The Fearless Photographer
Here’s a scenario: You’re in the Zimbabwean wilderness and you come across a pack of African wild dogs. The alpha male sees you, and starts coming towards you while growling maliciously. What would you do?
Snap a pic, right?
That’s exactly what Marlon du Toit did. It may not be the obvious choice for most, but Marlon has made it his profession to capture the wild in all of its natural glory. His passion for nature and photography was ingrained in him from a young age, which led Marlon growing up with the desire to be as close to wildlife as possible.
“It started with my dad,” he says. “He had a company that took tourists into Kruger National Park back in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. I spent countless hours in the bush with my dad and learnt from there. I started tour guiding at the various safari lodges in the greater Kruger region. Photography becomes a natural thing for many guides in that position.”
Fuelled by the love for wildlife photography, Marlon pursued a career in the travel industry. He later joined Wild Eye SA, a travel company that specialises in photographic travel across the world. He became a co-owner along with the company’s original founders – Jono Buffey, Gerry van der Walt and Andrew Beck.
“It’s at the core of everything I do. We visit the polar bears of Svalbard, the tigers of India, the jaguars of Brazil and much more. We also visit 11 countries within Africa which offers diverse experiences for our clients. Although a large percentage of our clients are avid wildlife photographers, our tours are not limited to that – we arrange special travel packages for families, honeymooners and more.”
While at Wild Eye, Marlon’s photos have gained quite the audience since he started posting them online. From casual selfies with elephants to capturing deadly encounters with lions, Marlon’s Instagram feed is a close-up view to a part of our world most of us have never seen. But Marlon’s biggest highlight of his career happened earlier this year when he was a guest on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, and he hopes the exposure helps the company grow.
WATCH JIMMY FALLON INTERVIEW MARLON HERE
“I showcased my work on the show, got to promote Wild Eye, and also got to share a great story on Pangolins. It’s an awesome platform with a large viewership. Being a part of what we’ve built within our business also stands out as something I am very proud of,” he admits.
“We started small and we are growing into a formidable force within the photographic safari industry on a global level. It’s a company to be proud of.”
So how does a sane person go into animal territories and casually take photos? It’s not that simple. Apart from having amazing camera skills, it’s overcoming the fear of the wild that is key to Marlon’s craft.
“In place of fear, I would say that I have a very healthy respect for wildlife.”
“I always remind my guests that these are indeed wild animals, animals with instincts that react to the situations they are faced with. I never expose my guests to experiences that are life-threatening. That’s not what I want,” he says.
“When photographing animals, the biggest reward is when they start to ignore you and go about their business as if you didn’t exist. That’s when you’ve struck gold – the animal knows you’re there but your behaviour allows it to relax and act natural. For me, these moments also make the best wildlife imagery.”
With this fearlessness, Marlon has managed to capture some of nature’s most authentic, vicious and beautiful moments. Even though he’s pushed the shutter button countless times in his career, there are a few images that stand out.
(If you’re squeamish, you might want to scroll down really quickly)
Killer Croc From Kenya
“I have an image of a crocodile devouring a zebra head and neck. It’s pretty intense and very raw. It’s not one of those technically sound images – just very real, vivid and evokes a shock-response from viewers. I love it!”
Don’t Mess With The Alpha
“Then I have an image of an African wild dog captured in Mana Pools. It was my first on-foot encounter with wild dogs. A friend and I crept up on the dog in a sandy river bed. The alpha male stood up and approached us head on. It was really intimidating as he growled lowly while coming at us. I just kept photographing.”
The One-Eyed Pirate
“One of my other favourites, certainly, is of a jaguar called “Pirata,” meaning pirate. He is well-known in Brazil’s Pantanal for good reason. He’s one mean son-of-a-gun, with one eye missing and lots of scars across his face.
“We found him one day while on the hunt for Cayman (Brazilian crocodiles) and there was a moment when the Jaguar stepped into the water and came right towards our boat, not more than 10 metres away. It was surreal and I’ll never forget it.”
What’s next for Marlon du Toit?
“My first priority is to grow this business that we’ve built into something unique and special. I would love to do more television appearances, perhaps host a few more celebrities out on safari to increase awareness for the company.
“Then most importantly, I want to continue being a voice for animals, to ensure I play my part in conserving wildlife for future generations to enjoy. There are so many issues facing all sorts of animals today, and we all have a responsibility to protect them. If I can’t do that with the voice and platform I’ve been given then I will have failed.”