Dhayvat Udeshi, from India, spent four weeks at Thanda Private Game Reserve as a photographer on our Wildlife Photography and Conservation Project in South Africa. Now, Dhayvat reflects on his time as a volunteer, where he found inspiration, knowledge, and a home away from home.
I arrived at the Durban airport in the beginning of February with a common apprehension of how the project would be. However, my first contact with African Impact Staff, Ziggy and a comforting Tara at the airport had me settle right in. Amanda’s grand welcome and Pip’s expectation pitch got the momentum going, after which there was no looking back.
Something about Thanda made me feel at home and the astonishing landscape amidst the savannah instilled inspiration to do something for it. In our first week, we had a photography workshop with Paul, in which we learnt the basics as well as a few advanced techniques. We worked with him for almost 16 hours a day, but there were barely any signs of fatigue. Informative critique sessions and tricks of the trade had all of us engaged and enthusiastic for the long hours.
Simultaneously we were having amazing game drives, experiencing much more than what I had expected. In our very first drive we had an encounter with the Thanda herd of elephants at literally a trunk-length's distance. The big bulls intimidatingly brought huge trees to ground while the cows headed the herd, mothering the calves.
In subsequent weeks we had another great elephant sighting from up close at a water hole. In our first week itself we got great shots, many of which we as a group foresaw going on the database. As time progressed, I became pickier about the photos I took and was proud of. The workshop changed my outlook towards wildlife photography and a workflow was formed for systematic and organized working.
Our second week revolved around planning and delivering a lesson for a nearby school. Helping the local community is a part of our agenda and this was extremely satisfying as we got an opportunity to explain the importance of conservation and ecosystems to young, fresh minds. Setting up a wavelength with the kids was a challenge but our group having a spectrum of ideas made the class very interesting. After a visit from the students to the lodge in our second week, we went to school in the fourth week introducing the solar system to the kids there. Our initial experience with the kids helped us prepare in a much better manner and the response from the students was astonishing. Their enthusiasm brought a smile to our faces and we left having a feeling of achievement. My much-needed workouts were on conservation days, where we would help the reserve with various activities such as clearing alien plants, litter picking and making hospitality arrangements for our two young sub-adult male lions in the Boma.
The wild weeks were broken by some relaxing weekends at St. Lucia and Mozambique that gave us a different flavor of Africa such as hippos on the street or flying quad bikes off sand dunes. We also got to visit various reserves close to Thanda such as Mkuze, False Bay and Lake Jozini. There are some things that I will take back home that will always get my heartbeat going, such as seeing a cheetah and her cubs on foot about a foot away, the roaring sound of lions under the moonlight, vibrations of which we felt in the car, and spending an hour with loads of Impala (it’s a photography thing researchers ignore!) seeing them play, greet and cuddle. As I left, I saw Thanda with blurry eyes, and was clutching onto my porcupine spike with a hope of coming back soon. About the author Dhayvat Udeshi is from Vadodara, a medium-sized town in India (medium as per Indian standards). He just left his job as an Oil Field Services company to return to India to join the family business of making Castor Oil and its derivatives. He loves to travel, and has lived in Siberia and Saudi Arabia during his stint as an Oil Field Engineer. His dream destination, however, is Antarctica. He loves to compose songs and also plans to make few short films (maybe a feature film someday). Dhayvat loves animals and African Impact has helped satisfy that part of his life! Are you passionate about photography as well as wildlife conservation too? Why not check out one of our three projects which combine the two?