'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Wednesday 12 November 2014

Guest Post: Jan Latta - Against All Odds

Kids’ Book Review is delighted to welcome author and wildlife photographer Jan Latta to share about her experiences taking photos for her latest book, Ziggy the Zebra. You’ll appreciate the wonderful photos in Jan’s books even more once you read about what she goes through to get the perfect shots.

I booked my trip to Africa to create my next book, Ziggy the Zebra, but everything was against the journey. The Australian Government said it was too dangerous to travel, my neurosurgeon said it was not a good idea with my damaged back, I caught a terrible throat virus, and Kenya had another bombing.

My doctor finally gave me the all clear to fly, I strapped myself into a back-brace and off I went. I arrived in Nairobi after 23 hours, but my case didn’t. It was so devastating to watch an empty carousel and no case. I stayed overnight at Machusla House and the next morning flew in a tiny 12-seater plane to Naboisho camp in the Maasi Mara. I discovered I was the only person at the camp, great!  The next day the camp manager said my case was found, and two days later it was delivered to my tent.

I unlocked my case and to my horror realised my video camera, my back-up camera, all my tapes and chargers were all gone – stolen.  I was in shock. Fortunately I had my carry-on Nikon, which meant I could take photographs for five days if I could borrow a charger. The manager was great and called nearby camps and research stations. Success - now I could start my zebra book.

One evening when I was having dinner with the camp manager there was a loud bang and the sound of hooves on the wooden deck. When he unzipped the canvas there was a lion chasing a wildebeest right through the middle of the dining tent! Now that was a first and a very frightening experience.

How could I get back to my tent with a pride of lions around the camp? Two Maasi escorted me with their torches swinging around in the dark. I saw two lions on my left and one just beyond my tent, his eyes glowing in the torch light. I nervously asked, “Is it safe?” and the Maasi replied, “Yes, because you are closer to your tent than the lion.”  Oh, great!!! Trusting my life in their hands (and fighting the desperate need to run) I reached my tent and zipped up in record time.

The nights were noisy with lions roaring close to my tent and early in the morning the loud rumble of elephants walking past. Each day I photographed herds of zebras and wrote about their behaviour in the wild. They were very skittish and I have many photographs of their striped bottoms running away from me. It was a delight to watch the tiny fluffy tan foals frolicking with their mothers and one became the cover of the new book, Ziggy the Zebra.

I've seen hundreds of Burchell zebras on the African plains, but I didn't realise two were endangered – the Grevy and Mountain zebras, with fewer than 2,400 left in the wild.

Jan Latta is an Australian author and photographer who photographs endangered animals in their natural habitat in various locations around the world including Borneo, China, Sri Lanka and numerous visits to countries in Africa. The latest book in Jan's True to Life series is Ziggy the Zebra. Visit Jan's True to Life website and blog to find out more about her books and photography.

* Excerpts from this story have appeared previously in Pass it On magazine.