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Water Hole Attracts Animals, Conservationists in Kenya

Water Hole Attracts Animals, Conservationists in Kenya

Photographer Will Burrard-Lucas focuses on animals that stop by for a drink.

Published November 1, 2022 09:00AM EDT

It all started with a small water hole.

Wildlife photographer and author Will Burrard-Lucas went to a small water hole in the Shompole Conservancy in the Southern Rift Valley in Kenya. He photographed all sorts of nocturnal animals when they stopped by for refreshments.

So intrigued by what he saw, he teamed up with conservationists at Shompole Wilderness Camp to build a much larger water hole away from any other sources of water. They also constructed a hide or blind, which is a way for people to observe the animals without disturbing them.

Burrard-Lucas wasn’t sure what animals the water would attract or how well they would tolerate the hide.

African wildcat at waterhole
African wildcat.

Will Burrard-Lucas

The water hole will give wildlife a new place to drink all year, away from livestock and communities. That will hopefully reduce human-wildlife conflict. The water hole should also attract tourists, and the conservation fees will benefit the local Maasai community.

Burrard-Lucas is the creator of BeetleCam, a remote-control camera buggy, and author of “The Black Leopard,” about his quest to photograph the elusive big cats.

Burrard-Lucas spoke to Treehugger about the images he took at the water hole and what the experience was like as he waited for animals to come get a drink.

leopard drinking at waterhole at night
Leopard drinking at night.

Will Burrard-Lucas

Treehugger: What was the imPuppyus for your project? Did you go into it with specific expectations?

Will Burrard-Lucas: A friend in the tourism industry first recommended that I [visit] the Shompole area. He suspected I would like it! I really visited the area with an open mind and not sure if a project would come out of it.

I soon realised what a special area it was when I spotted a huge variety of nocturnal wildlife on an early night drive. However, photographing the wildlife was a challenge as it was skittish.

Water was the obvious way to draw the animals to the camera. This was proven by a camera trap I set up at a small water hole. Thereafter we knew that building a water hole and hide would be the best way to photograph the wildlife.

Originally, you set up a camera trap outside a small water hole. Did activity trigger those images or were you also there to monitor what was happening? What was the result of that first experience?

I used my Camtraptions camera trap (a system I developed myself). A sensor automatically detects the animal and triggers the camera. If I had physically been there it may have stopped the animals coming, so an automated camera trap was the best solution.

zebras at water hole
Zebras at water hole.

Will Burrard-Lucas

When conservationists built the larger water hole and blind, what was that building process like?

It was a lot of work! The whole community got involved in the construction. They earned wages for their work which they took back home to their families so the project benefited the entire community. Without their hard work we could not have built something so ambitious.

What was your experience like, waiting for animals in the blind?

At first it was difficult and a bit frustrating because the wildlife was so shy and skittish. However, I got better at moving around quietly and the animals began to get used to the hide. After a few weeks my success rate was much improved and then it became an exciting waiting game, wondering what would turn up next!

striped hyena at waterhole
Striped hyena.

Will Burrard-Lucas

What were some of your most fascinating images and discoveries?

I love photographing the more unusual species. In particular this was the first time I have been able to photograph striped hyenas in person (i.e. without using a camera trap). These hyenas are much shyer than the more commonly photographed spotted hyenas and for me were the stars of the show!

How does a project like this bring attention to conservation?

The purpose of this hide is to attract photographers and safari-goers to the area. This brings in tourism revenue for the Conservancy and the community, which has a huge direct benefit on conservation efforts. I hope people will see my photos and be inspired to visit the hide themselves.

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