People don’t fascinate me as much as nature does: Wildlife photographer Jonathan Scott
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People don’t fascinate me as much as nature does: Wildlife photographer Jonathan Scott

For Jonathan Scott, co-host of one of the most popular wildlife shows on television, nature is both an inspiration and a miracle

brunch Updated: Jun 17, 2017 22:38 IST
big cat man,jonathan scott,masaai mara
Jonathan Scott with the Marsh Pride lions in Masaai Mara.(Jonathan Scott)

Wildlife photographer and documentary filmmaker Jonathon Scott is a familiar face for people across the world. A believable achievement considering his co-host status on BBC’s Big Cat Diary, a show that tracks the lions, cheetahs and leopards of the Masaai Mara, one of the greatest wildlife areas of the world, for 12 years.

Scott was in India to visit the Bandhavgarh Tiger Sanctuary recently and spoke to us about his home in Nairobi, Kenya and the life he’s built there with his wife, Angela, also an award-winning wildlife photographer, in the last 40 years.

Scott walks with elephants in Masaai Mara. (Jonathan Scott)

Outdoors = Alive

His eyes sparkle as he describes the wait that goes into seeing just one movement from a lion that has been under observation since 5am. “In a lion’s life, 20 out of 24 hours are inactive. But does that mean you can go back to your camp? No. If you do that, you might come back to see he has hunted a buffalo. And then you have missed your chance,” he explains.

“I’ve always been more fascinated with things I can’t communicate with. I think a lot of people look for something else to stimulate them.”

Scott was brought up on a farm, making the outdoors his place of joy. “Even at our house in Nairobi, the first thing I hear when I wake up is the sound of birds. I always remind people that our inspiration in life comes from nature,” he says. “I feel most alive when I am outdoors, watching wild animals, and being with my wife.”

He isn’t kidding about the inspiration nature provides. To him, it’s the most creative force in the world. “Just yesterday, my wife was swimming in the hotel pool when a pigeon came to drink water. They were one foot apart from each other. For me looking, and for her watching, it was a beautiful miracle. We are constantly in awe of nature,” he says. Life is about nurturing what makes you feel most alive, he believes. “For me, it’s nature, it’s travel, watching animals, writing about them.”

A leopard drinks water from a river. (Jonathan Scott)

If you miss Big Cat Diary (as you’re bound to do after following the cats for over 12 years), Scott’s autobiography, The Big Cat Man, is a great book to read. Published last year, the book is about his journey around the best natural habitats of the world. It’s the latest among the 30 books he’s written so far, to share his experiences in the wild.

“I wrote my autobiography because I’ve had an amazing life. I wanted to tell people that you can create whatever you want with your life, if you have the passion and the hard work to go forward,” Scott explains. He also writes about animals because animals are what he loves the most in the world. “It’s not that I’m not a people’s person, but I was never fascinated by them,” he says. “I’ve always been more fascinated with things I can’t communicate with. I think a lot of people look for something else to stimulate them. I think all the stimulation we need is being in the moment.”

The purposeful tourist

A cheetah looking into Scott’s camera. (Jonathan Scott)

Constantly travelling in wild places, Scott admits to a sense of shock whenever he returns to a big city. But his thoughts, as he drives into Nairobi, are more than personal. “I am constantly worrying myself with the question: What relevance do lions and wild animals have in the lives of people, 60 per cent of who are living on less than USD 2 a day?” he asks. “Cities put people under so much pressure. They are so disconnected with nature, they don’t realise how important it is.”

That’s why he’s such a fan of wildlife tourism, even though he agrees that human excursions into sanctuaries puts great pressure on the animals. “It can be an intrusion, in a way, but the park fee charged to tourists helps maintain wildlife,” he explains.

Scott feels most alive when he is outdoors, observing wildlife. (Jonathan Scott)

In India, he says, the wildlife sanctuaries are tiny, and surrounded by humanity. “Our wilderness areas in Africa are also surrounded by humanity, but they are bigger. In India, the pressure on those areas is intense,” he says.

But the discipline of wildlife tourism in India impresses him. “The restriction on number of vehicles inside a wildlife area is impressive. I wish we could do that in Africa. I’m concerned because the areas are small, and you need to protect the corridors to allow movement,” he explains.

Four years ago, Scott visited India for the first time to safari through the Ranthambhore tiger sanctuary. “The mix of temples, lakes, palaces, the habitat, is what impressed us,” he says. “It is the place to go because there are tigers with cubs.”

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From HT Brunch, June 18, 2017

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First Published: Jun 17, 2017 22:38 IST