What To Wear When You Live With Lions
Updated: Sep 20
With a lot on their minds —like the subtle art of following carnivorous big cats while dodging vehicle-toppling elephants, venom-induced anaphylaxis, and cantankerous buffalo—Africa-based wildlife film-makers from the NHFU have recently turned their wardrobe choices over to legendary UK clothing company, Craghoppers, to see if their latest line of outdoor gear might be up to everything Africa and the film crew can throw at it.
If you’re someone like me, you’re decidedly groggy as you navigate the first hurdle of the day—“Now what am I gonna wear?” At face value, it seems like a trivial question, not worthy of dedicating any more than a handful of neurons to in those wee hours. But what if this decision not only determined your level of comfort for the day but also your chances of survival? I’m thinking of you, fire departments, plunging into hellish infernos. Or you, astronauts, braving the brutal vacuum of space. Fire-proof textiles and air-tight space suits make sense for these adventurous spirits, but what about wildlife filmmakers?
Ice-locked continents, scorching deserts, and steaming jungles—these are places where people with apparently limitless patience wait to capture rare and wondrous moments. I can just imagine reading about such a job in the classifieds: “Wanted! A strapping individual, with camera experience, is prepared to operate in environments with multiple hazards, including but not limited to plagues of insects, as well as a myriad of biting, scratching, pummeling or piercing predators.” Fantastic, where do I sign?
It’s fortunate such a rare breed exists, so that those of us who prefer it, can witness lions hunting from the slightly more comfortable vantage point of our living room. And in perhaps Southern Africa’s most epic wilderness—the Okavango Delta—there lives one such team for whom wildlife film-making is not just a job description but a way of life.
Enter the Natural History Film Unit (NHFU), headed by world-renowned filmmaker Brad Bestelink. It’s thanks to Brad and his team that the breathtaking sequences that grace our screens via programs like Surviving Paradise, The Flood, and Africa's Fishing Leopards offered up by Netflix, National Geographic, and the BBC are possible.
Let me paint you a picture. When Brad’s team heads out into the bush, they know they’ll be living out of their film truck for days at a stretch. In fact, they’re so accustomed to their 2-by-5 meter home that they usually only return to camp for a few hours each week to restock and refuel before heading back to the bush to continue following their animal subjects. Think: lions, leopards, cheetahs, elephants, hippos, and crocodiles—all set against the backdrop of the Okavango Delta.
The Okavango is considered to be the crescendo of a natural symphony that first begins with the thunderous roar of rain in the Angolan highlands, then transforms into a soft gurgle of rivers moving inland towards a vast oasis, and climaxes with the countless voices representing some of Africa’s most enigmatic wildlife. But to this idyllic depiction, we must add a few of the not-so-nice elements of Africa’s wilderness...
Bugs, bugs, and more bugs! In the grasslands, like forgotten land mines, lurk ticks waiting to disgorge medical maladies. Blister beetles, biting ants, and malarial mosquitoes—I could go on!
And then there’s the weather. If the Delta had an engine room, the weather would be a key driving force behind the region’s immense richness. It’s what transforms arid landscapes into a land of endless rivers and pools, fringed by rolling grasslands and leafy forests. But the climate also has a savage side.
You can start your day observing insects frozen to their morning perches and, by lunch, sit broiling in sweat under a midday sun. And when it rains, it’s a chronic deluge accompanied by sudden gusts that can topple entire trees. Against the swarms of biting insects and wild weather, the NHFU team is certainly in need of apparel that protects them from the elements.
Enter: Craghoppers! A company that is no stranger to equipping ambitious adrenalin junkies, seeking to push the bounds of their imagination and apparel. In 1975, Craghoppers outfitted an expedition team attempting to climb Everest by ascending the face of the mountain for the first time. In 2020, they were chosen as the official kit provider for the Duke of Edinburgh Award. And now, in 2023, deep in the Okavango, Craghoppers cutting edge NOSILIFE technology will face a special challenge. The NHFU crew has been geared up with Craghoppers garments featuring an EPA-approved insecticide duplicated from the chrysanthemum flower. The clothes are specially designed to repel insects, which for one NHFU cameraman in particular could be a real game changer.
Meet Rea. Having grown up in the bush, Rea is intensely passionate about African wildlife and sharing its unique stories. But he also suffers from allergies. A single ant bite or wasp sting could prove fatal for him. You could ask him to just change his profession. But the thing is, he simply can’t imagine devoting himself to any other purpose than wildlife filmmaking, and thanks to Craghoppers, it might be that all he needs to do is change his shirt.
So tomorrow morning, as you wipe the sleep from your eyes and stand before your wardrobe pondering the options, at some point, a team of intrepid film-makers somewhere in the vastness of the Okavango Delta will be doing the same thing. But now the question is—is their brand-new Craghoppers kit up for the challenge?
By Nick Roosen