Chris and Monique Fallows Interview

July 16, 2015

Chris and Monique Fallows pioneered research of breaching great white sharks of False Bay in South Africa. Their photographs have appeared on the covers of international wildlife magazines, and they have assisted in numerous film productions. Their shark tours to Seal Island in False Bay are renowned, and they've also travelled extensively to other wilderness areas of the continent, especially in Southern Africa. Few know African wildlife on land and sea like they do...
Chris and Monique Fallows

Chris and Monique Fallows

Scott Ramsay: Which are your three favourite national parks or wildlife regions in Africa?

Chris Fallows: First, I would say Etosha National Park in Namibia. Even though it’s very much a commercial park with a lot of people, I’ve been going there since the age of two. I’ve been more than 20 times now. The variety of landscapes, the incredible waterholes which attract unbelievable amounts of game, and then also the waterholes at night, are very special.

From a photographic point of view, the waterholes are spectacular. The chalky stones and the white areas that surround the waterholes, and then the water in the middle like an oasis, and the flood of animals that comes down especially when it’s dry with all the dust. This all adds a drama that you find in few other locations, and the the volume of game that you get at waterholes is almost unsurpassed anywhere.

You can get a thousand zebra at a waterhole, you can get herds of over a hundred elephant at a waterhole, with lion and sometimes hundreds and hundreds of springbok, and everything interacting together. Then you can get lions sitting at the waterhole putting pressure on the game so you get incredible tension.

There’re very few places in Southern Africa or in Africa that I’ve seen such beautiful waterholes.

Monique Fallows: Yes, I was going to say the waterholes at night are particularly special. At Halali in Etosha we’ve had nights where we stayed up until midnight when we’ve had 150 elephants coming down to drink. We’re not usually night people but one of the reasons we go to Etosha is for the night experiences, to be mesmerised by everything that comes to the waterholes.

Chris Fallows: Then I’d have to say the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana. Of all the Southern African destinations we’ve been to, its the wildest. You feel remote and you don’t see people for days at a time.

Monique Fallows: The great thing about Central Kalahari is that you have to be self-sufficient. You have to plan your water and your fuel and your food, but it’s a rewarding experience. It’s awesome to be able to be so simple and to be so aware of such basic needs.

Chris Fallows: Central Kalahari doesn’t have the huge densities of game like Etosha or Serengeti, and it doesn’t have any elephants, buffalo, crocs or hippos, but it’s got an allure all of its own. You can sit with a herd of several hundred springbok for hours at a time. It’s great for cheetah, it’s great for lion, great for honey badgers. You’ve got huge open areas, and you can get out of a vehicle. It’s just a very special place.

But our favourite place is Seal Island in False Bay. I’ve spent my entire adult life working with the great whites at Seal Island, doing over 2 000 trips to watch them, photograph them and research them.

In wildlife circles, certainly in marine circles, along with the orcas that hunt on the beaches of Patagonia, the flying great whites of False Bay are as famous as any wildlife phenomena.


Which are your top three wildlife experiences?

Chris Fallows: The most memorable wildlife experience we have ever had was in June 2000, where we watched a minimum of 28 different great white sharks feed on a Bryde’s whale carcass right next to our boat, over 18 hours.

It was the greatest collection of great white sharks ever witnessed on the planet. There was some unbelievable interaction between the sharks. They usually don’t like each other’s company, but because of the whale carcass, the social structures were ignored. The size of the sharks feeding on the carcass was phenomenal.

Monique Fallows: The sharks are very selective about what they eat, they’re only after the blubber. They’re not really interested in the meat, they just want the high energy from the fat.

Chris Fallows: We’ve had other days of 40 or more predatory shark events in three hours. Last year we logged our ten thousandth predatory event. We’ve logged every single one. It’s amazing to see these sharks flying ten foot clear of the water – and the amazing death-defying ability of the seal. It’s a very emotional thing.

Monique Fallows: Then, on our last trip to Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe, we saw three different packs of African wild dogs over 13 days. We had an amazing time with them, but the highlight was the last afternoon.

We were walking, as one can do in Mana, and we tracked a pack of 32 wild dogs. We managed to find them in the late afternoon, which is when the pack stars waking up and start playing with each other. The whole pack was getting ready to go hunting again. Then there’s this very clear signal from the alpha dogs and they just go! At that point you’ve got to try and keep up with them because they really move.

