A few words about me
I was born in Zurich, Switzerland at the end of May 1969. A legendary year in many aspects. It saw the maiden flights of both the Boeing 747 and of the Concorde and it certainly was a year in which some spectacular photographs of historical proportions were first published. According to history books, two specially designed Hasselblad 500EL cameras made it to the moon with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. The Beatles released their album Abbey Road. "Here comes the sun" must have been the big summer hit back then. And it was the final year of production for the TV series "Daktari", which certainly played a very early role in my fascination for Africa.
Growing up near the airport meant I would get used to the concept of air travel at a very youg age. Family and friends were flying out for holidays and business. Extended weekend trips to Beirut, holidays in Southeast Asia, Canada, Russia, China, Tanzania and Kenya were on the menu. But not for me. It would take a few more years for me to board an airliner for the first time and then the destination was Brussels.
My first commercial flight was with this plane: McDonnell Douglas DC-9, Swissair HB-ISN
Instead of taking us abroad, our parents used our holidays to discover the Mediterranean with my sister and me: Yugoslavia, Italy, France. There had always been a camera in the house. A Rolleiflex TLR (Twin Lens Reflex), and later a Nikon SLR. But again, it would take a bit of time for me to get my own snapper. Remember, photography was a rather expensive hobby in those days. Film had to be bought and after exposure it had to be processed and printed.
My first true wildlife heroes on TV were Bernhard Grzimek, Jacques-Yves Cousteau and, of course, David Attenborough. They opened up a window into our natural world for me, making me dream of adventures in wild, far away places. But back then, these dreams seemed forever beyond reach.
In the late 1970-ies my sister and I got the WWF's board game "Wild Life" as a Christimas present. I find it quite amazing that through this little game, Wild Life, I could further broaden my geographic horizon and raise my awareness for our world's biodiversity. For the first time, I heard of places such as Hyderabad, Mauritius, and Komodo island. I learned about the existence of the Helmeted cassowary, the Reticulated python, the Malayan tapir, the Serval, and by becoming a member of the Dodo Club, I first understood that extinction was not just something that had happened to dinosaurs, but that had become a reality for many species through human action.
An early version of WWF Wild Life, a board game that has now been modernised and is still published by the WWF
But once again, the concept of actually ever being able to travel to destinations such as Africa, the jungles of Borneo, the swamps of the Brazilian Pantanal, or the ice covered peaks of Patagonia didn't enter my mind for many years still.
After completing school, my professional education and then the Swiss Army service, I decided it was time to find out a bit more about what life had to offer other than a corporate career. Together with a friend I took over a windsurfing & sailing school and spent three seasons on the southern Mediterranean shores. In between seasons we travelled across Europe, and, eventually this also enabled my first extensive trip abroad. Windsurfers at that time would dream of Hawaii as a destination of choice, but the boys and I took a road less travelled. On 11 February 1990, Nelson Mandela had been released from prison and South Africa's political and social transformation process became irreversible. We had heard about the spectacular surf spots along the Cape of Good Hope and at some point in 1992, together with two friends I decided to leave out Hawaii, Australia and all other famous spots, and travel to Cape Town instead.
I feel very privileged to have witnessed the mostly peaceful transition that took place after the 1993 elections. Sadly, the huge potential and promises that came with the political and social transition have not been realised and held by the powers in place today.
A typical Cape Town moment at the end of a work day on the Atlantic seabord
First times in the African bush
In the years that followed I had the opportunity to spend extensive periods of time in South Africa and eventually I enjoyed my first bush experiences in the Greater St. Lucia Wetlands area and Hluhluwe Umfolozi National Park, in South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province.
Hluhluwe Umfolozi NP in the 1990ies
In February 2000 a friend wanted to visit me and go on safari in South Africa. I didn't know much about the rainfall seasons and their effect on the bush back then. But the year 2000 was exceptional. Five weeks of intensive rainfall had brought about a catastrophic flood, first for the South African Lowveld, then the Moçambican coastal plain and eventually it caused rivers to burst banks across Zimbabwe. Instead of heading for the Kruger area, I decided to embark on what turned out to be an epic road trip across Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and eventually back to South Africa. (I just decided to write up a trip report for this journey:-) To follow soon.) It was on this trip when I first walked across the plains of the Okavango Delta, crossed the Caprivi, felt the spray of Victoria Falls and looked at Matusadona across Lake Kariba. And it was the first time I had my own SLR camera with a telephoto lens with me. In many ways, this is where my fascination with wildlife and photography really took off.
February 2000, after crossing from Katima Mulilo via Ngoma Bridge into Chobe
The connection to conservation
Self-drives in those days still required maps and a compass (remember: the first Garmin-compatible map files from Tracks4Africa only appeared in 2003).
A few years later I would cross into Botswana via that same border again, but this time with a group of friends in two Toyota Hilux vehicles, equipped to tackle the Savuti road and the Moremi Game Reserve on a direct route to Maun. I started to read up as much as I could about the wild places of Botswana in order to safely cross these remote areas, and to get a better understanding of their biodiversity, the history, the geological and hydrological profiles and any other information I could obtain.
At some stage I held the first books by Dereck & Beverley Joubert in my hands and read about the conservation of wildlife and wilderness in Botswana's Savuti and Linyanti areas. I learnt about hunting, infringement, human-wildlife conflict, cattle fences, the Okavango Delta Management plan and about the general, daily battle for access to resources. Naturally, any curious mind would want to find out more about the situation elswhere. What about Europe, Asia and the Pacific, the Russian far-east, the Indian subcontinent, and what about South America's wildlife? And so I did, next reading "Wild Cats of the World" by Mel & Fiona Sunquist and then expanding to literature about varoius species and geographical areas from around the world, as well as the history of Europe's fauna and flora.
A side effect I often observe in people who become fascinated with wilderness: they start to appreciate the birds. While I am fond of all forms of wildlife and wilderness in general, it is the wild cat species and the birds that hold a special place for me.
Today I am based in Switzerland and work in business IT, as a director & partner of the IT consulting company that I helped found in 2004. Therefore, my photographic work is limited to time spent away from work.
People only care about what they know. I want to provide factual, relevant information and touching impressions about my own wilderness experiences. Hoping to be able to contribute to increasing awareness, care and engagement for the protection of our wild treasures. -
Just as the people who got me intersted and then fascinated all those years ago.
Patrick - 2016