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From The Black Leopard Image Copyright Will Burrard Lucas 2

My dream was to photograph a star-lit black rhino

Wildlife photographer and RPS member Will Burrard-Lucas explains how he achieved his bucket list photo of an elusive and endangered mammal

‘A black rhino under the stars is captured with a camera trap in the Ngulia Rhino Sanctuary, Tsavo West National Park, Kenya, August 2018’, by Will Burrard-Lucas

 

British wildlife photographer Will Burrard-Lucas made international headlines in February 2019 when he released the first professional camera trap photos of a wild black leopard in Africa. He describes his quest to photograph the endangered animal at the Laikipia Wilderness Camp, Kenya, in a book to be published in March 2021.

But Burrard-Lucas, a member of the RPS, had another goal on his bucket list – to photograph the endangered black rhino against a starlit sky. Here the photographer, who spent his childhood in Tanzania, explains how he achieved this rare image.

“I had teamed up with the Zoological Society of London and Kenya Wildlife Service in August 2018 to photograph critically endangered black rhinos in Kenya’s Tsavo West National Park.

“This area is mountainous and covered in thick vegetation, which makes it perfect black rhino habitat but also a difficult place from which to spot and photograph these elusive creatures.

“Black rhinos are mostly active at night and often use well-established tracks through the bush. Photographing them would be an ideal task for my Camtraptions camera traps – a system which I developed myself for situations just like this, when I might need to leave a camera in place for weeks or months at a time until my subject passed by.

“I had a specific shot in mind: a rhino under a star-filled sky. The conditions would have to be just right – a clear, moonless night – and I needed a cooperative rhino. I had a month in Tsavo to get the shot. I set up five cameras along well-trodden paths leading to a waterhole, each with a sensor and two or three off-camera flashes.

Willbl 4

‘Self portrait’ by Will Burrard-Lucas

“Almost the entire month went by and I still hadn’t captured the image I wanted. With just two days left in Kenya I went to check on one camera trap and found it had been knocked onto its back. Black rhinos are notoriously grumpy, and one individual had flattened every camera I had left in his territory – I have a collection of snapped tripod legs and dented camera housings to show for it. But when I pulled up the pictures on the back of the camera, I was delighted and relieved to find this shot. It seemed this rhino had been inquisitive and nudged the camera over after it had captured the image.

“After one month of effort I had got the shot I had dreamed of – and my camera was thankfully unharmed.”

The Black Leopard: My Quest to Photograph One of Africa’s Most Elusive Big Cats by Will Burrard-Lucas is published in March 2021 by Chronicle Books, £26. You can read an extract from the book in the March/April issue of the RPS Journal.

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