Creating A Conservation-Focused Wildlife Photography Tour Company – An Interview with Sebastian Kennerknecht
There are many options out there for wildlife photography tours. But the options quickly narrow when it comes to having a conservation focus. Meet one tour operator who weaves conservation into the fabric of his company, from the guest experience to the positive impact his tours provide for the wildlife his guests sign up to see.
It's not easy choosing a wildlife photography tour. You're weighing all sorts of decisions like where you'll go, what you're likely to photograph, what you'll learn, who will guide you, costs and lodgings and…
… and the conservation ethos of the company. This important element often gets overlooked, but today's guest has woven it into every element of his tours, right down to guest experiences.
Sebastian Kennerknecht is well known for his professional life as a conservation photographer specializing in wild cat species. He's taken his in-depth knowledge and on-the-ground experience, and launched a tour company that puts cat conservation front and center. With unique and surprising experiences, it's why guests seek his stand-out tours.
- How Sebastian got started in photographing wild cats
- Why he wanted to create a tour company that focuses 100% on wild cats around the world
- What it means to build conservation ethics into the tour activities
- What guests can expect to see (and do) during one of his tours
- And one of his most humbling “field fails” that left him sending a video message to himself to never. do. that. again!
This episode is sponsored by:
Our episode sponsor is Wild Idea Lab, my membership community where conservation visual storytellers find creativity, community and support for their wildest work. Wild Idea Lab is designed specifically for emerging and established photographers and filmmakers working in conservation and science communication.
With monthly masterclasses, live events, community engagement and so much more, members from around the world accelerate their growth as creatives and find their place in a network of colleagues and friends. Whether just starting out or you’ve been a pro for years, Wild Idea Lab has the resources you need to do more, and go farther with your work.
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Episode 065: Creating A Conservation-Focused Wildlife Photography Tour Company - An Interview with Sebastian Kennerknecht
(Digitally transcribed, please forgive any typos)
A surprisingly difficult decision to make is what wildlife photography tour you actually make a reservation with, when you're in that research phase, you're pulling in all kinds of factors like where you're going and what you're likely to see, and the guide that you'll be with and the group size, you're weighing expenses, you're taking in all kinds of details and trying to figure out which wildlife tour is really the best fit for you. Now, it's also really important to weigh, inside of that decision, is the conservation impact and footprint, the conservation mindset of that wildlife photography tour. So I'm really excited that today, my guest is Sebastian Kennerknecht, a professional wildlife conservation photographer who has recently launched a tour company that not only takes people to some really incredible places for wildlife photography, but does so with a conservation mindset. He has built conservation into the very fabric of his wildlife tour company. So we're gonna sit down and talk with Sebastian, who is well known for his photography of wild cats around the world, and what went into the planning of this tour company and what guests can expect for a not necessarily typical yet way more interesting experience. Let's dive in.
0:01:28.0 JH: Welcome to Impact, the conservation photography podcast. I'm your host, Jaymi Heimbuch, and if you are a visual storyteller with a love for all things wild then you're in the right place. From conservation to creativity, from business, to marketing, and everything in between, this podcast is for you, the conservation visual storyteller who is ready to make an impact. Let's dive in. Welcome to the podcast, Sebastian. I'm so glad to have you here today. It's kind of funny because we're doing this on a professional level, but you're basically like a brother to me, so I feel like we're having a little family sibling sit-down chat.
0:02:13.6 Sebastian Kennerknecht: Yeah, thanks for having me, Jaymi. That's right, we get to catch up.
0:02:17.1 JH: Yay. Well, so today the whole reason why I wanted to bring you on the podcast is because you're doing something that I think is really important when it comes to wildlife photography in general, and we're going to get into that in a lot more detail, but that is that you're running wildlife photography tours with very much a conservation mindset and conservation built into the very DNA of your tour company, so I'm really excited that we can talk to you about that, but way before we get into the details of that I kinda wanna rewind and start at the beginning, and how did you even get into conservation photography in the first place? What was sort of your origin story?
