Bullied as a child, ‘well-spoken’ adult photographer adopts a new passion for mountain lions

By David Junit Photography – FOX Correspondent There are few things that can break the spirit like seeing your great-great-grandparents left homeless when you were just a little boy, but some of us are…

Bullied as a child, 'well-spoken' adult photographer adopts a new passion for mountain lions

By David Junit Photography – FOX Correspondent

There are few things that can break the spirit like seeing your great-great-grandparents left homeless when you were just a little boy, but some of us are able to put this painful experience behind us, build confidence, and let go.

In Thailand, photographer Jon Janes was fortunate enough to escape with his life after being severely wounded by a landmine. For the rest of his life he hated to leave the lush jungles of his home country of Laos.

“I left on these huge elephants, and I was charged and kicked by the elephants, running across the jungle, and then saw this as I was going down the side of a mountain,” Janes said. “I just sort of lost it and started to fight.”

But the reason he stayed in Laos for the rest of his life was an even stronger experience than his violent, displaced childhood. In 1961, Janes traveled to Laos from Thailand on a plane run by Charlie Chaplin and Vera Miles in honor of the actor’s 35th anniversary.

In the spectacular Khao Khai area of Laos, Janes took a photographic expedition with an elephant scout from Thailand, and in doing so found his path and his passion.

His initial fascination with wildlife had been partly sparked by a film based on the adventures of king of the jungle, King Mongkut, as Janes was still in his teens. He wondered if the king might have encountered his own adversary, the tiger, in the forests of central Laos. To him, the idea of a man becoming a tiger, or vice versa, was fascinating.

“It seemed so natural, but it was bizarre at the same time to know that a living being would become a predator and a predator would become a living being,” he said.

That was Janes’ perfect world. No bigger than an elephant, the mountain lions, bears, lions, tiger and many other wild animals inhabited the forest of his childhood. His parents were strict about him leaving when they came home. So, in the rural part of Laos his only friends were mountain lions.

“I used to see the mountain lions in the water with their little heart or tail at the end, and I used to scream because I just really wanted to feel love for these big cats, so they had the feeling of life and love,” he said.

An encounter with a leopard on a reconnaissance trip with the elephant scout led to Janes exploring his passion.

He made a film about his experiences, and then eventually established himself as one of the best wildlife photographers in the world. To this day, he continues to shoot for the Queen of England, and wildlife organizations around the world.

“We have an international reputation that we’re still going on at 70, and we can do that because of Laos and its wildlife,” he said.

Video production by David Junit

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