SPECIAL MEETING — 7:00 pm
“Two Years in the Wild!” by Christian Sperka, Wildlife Photographer and South African Field Guide
Few have answered the call of the wild as passionately as Christian Sperka. Sperka will be bringing his brilliant photographs and amazing stories to the Cookeville Camera Club in a special lecture, “Two Years in the Wild”. His presentation will include many images as well as explanations of challenges of living on the reserve and tips on photographing wildlife. The public is invited to attend this rare opportunity and enjoy this evening as he brings South Africa home.
A former photographer for the Nashville Zoo, Sperka left that post to follow his heart to South Africa. He now calls Thanda Private Game Reserve home, and his neighbors can get pretty wild.
Thanda is one of the most luxurious lodges in Africa. I’m able to do more than just show people animals.
Sperka’s background is vastly different from his current job, but he says it has prepared him to do what he does best now; he is a guide and photography teacher at the reserve. With a background as a manager working with IT for 22 years, Sperka says, “I’ve worked in 22 different companies and visited 50. It helps me to deal with cultures and make our guests feel welcome.”
Sperka had visited the reserve numerous times prior to moving there, spending about 300 nights as a guest. Working there is a bit different, but his time there as a guest has prepared him to better serve the current visitors as a photography guide and instructor. “Thanda is one of the most luxurious lodges in Africa,” Sperka explains. “I’m able to do more than just show people animals.” As an instructor, Sperka has taught over 400 people how to take better wildlife photos.
Sperka is also responsible for all the social media that emanates from the reserve. “I have a blog, I manage Facebook, Twitter, and all the other media,” Sperka says. “I communicate with the world. I am working on some books and I do all the marketing images.”
As important as that is, Sperka is passionate about the conservation efforts Thanda is making. He helps document the work the reserve is doing to help wildlife thrive and documents natural events such as rains and how they affect the area. He has acquired some unexpected skills that help him in his work on the reserve.
“I’m trained as a snake handler,” Sperka says with a laugh. Part of his job is to help remove venomous snakes from the guest areas to more appropriate areas in the wild. His knowledge as a guide helps him know where to release the snakes. “My mother in Germany thought I was off my rocker when I told her,” he says. “I told her she is in more danger driving to the bakery than I am of getting bitten.”
While Sperka asserts there is no such thing as a risk free environment, he knows it can be done “if you are cautious and not stupid.”
His experiences have helped him gain respect for the fragile ecosystem and the wildlife that exists because of it. When asked about his relationship with the animals, Sperka insists, “It’s not a relationship, it’s an understanding. We do not interfere except to preserve genetics or manage predators.” He does agree that knowing as much as possible about the individual animals is helpful in his job. “There are 23 elephants,” He says. “I know each one and how they react. I know which rhino will run and which one won’t.”
On his days off Sperka visits a neighboring reserve where he has learned to ride horses, another valuable skill for his photography. “On a horse I can ride right up to a giraffe without it reacting.”
Sperka’s experience and residence in the heart of the Zulu nation have produced stunning photographs. His photos are displayed on the Thanda website as well as in his blog. They show animals in their natural habitat that practically leap off the page. He is currently working on a book, “Thanda: Ten Years Old (A Decade of Love),” and a book on photographing wildlife, something at which he is a true expert.
Learn more about Christian Sperka and Thanda Private Game Reserve and see his photography at sperka.info.
Christian Sperka is a wildlife photographer based at Thanda Private Game Reserve, Kwazulu Natal, South Africa. He works as a Specialist Photography Guide and Field Guide (Ranger) on Thanda and also teaches wildlife photography at the reserve.
Since 2001, Christian has traveled the world photographing animals in wild game reserves of South Africa and Namibia, the jungles of Costa Rica, in Yellowstone National Park in the USA, as well as zoos in Europe and the United States. His work has been featured in wildlife magazines, in books and in many zoo publications. He has given many presentations about animal photography and wildlife conservation at various photography clubs and he has also spoken at schools, universities and other organizations about his experiences in Africa and as professional wildlife photographer.
From 2009 to 2012 he has worked as the official photographer and photography teacher at Nashville Zoo at Grassmere, Tennessee, USA. He was honored with a commendation by Karl F. Dean, the Mayor of Nashville, for his work during his stay in the Music City.