Ariadne Van Zandbergen is a professional (freelance) wildlife and travel photographer. Over time she visited more than 30 countries in Africa and has travelled and photographed almost every part of Africa. Ariadne's work features in travel books, brochures, numerous magazines, and other publications. She is also founder and operator of The Africa Image Library; an extensive photographic library specialized in wildlife and other travel related pictures of Africa, on as well as off the beaten track. An important part of the pictures used on the SafariBookings website comes from her great library.
1. When did the travel bug bite you?
I took a year off to travel in Africa after finishing an engineering degree in Belgium. I wasn’t convinced about starting a career in the field I had chosen and I went travelling with an open agenda and an open mind hoping to find some inspiration on what to do with the rest of my life. I first fell in love with travel and Africa. Travel photography started off as a way to be able to keep on travelling and I never really looked back. It is now almost 20 years since my first overland trip through Africa and I’m still basically exploring and photographing this amazing continent.
2. What is your biggest struggle as a professional travel/wildlife photographer?
I think travel photography and writing directly promotes tourist destinations. Most people would agree, but there seems to be a paranoia and misconception on a government level in most African countries that photographers especially, make huge amounts of money out of their parks or attractions and are somehow exploiting the country. Many parks now charge commercial fees for photographers and don’t differentiate whether you are a photographer shooting a commercial for an unrelated brand or commodity with a park as a setting, or you are taking destination photos that directly promote tourism.
Also frustrating is that travel photography is often seen as a kind of hobby, and people don’t think twice about asking for free images for whatever business or project they run. Nobody would think of asking a dentist for a free filling or an accountant to do their books for free, but photos are perceived differently.
3. Which safari destination tops your bucket list?
Having photographed in most top parks in East and Southern Africa, I am particularly keen on visiting some of the Central African reserves. Dzanga Sangha reserve in CAR has been high on my list for a while, but continued political unrest and poaching makes it a difficult destination. Seeing lowland gorillas, elephants and possibly even bongo from a viewing platform overlooking a forest clearing would be an amazing experience.
4. Which park or reserve disappointed you most?
I’m seldom disappointed by any reserve in Africa. I’ve seen all the big animals and I’m as interested in the small creatures as the famous Big Five. As long as a park is relatively pristine, it is worth visiting to me. It is, however, disappointing when you visit a park heavily encroached by humans. Poaching, deforestation, and overgrazing by livestock are often the problems in these parks. Mkomazi in Tanzania and Semliki in Uganda spring to mind.
5. What is the most posh safari accommodation you've stayed in?
I’ve been very privileged to stay in many amazing lodges. It is hard to pick one as the most posh. Especially since posh in the bush is quite a unique concept. Some of the most expensive lodges have bucket showers, pit toilets and minimal electricity. Their luxury rating tends to depend more on service, exclusivity and style. A great contender for the most luxurious lodge I’ve stayed at is Singita Lebombo Lodge in a private concession in Kruger NP. And yes I loved it. I love sheer luxury and pampering as much as the next girl, so long as it doesn’t interfere with what I’m there to do - which is photography! When lodges start focusing more on the food and ambience than the safari aspect of the stay then the balance has tipped the wrong way for me. Luckily Singita doesn’t compromise on anything in this respect.
6. What is the weirdest sound you've heard while on safari?
The first time I heard a mother cheetah calling its cubs I couldn’t believe this chirpy bird-like sound came from a large cat. It just made me love this gracious animal even more.
7. If you could bring only one item on safari, what would it be?
I never leave home without a couple of good books. I’ve recently bought a kindle, which might replace the books, but then I’m worried something might go wrong with it and I’ll be in the middle of the bush without anything to read. So for the time being I travel with both.
8. What is the most unusual method of transport that you've used?
I can’t think of anything that outrageous really. The most adventurous trip in terms of transport was definitely a 4-day canoe trip on the Zambezi River. We followed the narrow channels and had to dodge hippos, which tend to submerge and pop up disconcertingly close. Our guide kept on shouting across to stay in the shallows, but steering the canoe between the popping hippos in a river with a strong current was more easily said than done and anyway “where are the shallows?” At one point we passed a pride of lions lazing on the shore. We drifted by with only a few meters between us. For once we could clearly see the water was very shallow (much too shallow) as our canoe nearly scraped over the sand.
9. What is the strangest local dish you've eaten in Africa?
I’m not very squeamish when it comes to food (or anything else really), so I have tried most things coming my way (as long as I don’t have an ethical problem with it, as I would with bush meat). I’ve traded cups of live termites in Congo with pens and grilled them on a hot plate. It was quite yummy really and very healthy too.
10. If you reincarnate as an animal, what would you want to be?
As humans are destroying the planet at an alarming rate, the future of most African animals isn’t looking all that promising. That aside, I would love to fly (don’t we all?). Maybe I’d like to be a fish eagle. Their diet of fish appeals to me. Females are bigger than males and they mate for life.