Born and raised in Arizona, Tucson resident Tom Whetten says that fact alone makes him “a rare and maybe even endangered species.” A member of the Prudence Ward, Tucson East Stake, Tom spent 32 years as a law enforcement officer. During his career, he also worked for the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
“Working for the Arizona Game and Fish Department gave me the opportunity to travel much of the back country in Arizona, especially southeastern Arizona where I was stationed. …I gained great knowledge of nature and wildlife, including their habits and how to approach wildlife.”
He took his self-taught love of photography, combined it with his love of nature and, 12 years ago, started offering tours to some of his favorite sights around Arizona.
“I love the art of photography, trying to capture in the camera what we see with our eyes,” Tom says.
From touring Arizona, Tom expanded and, over the past nine years, he has taken eight different photography groups on tours to Africa. One perk of his wildlife tours is that he keeps his groups small so everyone has access to great photos from the vehicle. His tours have included trips to the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater and Tarangire National Park. Each of these locations boasts lions, elephants, zebras, leopards, giraffes, gazelles and more, all in their natural desert habitat.
Unfortunately, there are no LDS Church services where Tom tours but that doesn’t keep him from opportunities to spread the gospel by example and by word.
“By living the Gospel at all times and in all places, who you are begins to shine through.” Tom recounts, “Several years ago, one of the women on the tour became violently ill. …I asked if she wanted a blessing and her husband declined. About an hour later he came to my tent and said that his wife would like a blessing. I sat and talked with them for a few minutes about the power of the priesthood. She indicated that she knew the Gospel was true and had been a lifelong member but had just picked up some bad habits. We had a prayer, and I gave her a blessing.”
During the night, the woman had a complete turnaround and was able to continue on the safari to its completion, an additional six days.
“Over those six days we talked at length about the gospel,” Tom says. “I don’t know how it all turned out in the long run, but what a blessing for me to be in the position of assisting one of our Heavenly Father’s children.”
Tom adds that in his travels, he has met many people with a variety of religious ideologies, and they have all had great respect for his beliefs and those of others. He says, “My travels have convinced me more than ever that the gospel is true. We are all God’s children with the same hopes and desires for our families.”
For more information and photographs, as well as blog posts from Tom’s most recent trip to Africa, visit www.wildlifephototour.com.