0:03:02.6 SK: I think, like most conservation photographers, I started as a wildlife photographer and before that I was just in love with wildlife before I ever picked up a camera. So I studied Biology at college. I thought I was going to become a researcher, a biologist studying dolphins or something like that. And photography was always kind of a hobby for me, and I got this obsession of wanting to photograph a bobcat on campus, I went to UC Santa Cruz, which luckily has a lot of nature surrounding it and has bobcats living on campus. And so I just really wanted to get a photo of a bobcat, and just see one. And so I would go out every morning looking for them, trying to find them, and after about a month I found my first cat. And the encounter didn't last very long, it was maybe like 20 seconds or something like that, but I was hooked. I fell in love with cats and I knew photography was something I wanted to pursue more heavily, I ended up interning and then working for a National Geographic photographer, and I realized the power of photography. I realized how many people a single image could reach, and the conservation potential of that image.
0:04:29.4 SK: Words, of course, are very powerful, but a single image, like the cliche says, can change a lot of people's minds. So that's... First wildlife then photography, and then just going into conservation work, working for a lot of non-profit organizations to help them to share their stories, to show the incredible work that they do around the world, specifically in regards to Wildcats.
0:05:01.5 JH: So that bobcat was really sort of a changing point for you, it was like a catalyst, right?
0:05:07.9 SK: Yeah, definitely. That was the first encounter, but after that I had a few more encounters, and there was this one cat that had a sub-adult kitten with it, and for two weeks I spent every day with this pair of cats. And they really let me into their world, they would nap 10 feet away from me, and that showed so much trust and I felt... I had this incredible bond to these animals, and I knew I wanted to share that bond, and the only way I could really do that is through photography.
0:05:48.0 JH: Have you had reactions from people seeing your images that sort of create a similar catalyst moment or a similar moment of transition for them because they're viewing your photos?
0:06:00.8 SK: Yeah, it's always interesting watching people look at my photographs, I think there's a few different reactions, but the one people try to relate, often try to relate my photography, to something they've experienced or anybody else's photography, to something they've experienced themselves. So if they've been on safari to Africa, for example, or if they've seen a Snow Leopard in a zoo even, those can be incredible experiences for them that have a special place in their heart, and when they see my images those emotions, and hopefully strong positive emotions, are evoked and that they can then remember.
0:06:45.8 JH: I remember one of your early projects was Cat in Thin Air. How did you transition from this Bobcat and really getting into cats from there into cats of the world?
0:06:58.3 SK: Yeah, my journey into cats really started with my first assignment, which was to Yemen of all places, I was there for three and a half months trying to look for the Arabian Leopard, which is a critically endangered sub-species of cat, there's less than 100, probably less than 50 left. And that was a very good introduction to the world of assignment photography. But from there it allowed me to build up some credibility, I had done bobcats in California, I had gotten a few mountain lion photos, but with that assignment, even though I didn't actually photograph the Arabian Leopard, it showed that I had the potential or could do assignment work. And I did get a few of Arabian Caracal shots. So my cat portfolio was still very small, especially compared to now, but it started to grow. And so I was getting more and more assignment work from different conservation organizations that were specialized on wild cats, but Cat In Thin Air really was a project that wasn't an assignment, it wasn't a conservation organization coming to me saying, "Hey, can you take photos of this cat?" It was more something that I wanted to do to start a project to really create change.
0:08:24.8 SK: Now, I had a conservation partner, and it's still an ongoing project, and that partner is the Andean Cat Alliance, which they're based in South America, and the project focuses on the Andean Mountain Cat, which is kind of the snow leopard of the Andes. It's much smaller than a snow leopard, but it kinda has the same morphology with a long tail, spotted pattern, it's a beautiful cat that lives up to 17-18000 feet, if that's how high the Andes go, I'm not exactly sure, but the highest camera trap I set for them was at 15,500 feet, so they live at very, very high altitude, which is why I called it Cat in Thin Air. And it's South America's most endangered cat, with less than 1500 individuals left, spread across four countries: Bolivia, Peru, Chile, Argentina.
