National Geographic

From Congo with love: An Earth Day selfie for the ages.

Only the gorillas themselves know what they’re truly thinking. That said, a supposed selfie of rescued mountain gorillas posing for a relaxed snapshot with the park rangers who rescued them as babies has gone viral this Earth Day, and why not?

The gorillas are apparently trying to imitate humans, but again, who can say for certain?

It’s an arresting image, regardless. The selfie was taken at a gorilla orphanage in Virunga National Park, DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo), ground zero in the anti-poaching wars to help save one of the world’s most recognizable, high-profile endangered animals. There are said to be slightly more than 1,000 mountain gorillas left, of which, according to the most recent census, some 600 of which live in the Virunga Volcanoes. Though a seemingly small number, that’s still twice as many as 30 years ago, when the program to help save them was originally  established.

©Mathieu Shamavu

©Mathieu Shamavu

Virunga — the park and the gorilla conservation program— was the focus of a 2014 British documentary film, Virunga, that won the Peabody Award and was nominated for a best feature documentary Oscar at that year’s Academy Awards. The film Virunga, financed by Netflix, put public pressure on the oil company SOCO International to halt its then-controversial exploration for oil within the protected World Heritage Site.

The film told the story of four people dedicated to protecting the world’s last mountain gorillas from a range of threats, including not just the oil company but illegal hunting, land invasions, the steady encroachment of agricultural farms inside park boundaries, and the 2012 emergence of the violent M23 rebellion movement.

Park ranger Mathieu Shamavu, pictured in the gorilla selfie, is following in the muddy boot-tracks of ranger André Bauma, one of the original “gorilla caregivers” in the Netflix documentary.

@Virunga National Park

@Virunga National Park

It’s dangerous work, and not just because even an adolescent gorilla can tear a grown person from limb to limb. Five Virunga park rangers were killed in an ambush by suspected M23 rebels inside the park just last year. In all, 130 park rangers have been killed in Virunga since 1996.

Eastern DR Congo is mired in seemingly endless conflict between an unstable, corruptible government and various armed groups, driven by the wealth of priceless minerals, including many of the rare but vital materials used in today’s smartphones. Eastern DRC has also been the scene of a deadly, growing — and underreported — outbreak of the ebola virus.

It’s small wonder, then, that the gorilla selfie has touched a popular nerve in the wider world, and not just because today is Earth Day.

Deputy park director Innocent Mburanumwe told BBC’s Newsday program that the orphaned gorillas, just two- to four-months-old at the time of their rescue,  think of the rangers as their parents. The gorillas’ mothers were both killed in July, 2007.

©Facebook/Innocent Mburanumwe

©Facebook/Innocent Mburanumwe

They’ve grown up in the Senkwekwe Sanctuary and have learned to “(imitate) the humans,” Mburanumwe told BBC, “learning to be human beings.” For example, the gorillas frequently stand up and try to move around on two legs, something they wouldn’t normally do in the wild. 

“I was surprised to see it,” Mburanumwe told BBC. “It’s very curious to see how a gorilla can imitate a human and stand up.”

The selfie first came to light Thursday last week, when a ranger shared a photo on Facebook of what he called “another day at the office.”

The Virunga gorilla program is staffed by local men and women, and relies on donations from the outside world for much of its support. The risk of violence is real, and ongoing: Officials closed the park from May last year to this past February, following the death of a park ranger and the kidnapping of two British tourists.

©Elite AnitPoaching Units/Facebook

©Elite AnitPoaching Units/Facebook

Virunga is believed to be Africa’s oldest national park, according to National Geographic, but there are other parks on the continent that lay claim to that title.

Regardless, it’s hard to think of many parks that may be more important — or fragile. The Earth Day selfie and the worldwide attention it’s generated has prompted prompted program directors  to urge people to “make a difference” and donate to Virunga’s conservation efforts.

Virunga, formerly known as Albert National Park, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and covers some 7,800 square km (3000 square miles) of some of the most breathtaking natural landscape — and unique species — found anywhere on planet Earth.

https://www.virungaparkcongo.com

https://www.instagram.com/virunganationalpark/




The “eye of the beholder” and award competitions: When seeing is not always believing.

Another internationally juried photo prize, another controversy — another scandal.

Malaysian photographer Edwin Ong Wee Kee’s haunting image of a partially blind Vietnamese woman carrying her baby won top honours — and the USD $120,000 prize that came with it — at the 2019 Hamdan International Photography Award (HIPA) in Dubai.

Ong’s vision was judged to be the most representative of this year’s theme, “Hope,” and there’s an undeniable human quality to the image, its depiction of sadness and loss, coupled with one person’s determination to survive, despite the challenges.

©Edwin Ong Wee Kee

©Edwin Ong Wee Kee

As reported on PetaPixel, though, according to those who were there at the March 12 ceremony, the announcement was greeted with several eye-rolls, mutterings and murmurs of thinly veiled irritation. Here we go again with the poverty porn, they seemed to be saying.

The term “poverty porn” has been used to describe photographers’ fixation on images of people struggling to survive desperate circumstances. These images are considered safe to do because to dismiss the image is to dismiss the subject, and who in good conscience would do that?

©Brent Stirton/WPOTY53/Getty Images

©Brent Stirton/WPOTY53/Getty Images

There’s a growing feeling in the photography community, though, that creativity — looking at familiar subjects in new, unfamiliar ways — should count for more than always taking the safe and obvious route, especially when it comes to internationally recognized competitions.

Any announcement of a major award, especially one with money involved, is bound to be greeted with catcalls. Judging is subjective, after all. My choice may not be yours. Cynics are everywhere, and it’s always easier to disagree than to agree. Safe choices are safe for a reason: People like them, and photo juries tend to agree. When a rare, controversial choice is made — South African photographer Brent Stirton’s image of a slaughtered rhino winning the prestigious 53rd annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year award being a prime example — the resulting public disagreement, and the bad press that comes with it, can scare future juries away from making similar choices. 

The Wildlife Photographer jury opted for a much safer image in this year’s awards, picking Dutch photographer Marsel van Oosten’s portrait of two rare golden snub-nosed monkeys in China's Qinling mountains, over a field of nominees that included SeaLegacy photographer Justin Hofman’s unforgettable — and hard to look at — image of a starving polar bear in Canada’s far north.

©Marsel van Oosten/WPOTY54

©Marsel van Oosten/WPOTY54

The Hamdan International Photography Award was bound to have its detractors, in other words, no matter what image was chosen.

But then the other shoe dropped, and a controversy became a scandal.

It turns out the photo was probably staged. The seemingly natural image — with its echoes of Steve McCurry’s famous National Geographic cover shot of “the Afghan Girl” — was one of several taken by a group of photographers at a photo-op session organized by fellow photographer Ab Rashid.

Ong defended his image to the Malaysian daily The Star, telling the paper, “In this trip to Vietnam, we (photographers) went to the rice field and there was a mother (with her children) that passed by. We never told her to stand up or sit down.”

