Reaching out across Africa with Wild Shots

Meet Mike Kendrick, the conservationist and educator who has been introducing communities to South African wildlife through photography since 2015.
A child with long bright blue braids and a red t-shirt holds up a photograph of a rhino. She stands against a terracotta-coloured wall.
Louise O’Driscoll

Written by Louise O’Driscoll

Sustainability Communications Specialist, Canon EMEA

The theme of this year’s International Youth Day is ‘Intergenerational Solidarity’, with a particular focus on ‘Creating a World for All Ages’. The United Nations recognise that generations need to work together to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and leave no one behind, so they’ve marked International Youth Day as a time to raise awareness of the specific barriers to tackling ageism, which impacts both young and old, while having detrimental effects on society as a whole.
Mike Kendrick is an education specialist turned non-profit director who works tirelessly to make Kruger National Park in northeast South Africa accessible to communities, especially those who live on the park’s borders. It is astonishing that whilst living their day to day lives in such close proximity to this extraordinary place, most of the locals never get to see it and through this there is a huge awareness and education gulf. Mike and his organisation, Wild Shots Outreach (WSO), uses photography to work with the local communities and their young people to break down myths and taboos linked to wildlife.
Creating images together is a starkly powerful means of illustrating the effects of poaching, climate change and other aggressors that threaten the planet. When advocates and educators use photography and videography in storytelling, there is no doubt that it touches hearts and minds, engages communities and connects with like-minded organisations to bring about change. Since 2015 Mike Kendrick and his team have been doing precisely this and now WSO are building connections with other game reserves across Africa, expanding their reach to create new editions of their programme with the goal of reaching even more young people. I caught up with Mike to gain a deeper understanding of his work, its outcomes and WSO’s plans for the future.
What made you start Wild Shots Outreach?
I’ve always been passionate about conservation and inspiring and connecting young people with nature. When I lived in the UK, I worked in government schools as an education specialist. I founded Wild Shots Outreach in 2015 after moving to Hoedspruit, on the borders of Kruger National Park in South Africa and learning that almost none of the local Black people had been to a national park. Finding this out was a shocking realisation and I felt I had to do something. National parks should rightfully belong to their surrounding nation. I realised I could combine my passion for photography and my expertise in education to connect these young people with their wildlife heritage. I just kept going and never looked back.

Twenty people line up in two rows, with the front row sitting or kneeling. They are on grass with a blue cloud-filled sky behind them. Each holds a printed picture of a rhino.

Mike Kendrick (far right) with his students from a Canon Young People Programme workshop. None of these children had ever seen a rhino, despite living so close to Kruger National Park, and they proudly hold prints of the rhinos they photographed with Wild Shots Outreach.

The head and shoulders of a smiling child sat in a vehicle. He wears a green fleece and holds a Canon camera. In the background is parched yellow grass and a pair of animals I n the distance.

Wild Shots Outreach student, Levis Muchiri, can barely contain his glee as he holds a Canon EOS 4000D while out on a game drive.

What made you want to work in the conservation space, why is it important?
I believe we are at a tipping point for conservation. If we don’t act now, it may be too late. Can we imagine a world without rhinos for example? It is shocking to think that we may have only 8–10 years before there are no wild rhinos left. We can win this battle but only if we engage with local communities. With their help and understanding the rhino and other iconic animals can be saved. But why should these people care about animals they have never even seen? With Canon’s help, we are using cameras to engage young people from local communities with wildlife, with conservation and tourism. We are helping to develop the photographers and conservationists of tomorrow.
Who takes part in the programme and what is its purpose?
The programme prioritises people from underrepresented backgrounds, particularly high school students from government schools and young unemployed people from the local Black communities. Additionally, we also strive to advance female inclusion and empowerment, ensuring that every group is at least 50% female, alongside running some female-only courses. Participants have the chance to take part in five workshops and a game drive, where they can see amazing wildlife – usually spotting the ‘big five’ animals, including elephants, lions and rhinos.
When the students go out with cameras, their faces light up. It’s an engaging and exciting way to address local young peoples’ disconnect with the natural world – despite living adjacent to national parks. These young people do not have the resources, the means or sometimes the aspiration to visit these protected areas and engage with and value their natural heritage. There are barriers to achieving the SDGs – protecting life on land’s biodiversity, quality education and reducing inequalities. If we want to see real change it’s crucial that conservation involves young people from the local communities. We need to upscale these kinds of programmes.

