“Going to Africa is a spiritual journey for me. It's as close as I get to God,” insists Judith Hain, Wyndmoor professional photographer.
“Going to Africa is a spiritual journey for me. It's as close as I get to God,” insists Judith Hain, Wyndmoor professional photographer whose 12 visits to Africa are chronicled in her just-published book, “Other Lives, Sacred Places.”
Filled with stunning photos, Hain has captured images of the landscapes, colorfully-clad villagers and African wildlife on the continent, focusing on elephants and their families.
“The elephants of Africa have been my guide to the essential nature of their intelligence, their emotions and their family life, particularly the bond between mother and baby, and the magnificent landscape they inhabit,” Hain said last week. “It is difficult to express how very much this spiritual connection to the earth and its animal inhabitants has meant to my life.”
Hain traces her interest in elephants back to her childhood, when her mother read the story of Babar to her. Since then, she has been fascinated by elephants, especially by their size and gentleness.
In the late 1990s, a colleague at Stockton State University in South Jersey, where Hain worked in labor relations, gave her a brochure about an elephant research trip to Kenya, sponsored by a group called Earthwatch. “I showed it to my husband; he read through it and said, ‘This looks like a wonderful trip … for you.’ Then he paused for a long time and said again…‘for you!’”
So Hain signed up and went by herself as a research volunteer. When she arrived in Nairobi, Kenya, she met a fellow traveler, Sharon Bigelow, from Steamboat Springs, Colo.. “It turned out that Sharon was the first female captain of a 747 plane; she worked for Northwest Airlines. She was also traveling on her own because she loved elephants, too. So, we decided we would be roommates, and we shared a tent for two weeks … When we left, I cried. I loved everything about my time there!”
Since that first visit, Hain has been back to East Africa 11 more times, accompanied eight of those times by Bigelow, who is no longer able to go because of health reasons. Hain began taking photos of the people, places and wildlife, finally accumulating so many beautiful shots that she decided to create a “coffee table” book, with all proceeds going to nonprofit organizations dedicated to saving the elephants from “trophy” hunters, ivory hunters and villagers with whom they come into conflict.
“The drought in East Africa has been so bad lately that elephants have been raiding villages for crops and have been killed by villagers,” Hain said. “There are so few big bull elephants left. I had a relationship with one of them, Sarara, who was so big but so gentle. I have a video of myself with him. On my last visit, I was told he had been killed. That broke my heart! Some villages have protected themselves by putting beehives around the villages, which keeps the elephants away because they are terrified of bees. And the villagers get the honey. It is a win-win. All villages should do this.”
To get her photos, Hain often gets remarkably close to these huge animals while she sits in a vehicle with an experienced guide. “Wild animals are amazingly disinterested in people in vehicles,” she insists. “They regard you as another part of the landscape, but if you were to stick your hand out, you would be inviting disaster.”
Hain, who grew up in New Rochelle, N.Y., retired a decade ago as vice-president for human resources at Montclair State University. She previously worked for the State of New Jersey, doing labor relations work in the governor’s office, and before that she taught history in the Abington School District and was assistant principal at Keith Valley Middle School in the Hatboro-Horsham School District.
She received a bachelor’s degree in history from Beaver College (now Arcadia University) in 1968 and a certification for superintendent from the University of Pennsylvania in 1974. Her husband, Stuart, an avid supporter of Hain's efforts on behalf of elephants, is retired from his position as vice president at Swarthmore College. The couple, married for 34 years and Wyndmoor residents for 37 years, live with their rescue dog, Stella, “a little lion.”
Hain has developed deep ties with nonprofit groups and local residents who work with the elephants. She even has an African “family” there. “I 'adopted' the father 13 years ago when he was 17,” she said. “They named their son and daughter after my husband and me.”
Hain, who is “working on becoming a vegetarian,” has a soft spot in her heart for all animals. “I love elephants' powerful emotions and how they relate to each other,” she said. “I'm an anthropologist at heart. We watched a pride of 24 lions for three days. And I was the one rooting for a wildebeest we saw who was running away from a cheetah.”
To order a copy of “Other Lives, Sacred Places,” visit OtherLivesSacredPlaces.com. Len Lear can be reached at email@example.com