©PetaPixel/Ab Rashid (right)

©PetaPixel/Ab Rashid (right)

Strictly speaking, Ong never violated any rules of the contest: Unlike some juried photo competitions, the  Hamdan Photography Award doesn’t require photographers to sign a claim that prohibits staging or, in the case of nature photography competitions like the London Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer awards, that the subject be free-ranging, in its natural habitat. Unlike the World Press Photo Awards — itself a lightning rod for recent controversy — the Hamdan Award doesn’t demand that photographers follow the principles and ethics of professional photojournalism, with its emphasis on hard news.

Recent past winners of the Hamdan Award show an understandable bias towards photojournalism, though, and it’s easy to see why: These are the images that reflect the world as it is, not necessarily as we want it to be.

©Mohammed Alragheb/Hamdan International Photography Awards

©Mohammed Alragheb/Hamdan International Photography Awards

Even so, there’s something unsettling knowing that an image was, if not staged exactly, certainly posed, when comparisons to actual, genuine photojournalism are not just implied but obvious for all to see.

In a thoughtful essay on PetaPixel, Yale University graduate, iTunes podcaster and PhotoShelter co-founder Allen Murabayashi suggests the problem isn’t the contest but us, as a society.

“We feel duped,” he wrote, “not necessarily because the image may or may not have been directed. We feel duped because Ong took the image with a gaggle of other photographer of a young, impoverished mother in a way that feels creepily reminiscent of a mid-20th-century all-male camera club hiring a female model.”

We live in an Instagram culture of algorithm-generated clicks that encourages “likes” and feeds on our collective vanity and search for validation.

“The same people who decry contests use platforms like Twitter and Facebook to build their own followings,” Murabayashi said, “while chasing retweets and likes of their own.”

©Ab Rashid/PetaPixel

©Ab Rashid/PetaPixel

Our collective fascination with the pain and suffering of those less fortunate than ourselves is harder to reconcile. A powerful image of someone in distress can raise awareness and generate much-needed funding for relief efforts — we can’t rely on Western and particularly US politicians to do the right thing — but there’s also that disquieting feeling that it’s amoral to celebrate suffering in the form of competitions that provide a cash prize — in some cases a significant cash prize, as with the Hamdan Award — to the winners.

Perhaps, as some have suggested, any monetary reward should go to the subject, at least in part.

There’s an upside to the Hamdan Award as is, Murabayashi suggests.

“If nothing else, maybe increased awareness of the world’s richest photo contest will attract a whole new wave of photographers doing important, long-term work.”

Perhaps. As long as photo captions — and juried competitions — don’t explicitly explain whether an image was natural or posed, though, questions will remain. Troubling questions. 

https://petapixel.com/2019/03/18/the-winning-photo-of-the-120k-hipa-prize-was-apparently-staged/


Later: Here’s an interesting thought.

In the stream of comments posted on PetaPixel and other sites in the wake of the “posed photo” revelation, more than one person suggested the behind-the-scenes image below tells a more topical, relevant story than the actual image that won the Hamdan Award.

It has certainly kickstarted a more far-reaching conversation about the relationship between photographer and subject, and how the haves often exploit the have-nots for their own purposes, regardless of motive.

That’s not news, of course — or won’t be to anyone with even a rudimentary grasp of how the world works — but it’s worth talking about in the open, in online chat forums and other public spaces, and not behind closed doors in sequestered photo-jury rooms.

Another interesting question: How many of these  photographers pictured here got exactly the same image, but didn’t think to submit it to an international photo competition?

How original is originality supposed to be, anyway?

After all, the eye of the beholder doesn’t add up to much if everyone sees the same thing.

Food for thought.

©PetaPixel

©PetaPixel




Akashinga, ‘The Braves Ones,’ the women saving Africa’s wildlife — and now finalists for the World Press Photo of the Year.

Judging from the social-media nontroversies over judging faux pas at past World Press Photo Awards, one could be forgiven for thinking the prestigious photo contest,now in its 62nd year, must have an enemies list to rival that at any MAGA rally.

There were the concerns over “post-processing” in 2013; the staged photos and subsequent disqualification of a WPPA-winning photographer in 2015; the cancellation of the WPP exhibition at Visa Pour L’image (also in 2015); the creation of a new category, for “creative documentary photography” in 2016 (a competition that, in the words of contest organizers, “not have rules limiting how images are produced,” that would allow staged and manipulated images); questions about the authenticity of the 2nd-place long-term projects winner (‘An Iranian Journey’) in 2017; and the fracas over 2017’s World Press Photo of the Year, of which jury chair Stuart Franklin said at the time, “I didn’t think, if I’m honest with you, that (this) should be World Press Photo of the Year.”

One photographer’s controversy is another’s nontroversy.

If I’m honest with you — speaking strictly for myself — the London Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards aside, the World Press Photo awards is the one I pay closest attention to.

And that’s why I was gratified to see that, this year, for the second year in a row, an environmental conservation photographer has been nominated for World Press Photo of the Year.

New York-based, South African-born war photographer Brent Stirton — whose controversial (hard to avoid that word, where high-profile photojournalism awards are concerned) image of a dead rhino slaughtered for its horn won the 2018 Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award — has made the shortlist of six images for this year’s World Press Photo of the Year, for his image Akashinga — the Brave Ones.

The Akashinga are an all-female anti-poaching unit in Zimbabwe, not the most stable country on earth, nor the easiest for women to take up arms against poachers — all men — willing to kill anyone who stands between them and the booming market in illegal ivory and rhino horn.

©Brent Stirton/Getty Images

©Brent Stirton/Getty Images

The World Press Photo Awards are top-shelf in my view because, unlike, say, the Pulitzers, they reflect the world’s best, not just America. The other nominees for Photo of the Year, for example, hail from Italy (Marco Gualazzini, Almajiri Boy); Syria (Mohammed Badra, Victims of an Alleged Gas Attack Receive Treatment in Eastern Ghouta); France-Spain (Catalina Martin-Chico, Being Pregnant after FARC Child-Bearing Ban); Australia (Chris McGrath, The Disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi); and the U.S. (John Moore, Crying Girl on the Border).

Shortlisted candidates in other categories include photojournalists from Venezuela, Mexico, the Netherlands and Sweden.

In all, 43 photographers from 25 countries have been nominated for this year’s awards, the 62nd edition in the organization’s history. A new category, World Press Story of the Year, should prove less controversial than 2016’s “Photoshop is OK” category — fake news! — but recent history cautions that wherever there is a high-profile photo contest with the profile of the WPOTY or WPP awards, controversy inevitably follows.

The World Press Photos are a lightning rod for debate because they’re now the world’s most high-profile competition in a field of photography that’s all about competition. Winning can lead to paid work in what’s an ever-shrinking pool of full-time staff jobs with credible, reputable media organizations.

Different juries judge the awards each year, which lessens the chance of an institutional bias — or laziness — setting in.

Stirton knows that a great story lies at the heart of any great photograph. He got his start as a war photographer, covering conflict on his home continent of Africa. In his later years — he’s now repped by Getty Images in New York — his photojournalism has taken on more of an environmental angle, the result of his witnessing, and photographing, a mountain gorilla slaughtered for its body parts in a war-torn corner of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DNC), more than a decade ago now, in 2007.

