Encounters on the Wild Side

A gifted naturalist recalls special moments culled from a lifetime of photographing animals

03-01-2001 // Tui De Roy
Encounters on the Wild Side - Volcanic Activity

My earliest childhood memories as a barefoot girl growing up on the rugged shores of the Galàpagos Islands are filled with dreams about the wildest of wild places. In my fantasies, I stalked browsing tapirs in the steaming Amazon and dove into dark ocean trenches with squid-hunting sperm whales. Then at the age of 12, I began experimenting with my dad´s camera. Soon after, my dreams started becoming realities.

At first I contented myself with exploring the islands where I lived. As I grew up, I began scouring the world´s most pristine and isolated corners, from the stormy Southern Ocean to Peruvian treetops. There were a million natural secrets to uncover.

One of the most spectacular wild events I recorded was right at home in the Galàpagos­­the Dantesque spectacle of a volcanic eruption (right). Under the impassive eye of an endemic marine iguana, a molten river of lava lit up the night as it plunged into the sea. Steam hissed and billowed, so hot I had to shield my face.

Wherever possible, I seek similar instants when I can meet wild animals in their most candid moods. For a few ethereal seconds, they share their world with me, as do the creatures on these pages. By capturing such encounters on film, I hope to serve as their ambassador to my own kind, sharing their magic, and their plight, with others who care.

Penguin Ballet

Encounters on the Wild Side magazine layout - penguins underwater

Macquarie Island, home to more than 200,000 king penguins, is a speck of land lost at the fringes of the Antarctic south of Australia.

To get there, I worked as a guide and boat driver on a Russian icebreaker carrying adventurous tourists. When the penguins began swarming around my small boat, I cut the engine and asked my passengers to be quiet. The agile birds soon began leaping, so close some nearly landed on board.

Dunking my arms over the side as deep as they would reach, I waited until I could see the birds flashing below. I fired off as many shots as I could before my hands became so numb from cold I nearly dropped my underwater camera.

Flamingo Magic

Encounters on the Wild Side magazine layout - pink flamingos flying

My favorite flamingo photo is the one I very nearly missed. While sailing with friends, I stopped to visit a salt lagoon on Floreana Island in the Galàpagos. Having deemed it a poor photographic location during earlier trips, I had decided to leave my camera on board while going for a walk. No sooner had we landed than I realized my mistake.

The resident greater flamingos were performing the most enthralling courtship dance I had ever beheld. Luckily my traveling companion lent me his spare camera just in time for me to get this shot of the entire flock wheeling in unison against a volcanic slope. They then settled at the far end of the pool.

Giant From the Deep

Encounters on the Wild Side magazine layout - fin whale

It is almost impossible to prepare for a close-up meeting with one of the biggest animals on Earth. But I knew that fin whales - ­­the second largest of the great whales­­ - appear in Mexico´s Sea of Cortez during winter to feed on krill and other swarming marine life.

I was using a fiberglass skiff rented from a local fisherman when this particular behemoth, some 80 feet long, surfaced repeatedly right alongside. Unlike most others of its kind, it seemed mildly curious, coming closer as the morning went by. Its gigantic proportions dwarfed my boat by about four lengths. My 18mm lens was barely wide enough to capture the forward quarter of its massive body.

A Swirl of Wings

Encounters on the Wild Side magazine layout - Scarlet Macaw

Having traveled by canoe far up the Tambopata River of Peru deep in the Amazon, I felt I had found one of the seven wonders of the natural world.

At the break of dawn I was deeply engrossed watching hundreds of parrots as they descended in a deafening chorus of screeches to eat minerals on a huge clay bank overlooking the river. Then, like a bolt out of the blue, a scarlet macaw dropped out of this whirling melee for a close-up visit. It was one of about a dozen birds that scientists had reared then returned to the wild, and was thus at ease with people.

Later, I climbed an emergent tree, capturing the macaw on film with its wild flock in their canopy realm.

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