Photographer Moon Lai Brings Elephants to Maple Grove

This insurance agent (and freelance photographer) is on a mission to bring the wild the Maple Grove.
One of the animals photographed by Moon Lai while at Ngotongoro Conservation Area in Africa.

Moon Lai is an insurance agent on a mission and it has nothing to do with selling insurance. The animals of Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) have captured his attention. Lai is a freelance photographer. “In April, I traveled to Tanzania for two weeks, with special permission from NCA to photograph elephants and the wildlife. Now I’m ready to promote the photos, speak about elephant conservation and help fund elephant research,” he says.

Approximately six years ago, Lai decided to do some freelance photography. “I wanted to shoot the things I love, such as horses and sailing,” he says. Remembering polo games he watched as a teenager growing up in Malaysia, he contacted the local polo club, Twin City Polo, and began photographing their practices. His images got noticed and he was invited to travel with Harvard Polo to Mongolia and China in 2013.

Wanting to use his photography to help conservation, Lai continued to pursue his mission. Through friends, he met Donatus Gadiye, an elephant senior researcher with Ngorongoro.

NCA is a protected area of 8,292 square kilometers located in Tanzania. It is unique in Africa in that its natural resource conservation is integrated with human development. The Serengeti Plains support about 2 million migratory wildlife species, along with the Maasai people, in a huge expanse of savannah, forest and bush land.

Cheetah and lion populations can be found in the western Lake Ndutu area, and more than 500 species of birds have been recorded within the NCA, including ostriches, white pelicans and flamingos.

With respect for culture and without damaging the environment, tourism is vital to raising revenue for the area. Visitors can see wild animals, as well as elephant caves, 150-meter-high waterfalls and local flora.

Although elephants were his primary target, Lai enjoyed watching and photographing a pair of cheetah brothers one evening in Ndutu. “We were generally within the confines of our vehicle and our experienced guides were able to take us within 20 feet of the elephants in some cases,” he says.

Lai plans for each shot carefully. He uses a 500mm lens when further away from the animals and a shorter, 70-200mm lens when closer.

“Although digital images are cheaper than film, I try to plan and limit the number of images. One reason is I do not want to go through 30,000 images after the trip. So, I ended up with less than 8,000 [shots], which is really not a lot for about two weeks [of travel].”

“My goal is to have an exhibition, sell the photos and donate to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority,” Lai says. But, he adds, “I’m still keeping my day job.”