by Megon Venter
on August 9, 2018
7 min read

The long-anticipated announcement is finally here, our winner of the Roaring Lions & Big Cats category is…Lakshitha Karunarathna! Our winner, along with the previous category winner, receives a pair of Swarovski binoculars and is entered into the draw for the grand prize, a nine-night stay at three luxury African safari lodges. The category currently open and receiving a multitude of submissions daily, is Wildlife Portraits, so enter now – before it closes in September. Read more below to find out about our talented category winner and how he cultivated his photography skills in Africa.

Roaring Lions & Big Cats Africa's Photographer of the Year Winner

The Winning Photograph
Photo Credit: Lakshitha Karunaratne

Tell us a little bit about yourself. What can you share about the African travels that lead you to capturing this incredible moment?

My name is Lakshitha Karunarathna and I hail from a town in Sri Lanka called Ratnapura, about 150 kilometres from the capital city of Colombo. I am married and the father of two beautiful daughters. I’m a tea taster by profession – my career in the tea trade spans 17 years and counting. I currently run my own business in tea tasting along with other ventures.

The first time I visited Africa was three years ago and I fell in love with the place immediately. One can just never get enough of Africa – the area is vast, abundant and simply brewing with excitement. The very first time I visited Maasai Mara, I planned to visit other parts of the continent – Botswana, Zambia, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa to name a few. But, with such a big area and so much to see in such a short span of time, I’m still in the middle of multiple visits to Maasai Mara.

How did you discover the Africa’s Photographer of the Year competition and what made you decide to enter Roaring Lions & Big Cats?

I am an avid follower of Rhino Africa’s Instagram page – that was how I found out about the competition. With over 60k followers and excellent content, I constantly visit the page and check out new images. Because of the high standard of the images, I knew the APOTY competition would not only be challenging, but it would also be well worth it to compete with the best of the best. I knew I wanted to go for it and see what opportunities would be available out there for a photographer such as myself.

Roaring Lions & Big Cats Africa's Photographer of the Year Winner

Photo Credit: Lakshitha Karunaratne

Why did you submit this image in particular? Tell us what you love about it.

One thing that stood out was the fact that this instance wasn’t something you would see occurring every day in Africa. For one, it portrays a predator versus predator situation, where a leopard hunts a fox. I captured this image at an unexpected moment and I played around with it – first in colour, but I didn’t get the result I was hoping for. I instead opted for monochrome and immediately fell in love with the outcome. That’s when I knew I had something unique.

Can you share the process of capturing this shot for Roaring Lions & Big Cats with us?

On this day, we were on a safari visit capturing images. I was on another side of the park when I heard about the leopard (we were an interconnected group, so we communicated about the sights and locations). This leopard in particular was a young one, the son of another famed leopard called Bhati at the Maasai Mara. It took us a good half an hour to reach the site, and already there was a number of Jeeps surrounding the spot.

I wanted to get a shot with at least 75% of the tree along with a good dose of the Maasai Mara in the background, so instead of getting even closer, I prompted the driver to reverse, giving me enough distance to take the shot I wanted.

The leopard had killed a fox and had dragged its carcass to the top of the tree where half of the carcass fell to the ground. The young leopard had held on to what was remaining of the carcass and tried its best to pull it towards the top. That was the moment I captured in my shot.

Roaring Lions & Big Cats Africa's Photographer of the Year Winner

Photo Credit: Lakshitha Karunaratne

When and why did you get involved in photography?

Photography was not something I ever thought I would get into while growing up. I was simply more of an observer, and this extended to aspects of both nature and wildlife. My love for nature was somewhat ingrained in me ever since I can remember. I think being born in a town that was no stranger to natural beauty paved the way for my love of everything outdoors.

I’ve always been enamoured by foreign nature documentaries that were so hard to find in my childhood days. I was heavily inspired by Sir David Attenborough and his work. Gradually, I began collecting nature related documentaries and accumulated a huge library. I was more of a wildlife enthusiast and later on decided to work on acquiring my own collection of originals by myself.

So, because I’m lucky enough to run my own establishment and have time to travel and go on photographic escapades, my passion for wildlife photography has increased with time. The abundance of Mother Nature only drives me to keep going out there and capture amazing images whenever I get the opportunity.

What are the unique challenges in wildlife photography, and how do you overcome them?

One challenge is that we cannot control the subjects we photograph – but we also shouldn’t control it, and that’s the beauty of it. Our subjects roam free and wild and it’s the unpredictability behind it that keeps things interesting. As a wildlife photographer you need to develop a strong sense of patience and get used to the disappointments that come with it. We might have a certain image in mind that we hope to achieve, but we may never be successful at capturing the exact picture. We need to do our homework and understand the subject, its mannerisms and its lifestyle, get a good understanding of the weather patterns, understand the location we choose and be very prepared for it before we decide to go out there.

Roaring Lions & Big Cats Africa's Photographer of the Year Winner

Photo Credit: Lakshitha Karunaratne

What advice do you have for budding wildlife photographers who are chasing that perfect shot?

My advice would be to study the subject and be patient. You need to think a little ahead and outside the box at all times, while also keeping a creative sense of optimism. Take the leopard incident, for example. I didn’t want to go for a picture like everyone else, so I looked at the situation from a different angle, changing position and capturing the moment from another perspective. Don’t be afraid to take a unique approach and be creative.

What do you think other travellers to Africa should be sure to experience while here?

Africa is a continent that has so much happening all the time. There are spectacular natural events, like great migrations, for example. Africa never disappoints and you are guaranteed an adventure at every corner. No matter where you go, you’ll see animals roaming in their natural habitats and other mesmerising sights that are unique to this great continent. So, simply settling on one or two of these locations would not do any justice for the great natural beauty that you are bound to experience. It’s limitless – and you just have to go for it and see it for yourself.

If you’ve been inspired by our winner of the Roaring Lions & Big Cats category, why not capture your own image of Africa? Submit your entry to one of our last two categories and stand a chance to win! For more information, have a look at our website and best of luck.