to help animal conservation in Africa?
Just send whatever money you feel you can to a few key charities that are doing what they can to help. Charities like Tusk and The Nature Conservancy work in conjunction with the local communities to help them see that it is in their economic interests to protect the wildlife and habitat around them. Without the local communities' involvement, all is lost.