0:09:27.4 SK: And so there's very few photos of this cat, which is the case for many of these small lesser known species of wild cat. And so the first goal of the project was to get photos, to use them as a tool to just spread awareness that this cat exists. And then there were a few conservation goals that the project also has, which is for the photos to be used in posters that are used in educational campaigns by the organization in schools, to have the photos be put up on billboards in these high altitude roads, so people realize that this cat is part of their environment, and the photos would also be used as a traveling exhibition around these high altitude villages, because even though the people live in these environments, oftentimes they don't even know this cat exists, it's so elusive.
0:10:37.3 SK: So it's just a matter of raising a bit of awareness and then trying to create protection around that species. Of course it has to be done by partnering what the local people, they have to benefit. If they're put at a disadvantage with the protection of a cat, it's just not gonna be a long-term solution.
0:11:00.5 JH: Yeah. So it kind of sounds... So there's so much from what you just talked about that I wanna unpack, but first I wanna ask you, it sounds like a lot of Cat in Thin Air was some pretty significant training for how you've launched into some other projects since then, which is thinking about the conservation impact that that project is going to have and pulling people into that conversation.
0:11:27.3 SK: Right. So, I think that is the big difference between wildlife photography and conservation photography, it's what you do with your photographs after. Most of the projects are easy to create, "Oh, I wanna take a photo of this very elusive cat", but I think the way most conservation photographers look at any species or an ecosystem or an environmental issue is "What kind of output can I have? What's the goal that I have at the end of this project? What are my deliverables? How are those deliverables going to an impact in helping protect that species?" Now, for me, that's cats, which is... I love cats, I'm obsessed with cats. The good thing about them is they're what's called an umbrella species, which means that if you protect, let's say a tiger or even a Bobcat, they have such large ranges that by protecting a tiger that will range over multiple hundreds of square kilometers, then you're protecting a whole range of habitat, and that's one individual. So spread that across a population of tigers, you protect 50 tigers then you're protecting significantly large areas of habitat.
0:12:51.6 JH: And that actually leads beautifully into the next thing that I wanted to unpack from your Cat in Thin Air conversation, which is you mentioned that you set camera traps for this cat, and when you're talking about animals that have really large ranges or live in difficult places, or they're really elusive so you need to be able to document them for a long period of time before ever getting an image, camera-trapping has become a go-to resource for you. Is your cat work where your interest in camera trapping began?
0:13:25.4 SK: Yeah. I would say the tool came because of the necessity of the subject, because cats are so incredibly elusive, and that started with Mountain Lions. I wanted to really get a photo of a Mountain Lion in California, and anybody living in the US knows how difficult it is to see a puma, you get rare, rare, rare encounters with people seeing them run across the road, and that's about it. So to get any kind of good quality photograph of one you have to use camera traps. So I have now invested a lot of time and money into building these camera traps, I have 13 now and I build the water-proof housings for them and they're triggered by the sensor, so when the animal walks through basically a set of boxes and triggers this invisible infrared beam then the photo is taken, and that's how most of my cat photos are taken.
0:14:30.9 JH: I know one cat photo that you got that was used... Or, it was captured with a camera trap that is one that is seared into my brain, is your image of the Snow Leopard. Will you tell us a little bit about how you managed to capture that shot? This shot was a big picture competition winner, and in fact I'll link to it in the show notes, so if anyone wants to go and view this image I'll make sure that it's linked in the show notes, but can you talk about what it was like to capture that particular image?