We followed them for a while, and eventually they stopped and settled down in an open area. The light was fading so we just sat a bit away from them and watched them.

Three pups came right up to us as we were sitting on the ground. They were looking right into Chris’ lens and sniffing us. Eventually the whole pack came and surrounded us. Then they peeled off into the dusk.

Chris Fallows: Another very special experience for me was in the Central Kalahari in Botswana. I do a lot of photography lying close to the ground. That’s why we choose a lot of locations where we’re actually allowed out of a vehicle, like the Central Kalahari.

I could could see three lionesses coming from a long way off so I positioned myself far in advance of them, so they could choose whether they came towards me or not.

I was lying on the ground, shooting with a big lens and they came closer and closer. They filled the viewfinder with my one lens, so I grabbed my other camera with a wider angle lens. They came to within about 15 metres of me.

I couldn’t move, because I didn’t want to get up and startle them. I just had to keep my position! These three huge lionesses with amber eyes focused onto me.

I was looking at them through a lens and I just knew that this was a moment where things could go horribly wrong. My heart felt like it was going to explode out of my chest. Then two of them walked past me on one side, and the third one went the other way.

Monique Fallows: Our third special experience was in Etosha at a waterhole called Salvadora. We watched a lioness hunt 11 times over four days at a waterhole. It was 35 degrees or more every day.

She’d have to wait two to three hours for the animals to come to drink, but on each hunting attempt, she failed. She once jumped onto a zebra’s back, and fell off. She also just missed a springbok, trying to ankle tap the antelope’s leg. It was heart-wrenching to see this animal try so hard to hunt and keep failing.


Who are some of the people that have inspired you in your work and your love for African wilderness and wildlife?

Chris Fallows: I think firstly, Mark and Delia Owens who wrote Cry of the Kalahari. That book made me believe I can go to wild places and experience them like they did. What was it like to wake up amongst a pride of lions and have hyenas in your kitchen? Their book added fuel to my existing fire for wilderness.

The second person would be Harry Wolhuter, who wrote the book Memories of a Game Ranger. That was another book that really created a great interest for me in wildlife. As a young boy, how can you not be inspired by a guy who got dragged by a lion from a horse, then managed to kill a lion and then climb a tree to survive the night! Not that I want to kill a lion of course.

Monique Fallows: Another person that inspires us is John Stevens from Mana Pools Natioanl Park. He used to be the head warden and now he’s a safari guide for the last 20 years. He knows that place like nobody else.

Once we were sitting with wild dogs early one morning, and we saw this guy creeping up to us. We thought he’s going to tell us we’ve got to move, but he was so polite and asked us politely if we minded if his guests could come and watch the dogs too.

We didn’t know who he was at the time and he’s done so many special things for Mana, but he’s very humble.


What do you both love about African wilderness?

Monique Fallows: One of the best things is that I can leave all the phones, laptops and things like Facebook at home. All that stuff gets left behind, and when I go to places like Mana or Etosha, I feel like I’m going into the real world.

That’s where I truly feel alive, where you’re just being extremely simple and everything’s absolutely basic. It’s all about what you’re seeing, what you’re hearing, what the bush smells like, what the night sky’s like, and I think it’s just, for me it’s getting back to be what I think is real.

Chris Fallows: Progress is often regress. For me Africa symbolises a sensory experience. It’s not always about just seeing the Big Five. It’s more about the smells, the sounds, the feel of open spaces and just engaging all your senses.

Also the intimacy of being able to get close to animals that have been around for hundreds of thousands or millions of years. There’s nowhere else on the planet you can do that. But above all, I think the solitude of wide open spaces is what I love the most.

White Shark Breaching - copyright Chris Fallows

Great white shark breaching in False Bay, near Cape Town, South Africa.

Chris photographed these three lionesses in Central Kalahari in Botswana, while lying on his stomach...not recommended for beginners!

Chris photographed these three lionesses in Central Kalahari in Botswana, while lying on his stomach...not recommended for beginners!

Chris and Monique in their natural habitat, in Mana Pools National Park with a pack of African wild dogs.

Chris and Monique in their natural habitat, in Mana Pools National Park with a pack of African wild dogs.

Chris and Monique Fallows in Savuti Game Reserve in Botswana.

Chris and Monique Fallows in Savuti Game Reserve in Botswana.

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