This is what happens when you dig a watering hole in the middle of nowhere in Kenya

Oct 24, 2022

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Oct 24, 2022

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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It probably doesn’t come as a surprise to most of you that Kenya’s Southern Rift Valley is hot. Really hot. A seemingly inhospitable place that just looks like a barren wasteland. But it’s not. It’s a place teeming with life. Something that photographer Will Burrard-Lucas knows all too well, having spent a great deal of time at the Shompole Wilderness Camp over the last two years.

Will learned early on in his time there that there was a vast array of wildlife. In a single night, he saw five species of cat, three species of hyena and a whole host of other smaller animals. He set up a camera trap at a small water source for a week and saw a massive array of animals visit. It was then decided to build a new watering hole, with a hide, to allow people to observe and photograph the amazing wildlife.

© Will Burrard-Lucas
© Will Burrard-Lucas
© Will Burrard-Lucas

Shompole Conservancy is quite a unique place. And we’re not just talking about the diverse array of exotic wildlife. The way in which the community coexist with the wildlife is also very different to much of the world. Will describes the nature of the area in a blog post about the watering hole.

Shompole Conservancy is special for the way in which the wildlife and the Maasai community coexist. The conservancy is owned by the local people, and they benefit from tourism revenue whilst ensuring that the land is used sustainably and the environment protected. Supporting the community in the management and security of their land is SORALO, a highly effective community-driven association. An example of one of SORALO’s initiatives is the meticulous monitoring of potentially dangerous wildlife species and sharing of up-to-date location information with local livestock herders to reduce instances of human-wildlife conflict.

Much of the wildlife remains hidden during the day and who could blame them? With water not always readily available, it pays to stay in the shade and as cool as possible during the day, conserve energy and then explore at night. Will says that the animals here are truly wild, behaving very differently to those who are used to seeing tourists on safari.

The camera trap at the small watering hole showed Will that the animals were in the area. But he also saw the need for a larger watering hole to be able to more easily monitor them. Somewhere away from other sources of water. Somewhere with an area where people could watch and photograph the animals as they came to drink. This created the idea for the Shompole Hide.

© Will Burrard-Lucas

Digging began in December 2021 with a shallow depression, filled with drums of water from the back of a truck. Will set up a camera trap and animals started to appear in the first few days. Two shipping containers were partially buried next to the watering hole as a safe area from which people can observe. Thirty Maasai people from Shompole Community then helped to construct a 5-kilometre pipeline from the river with a solar pump to keep the watering hole permanently topped up. Shompole Hide was complete.

© Will Burrard-Lucas
© Will Burrard-Lucas
© Will Burrard-Lucas

As with any change in the natural landscape, it took a little settling in for both Will and the animals. Will describes some of the challenges he faced after the build was completed…

My first nights in the hide were challenging! The wildlife was skittish and my movements were clumsy. More often than not, animals would get spooked and disappear in a cloud of dust before I could take a photograph. Over time, however, I got better at moving around silently and the wildlife got used to the new occupant of the hide. At night I learnt to work in complete darkness and I figured out how to light the waterhole without disturbing the animals.

It has resulted in some amazing photographs of the visitors, though. A few even showed up during the day. And no doubt, there will be plenty more to come in the future.

© Will Burrard-Lucas
© Will Burrard-Lucas
© Will Burrard-Lucas
© Will Burrard-Lucas
© Will Burrard-Lucas
© Will Burrard-Lucas

Will has written more on his blog about his adventures in Kenya’s Southern Rift Valley and his time spent in the Shompole Wilderness Camp and building the Shompole Hide. There are many more amazing photographs of the wildlife there, too. It’s well worth checking out. I can’t wait to see what else turns up at the new watering hole!

[All images copyright Will Burrard-Lucas. Used with permission]

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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