With the world emerging from lockdown, where the often rushed and blinkered life we had come to know temporarily came to a standstill, many are now taking stock of their relationship to the environment.
On the week commencing the 27th April, for instance – when the UK was in the firm grip of quarantine – the Royal Horticultural Society reported an estimated 50% rise in people viewing their website, all seeking tips and tricks for growing and gardening.
Green fingers are one thing, but for 25-year-old Devin Trull, wildlife photographer and tour guide at the 50,000-acre Phinda game reserve on South Africa’s east coast, appreciation of the natural world has always been a way of life.
For 25-year-old Devin Trull, appreciation of the natural world has always been a way of life
Born in Cape Town and raised on farms in the coastal capital’s outskirts, Devin was a self-confessed ‘water baby’ who gravitated towards the ocean as a kid. It was there, amidst the waves, that Devin developed his adoration of the environment – a love that chimed well with his interest in photography.
‘It’s hard to pin down a starting point of getting into conservation,’ he explains, ‘but after growing up in farms outside of Cape Town, I really wanted to study oceanography and ocean science. The trials didn’t really go that way though, and I ended up studying environmental management.’
Moving evolutionarily from water to land – from fishes to furry friends – Devin would use his photography as a way to document Earth’s treasures; to capture and show what’s worth protecting where jargon fails to do so.
‘Historically, scientists have been pretty bad at communicating their findings and the information they’re uncovering,’ Devin says, in his hushed South African accent.
‘So, for me, the goal for my photography was to be telling these science stories in a way that was beautiful and also communicated their answers. Scientists get tangled up with big words very quickly. Even though I was educated and used to reading science papers, I often found them confusing.’
Devin’s journey in becoming a ranger began after an old schoolfriend spent an anniversary with his girlfriend at a game reserve, and came back convinced Devin would suit the life of a ranger. It’s with a hint of irony that Phinda means ‘return to the wild’ in Zulu – a calling that Devin eventually succumbed to.
The goal for my photography was to tell these science stories in a way that was beautiful and also communicated the scientist’s answers
‘I was very hesitant at first,’ he emphasises. ‘I thought: “Yah, but if I go work in the bush then I’m not going to be by the sea so that’s not gonna work.”
‘It took a long time to convince myself that that was where I needed to go. But in the beginning of 2019, I went up to the Kruger National Park with another friend of mine and he told me about this course that [safari tour company] &Beyond does.’
The course would be intense – similar, Devin was warned, to ‘a military training setup’. Carried out in a two-part process, those whom the trainers don’t think have the nous to make it as a ranger are sent home after the first six weeks.
This is not without good reason. The ability to identify tracks, locate nesting grounds and search for a particular species is a skill that takes years to hone. As with the top brass of any trade, the higher-calibre rangers have ‘a wealth of knowledge you can’t just get at, you can’t buy, you can’t go to school and learn’.
In one instance during training, Devin recalls, a tracker with ten years’ experience led the way in tracking a pride of lions across what Devin says can only be described as ‘a moonscape; it was basically across rocks, pebbles and gravel’.
‘He was pointing out what he was using to follow them; he showed that if you’re standing on a rock-like edge, the rock moves a tiny bit backwards to reveal a little scrape mark in the sand, or the gravel that’s underneath juts up ever so slightly. He was essentially just following the smallest of scrape marks.
It was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve had. And I’m super lucky to be able to have access to that wisdom
‘Eventually, we found the pride of lions. It was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve had. And I’m super lucky to be able to have access to that wisdom.’
Such a find is worth the reward for Devin, who says he has to ‘pinch [himself]’ every time he gets close to one of the majestic animals that live in the Phinda reserve.
‘People dream of getting to spend two nights at a safari lodge so they can see a lion, an elephant, a cheetah, a leopard. So seeing them and also being able to facilitate and allow other people to come and enjoy that through you is a massive privilege.