Africa's Wild Cats Captured on Film (PHOTOS)

02/02/2011 01:20 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I quit my job, traded seasons, and traveled thousands of miles to Namibia, where I volunteered at several wildlife conservation organizations. This radical departure occurred twice within a 2-year span, pulling me out of my comfort zone into a place of scant man-made distractions. Magnetic, quiet and seemingly timeless, Africa immediately transfixed me.

Wild animals brought me to Namibia, not that a slew of other circumstances didn't precede my decision to depart London for Africa. From my earliest memories, I recall a desire to be around them, domestic and wild, imaginary and real. I often fell asleep dreaming that I comfortably slumbered in an igloo, surrounded by wolves who served to keep me warm. My Mother's photographs of African wildlife adorned my childhood home, provoking eternal jealousy of her unique adventures. She ventured to Africa as a teenager and young woman, when I imagine that she was able to explore Africa in a canteen-toting, dangerous, rustic way, like one of Hemingway's famed characters.

In certain ways, my adventure tracked hers. We both sought discovery and adventure, capturing animals solely through the lens of the camera. Left behind were creature comforts and any connection to them. Never before had I been so delighted to deactivate my phone and pause all modern communication.

What cannot be seen by the camera lens is what matters most: what stories do these photographs tell?

Cheetahs, one of the most threatened of the big cats, enjoyed numbers in excess of 100,000 at the turn of the twentieth century. That number has now shrunk to fewer than 10,000, an alarmingly low figure for this highly revered creature, one that's graced the Earth for at least 3.5 million years.

My Mom's photos were snapped in the wild during the 1960s and 70s, when species numbers were less dire than they are today. My favorite of hers shows three juvenile cheetahs resting beneath shady tree branches. Unlike those free-ranging cats, nearly all of the animals in my slideshow are captive "problem" cats: the lucky survivors of human-wildlife conflict (and their offspring) who are typically relegated to life in sanctuaries.

Africa's Wild Cats, as Captured by Millie Kerr in Namibia