On a typical African safari, trophy hunters shoot exotic animals with guns. But Mid-South animal photographer Jack Kenner is arranging African photo safaris where guests will be shooting animals with their cameras instead.
Kenner, who used to make photo trips to Africa in the late 1980s, has launched African photo safari tours under the name Intrepid Expeditions. Kenner is perhaps best-known for his dog photography books, Dogs I've Nosed and Dogs I've Nosed II. This year, he released his third book, Dogs I've Nosed From Here to Naples, which features recipes and brilliant color photographs of dogs from both Memphis and Naples, Florida.
But years ago, Kenner got his start in animal photography on photo safaris in Africa, Thailand, Brazil, and pretty much every Memphis In May honored country in the early 1990s.
"I was planning another safari in 1991, but my wife got pregnant, and we had to cancel the trip. I started doing dog portraits," Kenner said. "And then recently, I was in Naples photographing dogs, and I met a guy who wanted me to go back to Africa. I said I'd try it, and now 20 years later, I'm back to doing what I used to do."
His first two Intrepid Expeditions trips — a Botswana Wildlife Safari scheduled for next August and a Tanzania Luxury Safari next September — are already full. He's now working to fill another Tanzanian safari in December 2015. Kenner said guests can expect to see lions, cheetahs, leopards, wild dogs, elephants, zebras, and giraffes to name a few. Some guests on the Tanzania trip will stay a few extra days to trek gorillas in Kigali, Rwanda.
"On hunting safaris, people will pay $20,000 to shoot a rhino from 100 yards, but that rhino is a vegetarian. He won't charge you unless you cross his threshold," Kenner said. "The rifleman is doing nothing but standing in a Jeep and shooting an animal. The whole idea of people going to Africa to kill animals is ludicrous."
Instead, Kenner said he wants to show people how to stop the killing of animals for trophies and instead "how to use a camera to bag a wall trophy with a photograph."
No photography experience is necessary to sign up. Since the trips are scheduled for next year, Kenner said he has plenty of time to teach some camera basics to those who sign up.
"I'm encouraging people to get to know their equipment now because when we get there, you need to know how to use your camera like the back of your hand. Things are going to happen fast, and you have to be ready," Kenner said.
Kenner knows firsthand that "things" can happen. He's been charged by rhinos and lions on previous photo trips.
"I once had a two-ton rhino charging at me, coming 40 miles an hour with all four hooves, like thunder coming at the Jeep. But there's a trick to stop the charge. I'll be teaching people that," Kenner said.
Memphian Sara O'Ryan and her family have signed up for the Botswana trip. O'Ryan's husband Emmett was killed in a plane crash in 2009 when the single-engine plane he was piloting crashed on approach at Memphis International Airport. Their adult children, Robert and Ruthie, now ages 24 and 30 respectively, were on the plane but survived the crash.
O'Ryan is hoping the African safari will help her children heal. Both suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder following the crash.
"It's a combination of healing with nature and art. And it's also preservation. This trip is not about killing animals. It's about the preservation of animal life, and we'll really be able to see primeval nature in a place where it's being preserved," O'Ryan said. "My family can spend time together. We really haven't had this kind of time since before the accident. That accident happened when my children were right on the cusp of being grown-ups."