A Salisbury-based wildlife photographer was stranded in Kenya this summer due to the pandemic but said, “I can’t complain, it was pretty fun.”
Felix Rome, 25, was stuck in the Masai Mara, a large national game reserve in Kenya’s Rift Valley province, from March to September this year after it was placed on the UK’s Red List.
The original plan was to leave for three months for the “first stay” of his new job as resident photographer at Governors’, the luxury safari resorts, but in the end he stayed there for six months.
Walking alone, a nature photographer’s dream
Felix was in a unique position to take charge of the reserve as tourist numbers were significantly reduced due to the pandemic.
He said, “The Mara is a very popular place for tourists because it is beautiful and you have a lot of different people, so the chances of seeing another vehicle are usually very high.
“But I haven’t seen another person on safari for five weeks, so just me was there with all of these animals.
“They were much more comfortable around the vehicle, got a lot closer and stayed longer, and were generally much more relaxed.
“So you would see these wonderful behaviors that they would normally be much more concerned about.”
Close encounters of a feline nature
Felix mentions a moment when one of his favorite animals, the serval, a small wild cat, got so close that his camera could no longer focus on it to take the picture.
“Usually they’re very shy and don’t get that close to you, they might look at you and run away.
“So it was one of those moments when you put the camera down and stared straight into his bright blue eyes.
Felix laughed and shrugged.
He said, “When you sit in a vehicle you feel very safe because you are taller than everyone else.
“When walking in the camps at night, you have to be a little more careful. Elephants may wonder, but the worst is buffalo and hippopotamus because they will simply attack when they get the chance.
“Lions and everything, if you have a torch just shine it around and they will run away.”
Felix explains that the lions in the area have been conditioned to be suspicious of people, particularly the Maasai who also live on the reserve, and Felix has built relationships over time.
He is currently learning Swahili in order to be able to communicate better with the guides and his friends, one of the official languages in Kenya, which is spoken by most of the Maasai.
He’ll be heading back to the Mara in late October if he gets his second jab in time and has enjoyed coming home to see his family.
Felix’s childhood dream came close to being a reality
Felix was born in Banbury, Oxfordshire, but moved to Winterslow at the age of four and went to school in Andover and Dorset.
Always fascinated by nature, Felix studied marine and natural history photography at Falmouth University in Cornwall.
He said, “I was always one of those children with whom I wondered and just explored the local forests.
“I’ve always loved David Attenborough’s shows, I’ve been addicted to them, and from a young age I’ve always said I want to be a wildlife cameraman, which I don’t quite do, but it’s not far.”
Whether to pursue this early dream of filming, Felix suggests that if he were suddenly invited to northern Alaska to film polar bears, “It would be hard to say no,” but he is much more interested in teaching others Taking photos, which is part of his job with district governors.
“Part of the camp I work at, you have the option to go out with me for either a day or half a day and I can teach people how to take pictures or take them for you.
“Some people just want to enjoy it. They want to take beautiful pictures home with them, and I like to do that for them too, because then they sit and watch and just record everything. Then you show them the pictures afterwards and they are amazed. ”
“I will hopefully also go running with groups of six and do a photography workshop for a week or ten days or so.”
Lions and tigers and … grizzly bears, oh my
Felix’s first camera was given to him when he was about 13 years old, a point-and-shoot from his father for their family trip to the west coast of America.
Felix wasn’t that interested in Los Angeles and California, but her brief stay at Sailcone’s Grizzly Bear Lodge in British Columbia, Canada was groundbreaking for him.
He said, “When we went to Canada and I saw whales and bears for the first time, I took pictures and they liked them, but they weren’t very good or the quality wasn’t very good.
“I remember telling the owner of this lodge that I would come back with a better camera and a better understanding of how to use it.
“And then I actually went back three or four years later, lived in the forest for two months with a 70-year-old man who had lived there for thirty years, and then I started working for this company.
“Well, it really sparked.”
Felix has returned several times and has worked as a guide thanks to his connection to the local area.
“I didn’t even graduate because I went to Canada and worked there for four months.”
Felix once had a nerve-wracking encounter with a grizzly bear who was charging towards him when he suddenly straightened to his full height of 6 feet 7 inches after taking a picture.
“He ran and stopped a few meters in front of me and yelled at me,” he said.
Felix followed all the right steps and backed away slowly and calmly: “When I sat down afterwards, I was trembling with fear, but you have to be calm.”
Unimpressed by this encounter, Felix is excited to see where his work will take him, and we can’t wait to see what this intrepid photographer is up to next.
Check out more of Felix Rome’s work on his YouTube channel and website.
His Instagram handle is: @felixrome_
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