Many ask me how we got in to wildlife and photography, despite a demanding career and teaching schedule. Come to think of it, we’ve never been stressed for time to venture in to the jungle or there was never an earth shattering event that led us to wildlife photography.
To start with, my parents were never fond of wildlife. In fact, my Mother is mortified of wild animals and simply the thought of elephants, leopards and snakes roaming around send chills up her spine. As a youngster, my family travelled often, as long as it was Kandy or Nuwara Eliya. The only camera we owned was a Kodak point and shoot (film) one that was freely available in pharmacies and studios.
My first foray in to a National park was in 1997 to Bundala, when I was stationed at Hambantota as a Branch manager at Seylan Bank. Two colleagues, Sohan and Dilash, visited me several weeks in to posting (with Sabi and Zal, then just several months old) and off we went to Bundala, arranged by Sohan’s Dad, a Tour guide. We were confronted by Seetha, a friendly elephant (who later stomped a German tourist to death) and chased by a bull elephant in musth, who was obviously annoyed that we disturbed his orgy with two females (we had to reverse about 500Mtrs along a narrow track, one side of which was a cliff), we returned joking, a memory that still is as vivid. Zal, (just months) happily smiled right throughout, oblivious to the drama unfolding and Sabi found few lost items under the seat of the jeep during that brief moment.
I often ventured to Bundala, sometimes with colleagues and at times alone, enjoying sunsets, elephants coming to a waterhole, or to watch the sensual Flamingos at the Bundala saltern (in their thousands), always armed with a point and shoot camera, first a Sony and then an Olympus. Somehow, Yala evaded us, to this day, I do not know why.
There are two people I cannot forget in terms of our travel legs, one Gladwin Wille, GM of the Peacock Beach Hotel, who became a lifelong friend and Sheyard Farook my late first cousin. We would often drive with kids in tow, totally unplanned and often unchartered.
Our first DSLR was a Nikon D3000 purchased in Makkah in 2009, which was repeatedly upgraded. Thanks to Facebook many ooh’d and ahh’d and we just kept going. Fuelled by our yearning to explore, long holidays were spent in Yala or Wilpattu and as Kumudu Abeywardena calls it “tail chasing”, whereas everyone else was either up in the hills or at some beach resort. I’m sure many thought we had a few bolts loose somewhere.
In fact, jungles were our stress reliever, our Shangri La so to speak. I’m still at loss to explain how we found the time or how we never tired of spending a full weekend at a National park and be back at work on Monday, fully recharged.
Don’t ask me how, but I think its smell and thrill of seeing a wild cat !