Originally from Newlands in Cape Town, James Tyrrell (JT) has been working as a ranger at Londolozi for almost four years. Many readers will know him for his wistful documentation – in words and exquisite photographs – of the unbelievable stories that unfold on Londolozi daily.
More recently, JT is becoming well known as an ambassador for rural education NGO, Good Work Foundation (GWF). Together with Pete Fleck, in August, JT will be running 250 kilometers across Madagascar in a bid to raise $30,000 for GWF, an amount that will deliver cutting-edge digital education to 900 rural learners.
Here’s a portion of a conversation that I had with one of Londolozi’s greatest storytellers:
Ryan: You’re a photographer and you love the African bush. What – in your opinion – is the most beautiful wildlife image that you have ever taken at Londolozi?
JT: My favourite photo of all time is one of a young male leopard (called the Nyelethi young male) who we bumped into one morning along the Sand River. He disappeared into a thicket, and the next moment he suddenly sprang out of the thicket onto a dead leadwood tree.
A leopard in a dead leadwood is every ranger/photographer’s dream, purely because of the beautiful uncluttered nature of the tree. Now, suddenly and totally unexpectedly, this leopard climbed out onto one of the limbs and went to sleep in the sun. He began to wake up about 20 minutes later, and when a leopard begins to get active, it will often yawn a couple of times. I managed to capture a photograph of the leopard while yawning on this beautiful branch, and the uncluttered nature of the tree and background (pure sky, no small twigs and no leaves, obviously because the tree was dead) made for a very unique photo. I converted it to black and white to simplify it further, and the conversion works even better, I feel.
Ryan: What is the most dramatic story that you have been witness to out in the bush?
JT: We are very lucky at Londolozi and get to witness many spectacular events. My best sighting ever was dramatic, but not in the typical way you would imagine. It was the discovery of three newborn and still blind leopard cubs (their eyes only open after about 10 days) in their den site – a little crack amongst the boulders – where their mother had secluded them. We found them probably no more than 48 hours after they had been born. The mother was not there at the time, and not wanting to disturb the fragile little creatures, we snapped a quick photograph and left. The memory of these tiny little things all curled up in a spotty furball will always be one of my most wonderful memories of the bush!
Ryan: As an adventurer, what three international places are still on your bucket list to visit?
JT: (1) Alaska – Dramatic scenery and very different wildlife; moose, grizzly bears and salmon fishing all appeal to me! (2) Uganda – Purely for the opportunity to see Mountain Gorillas in the wild; and (3) Gabon – Nowhere else in the world can you see elephants on the beach, hippos in the surf, and maybe some lowland gorillas feeding along the high-tide line!
Ryan: James, we know that you are handy with a guitar around a campfire. If RunMadagascar had a theme tune, how would the lyrics to the chorus go?
JT: I think that the lyrics would change enormously from before the race to during it to after the event! While training they would have to be as motivational as possible, then during the race I think there would have to be a couple of verses about the pain in the legs, and the closing verse would hopefully be about the success of the run, although we’ll have to see when we’ve completed it! A song sounds like a good idea – watch this space.
Ryan: GWF is all about using technology to improve access to education. If you were tasked with creating a learning app for kids, and the sky was the limit, what would it be?
JT: This is a tricky one in that I believe that digital learning, although crucial, should be combined with a well-balanced outdoor and interactive education, especially in an area like the Lowveld where the beauty of nature is so accessible. The app I would create would be as interactive as possible but would in some way require the user to be in nature.
It would allow users to create an archive of what they have seen and experienced in the bush that day, both photographically and through writing, and in some way relate this back to a database of information pertaining to the wilderness area they are in. This would allow them to further benefit from their experiences by being able to interpret what they have seen in the context(s) of what they can look up in the database.
As far as names go, maybe something like “BushBuzz’? I’m not very good at coming up with original names for things…
Ryan: You are running for the advancement of rural education. If you could choose one quote, one song and one book to share with young South Africans, what would they be?
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,
talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other
people won’t feel insecure around you.
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.” —Marianne Williamson.
Song: “Dare you to Move” by Switchfoot. It’s not so mainstream, but it contains some great lyrics that can be interpreted in different ways. Its core message is basically about how it’s up to YOU to make a change in your life.
Book: As clichéd as it sounds, Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela. A lot of young South Africans are ignorant of the real depths of the struggle during the Apartheid years, and this book is very enlightening in that regard. A must-read, and not just for South Africans!
Ryan: In terms of natural diversity, Madagascar is an interesting destination. As a ranger, is there a species that you would like to see?
JT: Madagascar is an incredibly diverse island, with approximately 80% of its species occurring nowhere else. The birds there come in a huge variety of shapes and colours. One that caught my eye while browsing through some pictures is the Helmet Vanga. We have nothing that looks like that at Londolozi!
Ryan: If readers would like to sponsor your RunMadagascar Fundraiser, how can they get involved?
JT: We have raised just under $15,000 and our goal is to reach $30,000. For individuals who would like to donate, the online donation platforms can be found below. If an individual or an organization would like to make a substantial pledge or raise money within their organisation, we would be extremely thankful. Those organisations can contact me via the contact page on the GWF website.
Every little bit helps. From commenting on our progress, to sharing our stories across social media (and around the campfire). Thank you to everyone who has gotten behind us – we are training harder for it!
Ryan: If you reach $30,000, do you promise an original JT song, recorded and shared on YouTube?
If you would like to donate to this great cause, please use either of the two following platforms:
- Leap Foundation – For US Citizens (Use RunMadagascar Fundraiser as your project)
- GivenGain – The Rest of the World (Use RunMadagascar Fundraiser as your project)
Individuals and corporates making donations in the USA and South Africa are able to receive the following certificates: US Citizens – 501 c 3, and South African Citizens – 18A.