My Friend, Mama Serengeti

Photographs provided by Natural Wildlife Photographer, Barbara Fleming
Written by Robyn Wyman-dill

The Chagga guides nicknamed her Mama Serengeti.

I noticed the bigger picture mindset is really taking a hit these days, narrowing our hopes and horizons. Being an environmentalist, I keep scratching my head, trying to understand why politicians of economic quick-fixes are at odds with science. We all breathe the same air, live on land and fish from the sea. And, we need all three to survive. Doesn’t it seem a no-brainer we should be in tandem on this one? But, we are not. I don’t believe the earth is speaking loud enough yet. But, my conscience is and it has urged me to do whatever I can to defend the planet. By engaging you with all things beautiful in nature. Highlighting people who understand its power on our souls.

“I want to communicate the beauty of the animal, their inner spirit, a moment in time that is almost magical and I also want to portray how important this animal is in its place in the world.” – Barbara Fleming

Imagine the dedication it takes to get up before dawn for six weeks straight and drive into a world of darkness, combating snow and ice, to arrive at your destination – an open field – where you will stand with your camera for up to 2.5 hours(often in subzero temperatures)waiting for an elusive snowy owl to make a rare appearance. (The young male had been blown by a winter storm 1,000 miles south of its winter hunting grounds in Canada.) This is exactly what my high school friend and Colorado Springs-based, Wildlife Photographer, Barbara Fleming, did. Although, at the time, she was new to the craft and had never photographed birds in the wild before.

To further the challenge, Fleming was dealing with health issues and entering her mid-50s. However, such handicaps did not deter her.

Twice a day, when the owl is most active at dawn and later at dusk when the sky casts a rose-colored light on the milky landscape, Fleming waited (on average five hours a day),building trust between the two species. Her fortitude paid off. The snowy owl, a species known for its speed and Arctic color camouflage, was photographed in motion in a spectacular show of in-flight prowess. In fact, he performed like a super model, making the March 2010 cover of National Wildlife Magazine. The experience gave Fleming a whole new lease on life and deeper appreciation of all things beautiful in nature.

“ In a sense, Colorado is my first love. We moved here when I was 12, so here is where I spent a lot of time in nature. But, I didn’t set out with a plan to become a Wildlife Photographer. I became a psychotherapist instead.”

Her undergraduate studies in Anthropology, Primatology, and Psychology from the University of Colorado would come in handy, helping her to understand the complex behaviors of wildlife in the field while she developed her skills learning how to photograph them. In her field work, she has tracked moose in Rocky Mountain National Park and brought the white-tailed prairie dog personalities to life in her photographs taken at Pawnee National Grasslands. Her love of wildlife and behavioral perspective, coupled with her natural talent behind the camera, would become a well spring for wildlife photography, exposing people around the world to the many varieties of life found in nature – through her art.

The ‘snowy owl on the hunt’ photograph went on to receive seven more awards over the next seven years, including National Geographic Photographer of the Year, Editor’s Choice, in 2011, and National Audubon Calendar, 2016.  Her cape buffalo and yellow-billed oxpecker, a moment caught in-camera in the Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania, (and it has not been altered by post effects) continues to win awards –  receiving “Best in Show”from Wildlife Experience in 2015, and Nature’s Best Africa International Competition, South Africa in 2016.  Her works have appeared in galleries in France, Italy, South Africa and Russia.  Fleming was also one of 10 women(three of which are American) to receive an award at the Siena International Photo 2016.  The show had 50,000 images submitted that year.  At last count, she had received 45 accolades.

When asked about what determines her choices in subjects, she shares, “I photograph animals that are endangered.”

Her travel company, Fleming Safari Company donates 10-20% of net proceeds to the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute and Botswana Predator Conservation Trust for the conservation of wild dogs, Diane Fossey Gorilla Fund International for the conservation of mountain gorillas and Serengeti Cheetah Project for cheetahs in the wild. FSC currently hosts 6 Africa excursions a year, employing local companies and Chagga tribesmen as guides.  Tourism provides much needed funds for families and public services – like education and improved roadways. In turn, the host countries are making great strides in preserving their wildlife.

“What people discover on our safaris is that there is a whole world out there. I try to educate them about the animals and the egosystem as well as the people and the part people play in the whole environment.”

After traveling extensively throughout the Serengeti ecosystem and conducting wildlife safari tours in Botswana, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and South Africa, Fleming still credits the snowy owl with being her game-changer.

Not only did the snowy owl teach Fleming about the rhythms of its daily life, their short relationship together restored Fleming’s confidence in herself, building a foundation of inner strength, and hope. She would survive fibromyalgia and later, thyroid cancer, and made the decision to retire her practice to devote more time to her safari excursions and wildlife photography in 2010. She’s been spreading the message of wildlife conservation around the world through the lens of her camera ever since.                                                                                                            Snowy Flight CMYK

“If there is one person out there that I have touched with my work and that person goes out and becomes a wildlife warrior, that means the world to me. I want that to become my legacy.”

Fleming Safari Company                                                                   







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