People & Culture

Abdulla Moussa on his work as a wildlife photographer

The father of four and founding member of the Canadian Conservation Photographers Collective discusses his love for nature, finding the time to photograph and more

  • Oct 23, 2023
  • 990 words
  • 4 minutes
A moose photographed in Kananaskis Country, Alberta. (Photo: Abdulla Moussa)
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He’s known for his stunning captures of the charismatic megafauna of the Rockies, think grizzlies and wolves, moose and bighorn sheep. It’s hard to believe that Abdulla Moussa jumped into photography just eight years ago, picking up a camera not to shoot wildlife but because his wife was expecting their first child and he was intent on documenting his growing family. “I think we had, maybe, two or three pictures of me growing up,” he says. “So I decided I would overcompensate when I had a family.” Today, the busy father of four has expanded subject matter, using Canmore, Alta., as the home base from which he travels to nearby parks to hike, enjoy nature and share his message of conservation through his photographs.

A grizzly bear in Banff National Park. (Photo: Abdulla Moussa)
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On his conservation work

I’ve always seen my work as supporting conservation. I hope that sharing my images helps people appreciate what’s around them and I like sharing details about the wildlife I photograph. I’m a founding member of Canadian Conservation Photographers Collective that brings together photographers from all over Canada to raise awareness and dollars for conservation issues — to make sure people have a better understanding of the issues that are impacting wildlife. We look for ways to educate about conservation issues and highlight all the challenges facing wildlife in Canada. Sometimes people have a tendency to focus on saving, say, elephants or rhinos, but there are a lot of challenges, obviously, just at home — right in Alberta and all the other provinces and territories.

On ethical wildlife photography

I have learned a lot about animal behaviours. Sometimes you see an animal and realize right away that your presence is not welcome. Maybe it stops and watches you or it moves away from what it was doing. Even though I might have been using a telephoto lens and been shooting from far away, I still have to respect that the animal is disturbed. The Canadian Rockies are very harsh environments to survive in but because life is fairly comfortable for humans, I think we sometimes forget how difficult it is for wildlife around here. Take bears as an example. There is really extreme weather and, unlike on the coast, our bears aren’t feeding off salmon. So there’s not the same abundance of food like a bear might find on the coast. Bears really have to work hard to find enough food to make sure they are strong and can survive. So it’s life or death for them. Wildlife photography is a constant learning curve and I am always learning how to do better.

An American marten in Algonquin park, Ontario. (Photo: Abdulla Moussa)
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On changing hearts and minds 

For a lot of folks, when they see an animal in the wild, it’s just such a memorable moment. So from a conservation point of view, I feel that if more people can feel that same kind of connection — maybe through photography — the more likely they are to care about all the messaging around that animal. Like don’t bother wildlife or don’t leave garbage out.

On appreciating the moment

There have been times when I’ve seen a lynx, but it was not going to make for a great photo opportunity because the animal was moving quickly or the light wasn’t great. I knew if I tried to fumble with the camera, the lynx would be gone. Sometimes I don’t worry about the shot. I just sit there and appreciate the moment.

On his favourite subject

Definitely moose. I just love moose. The first time I saw a moose, I was shocked by how fast they are. Especially with their big antlers. This gigantic animal is able to maneuver through forests, swim across rivers, walk through snow. I was out one day and it was so cold — maybe minus 30 degrees Celsius and I was freezing and this moose looked so comfortable. One of my favourite photos is of a moose crossing a creek with the mountains in the background. I had spent all day hiking when I spotted the moose in the far distance. I sprinted to an area close to where I thought it might cross and then waited. And waited. Sure enough, it eventually crossed exactly where I thought it would. It was just such a beautiful animal and such a beautiful scene with the mountains in the background.

A Canadian lynx in Kananaskis Country. Alberta. (Photo: Abdulla Moussa)
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On reality versus perception 

People sometimes look at my Instagram and they think, “Wow, you must be seeing wildlife every day. And that’s definitely not the case. I spend a lot of time outdoors and I just love being outside in nature. This is the key thing, because if constantly feel like you have to be patient and wait to see something, it’s going to feel like you have been here for a whole lot of hours. I enjoy any time I go out, but I don’t always see something! Even if I don’t get lucky, I get to hang out in this beautiful environment.

On his life list

I want to see a wolverine. They’re a notoriously difficult animal to even just lay eyes on. I would not be disappointed at all if I saw one and didn’t get the photo. Just to see it would still be a great day.

On making time

I have a full-time job and four kids, so finding time to get out to photograph can be a challenge. But, for me, being out in nature is important as a self-care activity. Spending time outside is very therapeutic. When I’m feeling stressed out, I try to get to the mountains and just go for a hike.

On the next generation

I have an eight-year-old, a six-year-old and three-year-old twins. I obviously don’t always take them all with me because they can be a little impatient, but we do often go out together. They really enjoy seeing bears. Sometimes my kids will spot things before I do.

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