Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Dr. Browning’s Birds
A passion for saving lives
For a lot of wildlife photographers, living full time in Africa would be the fulfillment of a dream. And it's no different for Australian surgeon and photographer Dr. Andrew Browning, now living in Tanzania. But it wasn't the animals that first lured the good doctor to Africa, but the need for doctors. "I always wanted to be a missionary doctor," Browning says, "and it was a posting on the Rwanda/Tanzanian border in 1993 during medical school that first brought me here, and I soon found myself living and working in Ethiopia."
Browning is one of only about a dozen surgeons on the entire continent who specializes in the repair and treatment of obstetric fistula, an injury that can occur during labor, and one that affects an estimated two million women in Africa and the developing world, especially in areas where there's little prenatal and intrapartum care. It's a heartbreaking condition that results not only in physical damage to young mothers, but because of the side effects, usually also results in the women becoming social outcasts, and shunned by their families and their communities.
When most of us think "wildlife photography in Africa," we think "big game." But with a patient-doctor ratio of two million to 12, Browning had little time for safaris. But he found birds everywhere.
"Ethiopia is full of beautiful birds, and they're everywhere—on the hospital grounds, in our garden, wherever we walked in the countryside. There are over 300 species of birds right in the town where I used to live," Browning recalls. He first started observing and photographing the birds right out the window of the operating room between procedures, and soon was hooked. But it wasn't easy.
"You have to be quick and have a keen eye, but if you can observe the habits of the birds, you raise your level of success," Browning says. "For instance, if you know that bee-eaters always come back to the same perch when they're feeding, that makes it easier to get an incoming picture of them in flight."
Between the demands on his time and the money needed to maintain and operate the clinics he runs in Ethiopia and Tanzania, there's little of each left over for trips to game areas to photograph bigger prey. But, occasionally, he does have encounters with bigger animals.
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