“So it gets to two weeks, I’ve gotten a little something but not much. 18 days, 20 days – on the 24th day, where you’re pulling your hair out, all of a sudden I see the cub pick it’s head up.”
And so Steve Winters grabbed his camera and captured what soon became his favourite photograph. The mama-tiger resting against the ground, while the cub is on all fours – both peering at him for one split second. He started crying.
It was a magnificent sight to behold, and so very worth the wait. This is the life of Steve Winters, one of the world’s extraordinary wildlife photographers and one of National Geographic’s best. Here for to share his tales and adventures in My Nine Lives with Steve Winter – from the gripping to the heartwarming – the man took some time off to answer our questions.
Nookmag: Hi Steve. As a kid, what were you most keen on exploring, and does this tally at all with what you are doing now?
Steve: As a kid, I loved National Geographic and photography! My dad had a huge collection of the magazines which I loved to explore and transport myself to these faraway exotic lands. My father was an amateur photographer too, so I ended up reading his books and magazines. At the age of 8, I decided I wanted to work for National Geographic. However, I didn’t take a photograph of an animal until I was 34 years old – while I was on that trip in Costa Rica. It was of a marine turtle coming back into the sea at dawn after laying its eggs under the sand on a beach.
N: Have you had to choose between “I’ve got to tell this story” and “I’ve got to stay alive”? Share with us your encounters.
S: Yes many times. Working with wild animals can be a bit dangerous and you need to work with local people who know the area and animals. You need to have a very high level of trust in their abilities, as your life is in their hands.
Getting charged by rhinos was the scariest situation I’ve been in while in the field. We were out in India with an anti-poaching patrol riding on elephants, when we came across a highly territorial rhino. The rhino chased us on elephant back for over 400m and bit the elephant’s trunk! I went flying, just managing to hold on to a thin bit of cloth. I thought I was going to die!
This was just the start of the trip; I had 5 more weeks in field. During the trip I had to replace my jeep door twice due to rhinos charging. But even in these very dangerous situations, I still continued to shoot and got the story.
N: On that note, please share with us some survival tips as well! What keeps you sane on these work trips?
S: What keeps me sane – and is my ultimate survival tip – is being able to stay in touch with my family. I can be gone for months at a time, so ensuring I can call home once or twice a day is very important. In the past, my most important piece of non-essential gear was a satellite phone—and it still is if I am in a remote enough area. Now that our world is blanketed by cell coverage, I get a local cell phone and I call home once or twice a day wherever I am.
N: What similarities do you see there, and in the urban landscape we live in?
S: What surprises me is how adaptable we and cats are – in this instance P22 and bobcats. These cats can live amongst us, and we maybe don’t see them or they don’t cause any trouble. They have no desire to interact with humans. That’s what we learn: we can coexist with this wildlife without a problem – even in the urban landscape.
N: What raw truths would you like us to be aware of?
S: If we save big cats we can save ourselves. The forests in which the big cats live are the lungs of the world and provide 75% of the fresh water we need to live – so if we save the big cats and their homes we can help to save ourselves.
N: We urbanites rarely get to see the wild side of things. What advice do you have for those who seek adventure?
S: Just go out and do it. Explore! Even if it’s just down the road, taking a different route to work.
My Nine Lives with Steve Winter is on 25 August 2015, 7.30pm, at the Esplanade Theatres on the Bay, Concert Hall. Tickets are priced from SD39, and can be purchased through SISTIC here.