©Brent Stirton / BrentStirton.com

©Brent Stirton / BrentStirton.com

An all-female army of wildlife rangers sounds like a gimmick, but as a BBC story by correspondent Rachel Nuwer last September showed, it isn’t. The project is the brainchild of Australian Defence Force special-operations sniper Damien Mander, who had been hired to stem a wave of poaching in Zimbabwe’s Phundundu Wildlife Park, a 115-square-mile former trophy-hunting area, ground zero in a larger ecosystem that’s home to some 11,000 elephants. The women, 16 in all, come from backgrounds of abuse and deprivation, and so are motivated to prove what they can do. The women feel empowered, and are more likely to improve their communities in the process. They chose the  name “Akashinga” themselves, after Mander asked them to come up with a name for their unit. Akashinga means “the Brave Ones,” in the local Shona language.

“There’s a saying in Africa,” Mander told BBC. “‘If you educate a man, you educate an individual. But if you educate a woman, you educate a nation.’ We’re seeing increasing evidence that empowering women is one of the greatest forces of change in the world today.”

The situation is serious. In just seven years, Africa’s elephant populations have crashed by 30%, largely due to poaching.

Stirton’s World Press Photo nominated image is a portrait of Petronella Chigumbura, age 30, in the field, where her specialty is in military stealth and concealment. Akashinga’s stated aim is to work with  rather than against local communities, Stirton explained in his submission. This is especially relevant today, as a renewed debate over whether trophy hunting can help fund conservation efforts, in wilderness areas where elephant populations have grown to the point where an ever-shrinking ecosystem can no longer sustain herd animals that eat up to 500 kgs. of trees and agricultural crops a day. Unlike trophy hunting, conservationists argue, finding ways to get local communities involved in serving and protecting wild animals is a long-term solution rather than a short-term fix.

For his part, Stirton understands that a single powerful image is worth a thousand words — at least — if, at the end of the day, the idea is to galvanize people to act.

The same could be said of any of this year’s six finalists of course. A single image can indeed change the world. And that, controversies aside, is what the World Press Photo Awards are all about.

The 62nd Annual World Press Photo Awards will be handed out April 11 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.


©John Moore/Getty Images

©John Moore/Getty Images

©Chris McGrath/Getty Images

©Chris McGrath/Getty Images

©Marco Gualazzini/Contrasto

©Marco Gualazzini/Contrasto

©Mohammed Badra/European PressPhoto Agency

©Mohammed Badra/European PressPhoto Agency

©Catalina Martin-Chico/Panos

©Catalina Martin-Chico/Panos



“Nice” is in, controversy is out at Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2018 awards.

The first thing to know about this year’s winners of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards is that this time, the jury shied away from controversy with its picks. “Nice” is the operative word in the 2018 edition, unlike last year, when South African photojournalist Brent Stirton’s image of a slaughtered rhino forced people to confront serious issues facing wildlife conservation today.

The inevitable result is that, as likeable as many of the 2018 winners are, collectively they’re unlikely to stir the kind of difficult debate about species extinction and the wanton slaughter of rare animals for their body parts many conservationists — and wildlife photographers — say is even more imperative today, in a Trump world of climate denial and environmental deregulation.

That means fewer angry emails to contest organizers from parents upset that their younger, more  impressionable children might be dissuaded from a career in conservation, because the winning image didn’t reflect the beauty and wonder of nature.

This year’s overall winning image — “The Golden Couple,” Dutch photographer Marsel van Oosten’s tender portrait of a pair of rare golden snub-nosed monkeys (Rhinopithecus roxellana) taken in central China’s Qinling Mountains, certainly evokes wonder. The image was chosen over 45,000 entries, from 95 countries. It will be one of 100 other images to go on display at London’s Natural History Museum, the 54th such exhibition in the world’s most prestigious, high-profile wildlife photography contest. The exhibition opens this weekend, Oct. 19th, and closes July 1st, next year.

In her statement to the world’s media this week, long-serving jury chair Roz Kidman Cox admitted the winning image is traditional — it’s a portrait, pure and simple — but then added, “But what a striking one, and what magical animals. It is a symbolic reminder of the beauty of nature and how impoverished we are becoming as nature is diminished. It is an artwork worthy of hanging in any gallery in the world.”

©Marsel van Oosten

©Marsel van Oosten

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On one level, this is true. It’s hard to imagine Stirton’s dead rhino, blood still congealing from the stump where poachers hacked off its horn with a chain saw, being unveiled at the Louvre or the National Portrait Gallery.

For all Cox’s brave words, though, “The Golden Couple” is unlikely to make people stop and ask themselves, what happened here, who did this, why did they do it, and what can we do to prevent it from happening again.

Admittedly, it’s also hard to imagine Cox’s email in-box filling up with angry comments along the lines of last year’s, “How dare you? I’ll never follow your rotten contest again” viral outrage. As many upset patrons were only too happy to remind Cox then, nature photography is supposed to be about awe and  appreciation, about inspiration and inculcating our collective sense of wonder, and not something that’s shocking and awful.

©Natural History Museum

©Natural History Museum

I also know at least one prominent wildlife photographer and former WPOTY winner, a high-profile veteran who gives frequent lectures as part of National Geographic’s National Geographic Live! speaker series, who argues that the time for debate has passed, that it’s more important to shake people out of their complacency than to show them another pretty picture of a wonderful animal doing something wonderful. (Interesting fact: The award committee’s decision to opt for such a violent, off-putting image in last year’s edition sparked some of the most intense debate the jury committee can remember in awards history, but in the end the choice was unanimous. Yes, unanimous. Not only that, but that was reportedly the first time in the awards’ 54-year history that, in the end, the entire jury agreed on the final choice, without a single dissenting vote.)

Here, then, without further ado, is a selection of this year’s picks, along with a link to the Natural History Museum’s awards page, and a link to an investigative article about the precarious situation facing China’s dwindling population of golden snub nosed monkeys.

In a few days, I’ll be posting a profile of renowned wildlife photographer Frans Lanting, winner of this year’s inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award, but first this.


http://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/news/2018/october/winning-images-announced-for-wildlife-photographer-of-the-year-2018.html

http://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/wildlife-photographer-of-the-year--the-uncertain-future-of-chinas-primates.html


©Skye Maeker

©Skye Maeker

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Screen Shot 2018-10-16 at 8.56.53 PM.png



2018 Bird Photographer of the Year winners: More than just pretty pictures of our feathered friends.

Not all flamingos were created pink. Nature photographer Pedro Jarque Krebs, from Peru, won the 2018 Bird Photographer of the Year award — the ornithological equivalent of Best-in-Show — this past weekend for his colourful image of American flamingos preening in a lake mist. Yes, there were splashes of pink, but the predominant colour was a rich, vibrant red. Pink flamingos may still be a thing, but in Krebs’ image,  flamingos were allowed to show off their richer, more vibrant shades of vermillion.

Admittedly, Krebs’ work has relied heavily on digital manipulation and Photoshop in the past, but it’s the final image that counts. At least, in this case, the contest judges thought so.

Also, Krebs has had a reputation in the past for using captive animals in his portraits, often under less-than-ideal conditions. (Not all nature-photography award contests are so forgiving; judging committees at many of the top, prestigious awards value authenticity — wild is wild — over the final image, any day of the week.)

All this aside, Krebs’ winning image is certainly arresting.

