Photographer takes pride in buggy camera

LOUISE BERWICK
Last updated 05:00 03/12/2013

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A former Southland man's latest photography assignment has been viewed by millions of people worldwide and taken international media by storm.

Media giants such as CNN, the Huffington Post website, television channels across Europe and newspapers in Canada have published Chris McLennan's close encounter with a pack of lions.

The former Gore High School pupil's video of the encounter has had more than 3 million hits on YouTube, with 2 million of those in the first 72 hours.

Two months ago he came up with his idea to put a camera in a four-wheel-drive buggy and using a remote control drive it towards a pack of lions in the heart of Botswana.

It was after his last trip to the African country, when he was confined to a safari vehicle, that he thought there must be another way to get up and close with the animals. And there was.

"I was just trying to think of how we could get something different."

He was on a photographic project for Nikon and Hewlett Packard when he and a friend came up with the idea and designed the four-wheel-steer and double motor buggy to hold his Nikon camera.

The main thing was to keep the camera out of the dust and lion-proof, he said.

They then set the device loose, steering it straight towards the pack made up of seven females and one male.

The lions' response was incredible, he said.

As the buggy made its way towards them, the pack got up to investigate, before eventually taking off with the device.

McLennan, 49, stayed about 20 metres away during the experiment, taking photos of the action as it unfolded. By the end of it, the lions had moved so close, he was barely five metres away.

"When they realised it [the buggy] wasn't worth eating they lost interest."

McLennan managed to reclaim the device. The camera, still intact, had taken some "awesome" shots.

"They did a lot of damage to the suspension and they chewed the tyres a bit."

"We were very lucky, I think the odds were against us."

Despite living north of Auckland, McLennan is no stranger to lions. Having been a professional photographer for 25 years, he has been to 45 different countries for photographic assignments.

After Botswana he travelled to Namibia to spend time with the Himba tribes before heading to Tahiti to photograph sharks.

Now he is contracted by multi-national companies, but his career began chasing his father driving around Southland race car tracks and snapping the action.

He set up a small photography business 25 years ago, taking family portraits and wedding photos in Invercargill.

His favourite photography assignments now are in the depths of Alaska during the salmon run.

While Africa was "pretty unique" he had a real soft spot for Alaska because of its similarities to the Southern Alps.

And it's the Southern Alps which will draw him home. With a section in Glenorchy, McLennan hopes to return to the south to retire.

But that's a while away.

"I am just kind of hooked. I am pretty fortunate."

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- Fairfax Media

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