Rodney Nombekana: How a love for big cats and the ‘myth’ of the leopard sparked this wildlife photographer’s career

(CNN) – People travel across oceans and from the other side of the world for a chance to see the wonders of Kruger National Park. The game reserve in South Africa was established over 120 years ago and is among the best national parks in the world. Listed adventurers visit in hopes of meeting the “Big Five” – ​​lions, tigers, elephants, rhinos, and buffaloes – and with any luck, you can snap a memorable photo in the process.

“Our animals basically make wildlife photography fashionable,” says Rodney Numbikana, a safari guide who prides himself on giving visitors a range of reasons to fall in love with Kruger’s wildlife. “By doing so, they are not only appreciating wildlife but also participating in the preservation of our natural world.”

Tourists on Nombekana safari may find themselves in an excellent position to capture the perfect shot – because Nombekana is himself a wildlife photographer, a passion he says fell into it years ago while leading a safari group in a different park.

“It happened that a tiger was sitting on a beautiful rock during sunset, and I took out my cell phone and took a picture of this tiger,” Numbekana recalls. “When I got home, I looked at the photo, and I knew it would be cool to take it from a proper camera.”

So Nombekana purchased a camera kit. As with the tiger, he found himself drawn to taking pictures of big cats – a fascination he says likely originated during his childhood in the rural areas of the Eastern Cape.

“The village elders have always told us about the tiger,” he explains. “It has always been a myth that there is an animal called a tiger. In fact we have never really seen it. It has always been my dream to actually see a tiger in the wild and when I first saw one, it was incredible.”

See the gallery above to see how the tiger and other big cats have continued to hold special meaning for Nombekana.

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