0:15:00.9 SK: Yeah, so that was taken in Kyrgyzstan, in Central Asia. It was actually my second trip to the country, I had been there for a whole month prior with camera traps and I didn't get a single photograph of a snow leopard, some of these cats are just incredibly elusive, and there's a lesson with camera traps though, it just takes time and persistence, and it teaches you patience, but... So it was my second trip, I was working with researchers from Panthera, which is a cat conservation organization who I work with a lot, and our base camp was a four-hour horse ride from the closest road, and it was at 10000 feet, and it was the... I don't know what the average temperature was, but let's just say I was sleeping in a zero-degree sleeping bag that was tucked into a negative-29-degree sleep bag. [chuckle] It was quite cold, but it was incredible, beautiful landscape, high mountains, we were at the base of one and I had six camera traps spread around the ridge lines of the Tien-Shan Mountains in Kyrgyzstan.
0:16:12.5 SK: And this particular image, I had gone... The biologist told me that there was an old scent-marking boulder that was down this particular trail that Snow Leopards used to use. So, Snow Leopards like to scent-mark these large rocks or these rock overhangs with their cheek and with spray, and so he said, "Go check it out." And so I went down this trail and I found this boulder, which was a beautiful boulder, but it obviously hadn't been used by a cat in a long, long time, there wasn't any fresh scent, no tracks or anything like that.
0:16:54.2 SK: But there were Lynx tracks on this trail, and this was a beautiful valley, and I was like, "Okay, if I... It's an old boulder, scent-marking boulder, so the chances are much lower the cat is still using it, but at the very least I can get a Eurasian Lynx photograph", which Panthera wanted as well, so I found a beautiful spot along the river that was splitting this mountain valley, and I set my camera trap up looking back at the mountains, and you wouldn't know it in the photo but our base camp is actually in the background, which is kind of an additional sentimental plus for me.
0:17:41.1 SK: But one day... And some of this was just very much luck, is that a snow leopard crossed the camera, but not only did she, and I say "she" based just on the head morphology, she has a skinny neck compared to males, which have a thicker neck, she crossed the river, which is quite a rare feat, because one, cats don't really like water, as we know. And two, that river is so cold that had ice chunks floating down it, so for a cat to cross it, it must have been a dispersing female, so a female that was looking for new territory, trying to set up her own home range. And so she had crossed the river just probably seconds, if that, maybe minutes before coming on this trail, crossing my camera trap, and not only did she do that, she did it at sunrise with beautifully pink clouds in the background.
0:18:42.3 SK: So it all kind of came together. The funny thing is when I checked that camera trap I was by myself and I did a silly dance and I did a lot of happy screaming when I saw that image, because yeah of course I was extremely happy and I knew it could be a useful image for the organization.
0:19:02.3 JH: A useful image for the organization, but also that's gotta be those moments when all of the effort, the frustration, the dealing with everything that goes wrong in camera trapping, must just utterly pay off.
0:19:17.3 SK: Yeah, I'm not embarrassed to say that I often shed a tear when everything comes together. There's so much, like you said, there's so much frustration in camera trapping. Equipment failing because of the temperatures, or rodents chewing your cables, or just a bird landing on your flash and pushing it down. Everything can go wrong, so when everything lines up then those are the moments that you just really cherish, and that was definitely one of them.
0:19:50.8 JH: That's beautiful. And you've actually really put that image to work in a big way, because you entered it into Big Picture and it placed. What was that like for... When you take an image and you're entering it into a competition, knowing that you have some goals for it, what was it like to have that image place for, you knowing that this was gonna get the species and its plight in front of eyes?
0:20:14.9 SK: Yeah, I think there's multiple reasons to enter photo contests, but especially for animals that are not as well known. Now, Snow Leopards do have pretty good world recognition, but for people who don't know it, it's kind of... What's nice about photo contests is that photographs are seen generally by a much larger group of people than maybe your traditional ways of distributing photographs have. So what's nice, yeah of course, the recognition that it's a nice photograph feels great. I'm not gonna lie about that. But what's also nice is that in the description of the photograph you can always talk about the conservation angle of it as well. So when people see that image they might take the time to read the description and see, "Okay, Snow Leopards are an endangered species, their numbers are going, down partially because of climate change or poaching", and then you can always provide steps that people can help. So photo contests are a really nice way of introducing more people to these cats.