©Pedro Jarque Krebs/Peru

©Pedro Jarque Krebs/Peru

 

The Czech Republic’s Petr Bambousek was cited for Outstanding Portfolio, based in large part on his capture of a roseate spoonbill — genuinely wild —  preening its feathers in a pool of standing water.

Young Bird Photographer of the Year — an award of increasing significance, given the precarious state of the environment in these present, turbulent times — was awarded to Johan Carlberg of Sweden, for his stylistically fetching composition of a great crested grebe — also preening! — during golden hour.

©Johan Carlberg/Sweden

©Johan Carlberg/Sweden

Best Portrait awards went to nature photographers from Italy (Saverio Gatti, with the gold medal), the Netherlands (Roelof Molenaar, silver) and Sweden again (Ivan Sjogren, bronze).

Other category winners hailed from France, Greece, Spain, Kuwait and Singapore — proving, if nothing else, that bird photography is a global pastime, and not just the private hobby of a handful of well-to-do bird enthusiasts and world travellers from North America and the UK.

The Bird Photographer of the Year awards are managed by the UK-based peer group Nature Photographers Ltd. and the British Trust for Ornithology, a spiritual cousin of the US’s National Audubon Society.

More and more, as Canadian polar explorer, trained biologist and 2012 Wildlife Photographer of the Year winner Paul Nicklen told The Sunday Observer this past weekend, nature photography — or conservation photography, as some prefer to call it — is on the front line in the social-media battle for hearts and minds.

It will be hard if not impossible for humanity to survive, let alone thrive, on a desolate, despoiled planet — that seems obvious — but the present-day toxic mix of greed, denial, militant ignorance and an almost wilful disregard of basic facts means the argument has to be made over and over again.

©Petr Bambousek/Czech Republic

©Petr Bambousek/Czech Republic

David Attenborough can’t get the message out on his own — not at his age, and not with so many deep-pocketed, big-money interests arrayed against him. Big Oil, the Koch brothers, Fox News and others still perpetuate the belief that climate change is a Chinese hoax, intended to bring western economies to their knees, even as he evidence suggests otherwise and entire ecosystems collapse around us.

That’s why my favourite category in every nature/conservation photography contest award I can think of is that which celebrates wild animals in their natural  environment.

And so it is with this year’s Bird Photographer of the Year awards.

Salvador Colvée, from Spain, won the Birds in the Environment category for his striking image of an ostrich wandering the crest of a sand dune in Namibia’s Namib Desert — the world’s oldest, in geological terms — not far from the aptly named Skeleton Coast. The cold-water Benguela Current from Antarctica follows the Atlantic coast from from South Africa to Angola, creating early-morning sea mists that stretch as far as 500 kms. inland across an arid, deceptively barren desert landscape, nurturing mosses and lichens that in turn feed a surprisingly complex ecosystem that includes, yes, ostriches, as well as large mammals like oryx, desert-adapted elephants and even the increasingly rare, hard-to-spot desert lion.

©Salvador Colvée/Spain

©Salvador Colvée/Spain

This is what the award-winning images in the  Bird Photographer of the Year contest are all about: showing nature in all its beauty, but also showing its hardiness and resilience in the face of existential threats. After all, threats don’t get much more existential than climate change and species extinction.

Another wildlife-in-its-natural-habitat image: Nature photographer Richard Shucksmith, from the UK, won a pair of awards, including the popular People’s Choice award, for his over- and underwater image of a northern gannet, the same kind of image that propelled Nicklen’s early career as a photographer, while at the same boosting his profile and spreading the wider message about the need to preserve what remains of  the world’s embattled polar regions.

©Richard Shucksmith/UK

©Richard Shucksmith/UK

Nicklen’s above- and below-water split-screen images from Antarctica remain the gold standard against which all similar images are judged today.

Despite some 22 assignments for National Geographic and a new book (Born to Ice, published by the high-end, German-based specialty publisher teNeues, https://books-teneues.com), Nicklen would prefer to be known for his on-the-ground conservation efforts and his co-founding of the ocean conservation group SeaLegacy with his partner, conservation photographer, environmentalist and frequent National Geographic speaker Cristina Mittermeier, than as an accomplished photographer. One is a calling; the other, a life’s mission. SeaLegacy is dedicated to the idea that future generations won’t have to know the world’s wild wonders solely through photographic images from a distant, fading past.

That’s why these contests — and the positive image they present — are critical to our understanding of Planet Earth and what’s at stake.

These aren’t just pretty pictures of birds. They’re a reflection of life itself.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2018/aug/20/2018-bird-photographer-of-the-year-in-pictures

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2018/mar/08/bird-photographer-of-the-year-2018-in-pictures


©SeaLegacy.org

©SeaLegacy.org

Another photo contest, another scandal: Welcome to the world of temptation-by-social-media and instant gratification.

Here we go again. Another photo contest, another scandal. Consider it a scourge of the digital age. Digital technology, the very thing that made wildlife photography easier — less time trying to match ISO with available light; less time worrying about whether you’re running out of film at that exact moment your subject is about to do something, anything, let alone the very thing you’ve been waiting all this time for; less time fretting about whether the subject is even in focus to begin with — has also made it easier to fake that seeming once-in-a-lifetime capture.

Digital manipulation leaves a trace, but that still means a wildlife image can be staged, using a captive animal or — as in this most recent accusation — a possibly stuffed animal. Digital technology can make tiny, telling details that would otherwise send up a warning flag almost seamless. 

Prize-winning nature photographer Marcio Cabral has been accused of using a stuffed anteater in his Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest image — now removed by contest sponsors from the London Natural History Museum exhibit of last year’s winning and nominated images — of an anteater eying a termite mound glowing with bioluminescence, beneath a starlit sky in Brazil’s grasslands. The image was named best-in-show in the prestigious contest’s “Animals in Their Environment” category.

©Marcio Cabral/Natural History Museum WPOTY 2017 via The Guardfian

©Marcio Cabral/Natural History Museum WPOTY 2017 via The Guardfian

Questions were raised after an “anonymous third party” flagged the eerie similarities between the anteater in the Cabral photograph and a taxidermy anteater displayed at one of the entrances to Brazil’s Emas National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the same park Cabral said he had scoured for three years at night, trying to get the distinctive image. 

©Natural History Museum (UK)

©Natural History Museum (UK)

In what seems a shame for the other shortlisted candidates in the category, contest organizers say they are vacating Cabral’s win and will not replace his image with another winner. The names of the other finalists were announced last October, the Natural History Museum explained, which means the judges “can no longer render an objective decision.”

I’m not sure I follow that logic — surely the judges can get together in a conference call and decide which of the runners-up they like best in retrospect, but then I’m not privy to the details of the case behind the scenes. The only thing that does seem clear is that the entire situation is a mess. (Photographers who submit images to the WPOTY competition must sign a waiver saying their image has not been staged or manipulated in any way, standard practice in virtually all nature-photo competitions nowadays. It’s largely based on an honour system, though; detection, where it exists at all, is usually after-the-fact and difficult to enforce.)

