In the Shompole Conservancy area of Kenya’s Southern Rift Valley, photographer Will Burrard-Lucas teamed up with local Maasai conservationists to build a new waterhole – away from all other sources of water – and a hide from which people could watch and photograph animals as they come to drink.
The Kenyan section of the Great Rift Valley is an extremely hot and dry place. Apart from the Ewaso Ngiro River, which runs through the centre of the valley and is the main supply of water for the people and wildlife living there, there are only a few other small sources of water allowing animals to live away from the river.
One day, the monitoring team from SORALO (a highly effective local community-driven association supporting the community in the management and security of their land) took photographer Will Burrard-Lucas to one such separately-supplied water spot, where he captured an incredible diversity of wildlife from cats and hyenas, through jackals and foxes, to civets, genets and porcupines, to name just a few.
The results astounded the photographer – it was clear to him that this particular area had a great deal to offer photographers and safari-goers alike. So he teamed up with the owner-managers of the local Shompole Wilderness Camp, who had always recognized this potential, and together they built a new waterhole at an other location that would give wildlife a new place to drink year-round, away from people and livestock and hopefully also reducing human-wildlife conflict.
“The idea for the waterhole and hide came to us when we saw how productive my camera trap was at the natural waterhole in the same region,” Burrard-Lucas told Earthly Mission. “We wanted a way that visitors could see and photograph some of these animals themselves. I was also excited for the opportunity to capture intimate images of these species as they came to drink.”
The owners of the wildlife camp found an ideal spot for the waterhole in a wildlife-rich area, where they started digging a shallow depression and then filled it up from drums of water transported on the back of a pickup truck.
Soon enough, a new waterhole was created, well away from other sources of water, and a hide (also known as a blind) was also setup nearby, converted from two shipping containers and complete with windows, a toilet and fold down beds. From it, people have a chance to see some of these elusive creatures for themselves without disturbing their ways of life.
A 5km pipeline from the river and a solar pump was installed by thirty Maasai people from the Shompole Community to keep the waterhole permanently topped up. By now, Shompole Hide was ready…
Burrard-Lucas set up a camera trap but his first nights at the new waterhole were quite challenging, with the wildlife being skittish and photographer’s movements rather clumsy. At first, animals tended to get spooked and disappear in a cloud of dust before he could take a photograph, but, over time, he got better at moving around silently and the wildlife got used to the hide’s new occupant.
They actually started staying for a drink.
The photographer learnt to work in complete darkness at night and figured out how to light the waterhole without disturbing the animals. For him, experimenting with lighting is one of the most challenging and exciting aspects of working at night, and lighting for the waterhole project was as critical as the design of the hide itself. It had to be totally flexible, allowing any photographer to illuminate the waterhole in their own style and capture photographs that didn’t look the same as everyone else’s.
Judging by the photographs below, the idea definitely worked. “We didn’t know how successful the waterhole would be and at first taking photographs was difficult because the animals were so shy. However, after just a few weeks the animals got used to the hide and the abundance and diversity of wildlife using the waterhole exceeded all of hopes!,” Burrard-Lucas explained to Earthly Mission.
Shompole Hide is now open to anyone staying at Shompole Wilderness Camp, with every session in the hide benefiting the local community! The journey of Shompole Hide is just beginning, and we can’t wait to see what comes next…
Oh, in the meantime don’t forget to check out the first high-quality photographs of a black panther in Kenya, also photographed by Will Burrard-Lucas!