0:21:28.1 JH: And cat conservation has basically been at the heart of your career, from the very beginning. So it's really exciting to see that sort of... I don't wanna say "culminate" because your career's nowhere even close to being complete, but you've basically built all of that into a new venture that puts cat conservation at the center of what you do. So I would love to kind of transition this from how you have worked out in the field and on assignment and on projects, and now into how you're working in the field as a tour leader. Would you be talking about your brand new venture?
0:22:06.9 SK: Sure. It's called Cat Expeditions, and it was an idea really born from another cat lover, to be honest, she lives out in Texas and photographs Bobcats down there, but we were talking, we're both cat fanatics and just having a good time nerding out over cats, and she knew that I was leading Bobcat tours in California, which I had done for a few years, she's like, "Why don't you do tours for any of the other species?" And there's tours for Jaguars and Pumas already out there, but I thought I could do it slightly differently, and I could show people some of the lesser known cats as well. So I wanted to build a tour company that was focused on cats, that provided intimate encounters with these cats through small group sizes, that put ethics first, so no baiting, no luring of any kind, of the cats. We're not gonna chirp at them to make them turn their head, we're gonna let them do their thing and see them in their natural habitat. But most importantly, all tours... For me to run a tour it would need to have a conservation angle to that tour. So for example, I run a tour, which I've run for a couple of years now, for the Iberian Lynx, which is the world's most endangered species of cat. There's about 800 left.
0:23:43.4 SK: It's actually the only species that's increasing in number of individuals, which is a great positive side note, but they live in Southern Spain and in Portugal, and they're mostly threatened because of prey loss. They are rabbit specialists, 90% of their prey are rabbits, but there's viruses that have knocked rabbit numbers way down from their historic levels. So the conservation action for the steward... Yes, so we go to Spain for a week, I put people in the best possible situation to get photos of this cat, to have really meaningful encounters with it, but from what I find is actually a lot of people's favorite part of the tour is we take one morning and we build a rabbit warren, which is basically a rabbit home.
0:24:48.0 SK: It's very simple, it's just pallets that are dug slightly into the ground and they're covered with rocks and sticks, and rabbits like to bury themselves or hang out in this home, and that's where they breed and uses as their base to then go on food excursions. So the tour... As the tour, I looked at what's the biggest threat to the Lynx, prey loss. So how can we help the Lynx? Well we can do something very easily, it takes just half of a day, we build this rabbit home that then increases rabbit numbers, which means that there are more rabbits for Lynx to prey upon, and then hopefully there's more Lynx in the future.
0:25:37.3 JH: That's gotta be such a fantastic way to also really bond your tour guests, to the location and to the experience that they're having, because it's about so much more than taking your camera out and hoping that you spot an animal going back to a lodge for lunch or whatever, doing round two for the afternoon. And instead they're really taking part in the issue, in the community, they're actually doing something. What has that been like for your tour guests, have you gotten some feedback about the experience for them?
0:26:09.1 SK: I think it's probably the number one reason why people sign up for my cat expedition tours, because I do offer, for example, offer a puma tour, or a big cats of Africa tour, which there are other tours out there with the same kind of... To photograph pumas. But how Cat Expeditions is different, again, is that we partner with local guides, we make sure that, again, that the animals aren't disturbed by us, that our ethics are the highest priority, but most importantly that the guests, like you said, have an experience that connects them to the landscape of these cats, to the actual casts themselves.
0:27:01.6 SK: And that's kind of where my relationships with biologists from my assignment work has also been really beneficial, because working with Panthera, who has projects all over the world, including in Torres Del Paine where the pumas are, for example, it means that those biologists will come and give presentations that are really educational and meaningful to the participants. So it's quite... Yeah, it's a meaningful thing that's something I'm really proud of.