Cabral denies the accusation, and that’s important to note. The thing with photography, especially wildlife photography, is that much of it has to be taken on faith. Nature photographers, by definition, spend long hours under stressful conditions in the middle of nowhere, often unseen by other human eyes. It’s the nature of the beast, if you will. Nature photography is based on the honour system; there often aren’t witnesses to corroborate or refute the conditions under which an image was captured. The reputable nature photographers who’ve made a name for themselves, often but not always with well-established media organizations like National Geographic and Getty Images, form a close, tight-knit community, in part because it’s a tough job, tougher than it looks, and in part because it’s a hard way to make a living, let alone establish a reputation as one of the world’s best. 

The advent of social media has created a field of intense competition, where clicks and “likes” count for everything. That wasn’t the case just 10 years ago, at least not to the extent it is today. Established conservation photographers like Steve Winter, Michael “Nick” Nichols, Beverly Joubert, Paul Nicklen, Brent Stirton (below), Ami Vitale, Cristina Mittermeier — even a young up-and-comer like New Jersey teen Ashleigh Scully — don’t need to prove themselves.

©Brent Stirton.com

©Brent Stirton.com

For relative unknowns looking to break in, though, the temptation to game the system must be great indeed, especially in a present-day social milieu that seems to be driven more and more by instant gratification. We live in a wired, connected world after all, where even some bozo on YouTube can become a millionaire overnight, based on little more than clickbait and trending views.

Reaction to the Cabral controversy has ranged from mild surprise to shock — “I find it disheartening that a photographer would go to such lengths to deceive the competition and its worldwide following,” WPOTY 2017 judge Roz Kidman Cox said Friday in a statement — but perhaps the real surprise is that it doesn’t happen more often. By its nature, nature photographer can be about getting that one image of a lifetime, though it’s also true that the most respected, admired photographers are those who have a proven track record over time. 

Cox is no dilettante; she was editor of Wildlife Magazine (now BBC Wildlife) for more than two decades, and has been a judge of Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition since 1981.

Brent Stirton, a South Africa-born, New York-based war correspondent for Getty Images who won the 2017 Wildlife Photographer of the Year award for his haunting, hard-to-look-at image of a rhino slaughtered for its horn, was quoted at length in The Guardian as saying he couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to fake an image and then try to pass it off in such a high-profile competition, knowing it would be scrutinized not just by other photographers but also by behavioural scientists — actual field biologists who study animals for a living and can spot questionable behaviour and situations in a heartbeat. Stirton knows a thing or two about the danger genuine nature photographers find themselves in; after surreptitiously taking an award-winning photo of a poached mountain gorilla in Congo’s Virunga National Park in July, 2007, he was told in no uncertain terms to get out of there fast because, “People were looking for him.” People with guns. And a proven track record of using them.

©Brent Stirton/Natural History Museum WPOTY 2017 via The Guardfian

©Brent Stirton/Natural History Museum WPOTY 2017 via The Guardfian

The London Natural History Museum is not some monkey exhibit at the local library; submitting a faked photo to the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards is a little like trying to pass off a plagiarized novel in front of the Pulitzer Prize award committee.

Behavioural science is one thing, where animals are concerned. Who, though, can figure out what gets into human beings’ minds at times?

Whether the Cabral photo was faked or not, only Cabral can know for certain. The contest judges — and the independent scientists they canvassed — seemed to think so. In retrospect, if not at the time.seemed

https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/04/27/606369773/the-wrong-stuff-prize-winning-wildlife-photographer-accused-of-using-taxidermy

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/apr/27/winning-anteater-photo-disqualified-judges-agree-stuffed-marcio-cabral

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2017/oct/17/wildlife-photographer-of-the-year-2017-the-winners


 

 

Emotion carries the day at the 61st World Press Photo Awards.

Hardly anyone seeing the awarded images in this past weekend’s World Press Photo 2018 Awards could walk away without feeling shaken and, deep down, at least a little stirred.

No written summation of the winning images would be complete without the images themselves. That’s the whole point of photojournalism, in which the image truly is worth a thousand words. Good photography transcends different languages and cultures, which is why Mexico City-based photographer Ronaldo Schemidt’s image of a protestor set ablaze during street demonstrations last May in Caracas, Venezuela is so wrenching. It’s the kind of image no one wants to see, and yet it’s an image that’s impossible to tear one’s eyes away. The World Press Photo association awarded Schemidt the group’s Photo of the Year award for 2018, as well as 1st prize for spot news.

Schemidt’s image, taken for Agence France-Presse (AFP), is undeniably powerful, but it was just one among many. 

©Ronaldo Schemidt/Agence France-Presse (AFP)

©Ronaldo Schemidt/Agence France-Presse (AFP)

Charlottesville, Va. local-news photographer Ryan M. Kelly, a staff photographer for The Daily Progress local newspaper — the only daily newspaper in Charlottesville — won 2nd prize for spot news for his harrowing image of a 20-year-oldwhite supremacist and neo-Nazi, now charged with first-degree murder, ramming his car through a crowd of demonstrators at the ‘Unite the Right’ rally in the Virginia city last August.

@Ryan Kelly/The Daily Progress (Charlottesville, Va.)

@Ryan Kelly/The Daily Progress (Charlottesville, Va.)

It’s a sign of these troubled times for the planet, though, that the organizers of the 61st World Press Photo Awards saw fit to make room for separate environment and nature categories, where they joined such traditional news categories as contemporary issues, general news, long-term projects, people, sports and spot news.

North Carolina-born, Montana-based Ami Vitale, profiled in this space just a few weeks ago, won 1st prize in the nature/stories category for her photo essay “Warriors Who Once Feared Elephants Now Protect Them,” about the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary in Samburu, northern Kenya, for National Geographic.

http://www.amivitale.com/2017/07/warriors-who-once-feared-elephants-now-protect-them/

It was a good week — a good year, in fact — for South African-based image-makers.

©Ami Vitale

©Ami Vitale

German-born Thomas P. Peschak, a trained marine biologist who moved to South Africa and switched careers to “document the beauty and fragility of our oceans,” won no fewer than four World Press Photo awards, all of them for National Geographic.

Peschak won both 2nd and 3rd prize in the nature/singles category, for his image of rockhopper penguins doing just that (2nd place), and an image juxtaposing a historic photo of an African penguin colony, taken in the late 1890s, against an image taken in 2017, showing the stark contrast  in declining numbers between the two. (“Singles” are standalone images; “stories” are photo essays, in which a series of images tells a single story.)

©World Press Photo 2018 Awards

©World Press Photo 2018 Awards

©Thomas Peschuk

©Thomas Peschuk

Peschak won 2nd prize in the environment/singles category for his sobering image of a South African Antarctic Territory juvenile grey-headed albatross recovering from an attack by an invasive mouse species. He won 3rd prize in the nature/stories category — the same category in which his fellow National Geographic photographer Vitale won — for his haunting photo essay of the Galapagos archipelago.

Peschak switched to photojournalism, he says now, when he realized his images could do more for conservation than simply curating scientific statistics for academics (https://www.thomaspeschak.com).

Alaska commercial fisherman and occasional photographer Corey Arnold won 1st prize in the nature/singles category, for his equally sad image of a bald eagle picking over meat scraps in a garbage dumpster in Dutch Harbour, Alaska.

