5 MINUTES WITH Nigel Kuhn.
Photographer; Philanthropist and Conservation, Nigel Kuhn sat down with SA Life and we got to know the Zimbabwean-born gent and avid-wildlife lover a little better.
Describe yourself in 5 words?
Christian, loyal, motivated, spontaneous, family.
What are you currently up to, career wise?
I am working for a great NGO called Chengeta Wildlife which trains rangers across Africa in advanced tactics and techniques.
As a senior trainer I am responsible for implementing these and other protocols and the success has been mesmerising. This year I am working on restarting my photography safari workshops which I ran successfully in Zimbabwe before I became so engrossed in Chengeta.
My next ‘London safari’ is in just over two weeks time. Exciting times.
What was your childhood like?
I was an extremely naughty child! One of my first memories is burning down my gran’s grass fence when I was five trying to smoke a cigarette that I had pilfered from my older cousin.
My mom was too scared to tell my dad for six months.
I look back at some of the things I got up to and it is a wonder I actually made it through life into adult hood. I think my dad lost his hair with all the trouble I used to get into.
When did you first discover a love for photography?
My mom used to have her ‘Happy snapper’, and it used to drive us mad! Always having to pose at the beach and it just wasn’t cool when I was trying to look like a carefree soul… I love adventure and travel and my camera has always been a willing companion.
I love creating images that I see and transferring them onto a canvas for others to see. Photography for me is a medium for storytelling and in it’s simplicity lies its ability to be a source of truth.
Who are you when you’re simply at home, on a Sunday afternoon?
On a Sunday afternoon I like to get on my bike and go for a cruise. I just bought a BMW F800R and there are jokes that it is now my one true love. I mentioned my spontaneity already yes! Riding through the countryside, stopping at a pub and having a coffee whilst just watching the world go by. I value my quiet time a lot as it is a chance for me to reset and get my own thoughts in order before getting back into the week and having to deal with the craziness life throws my way.
Who do you admire within the African conservation and photography industry, and why?
I don’t know if I can pinpoint one person. Africa is the most amazing continent but it is also the most frustrating. Having to work in Zimbabwe and try and work in conservation when the deck of cards is so stacked against makes it even harder. People like Lisa Hywood who have made some of the greatest break throughs in Zimbabwe with regard to the judiciary and Pangolin protection and Alan Savoury who has lead from the front when it comes to land rehabilitation and seeing his methods being adopted all over Africa and other continents is a source of pride for me as a Zimbabwean. Posthumously I have to mention Johnny Rodrigues who dedicated his life to conservation in Zimbabwe and famously stood up to that thug Saviour Kasukuwere who threatened his life in response to the government kidnapping baby elephants from the wild. These people are heroes and I hope I can one day emulate their bravery, fortitude and accomplishments. There are many more I have not mentioned.
How do you deal with negative criticism?
Normally I go into a phase of quiet introspection and will realise actually I have been called out and it is unto me to change my own narrative. I used to harbour quite a lot of resentment when I was still full time in Zimbabwe and quite often used that set of circumstances as an excuse. When there are actually no excuses for our behaviour, our response to a set of circumstances is ours to make.
Who is your role model and why?
I would definitely say my parents are my role models. Everything I am today is because of the time, culture and traditions they instilled in me. My mom is so level headed and like an absolute freight train when she wants to get something done. If I am really struggling with an issue I will take it to her and she will invariably have a solution.
She is also the pivot which our family revolves around and the way she has has balanced her professional life with ensuring my sister and I had the most valuable and educational experiences as we grew up is truly amazing. My dad is the ultimate gentleman, and is a genuinely kind human being. A combination of integrity and honesty with kindness and warmth for those around him. Everyone who meets him immediately loves him for who he is and immediately feels apart of his extended family. Never judgmental and a fair man when it comes to treating people with respect around him. As I have continued on my journey through life we have continued getting closer and closer and not a day goes by where I stop myself and check if I am doing something which will make my mother and father proud. Together they have set the bar for me to live up to.
Where’s the most interesting place you have travelled to and why?
I would have to say Antarctica. I was fortunate enough to go with some South African scientists from Rhodes University about a year ago and it an experience I will never forget. The desolation, the absolute desolation of the continent, the snow, the wind and the absence of life. I remember stopping my sow mobile one day and just gazing at a mountain top jutting out of the pack ice and making a mental note that this is the only time I was ever going to see this scene again. Our planet it so fragile and if it turns on us we are finished. Simple as that.
What motto or words do you live by?