0:27:37.4 JH: I think you should be proud of that. I think that it's such a critical thing for us to be doing, and for pretty much every business out there that has to do with wildlife photography or the use of wild spaces for visiting, for entertainment, to really put that conservation front and center. And I think that it's such a cool way for you to involve people who might not otherwise have that interest. I remember, I went to Midway Atoll with Oceanic Society. And Oceanic Society, they had the same kind of ethos in their tours as well, where you take part in the conservation of an area. And so when we went to Midway we took part in planting native grasses, which is a really important shelter for Albatross chicks. And just that morning alone spent trying to make the place that you're visiting a little bit better, trying to help the species that you're there to appreciate in some way, it was really memorable. So the idea that your tour guests get to also have that same level of intimate connection with where they are and why they're there, I think is really incredible. I'm curious though, you've mentioned cats in a lot of areas, so where are all of your tours? What species do you actually have on the listing of cat species that people can photograph with you?
0:28:55.8 SK: Starting in the US, there's Bobcats in California. Then we're finishing up planning a tour for Jaguars, but until that happens the other tour in the Americas are for Pumas in Southern Chile. There's the Iberian Lynx in Southern Spain, big cats of Africa in Botswana. Then there's a very specialized tour for people who have been on Safari a few times, but haven't quite gotten these two cats, which are the Serval and Caracal, I called them "the jumping cats of Africa", they both can leap over 10 feet vertically into the air, and are just incredible acrobats, which is in Tanzania. And so, believe it or not, we'll drive right by the lions and the leopards and keep looking for these small cats. But it's a specialized tour. And then the last one on offer is the cats of Borneo tour, where we try to find the five species of cats in Borneo, and they're all extremely, extremely elusive, but the tour is designed to put us in the best places at the best time of year. Again, partnering with some incredible local partners that have great conservation at the forefront.
0:30:24.8 JH: Awesome. I actually wanna back up really quick, because you talk about how elusive some of these species can be and how elusive the Borneo cats can be, so are you letting people know that they might not actually see this, and what's their response when people are like, "I'm going on a tour, but for a very elusive animal""
0:30:45.7 SK: Yeah, it's a very specialized tour company, it's specialized on cats. And like you said, they are very elusive, and I've alluded to that many times now. On the website, every cat has its difficulty rating, and with that rating comes a little description of, for example, with the Bobcats, they are rated medium, which means that we hope to have at least one good photographic encounter. Compare that to the marbled cat of Borneo, which has a difficulty of "very difficult", which means that we hope to just have a... If we have a sighting we'll be very lucky. So setting the expectation is really, really important before the trip, so people know what they're getting into, I don't... It's not false... I don't want to make any promises that are unrealistic. Like I said, these cats are extremely elusive, but I think the cool part about it is, one, we get to see amazing other wildlife at the same time. Last trip we saw... I had multiple encounters with the orangutans, we Borneo pygmy elephants, we saw a Rhinoceros hornbill. And it's an adventure. The last tour was sold out with four people ready to embark on this journey to try and find these cats, which are very difficult to find, and we found...
0:32:25.3 SK: We only found one of the five species of cat, and everybody... But we did see 39 individuals of the cat, so that was quite remarkable, and everybody was just elated because we did see a cat and we had this amazing journey. The Borneo tour is not for the faint of heart. We start at 3:00 PM, and we go until 3:00 AM And so that means most of the time we're driving through the darkness, spot-lighting, looking for these cats, but by having a small group tour it means that it brings everybody together, like in this journey of "Will we find it this night? Will we not find it this night?" And that's kind of a really remarkable thing, to be honest.
0:33:15.6 JH: Yeah, I totally agree. I think that when you go on a tour and you have the opportunity to almost become like a little family when the tour's done, that's kind of what it sounds like happens when everyone's in on this adventure together.