©Corey Arnold

©Corey Arnold

 

Top prize in the environment/singles category was awarded to South African conservation photographer Neil Aldridge for his unspeakably sad image of a southern white rhino, drugged and blindfolded during relocation to the Okavango Delta, Botswana from its home in South Africa, to protect it from poachers. 

©Neil Aldridge

©Neil Aldridge

Photography is both a calling and a profession for Aldridge; he’s a lecturer in marine and natural history photography at Falmouth University, in Cornwall, in the UK, and runs workshops, expeditions and seminars, and in 2016 established the self-explanatory NGO Rhino Conservation Botswana.

“Photography is more than just a beautiful picture, a moment frozen in time; it has the power to transform our relationship with the world around us for the better,” Aldridge explains on his website at,

www.conservationphotojournalism.com.

A compelling image is about forging an emotional connection with the viewer, he says; the aim is to create stories that inspire positive change through the conservation  of nature and the environment.

“I think photojournalism is documentary photography with a purpose,” W. Eugene Smith famously said.

“The ability to keep things in perspective is very important for a journalist. In a tense situation you need the ability to be there, yet somehow step aside; to keep a cool head and keep working without getting frustrated.” — Philip Jones Griffiths.

“It’s a lot more than clicking the shutter. It’s the ideas, it’s the visual voice, it’s the telling the story, it’s kind of going beyond that initial things that just means you happened to be there at the right time.” — Ron Haviv.

“I think of myself as a journalist who chooses the art of photography to bring awareness to the world. Art is a powerful means of expression, but combined with journalism it has the ability to bring awareness to issues that can elevate understanding and compassion. It’s the basic reality of why I do what I do.” — Renée C. Byer.

“As photojournalists, we supply information to a world that is overwhelmed with preoccupations and full of people who need the company of images. We pass judgment on what we see, and this involves an enormous responsibility.” — Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Here, then, without further ado, are the winners I’ve mentioned, with the primary emphasis — given the tone of this site — on matters involving nature and the environment.

https://www.worldpressphoto.org/collection/photo/2018


NEIL ALDRIDGE


neil aldridge1.png
©Neil Aldridge

©Neil Aldridge

©Neil Aldridge

©Neil Aldridge

©Neil Aldridge

©Neil Aldridge

neil aldridge5.jpg

THOMAS P. PESCHAK


thomas peschak1.png
©Thomas Peschak

©Thomas Peschak

©Thomas Peschak

©Thomas Peschak

©Thomas Peschak

©Thomas Peschak

©Thomas Peschak

©Thomas Peschak


AMI VITALE


ami vitale1.png
©Ami Vitale

©Ami Vitale

©Ami Vitale

©Ami Vitale

©Ami Vitale

©Ami Vitale

©Ami Vitale

©Ami Vitale


Ami Vitale: In a world of 7 billion people, our fate is inextricably linked with that of nature.

One of the world’s leading international news agencies features a weekly thread on its website titled, “World sport: 10 photos we liked this week.”
It sounds generic — and it is — but it reminded me of how so often of how I find my favourite nature photographers. Often they are cameramen and women I’ve never heard of before. I end up stumbling over one of their images — I’m a restless reader, and constantly curious — and am moved and inspired for reasons I can’t quite pin down.

Photography — not just the taking of photographs, but being appreciative of other people’s work as a consumer — is subjective. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve come across the winner of a high-profile photography contest, and then seen the runners-up, and thought to myself: What were they thinking?

Nine times out of ten, I see a runner-up that, to my eye, is so much more revealing and emotionally stirring than the one the judges picked that I’m at a loss for words. Who’s to say one image is “better” than another, anyway? It comes down to personal taste, an instant reaction followed by a gut feeling and a dawning realization that one has just witnessed greatness, a seminal moment captured in time forevermore.

So often, when I think of “10 photos we liked this week,” I think of a single image, and then an entire portfolio of images by that photographer, once I check that person’s website, their past work and present work.

I’d be terrible at editing a “10 photos we liked this week” list because, inevitably, my list would feature 10 photos by the same photographer.

©Ami VItale

©Ami VItale

And this past week, that photographer was Ami Vitale.

I came across a web article by BBC News picture editor Phil Coomes, ‘Ami Vitale: A life devoted to photography’

http://www.bbc.com/news/in-pictures-43329546

and was immediately reminded of an image I had glimpsed briefly once before, while editing a blog item on this year’s World Press Photo Awards. Her picture of a ranger bonding with an orphaned baby elephant at the small, community-based Reteti Elephant Sanctuary in northern Kenya had just  been nominated in the environment category for this year’s awards. (The winners will be announced on April 12th in Amsterdam, followed by an exhibition at the World Press Photo Festival on April 13th and 14th.)

©Ami Vitale

©Ami Vitale

I read the piece by Phil Coomes, and Vitale struck a recurring chord in me. My own background is hard news — I came to nature photography in early retirement from daily journalism — and I was struck how Vitale started out as an intern at a small newspaper in Raleigh, North Carolina in the early 1990s, around the time I started to cover municipal news in my local big-city newspaper-of-record. Vitale quit her job in North Carolina to pursue her dream of being a foreign correspondent; I, too, briefly entertained ambitions of one day being a foreign correspondent, early in my career. The difference is Vitale took a leap of faith and took the jump. She did a brief spell at a newspaper in the Czech Republic, then found herself covering the conflict in Kosovo. 

©Ami Vitale

©Ami Vitale

One of my first media interviews at the time was with CNN’s London-based correspondent and anchor Christiane Amanpour, who had made her own reputation covering the siege of Sarajevo during the Bosnian War in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in 1998.

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/contributors/v/photographer-ami-vitale/

This is actually quite common for high-profile conservation and wildlife photographers. South Africa’s Brent Stirton, current holder of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award — sponsored by London’s Natural History Museum and the largest and most influential wildlife photo competition of its kind in the world — began his career as a  photojournalist covering famine, genocide and political upheavals in conflict zones throughout his home continent of Africa. Stirton won numerous prizes, including several citations from the United Nations for a long-term project he did based on the social, economic and political instability caused by the HIV-AIDS epidemic sweeping across Africa and the developing world at the time. Several years ago, in 2007, while covering an outbreak of violence in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), he took a stirring image of a dead mountain gorilla being hauled out of its rainforest home by park rangers, and vowed to become a conservation photographer for the remainder of his career with a camera.

http://infocus.gettyimages.com/post/brent-stirton-the-photo-i-took-that-meant-the-most-to-me#.WqgwEoIh14Y

©Brent Stirton

©Brent Stirton

It’s no coincidence that Stirton, Steve Winter, Cristina Mittermeier — and Vitale herself — have done some of their finest, most stirring work for National Geographic. As Vitale  told BBC’s Coomes, she learned over time that she wanted to work on stories that bring people together and reflect life beyond the latest headline.

“The thing that struck me,” Vitale told Coomes, “after witnessing so much conflict and violence in my career is that every single issue I covered, whether it was war or poverty or health, always ended up being dependent on nature for its outcomes.”

