Adam Bannister has led a far from traditional life. At the age
of six, he discovered his passion for wildlife, conservation, and
nature work thanks to a serendipitous lion encounter. Since then,
he's chased adventure around the globe, from tracking big cats in
Africa to exploring rainforests in South America.
Adam Bannister has spent most of his
life working alongside wildlife © Adam Bannister
We caught up with Adam
Bannister to learn more about his incredible life story, his
travel experiences - and to hear more about the time that he was
very nearly jaguar prey.
Greaves: You've been interacting with exotic
wildlife since you were a very young child. Tell us about how you
first got started - and when you knew that this was what you wanted
to do for a living.
Adam Bannister: "My interest in wildlife started at a very young
age. I was six years old when I was cast in Disney reality
television series, Bush School. For three years I was
educated out in the wilds of Kruger National Park in South Africa
with five other kids. It was a unique upbringing and shaped every
decision I made from then on.
I will never forget one night during the first season of
filming. Loud thunderclaps left me stirring in my bed, unable to
sleep. I heard an unfamiliar sound coming from outside. Curiosity
got the better of me and I went over to the window to look. I drew
back the thick curtain and was met by the most remarkable sight: an
entire pride of lions was resting outside the window, literally
leaning against the pane of glass, using the slight overhang of the
roof to shelter from the rain. The gap created when I opened the
curtains allowed for a shard of light to leave the room, landing
directly on the face of a big male.
His eyes opened… and he stared directly at me. At six years old,
I was standing two feet away from the largest lion I had ever seen,
separated by only 6mm of glass. But instead of being scared I was
entranced. I wanted more!"
You've spent a great deal of time working alongside
big cats. Are they the animals that fascinate you the
"My greatest attachment is to the big cats, and in particular to
lions. I am fascinated by how each species has evolved to cope in
differing landscapes and conditions. There's nothing as magical as
watching a big cat hunt - whether it be a cheetah sprinting behind
a gazelle, a jaguar swimming after a caiman, a tiger charging
towards a chital or a lion riding on the back of a buffalo. It all
Adam has been fascinated by big cats
since a chance encouter as a young child © Adam Bannister
Tell us about the most thrilling - and perhaps
terrifying - experiences you've had while out in
"The single greatest accomplishment in my work with big cats was
also the most terrifying.
I was working on a project in the southern Pantanal in Brazil on
the habituation of jaguars, which are notoriously elusive cats. One
morning, I was following the tracks of a female jaguar. I had been
walking for well over two hours, but the tracks were very fresh and
I managed to follow them through the ankle-deep water and mud. I
had to use my machete to cut away at the sharp plants that kept
embedding into my shins. High humidity, soaring temperatures,
horrific insects, leeches and now prickly plants were making it
hard work, but the thrill of the chase made it all
The tracks I was following were perfect, and no more than five
hours old, but I realised that I couldn't carry on, as the
vegetation was near impenetrable. I decided I needed to go back and
loop around and try to find where the tracks left the small
After circumnavigating the area, it became clear that the female
jaguar had not left the thicket. She was just nearby, no more than
20 meters away! I crouched down and, using a trick I had learned
many years ago when tracking cats in Africa, put my hands behind my
ears and closed my eyes.
And then I heard a noise that still sticks with me, even three
years later. A tiny series of squeaks and moans. It was a baby cat
- a newborn jaguar. I had just found a wild jaguar den-site! My
colleague had seen this female jaguar 10 hours previously, and she
had been heavily pregnant. These jaguar cubs were less than 10
hours old! I was delighted, but I was terrified. I also realised
that I was in the most dangerous place you can be when working with
animals - that mother jaguar would have been fully entitled to kill
I managed to sneak away, and two days later got a tiny camera
trap into the area without disturbing the mother. We managed to get
footage of three tiny, still blind, jaguar cubs - the first time
this had been done in the wild! The footage was later used in a
documentary about our work there."
An elusive jaguar © Adam
What was it like working for SUJAN JAWAI? What kinds
of skills are needed to track down these elusive
"After Brazil, I moved to India to work for SUJAN JAWAI in southern Rajasthan. It was a
completely different experience, and involved lots of time visiting
local villages and having tea with the elders. The camp is a
phenomenal concept, in that it combines wildlife, culture and
history in a wonderfully organic way. Guests are able to experience
rural, agricultural India with the possibility of seeing a leopard
at the same time…all whilst staying in a very luxurious tented
Although the leopards here look the same as their African
counterparts, it took me a long time to learn how they behave, when
they move, what they hunt and how they operate. At JAWAI, we were
also working on granite boulders, which meant tracking the leopards
using traditional methods was impossible. I loved this, as it
tested my big cat skills and took my knowledge to a new
What are your favourite wild corners of India to
"India is so large and diverse, it's impossible to name a
favourite. After two and a half years there, I felt like I had
barely scratched the surface. I am, however, really drawn to the
subcontinent's wild northeast."
In India, Adam worked for SUJAN
JAWAI © SUJAN & Adam Bannister
You've lived and travelled all over the world.
Outside of India, what are some of the most memorable places you've
"I have lived in Kenya, the U.S., Brazil, India and South
Africa, and been fortunate to experience many different countries,
continents and cultures. Recently, I spent 28 days in Rwanda as
part of a small team documenting the first release of lions in the
country since the 1994 Genocide. The project's conservation
importance is crucial to the long-term health of the ecosystem, and
I was really proud to have been chosen to be a part of the
I have also been lucky to spend a couple of months doing
volunteer work in the Ecuadorian Amazon, to hitchhike through
Madagascar and paddle along the length of Lake Malawi - over 750 km
in 42 days!"
Wildlife work has taken Adam to
exotic locales around the world © Adam Bannister
Any tips for budding photographers looking to get
that perfect snap?
"Don't always think that bigger lenses are better. The reality,
for example, is that there are a million pictures of a leopard's
face. But when you zoom out, you capture the leopard in its
environment, and you tell the viewer the whole story. It provides a
setting and gives context, often making for a more effective
Conservation is a hugely important
issue in 2015 © Adam Bannister
What are some of the most pressing conservation
concerns for you right now?
"For me, one of the more pressing issues right now is rhino
poaching: no matter what South Africa seems to do, the poachers
keep coming. We need to change the rules of engagement and take a
harder stance. The trophy hunting issue has also been going on for
many years. The problem is that hunting is so open to corruption.
We need to see greater regulations in place, and the world working
together on this issue. Then there's elephant and lion poaching in
Africa, which are often overlooked because of the rhino saga. The
future for lions in Africa is very bleak.
We need to see governments being more creative in their
conservation approaches. With a global population of seven billion
people, we can no longer afford to just fence off millions of
hectares for wildlife. We need to spend a lot of resources in
examining where and how people and animals can be managed
Tell us about what's coming up next for you, now
that you've just relocated to the UK.
"I've begun offering personalised, nature-focused trips to many
of the destinations where I've previously worked or visited. I will
help plan trips, and accompany travellers as a private guide.
Travel, when twinned with wildlife and good interpretation, allows
for enjoyment and personal growth. We have so much to learn from
taking the patience to watch! I will also continue to grow my
photography, filming, and story-telling sides of wildlife work, and
I am looking to make inroads into television as well."