0:33:30.0 SK: Yeah. What I'm most proud of probably, actually, is that you start these WhatsApp groups with all the participants, and then they just keep going for years and years and years, and people check in on each other, even... I'm doing this scouting trip for Cat Expeditions, for... For a Manul, or a Pallas's cat, it's this... Another high altitude funny-looking grumpy cat in Central Asia, and I asked a few clients... Or I sent it out to a whole group of people if they wanted to join me for it, and two women from my Iberian Lynx tour, who did not know each other before that trip, decided to come together to experience it as friends. And that means a lot.
0:34:26.5 JH: I have to ask you, because we are mentioning traveling around the world but with conservation aims, so how do you handle sort of that catch-22 of having a pretty significant carbon footprint in the name of conservation as you run tours that are so heavily geared toward conservation?
0:34:45.9 SK: Yeah, so there is certain... There's costs built into each tour that offsets carbon, where donations are made to most of the Rainforest Trust, to buy land to offset the carbon, and then I think the whole range of conservation throughout the company hopefully makes up for that, where by partnering... For example, for the puma project, I charge more than other tours, for example, for the puma project, and part of that is because we stay at a hotel that... It's very nice, but it also has its own conservation initiative where they plant trees for every guest that stays there for every night that they stay there, in areas that need tree planting. So by partnering with hotels and local organizations that are heavily conservation-minded, that's how... And then doing the off... It's not carbon off-setting, because it's not officially putting it into a calculator, but by donating to Rainforest Trust. I hope that conservation outweighs the negative impact of actually running a tour.
0:36:12.6 JH: That's really thoughtful. I'm curious if there's any other tours that you see on the horizon that might be linked into similar projects like Cat in Thin Air, or projects that are... They're more difficult but they might train people a little bit more in what goes into conservation. Like for example, if camera trapping is ever built into it, because you guys are helping biologists set up camera traps, or do you have any thoughts about where that might lead in that direction at all?
0:36:44.5 SK: See, this is why I need to talk to you. 'cause you have these great ideas. Yeah. No, I think that's a really good idea. Right now the company just really started, even though I've been running some of these tours for a few years, Cat Expeditions as its own entity has just started, but I think yeah that's a really great possibility to do in the future, to work with biologists to... Even help people set up their own cameras or help biologists set up trail cameras to try to find these species. And some species like the Andean mountain cat that I referred to earlier from Cat in Thin Air, is so incredibly elusive. I've been in the Andes three times with eight camera traps each time for a month each, and I have two photos of this cat. They're hard to find. But I think seeing that reality would drive the point home quite well for participants and, again, that adventure of the possibility of even getting a trail camera photo would be quite incredible. So yeah, I think that's a great idea, Jaymi.
0:37:58.2 JH: Awesome. Well, for the intrepid travellers who, whether it is the Bobcat tours in California that are... Well, you have a much better likelihood of walking away with photos, or it's the more adventurous tours, for anyone who's really interested in finding out more in taking part, how do they find you?
0:38:16.4 SK: So just the website is catexpeditions.com, and there's an Instagram and a Facebook page with the same name. And you can always get in touch with me directly. My email is just a firstname.lastname@example.org. And yeah, ask away, and there's even a chat feature on catexpeditions.com where you can ask any questions you may have. It's so interesting, for example, for the puma tour, the pumas, sometimes you see these photos and they're with a mountainous background, and people are like, "Oh I'm really worried about the altitude", but it's just not the case. The mountains kind of are growing out of the ocean there, so to speak, so we're never really more than 3000 feet above sea level there. And so altitude's not an issue at all. And those are things that I sometimes may not even think of, but that clients have in the back of their mind. So it's always just good to reach out and ask questions.
0:39:23.0 JH: Well, I can't let you off the hook quite yet, I have one more question for you. So can you tell us your favorite story of a field fail that you've experienced?