If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed every day, with that done you have achieved the first task of the day and it will give you a small sense of pride encouraging you to take on another task and another. This will also reinforce the fact that the little things matter, if you can’t do the little things right then you will never be able to do the big things right. ‘Admiral William McRaven’.
We all know that the media doesn’t always get all their info correct, what is the strangest thing you have read in the media that turned out to be completely false?
Coming from Zimbabwe and no doubt South African’s will understand this but some of the stories in the popular ‘rags’ are fantastic. Normally when driving in Harare I will read the headlines at the ‘robots’ and it always brightens my day. I will give you one story.
During 2008 when the Mugabe government was so desperate for cash a story broke about diesel being found in the North Eastern part of the country. It was seeping out of the rocks. Not I am not a scientist but I understand that diesel is not just found in it’s natural state, however the powers that be obviously skipped that class- that is another story though. It turned out that when the government motorcades went there with the Herald reporters to crow on about how Zimbabwe was not fuel dependant on the evil west that there was a drum behind the rocks with a hose pipe that was feeding the diesel into the rocks. I am not sure what happened after that. But it truly has become a story I think about when I need reminding that I am not the dumbest person on the planet.
What is the most memorable tweet you have received, or been tagged in?
I quite new to Twitter so if you ask me in a couple of years I might have an answer for you!!
Everybody starts their working careers off small, what was your very first job?
My first job in the world of conservation was in 2007. In Marken, South Africa where I started working with an anti poaching unit. I had just completed my FGASA at the Bush Academy.
After a while I graduated into an apprenticeship role with Simon Rood and I loved it. It was the year when wild fires were sweeping South Africa and genuinely one of the most valuable experiences I have had. From fighting fires, deploying rangers, being on active patrols when needed, repairing pumps and managing wildlife situations. It was a great opportunity and one I am still very thankful for.
Your job is a tough one. You face so many dangers while in operations. What encouraging words do you have for anyone starting out or wanting to get involved in Anti Poaching?
Just follow your passion. Start off working for food and accommodation and learn as much as you can from those around you with experience. Find someone you admire and ask if you can work under them as their gopher. Your hard work and willingness to learn will not go unnoticed and as long as you are working in your passion you will always be striving for self improvement.
In your line of work, you get to meet a wide variety of people. Who was your most memorable?
I had the opportunity to meet Alan Savoury at the Savoury Foundation in Victoria Falls,Zimbabwe. His approach to community conservation is by far the most successful method I have ever seen and it changes peoples lives positively.
Did you always see yourself wanting to work with wildlife conservation and people, or did you have different dreams as a child?
I am not sure. I wanted to be a soldier or a policeman like my dad. As a photographer I wanted to be a war correspondent while I was at university.
You were a ranger for many years, tell us about your best highlight that you had whilst on safari?
My best highlight whilst on safari was when I was actually working as an apprentice in Zimbabwe for a South African wildlife cinematographer. We were following two young male lions at dusk that suddenly broke into a mad sprint. As we rounded the corner in pursuit of them I saw the rosetted form of a leopard as it darted away in panic. It had killed an impala.
As we were filming the lions feasting in front of us a herd of elephants appeared behind us and there was this weird stand off as the elephants wanted to chase the lions off, the lions were wary of this but both realised we were in the way and so time just kinda stood still for 10 minutes.
What has been your most challenging decision in your career thus far? What made it so challenging?
To leave Zimbabwe and set out on the path I am on now. I still have my belongings there and it will always be home but I miss my family terribly but know that living there and doing what I am doing at the moment is not really possible.
Everyone harbours a pet peeve. What is yours?
Laziness. When someone tries to push their work on someone else I become extremely annoyed.
Final Question. If you could choose any superhero to play on a big budget Hollywood production, who would you play?
I think every man out there secretly thinks he would make a great Thor… but in reality probably ‘Z’ from the animated film Antz. He is an individual and has to reconcile his own individuality with the community work ethic of the colony. Plus he punches way above his weight and through his own bumbling manner he manages to woo his princess.
Cadbury’s dairy milk whole nut
Favourite TV show?
Big Bang theory
Favourite Travel Item?
A good book which I usually buy at the airport
Favourite Clothing Brand?
Favourite childhood memory?
Camping holidays at Lake Macilwaine outside Harare
Your Women Crush Wednesday?
Favourite holiday destination?
Must have fashion accessory?
Stanley coffee flask
Favorite skincare range?
Anything really. I suppose I normally buy Nivea
Gin and Tonic or a glass of red wine
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