In Pursuit of Alan Root
In 1979, after seeing a film called "Lights
Action Africa" by Alan Root, I travelled to Kenya. I had two
objectives, to meet the legendary lion man, George Adamson and
secondly, to meet film maker Alan Root
Because South Africa was governed by the racially
discriminating apartheid government, South Africans with South
African passports were not allowed into Kenya.
The visa I had organized to be at the airport
when I arrived, had not been delivered, with the result that I spent
2 days in a security cell at the airport.
After my release from prison, I immediately
enquired where I could find Alan Root. I was told that he lived at
Naivasha, but when I arrived at his home, he and his wife Joan were
away filming in the Serengeti.
Photo credit: WildFilmHistory
After spending time with the legendary Kenyan
wardens, Phil Snyder, Peter Jenkins, Patrick Hamilton and Bill
Woodley (I flew in a super cub over a herd of 1 500 elephants in
Tsavo East), I continued my safari to a remote part of Kenya called
Kora. Here I met the legendary George Adamson, the lion man.
"We walked together in
the morning light
Bwana Game and me
Hip flask, sandals, walking stick
Long grey air and eyes that see
No shirt did he wear
No words did he speak
And then in the shade
of the Tana River
He said listen to me please
Listen to me please"
After spending time with
his lions, George & I went back to camp for breakfast. As George
ate his breakfast, he would feed peanuts to various birds,
including yellow & red billed hornbills. I remember vividly a
hornbill perching on George’s head and defecating in his post
toasties. As George flicked the dung out, he remarked to me that
this was the same hornbill that Alan Root had used when he
filmed the famous sequence of the male hornbill feeding the
female through the slit in the tree & then the female breaking
out & feeding the chicks.
George showed me the tree
where Alan had set up the hide & inserted the glass panel into
the tree to film the hornbill sequence.
When I became a filmmaker, I had no footage
of my own, so I travelled to London to buy footage from Survival
Anglia. Alan Root was Survival Anglia's lead cameraman and so I
got to view hundreds of thousands of feet of film shot by Alan
I requested that they show me the out takes
of the film "Two in the Bush" (This film was later called
Lights, Action, Africa)
After watching Alan nearly lose his life in a
hippo attack while filming hippo underwater at Mzima Springs, I
went under water with well fed crocs in the film Troubled
Alan Root was the front
runner in accepted wild life filming techniques that are used
today. Together with his first wife Joan, Alan habituated a
variety of animals including genets, aardvark & a hippo which he
used in his films.
Alan was the first to use
balloons for aerial filming & also the first to send remote
controlled cameras into positions to shoot low angle sequences.
In Tigress Julie’s third
litter of cubs, the lioness Savannah was guarding the cubs who
were hiding in a cave. Savannah was feisty to say the least!
I had a look alike dummy
made which I placed on the rock near Savannah. After two days
Savannah was completely habituated to the dummy. I then removed
the dummy & sat on the rock near Savannah. After a short time,
Savannah fell asleep & I could go down & film the cubs in the
The dummy technique used to
habituate Savannah was taken directly from Alan Root.
It became obvious to me that what Alan Root did
so well, is he would take work done by scientists and popularize it.
His ability to see the migrations through the
eyes of a single wildebeest or the launching of millions of termites
from the perspective of a single termite and communicate it to the
viewing public, was unique.
Alan Root never lectured his audience on the
destruction humans are wreaking on our fragile planet. He merely
showed the beauty and the efficiency of nature and asked people to
decide for themselves whether it was worth saving.
If I admired Alan Root's films, it was his life
style I admired even more. Alan Root went everywhere by light
aircraft. In the Serengeti today, Luangwa tomorrow and in the Congo
the next day. Africa was Alan Root's stage and the animals were his
In 1995 I decided to learn to fly helicopter and
while training with Buzz Bezuidenhout, the South African champion,
Buzz said casually to me, "There is another film maker
training with me". "What's his name" I enquired. "Alan Root" said
Buzz. This stopped me in my tracks. "Where is Alan" I asked. "He
will be here next week" said Buzz.
The following week I flew back from Londolozi to
Rand airport specially to meet Alan Root and he had returned to
Kenya a few hours before I arrived. I was gutted.
After I finished training with Buzz, I crashed in
a helicopter in Luangwa Valley. I survived the crash, but my good
friend and pilot, Rob Parsons died after undergoing two operations.
Alan Root after completing his training, crashed
in not one, but two helicopters and walked away from both. Once
again Alan Root was ahead of me.
At that time, all the great wildlife camera teams
were husband and wife partnerships. Des and Jen Bartlett, David and
Carol Hughes, Dereck and Beverley Joubert. Nobody would dispute that
Joan Root, Alan's first wife was a huge part of Alan's success.
In 2010 I was informed that the film "Leopard
Queen" had been nominated for an award at the Jackson Hole Film
Convention. I was told that Alan Root would be receiving a life time
If I got on the plane, I could finally meet Alan
Root. Then a tigress gave birth to cubs and I cancelled the trip.
Another chance to meet the legendary Root was gone.
When I formed the JV Clothing line, I made
t-shirts which had on the back:
"Freedom is everything
Answerable to no-one"
I fully intended to give this t-shirt to Alan
Root when I finally met him.
Alan Root was a man's man, a man for all seasons.
Creative, fearless and resourceful. He answered only to himself and
freedom was his lifestyle. I have tried to follow Alan Root's
example, however it is a hard act to follow.
I had a false perception that Alan Root was
immortal, he would never pass on and one day I would meet him. I was
wrong. It remains one of the great regrets of my life.
I suppose the moral of the story is if you want
something, do it now. Time waits for no man. At the age of 80, Alan
Root is gone.
I have written two songs for two great Kenyans.
For George Adamson I wrote the song "Bwana Game"
"I met a man
Deep in the bush in Africa
His name was Bwana Game
He looked at me with eyes of age
And he said come right in
I'll show you life
I'll show you more
Listen carefully now
You will hear the lions roar
You will hear the lions roar"
For Alan Root I will write the song entitled "The
Elusive Kindred Spirit"
Alan Root's contribution to awareness and the
understanding of the Natural World is immense.
Kenya has lost one of its favourite sons and the
world has lost a wildlife warrior of note.
Rest in Peace Alan Root
Thank you for all who contacted me about the
multi coloured tiger cub. The best explanation I have is from Doug
It looks like
co-dominance / incomplete dominance with multiple alleles. JV's
tigers might be carrying a natural mutation as well.
Tread lightly on the