0:39:34.8 SK: There's a lot, a lot of field fails. I think, only because it's the most recent one, and again, there's a lot, but I just had an assignment to Zambia, again for Panthera, to photograph lions and cheetahs in Kafue National Park. Right at the end towards my stay, and I should have known better 'cause I had been there long enough, I took this vehicle which wasn't really an off-road vehicle, and I wasn't supposed to drive it off road, don't tell me... Don't tell anybody at Panthera that though.
0:40:15.0 JH: [chuckle] It's okay, it's not like this is getting recorded or anything, don't worry.
0:40:18.8 SK: Yeah, right. So, I had just meant to take this car and watch the sunset along the drive, and to this particular spot that was beautiful, but when I got there there were already people there who then told me that there was a hippo that had been killed by lions, the opposite way, and to go check that out, which I definitely did. And I was getting there as fast as I could, safely, and it was... The sun was getting lower and lower on the horizon, and I started seeing all the vultures so I knew the kill was close by, the directions that they gave me were not very good, so I didn't really know where the kill was, but obviously this... All the vultures being around I knew it had to be close. So, against my better judgment, I did take the car off road, and I'm looking around, looking around for this Hippo carcass, and I don't see this gigantic hole in the ground, and I drive this car right into it.
0:41:27.5 JH: Oh!
0:41:29.5 SK: And this hole was filled with water. Now, there were a few problems. One, I didn't have any reception, so I couldn't get in contact with anybody. Two, because it wasn't really an off-road vehicle I didn't even have a jack of any kind to get myself out.
0:41:46.2 SK: I was in the complete opposite direction of where I told people I was going, it was getting... The sun was setting, and there were loins pretty close by, but at least they were probably somewhat full from having fed on this hippo. So I had to get out and then somehow get myself unstuck, because otherwise I was sleeping in the car and with people looking for me in the wrong place. So my heart racing 100 miles per hour, and I ended up grabbing all the sticks I could grab, termite mounds, and I'm sorry for those termites, but I shoved everything I could possibly shove into that hole to create some traction for that tire to catch. I dug earth under the bottomed-out car as much as I could, and then floored it, and somehow got out. And my heart was still racing for the next hour after that, but I was just happy to be out of there and to not cause any stress for my biologist friends, which would have had to look for me.
0:43:00.0 JH: Wow, that's an incredible story because you're taking... You're basically someone who's incredibly experienced in the field and in all kinds of tough situations, life and death stuff, so you have all the smarts of what not to do, and yet...
0:43:15.2 SK: I did them all.
0:43:17.5 JH: [laughter] Oh, it just shows that everyone can make some interesting decisions when there are photograph-able experiences nearby [chuckle]
0:43:26.2 SK: That's a nice way putting it Jaymi, yes. Yeah, I even took a video of myself, right after it happened, just kind of, I think, as a way to calm myself down, but it was like, "What did you just do? This was the dumbest thing you just could do, and you just did it." Yeah. But lesson learned.
0:43:48.1 JH: Well, I'm so very, very glad that you are safe and sound, that you came out of that situation relatively unscathed and that you are back at... Well, for now, you're back in California, but the tours are going to be up and running very soon, and you'll be back at it, teaching people how to be really phenomenal folks with cameras and hand toward conservation.
0:44:11.4 SK: Yeah, thanks Jaymi. Thanks for letting me come onto this podcast with you.
0:44:17.6 JH: Absolutely, any time. And just so that everybody knows, one more time. Your website is...
0:44:25.0 SK: Catexpeditions.com.
0:44:27.0 JH: Sweet. Awesome, well thank you so much for being here, Sebastian, and we will see you soon.
0:44:32.5 SK: Yeah, thanks Jaymi.
0:44:37.5 JH: Before we wrap up, I would love to ask you to do one quick thing. Subscribe to this podcast. As a subscriber you'll not only know when each week's episode goes live, but you'll also get insider goodies, like bonus episodes. You might miss them unless you're subscribed, and I don't want you to miss out on a thing. So please tap that subscribe button and I will talk to you next week.
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