Three young people, photographed from the back. They are sat in a vehicle and each is holding a Canon camera with branded straps around their necks, pointing it in the same direction outside of the vehicle. Outside the vehicle is parched yellow grass, some dusty ground and a couple of indeterminate animals in the distance.

Mike and Wild Shots Outreach take youngsters on game drives through previously inaccessible national parks, teaching them practical photography skills, while exposing them to wildlife that they have never seen before.

Can you tell us about an individual who has taken part in the programme?
Mukateki is a young woman who took part in our programme and is now training to be a field guide through the local safari guide facility, Campfire Academy. We are funding her tuition and her driving license, which is a requirement to become a safari guide. She is inspired by Queen Manyike, another former WSO student and Eco Children facilitator, who is now one of the very few female Black guides in the Greater Kruger Area. Mukateki took the WSO course in January 2021 and has developed a real passion for African wildlife and working with people. Like most WSO students she experienced her first ever game drive with WSO.
The big turning point for Mukateki was her first game drive with Wild Shots Outreach. She was on a game drive with me when she saw her first lion. Her passion for conservation now ripples out amongst her friends and her community. Her dream was to see a lion and she was fortunate to see Mapoza, Thornybush Game Reserve’s infamous and massive one-eyed male lion, with his milky blue right eye, up close.

A young woman in a green camouflage hat and blue shirt turns her head to smile for the camera. She is holding a camera in her hand and it is pointed at a lion, which lays on the dirt road in front of her.

Mukateki captures her first encounter with a lion. “Her passion for conservation now ripples out amongst her friends and her community,” says Mike.

How has the programme expanded?
After the success of the programme in South Africa, we recently expanded to Kenya and ran a pilot course at Lewa Wildlife Reserve. Schoolchildren from communities neighbouring Lewa attended a residential course at Lewa’s Education Centre and enjoyed putting their new photography skills to good use on two game drives. The Kenyan programme was supported by private individuals from the UK who have strong connections with Lewa and the surrounding communities. Canon EMEA provided a printer so we could print each student’s best photos and the printer was permanently donated to Lewa’s Education Centre.
What considerations did you make when launching the programme in Kenya?
As Wild Shots Outreach grows, and with invitations to run the courses in other locations in Africa, I needed additional support. Rifumo Mathebula, a former student, is now running the programmes – teaching them in the local language of Tsonga. He is an inspirational young role model and the feedback I receive shows he is doing a fantastic job! He is better at delivering the workshops than I am. I guess that means my capacity-building work has been successful!
On a serious note, I have to say It would be easy for me to send someone from outside the community to take on managerial responsibilities of the programme, but I’ve come this far with the intention to grow the work we are doing through empowering the people who are out here. It makes so much more sense for local people to learn from each other.
Another important point to consider when delivering the programme in new locations is that every protected area has different issues and conservation challenges. In Botswana, human wildlife conflict is very different when compared to South Africa, because in Botswana there are no fences, and so the students there see wildlife as a threat to their crops and safety. In South Africa the locals have no contact with wildlife as the nature reserves are fenced and not accessible to communities.
The Canon EMEA Young People Programme (YPP) runs in partnership with the UN SDG Action Campaign and aims to inspire, educate, and empower young people from all over the world to share their stories. So far, YPP has reached over 5,500 participants in 27 countries, working with over 50 NGO partners to equip young people in schools and communities with the tools, skills, and platforms they need to create a more sustainable world for both themselves and others in their communities.
Recently, the YPP has launched the “Inspiring Change Initiative” which continues this work by collaborating with local schools and communities across EMEA to raise awareness of the UN’s Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs). The initiative is encouraging young people to share a sustainability cause they are passionate about and where they’d like to see change in their local community.
Find out more about the Canon EMEA Young People Programme.

Louise O’Driscoll Sustainability Communications Specialist, Canon EMEA

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