Coomes’ interview with Vitale brought me in a roundabout way to her website (amivitale.com), and her striking portfolios of ‘Pandas Gone Wild’ (soon to be a book, Panda Love: The Secret Lives of Pandas); ‘Montana Ranching Redefined’ (the state Vitale now calls home); ‘Kenya’s Last Rhinos,’ ‘Kashmir: Paths to Peace,’ ‘Coffee and Ethiopia,’ ‘Budapest Baths,’ ‘The Cost of Coal,’ ‘Gujarat,’ ’Cappadocia’ and ‘Israeli Palestinian Conflict.’

©Ami Vitale

©Ami Vitale

If asked right now to pick “10 photos I liked this week,” I’m afraid all 10 would be Vitale’s, as I only now devoted the better part of an hour poring through her images on her website. They’re, in a word, stunning.

The word is getting out. She will appear as a featured speaker this weekend (March 17) at The Photography Show in Birmingham in the UK, and is scheduled to talk as one of the featured NatGeo photographers in the National Geographic Live series, in Kitchener, Ontario on April 26th; Buffalo, NY on May 8th; and San Jose, Calif. the following night, on May 9th.

“The world is a beautiful place and we need to celebrate the goodness,” Vitale said in a TED Talk in Shanghai, two years ago. “It’s everywhere.”

©Ami Vitale

©Ami Vitale


‘The sheer size of what we were looking at took our breath away.’ Now for the hard part — keeping it that way.

Hearing of that super-colony of Antarctic penguins spotted from space, I immediately thought about The Lost World.

Not the part about how Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s band of Victorian explorers discovered a lost world of dinosaurs and early humans hidden on a towering mountain plateau in the jungles of Venezuela, but rather the part about how, having stumbled over a find of extraordinary and rare beauty, they weighed whether or not to tell the outside world.

Late last week, the journal Scientific Reports announced the discovery of a previously unknown “super-colony” of Adélie penguins in the east Antarctic peninsular.

The find was dramatic, the “how” somewhat less so.

The colony numbers more than 1.5 million birds, a sizeable number by any reckoning, but especially in the facts-challenged world of 2018.

The penguins were spotted living among and around a rocky archipelago in east Antarctica known as the Danger Islands — aptly named, as it turns out — after gargantuan  patches of their guano appeared in images taken by the US Landsat satellite.

This was one satellite picture of the polar regions that wasn’t all about the melting ice cap. For that reason alone, it immediately caused a stir.

©Pixabay/CCO Creative Commons

©Pixabay/CCO Creative Commons

Researchers used a computer algorithm to scan images for signs of possible penguin activity. The scientists were genuinely surprised by the scale of their find, as University of Oxford researcher and science team-member Dr. Tom Hart told BBC News.

“It’s a classic case of finding something where no one really looked,” Hart told BBC. “The Danger Islands are hard to reach, so people didn’t really try that hard.”

As Heather Lynch, a researcher with Stony Brook University in Long Island, New York, told BBC.

“The sheer size of what we were looking at took our breath away,” she said. “We thought, ‘Wow, if what we’re seeing is true, these are going to be some of the largest Adélie penguin colonies in the world, and it’s going to be well worth our while sending in an expedition to count them properly.’”

©Pixabay/CCO Creative Commons

©Pixabay/CCO Creative Commons

Knowing how many penguins there are is one thing.

Ensuring their survival for future generations — future generations of people, as well as penguins — is another entirely.

The discovery will only truly mean something if a long-proposed marine protected area is signed into international law, a super-protected area, if you will, for the super-colony of penguins, and other Antarctic species.

It’s a big deal because, continent-wide, Adélie penguin populations have fallen by more than 65% in just the past 25 years, according to some estimates.

Just in the last seven years, thousands of chicks died in an unexplained mass die-off of chicks and stillbirths in the west Antarctic peninsular.

Some conservationists are concerned that the discovery will lead people to think that the Antarctic isn’t in so much trouble, after all.

To most people’s minds, endangered animals are either endangered or they aren’t. Mid- and long-term factors like habitat loss caused by climate change, which manifests itself in the form of warmer, more acidic waters, loss of sea ice and mass die-offs of krill, plankton and other micro-organisms that underpin the entire ecosystem, are harder to weigh in the mind than waking up one morning to learn that all the penguins have suddenly disappeared.

The Danger Islands lie in an area of the Weddell Sea that has yet to feel the effects of climate change the way other parts of Antarctica have.

©Pixabay/CCO Creative Commons

©Pixabay/CCO Creative Commons

That doesn’t mean the Adélie penguins, all 1.5 million of them, are out of danger, though.

As conservation writer Lucy Siegle noted this past weekend in the UK Sunday Observer,  “Enthusiasm for this (discovery) needs to translate into a legally enforceable marine protected area, so that the penguins, left undisturbed for 60 years, remain that way.”

It was Einstein, after all, who said that whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.

 

https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2018/03/adelie-penguins-colonies-discovered-antarctica-environment/

 

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/12/penguin-catastrophe-leads-to-demands-for-protection-in-east-antarctica


Big Cats Initiative + World Wildlife Day = Causing an uproar.

Think about this: We have lost 95% of the world’s wild tigers in the past century. During that time, lion populations have crashed 40% — in just three generations. That’s just one reason why, this year, World Wildlife Day (Saturday) is focusing on the plight facing the world’s #BigCats.

It’s the reason South Africa-born husband-and-wife naturalist team Beverly Joubert and Dereck Joubert have made big-cat conservation their life’s calling, and why they were instrumental in founding National Geographic’s Big Cat Initiative in 2009. (https://www.nationalgeographic.org/projects/big-cats-initiative/about/)

©Beverly Joubert

©Beverly Joubert

This may sound obvious to anyone who’s thought about the implications — long-term and short-term — of overpopulation, climate change and rampant consumption, but to hear Dereck and Beverly Joubert tell it, it’s not obvious at all to ordinary, everyday people who are too busy feeding their families and keeping a roof over their heads to worry about whether lions will go the way of the Tasmanian tiger and sabre-toothed cat. Historically, the Tasmanian tiger — once found throughout the continent of Australia — became extinct on the mainland some 3,000 years ago. The last known Tasmanian tiger died at Australia’s Hobart Zoo in 1936; the species was declared extinct in 1982. 

©University of Melbourne - Museums Victoria

©University of Melbourne - Museums Victoria

Unless something is done, and done quickly, the Jouberts told a rapt audience several years ago at a meeting of the Television Critics Association in Beverly Hills, Calif., iconic apex predators like the lion, tiger, jaguar, puma, cheetah and leopard could vanish by mid-century.

“We’ve been studying and looking at big cats now for about 30 years,” Dereck Joubert told reporters at a meeting sponsored by National Geographic’s NatGeoWild digital channel, “and one of the alarming things for us, which was the genesis of (this project) actually, was the realization that, in our lifetimes, lions have dropped from 450,000 down to 20,000, and leopard numbers are from 700,000 down to about 50,000. If you take an extension of that curve, you will imagine these big cats to be extinct within the next 10 or 15 years.

“We’ve been working on this for a long time. But now is the time to bring it to wider attention.”

3. dereck WWD official banner.jpg

 

As World Wildlife Day dawns, CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is anxious to put a familiar face on wildlife conservation efforts around the world. It isn’t just to do with lions, of course, but lions are an emblematic symbol that almost anyone can recognize, from the youngest child to the most jaded, cynical adult.

