Exploring the deep wildlife footage legacy of Bruce Kekule (commentary)

  • The conservation world has misplaced a excessive wildlife photographer—Lawrence “Bruce” Kekule—an American who has lived in Thailand since 1964.
  • Beside documenting the unusual creatures of his adopted home, Bruce moreover traveled abroad to favorite places like India: wherever he went, he raised consciousness in regards to the plight of endangered species by footage.
  • This publish is a commentary. The views expressed are these of the author, not basically Mongabay.

In June, the world misplaced one amongst its legendary wildlife photographers—Lawrence “Bruce” Kekule, an American who had lived in Thailand since 1964.

Born in 1945 in Sacramento, California, Bruce’s family would switch to Hawaii and Hong Kong, the place he graduated from King George V. School sooner than he settled into Thailand for good alongside along with his father at age 19. He labored various jobs, along with on an oil rig the place he misplaced a thumb in an accident off Taiwan’s southern coast, nonetheless wildlife footage was his good passion, and he devoted the ultimate quite a lot of a few years of his life almost solely to this pursuit.

I first met Bruce in Bangkok in 2013, the place we plotted a camera-trapping problem in Khlong Seang Wildlife Sanctuary in Surat Thani province of southern Thailand, the outcomes of which had been coated by Mongabay. On the time, Bruce had already revealed quite a lot of books on Thailand’s wildlife, and had saved up his private website with widespread updates on his findings in places identical to the large Western Forest Sophisticated, the nationwide parks exterior of Chiang Mai, and as well as down south in Khlong Seang, the place we labored collectively for a short time.

Bruce en route to Khlong Saeng Wildlife Sanctuary.  Image courtesy of Greg McCann.
Bruce en path to Khlong Saeng Wildlife Sanctuary. Image courtesy of Greg McCann.

In 2014 we drove from Bangkok to Surat Thani, and alongside the best way by which he confided that he now spoke Thai increased than he did English, and it was with good shock that he carried a pistol in his glove compartment, being one among many few abroad nationals to have an open carry permit for the weapon: he claimed that he would shoot any armed poacher who crossed one amongst his camouflaged photo-blinds. He was so absorbed in his footage that he had solely discovered the band AC/DC in 2010, being decrease off from modern western custom.

His efforts bore giant outcomes, with the now critically endangered widespread leopard (Panthera pardus) and Indochinese tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) strolling immediately as a lot as his blinds, the place he sweated as he fastidiously snapped away, capturing their magnificence, sooner than they stalked off.

It was a fantastic issue that he carried the gun, for one time an unlimited gaur confronted him on a forest path in Huai Kai Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary—one among many final strongholds for every the Indochinese tiger and leopard—and it charged him. Bruce said that he quickly recalled an excerpt from an earlier e e-book, which mentioned that if charged by an offended gaur one must drop to the underside and let it leap over you. With good acuity, he hit the grime, and the large animal leapt over him. Nonetheless, the good bovine shortly did a U-turn, and threatened one different price. Bruce pulled quickly out his handgun and fired it into the air, spurring the gaur to rethink; it stormed off into the forest instead.

In Surat Thani we rented a ship, stocked up with meals, an unlimited ice block, and beer, and set off into one of many very important distant corners of the Cheow Lan Reservoir which varieties part of the border of Khao Sok Nationwide Park and Khlong Saeng — by far the oldest rainforest on Earth. We set off proper right into a world of limestone crags that erupted out of the serene lake, a dreamy jungle-draped panorama swarming with unusual, hidden creatures.

We had been hoping to camera-trap the widespread leopard in Khlong Saeng, nonetheless sadly, it is each regionally hereditary there or lowered to such low numbers that we under no circumstances found them. We did, nonetheless, seize Malayan tapir, clouded leopard, golden cat, marbled cat, gaur, Asian elephant (in a single video a member of the herd stood behind our digicam entice, and used the liquid in its trunk to remain leaves onto the lens to thwart our efforts to doc them, see beneath), the good argus pheasant, and loads of further enigmatic species.

Bruce was passionate and at situations fiery and stubborn in his strategies. I can clearly recall him rating our Thai rangers for stopping to decide on leeches off their legs: “That’s an Asian tropical forest! What did you anticipate discovering proper right here? You don’t stop every 5 minutes to remove them! Merely permit them to suck your blood and drop off! They are going to drop off by themselves! You needn’t do one thing and in addition you are dropping our time!!!”

Nevertheless Bruce was moreover a fantastic pal and was very supportive and galvanizing of my very personal conservation initiatives in Cambodia’s Virachey Nationwide Park.

India was moreover one amongst Bruce’s most beloved places. He visited the nation repeatedly, lugging his heavy optics, returning with good photographic captures of the Indian one-horned rhinoceros, Bengal tiger, and the terribly unusual Asiatic lion (Panthera leo leo), which as quickly as roamed all through large components of the subcontinent, nonetheless is now found solely in an isolated area of ​​western India.

Regardless of the place he labored, Bruce did his best to spice up consciousness in regards to the plight of endangered species and their habitats, and he did so lucidly alongside along with his footage. He is survived by his partner Noi and their daughter Marguerite. His work will keep on endlessly and proceed to encourage conservationists.

Greg McCann is a biologist and assistant professor at Taiwan’s Chang Gung Faculty. He moreover works with a People Sources and Conservation Foundation workers which is documenting the natural richness of Sumatra, so that it might be increased conserved.

Banner footage: L. Bruce Kekule in his element throughout the Khlong Saeng Wildlife Sanctuary rainforest in southern Thailand. Image courtesy of Greg McCann.

Related audio from Mongabay’s podcast: Hear this writer discuss his wildlife work by Mongabay’s podcast sequence about Sumatra, listen proper right here:

Photo assistant Lek wrapping Bruce's cameras in rattan vine.  Image courtesy of Greg McCann.
{Photograph} assistant Lek wrapping Bruce’s cameras in rattan vine. Image courtesy of Greg McCann.