The Way We Live - Jonathan and Angie Scott share a love of wild places. They first met when Angie was working as the Manager for a chain of curio shops supplying lodges and tented camps in East Africa. Angie was having problems tracking down reliable supplies of Jonathan’s wildlife books and limited edition pen and ink drawings. They met, fell in love, and were married on a clear day overlooking the rolling plains of the Masai Mara in March 1992. The following year they bought a home of their own in the suburbs of Nairobi, a rambling old stone building with a borehole and ten acres of land overlooking the beautiful Ngong Hills. This is Karen Blixen country, capturing the essence of her book Out of Africa, a land blessed with a wonderful climate tempered by living 5,000 feet above sea level.
Jonathan and Angie’s home is their base, somewhere quiet and peaceful just twenty minutes drive away from the hustle and bustle of Nairobi. There’s plenty of wildlife in the neighbourhood too. Their house is just five minutes walk away from Giraffe Manor and the giraffe sanctuary. Out on their early morning stroll each day, Jonathan and Angie pass the small herd of endangered Rothschild’s giraffes gazing down at them from seventeen feet up in the sky. During the rains a family of wart hogs sometimes visits to graze the green shoots in their garden– much to the annoyance of their dogs Mara (a cross-bred Labrador, Rottwieler, Ridgeback), Coco and her son Slippers (both Ridgebacks), and Artemis the Labrador. The dogs live outside, allowing Little Cat the freedom of the house. There is a dam too which brims with water in the rainy season attracting throngs of wild birds. Five minutes drive in the opposite direction is Nairobi National Park and the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s Elephant Orphanage, home to some of the stars of the BBC’s popular Elephant Diaries which Jonathan co-presents. Here in the Park you can still find wild lions, leopards, cheetahs and rhinos all within the city limits – and very occasionally the signs that a hyena or leopard has passed close to home. At night the ear-splitting scream of tree hyrax adds a touch of drama – as does the occasional appearance of a spitting cobra in the garden.
But it is the Masai Mara National Game Reserve in western Kenya – a five hours drive from the Scott’s home – that beckons to them time and again. The Mara is a sanctuary for more than 400 lions, perhaps a 100 leopards and around 50 cheetahs, some of which Jonathan and Angie have followed throughout their lives. Sadly the wild dogs that Jonathan wrote about in his book Painted Wolves, vanished in the wake of an outbreak of rabies (quickly followed by a canine distemper epidemic) that decimated the wild dogs of the Mara-Serengeti in the late 1980s and early 1990s. But the wildebeest and zebra migration is still as dramatic as ever, with up to 600,000 wildebeest flooding into the Mara during the dry season from June to October. Jonathan and Angie have witnessed countless river crossings along the banks of the Mara River, but can’t resist returning each year to photograph one of the world’s greatest wildlife spectacles.
Big cats have been the focus of much of Jonathan and Angie’s work and the basis for a number of books including three titles accompanying the hugely popular BBC television series Big Cat Diary or Big Cat Week that Jonathan co-presents. Angie takes the production stills for the series and is a game spotter. But as much as they relish the TV work, the Scott’s are at their happiest when they are focused on their own photographic projects or spending time in the bush with their daughter Alia (who works for Nairobi travel agents Lets Go Travel), and their son David and his wife Tara who live in the US. At these times the families’ ancient Toyota Land Cruiser becomes their daytime home, packed with supplies of food, vehicle spares, cameras, and laptop computers so they can keep writing in the bush.
Wildlife photography requires great discipline; the patience to spend hour after hour waiting for the shot; the experience of knowing where to be when the action finally happens, and the determination to come back day after day until the project is complete (14 hour days are the norm when the Scott’s are alone in the field – and when filming Big Cat Week). That means rising long before sun-up and staying out until dark, at times even sleeping in the car if that’s what it takes - anything to get ‘the shot’. But it is much more than just wanting to take great pictures; it is the joy of spending time together in wild places.
In a recent poll of television viewers in the UK, the big cats were voted the nations’ favourite wild animals. So it is hardly surprising that most people on safari spend up to 80% of their time either looking for or watching big cats. But it isn’t just the big charismatic creatures that attract the Scott’s to the African bush. They like to photograph the birds (there are over 500 species in the Mara alone), the flowers, and insects: all of life in fact, and two of their most popular books are Jonathan Scott’s Safari Guides to East African Animals – and Birds - revised and updated by Angie and reprinted numerous times.
While Africa is still at the heart of much of their work, Jonathan and Angie love to travel, and have visited all 7 continents. Even though their primary focus is wildlife, Jonathan and Angie enjoy the challenge of photographing people too. Some of their happiest memories – apart from rafting the Mara River in rubber tyres with their kids, scrambling up rock faces on the Siria Escarpment or cooking an early morning breakfast deep in the bush – are of times spent with the Masai herdsmen and their families, camping within the circle of thorn bushes protecting the villagers traditional homestead, watching their colourful ceremonies, or simply sharing a cup of steaming hot tea around the campfire and enjoying a chat.
The Scott’s see their work - books, sets of drawings, television documentaries, photo workshops and public lectures - not just as a way to make a living, but as a means to help draw attention to the planet’s wild creatures and the many threats they now face. As the conservationist Bernhard Grzimek so rightly said ‘the animals cannot vote’ – others must speak for them. First it was the rhinos and elephants. In the 1960s there were more than 60,000 black rhinos in Africa, now there are just a few thousand. In the 1980s, some 600,000 elephants were slaughtered for their tusks, leading to a worldwide ban in 1989 prohibiting the sale of ivory. Today one of the gravest threats to wildlife in Africa is the ‘bush meat trade’, fuelled by poverty and the greed of the middlemen who reap handsome profits. The numbers of chimpanzees and gorillas are dwindling as the international logging companies open up the last great tracks of rain forest in Central Africa. Even lions – those great symbols of wild Africa – are disappearing at an alarming rate outside protected areas due to conflict with farmers and livestock ranchers. Not so long ago people talked of 100,000 lions in Africa (though nobody was sure of the real number), now we may be lucky if even 30,000 remain. Who knows how many leopards still exist, though as the most adaptable of the large cats they still number hundreds of thousands. But we do know that there are probably no more than 15,000 cheetahs – maybe only 12,000 - left in Africa.
Bernhard Grzimek, who dedicated his life to conservation after his son Michael was tragically killed when the plane he was piloting collided with a vulture over the Salei Plains in Northern Tanzania, always maintained that it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. Every generation marvels at what is left of wilderness while at the same time regretting the losses – loss of wild land and loss of species. Today man’s impact is being felt like never before. Global warming threatens our very existence, with warnings of grave consequences for millions of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities on earth. But whether it is helping to save endangered species or making an effort to put ones own house in order, we can do something to help. We must never think that we are too small or insignificant to make a difference. It is not too late. For more information about ways you can help go to conservation page.