24 May 2021

Wildlife photographer and elephant conservationist Jane Wynyard

From Nine To Noon, 10:10 am on 24 May 2021

The first film Jane Wynyard’s mum ever took her to was Born Free, the story of a couple who raised an orphaned lion cub before releasing her into the wild in Kenya. 

Perhaps not a surprising choice given her mum was an environmental activist and conservationist. 

Auckland-born Wynyard never expected years later she would find herself in Kenya, working as a wildlife photographer and elephant conservationist. 

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Photo: Jane Wynyard

While growing up in New Zealand Wynyard had a lifelong fascination with the country her mum and grandparents emigrated from – England. In fact, she often spoke about making the move to London. 

Eventually, while working as a freelance journalist, she booked herself a six-month return ticket - thirteen years ago. 

“The opportunities were incredible; I was so lucky when I got there,” Wynyard tells Kathryn Ryan. 

That’s very much how she exists in the world, she says, snapping up opportunities as they come along despite how comfortable she might be where she is. 

In 2013, Wynyard’s stepbrother Mark died very suddenly from cancer. Only 52, his death made her think about what she was doing with her life. 

“Up until then we hadn’t really had any big tragedies in our family,” she says. 

When she was feeling overwhelmed by what had happened, Wynyard would head outside to take photographs on the street. 

“I found that was a great way for me to deal with my grief and the shock of what had happened to Mark.” 

In 2015, her cousin who she’s very close to suddenly fell ill with sepsis. As a result, she had her legs amputated below the knees and she lost the use of her hands. 

By this time, Wynyard was spending every weekend out and about photographing wildlife. 

“I guess it was my stepbrother’s death and then my cousin's terrible illness that made me think I have got to change my life, I’m in amazing job, I'm working with incredible people but I'm working in fashion. 

“I really wanted to do something that made a difference.” 

Wynard had been travelling to Kenya as a tourist, photographing wildlife for a number of years. By chance she ended up back there working for charities like Save the Elephants. 

“All these doors just started opening.” 

“Now I'm not going anywhere, I’ve told my clients in Africa I’m never leaving and they’re going to have to untie me from a tree if they want to get rid of me because I'm just so happy and I love the work I'm doing.” 

She says she’s finally found her passion, the thing that makes her zing. 

“With photography...I see things that I didn’t see before, I look at things very differently.” 

Wynyard spends a lot of her time living in a cabin in a research camp in Samburu National Reserve, seven hours north of Nairobi. 

Much of the time she’s in the field photographing elephants and does communications for the Elephant Crisis Fund and Save the Elephants. The research camp has no fences, so wildlife wander through often. 

While poaching may seem like the obvious threat to elephants, Wynyard says it’s reducing in many parts of Africa, particularly in Kenya. 

“The biggest threat now across the continent is human-elephant conflict,” she says. 

“There are a lot of cases now where elephants are being speared, they’re being shot because they crop raid, they get into farms and raid the crops and the locals and farmers retaliate. They cross paths with herders with their livestock, they compete for space, they compete for resources, water.” 

Poaching really reduced the range of elephants, leaving them with not enough space to move, she says. 

“We’re desperately trying to work with local communities to make them understand the value of elephants and to actually protect their corridors.” 

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Photo: Jane Wynyard

Elephants have migration routes they’ve used for generations, she says. Over the years, small towns have popped up on these routes, putting the elephants in the path of farms and villages. 

“This is definitely the biggest problem that we’re facing, it is the new threat,” she says. 

“The locals, the communities, they are the custodians of their heritage. They are the ones that are going to secure a future for elephants so having relationships with them is so important.” 

The elephant charities have now trained a group of Samburu women are working with GPS to track the elephants and ensure their corridors are clear for migration. 

“I’ve learnt a lot about how the communities view elephants but also, I’ve learnt a lot about how important it is for these communities and why they really want to help us with our work.”