Travel dreams are running on fumes these days with imagination making up the bulk of our travel experiences. So, imagine this: you finally go on your dream trip to see the wildlife of Kenya, to take some once-in-a-lifetime photos, and while you are watching a cheetah, it hops onto the safari vehicle next to you, or perhaps onto your vehicle. And this is not a sedan or tour bus, but one of those safari vehicles where parts of it are open to the outside so you can be closer to nature. You might want some solid, calm guidance about what to do with this cheetah on your vehicle from someone who understands animal behavior, who has the exact right personality to diffuse the fear and tension, someone like safari guide and photographer Tim Leperes.
Tim Leperes won the 2020 EcoTripMatch.com Best Nature Tour Guide award this year through a global, online vote that included 321cities and 63 countries. People nominate nature tour guides from all over the world annually and Tim happened to get two, rave nominations. The story about the cheetah was written by one of his nominators. Here’s how she tells the story:
“One of my favorite memories of Tim is when several safari vehicles stopped to observe a nearby cheetah and the cheetah climbed onto the safari vehicle that was right next to us. That vehicle’s driver and three passengers were all very frightened and the driver started trying to move the vehicle in a jerky fashion to dislodge the animal. Tim quickly, but calmly explained to them that they were in no danger, the driver should not move the car and all of them should simply enjoy the experience and take some photos! It took a bit of talking on his part, but all four of them calmed down and followed Tim’s advice. His natural leadership and knowledge of animal behavior were apparent to all.”
Tim’s knowledge comes from growing up in close contact with the wildlife of
East Africa. He was born in Samburu, in the Northern Frontier District of Kenya.
He says he was always fascinated with wildlife and with his grandfather’s
campfire stories about lion hunts and herding cattle amongst the wildlife. It was his grandfather that would share his advice about animal behavior, dispensing information about what to look out for when taking the cattle, sheep and goats to the river or to waterholes. The stories would include encounters with rhinos, elephants, lions and leopards and Tim now uses the lessons learned from those stories as a safari guide and photographer.
Although Tim would tell you he dreamed of being a pilot when he was growing up, it was his safari guide uncle that he tagged along with who inspired him to follow a different path. In addition to the immersive wildlife experiences he had growing up, he also went to college to learn about interpreting nature and wildlife for visitors as a safari guide.
Tim’s interest in photography was a parallel track, a creative expression that first showed up as an interest in abstract artwork. As Tim tells it, “My arts and crafts class was the best. I loved drawing and sketches. This, of course, built up my interest in photography as most of my paintings and sketches were from looking at wildlife magazines. After many years of guiding, I was gifted a camera by a close friend who thought my art should be in taking photos and of wildlife since i spend almost an entire year in the African Wilderness. He gifted me a Canon T3 Rebel, I bought a lens and began shooting. I later bought myself a different camera which has now become my second baby.”
His work has been featured in magazines and some of his photos have been sold online and to friends. He is inspired by many things, clicking the shutter when a scene or subject captures a moment in time. “My inspiration lies in not being like everyone else. In fact, what I try to do is non-conventional. Perhaps this is my way of standing out, but I see it as me being myself.
“So, when I plan a shoot I plan it as someone who has done it before, then twist it to be what someone hasn’t done,” according to Tim.
The combination of understanding wildlife behavior and photography makes a difference when you are also a person with those duel interests on safari in Africa. One of his nominators described it this way, “He has wonderful stories of interactions with leopards, the behavior of cheetahs, the long lives of baobab trees and the daily realities of the local Maasai tribes. I am a serious photographer and was so pleased that his own photography skill made him understand and anticipate the need to move our safari vehicle a bit for a better angle or better light. He is better than a walking encyclopedia. From the moment we met him the first morning of our trip his warmth was so genuine, unlike anything I’ve ever seen from a stranger. Within moments of starting our Safari his knowledge came pouring out to the 7 of us. His ability to spot animals was incredible. He found leopards three times that were so camouflaged at the top of the tree we had no idea how he could see them.”
His tips for photographing wildlife?
• Be patient
• Know your subject
• Know the rules, Break the rules
• Know your Gear (how fast can you operate your camera, shoot or change to the right lens)
• Work the Light
About the future, Tim would say this, “I would like to inspire more young and aspiring guides to get to the level I am and move forward. I have helped young guides too with intuition to better improve their guiding skills and work.
I get calls far and wide from guides who may want one or two tips on guiding.” According to his nominators and everyone whose votes led him to become the Best Nature Tour Guide of 2020, he is already inspiring a lot of people.
You can see more of Tim’s photography work on Facebook at: Timothy Leperes Laur
On Instagram: Instagram @timLeperes
He has also been doing work for WildEarth on YouTube as a wildlife commentator.