“What’s important ultimately, and what's going to help us  with the Big Cats Initiative, is getting the message out,” Beverly Joubert said. “A lot of people don't believe there is even a problem, so they say, ‘Why should we worry?’ Through the Big Cats Initiative, we've managed to raise money for cheetahs, for example, so we will have a lot of cheetah programs out there. We're not only looking at lions and leopards.

“Big cats are the iconic species. They’re the apex predator. If the apex predator is taken out of the system, the whole system collapses. We need the apex predators we can maintain corridors for elephants, for antelope, for the tiny little dung beetles. Everything is connected. It’s vitally important.”

©Beverly Joubert

©Beverly Joubert

 

Apologists for the hunting industry often argue that hunting is vital economically for species survival.

Balderdash, Dereck Joubert scoffs — though he’s inclined to use a stronger modifier.

“We are very, very adamant about hunting. This is all about ego. They call it recreational hunting, as if we could also be talking about playing tennis. Some people go out and take some great delight in the killing of these animals. Five hundred lion skins — lions in dead form — come into the United States every year as hunting trophies and safari trophies. With 20,000 lions left, you know that's not sustainable.”

©Beverly Joubert

©Beverly Joubert

 

Learning endangered species’ day-to-day life habits is key to ensuring its long-term survival, Beverly Joubert added. That’s part of what the Big Cats Initiative is all about and, in the bigger picture, World Wildlife Day itself. 

“We want to be able to look at that unique behaviour right  now and see how we can utilize what has happened in the past and where we are in the present and use that to give us a better idea of what’s going to happen in the future,” she said. “It’s looking at the plight of these cats, learning from it and applying those lessons to the future, whether it’s to do with hunting and poaching or just protecting these wildlife corridors.”

©Beverly Joubert

©Beverly Joubert

World Wildlife Day could just as easily be about the dung beetle or leopard tortoise, Dereck Joubert believes.

But.

“There are a number of great iconic species, and I think it’s our job to pick them and highlight them. The conservation that goes on around these other species is just as valid, but you gotta pick the cheerleaders.

“Also, we have a lot more fun filming lions that dung beetles,” he said.

“But we still film those dung beetles,” Beverly Joubert chimed in.

They’re all connected.


Except where noted otherwise, the images in this post were taken by Beverly Joubert in association with National Geographic/Big Cats Initiative. World Wildlife Day is Sat., March 3. #PredatorsUnderThreat #WWD2018 #BigCats


7. dereck NatGeo BCI graph.png

World Pangolin Day: a rallying cry for the world’s most trafficked mammal.

Today, Saturday, is World Pangolin Day. Little is known about the animal dubbed “the world’s most trafficked mammal” except that it physically resembles an anteater, does not do well in captivity and is over-hunted throughout its range in Africa and Asia.

It’s hunted both for its meat — pangolin is one of the most sought-after types of bush meat — and for its scales, which local healers believe to be a potent and powerful source of traditional medicine.

1. pangolin day.png

The pangolin faces the same parade of threats that confront so much of Africa and Asia’s wildlife: Deforestation, climate change and illegal hunting, much of it for the restaurant trade in China and Vietnam, where pangolin is considered a delicacy. More than a million pangolins are believed to have perished in the past decade alone, according to some estimates.

‘Estimate’ is the key word here because so little is known about their habits, Pangolins are nocturnal and largely solitary — they meet only to mate — and give birth to just one offspring at a time.

They have weak eyesight and rely on a keen sense of hearing and sense of smell to survive. They’re picky eaters and subsist on ants and termites, but only certain types. They will eat just one or two species of insects, even when many species are available to them, this, according to a 2015 study by the University of Wisconsin.

©World Wildlife Fund

©World Wildlife Fund

When threatened, they curl into a tight ball, using their scales for protection; the name ‘pangolin’ comes from the Malay word pengguling, which means “one who rolls up.”

There is poaching, and then there is annihilation.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) officially lists the eight known species of pangolin on its Red List of Threatened Species as “Critically Endangered” but that only tells half the story.

There’s a war going on, and pangolins are fast falling victim to the numbers game.

More than 10,000 kg (11 soft tons) of illegally traded pangolin meet were seized from a Chinese ship that ran aground in the Philippines in 2013.

An Indonesian man was arrested in 2016 after police raided his home and found nearly 700 pangolins in freezers on his property, according to news reports from the Associated Press and BBC News.

3. pang species.jpg

More recently, in October last year, more than 100 pangolins were rescued alive after an anti-smuggling raid on a fishing boat off the east coast of Sumatra, as reported at the time by National Geographic.

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) notes smugglers have changed their habits in recent years.

Whereas before they used large, freeze-controlled shipping containers on container ships that could only be accommodated by major seaports, they’re now turning to smaller shipments of live pangolins on small fishing boats that tack from one small port to another, making them that much harder to trace and apprehend.

And all this, because so many people in China and southern Asia believe the pangolin — about the size of a domestic cat — can treat stomach cramps, aid lactation and is a potential cure for cancer.

Screen Shot 2018-02-16 at 12.32.20 PM.png

Some believe pangolin soup — “pangolin fetus soup,” to be precise — enhances virility and helps reverse impotency, even though it goes without saying there’s no scientific evidence to back it up — any of it.

Even so, the scales from a single pangolin can command as much as USD $3,000 across China and Vietnam.

Quite apart from the ethical and moral considerations of  species extinction through sheer ignorance and greed, scientists are particularly aggrieved over the pangolin’s plight because it’s genetically distinct from any other animal. It might look like an anteater, but it isn’t one. Despite its nickname, “scaly anteater,” the pangolin is its own separate, distinct species.

A plan to boost captive breeding in zoos, through a specially designed breeding program, may be doomed to failure, some critics say, because pangolins don’t fare well in captivity. They’re susceptible to common diseases like pneumonia, and often contract severe stomach ulcers — not helped by their picky their dietary habits.

All that said, there is some reason for hope. Small, grassroots conservation groups, working on the ground in wilderness areas of Africa where pangolins are known to live, have had some success. Maria Diekmann, director of the locally based conservancy Rare & Endangered Species Trust (http://www.restnamibia.org / http://restnamibia.org/sponsors.html ) in Outjo, Namibia has successfully raised a number of orphaned pangolins from a young age, the first time that is believed to have been done. REST researchers have recently outfitted adolescent pangolins with tracking devices and released them into the bush, to monitor and record their habits in the wild.

©Alex Strachan / REST Africa

©Alex Strachan / REST Africa

The more we learn about pangolins, Diekmann believes, the more chance there is of saving them.

World Pangolin Day is more than an empty cry for help. It’s a bid to raise awareness and galvanize people to action.

South Africa has some of the toughest legislation against wildlife trafficking in the world, for example. The fine for being caught in possession of a pangolin can be as high as USD $700,000 and 10 years’ imprisonment.

Enforcement is another matter, though. There have been few actual convictions to date.

World Pangolin Day can only help get the message out. It may not be a solution in itself, but it’s a start — one small step on the long road to redemption.


10 FACTS ABOUT THE PANGOLIN

(Source: Africa Geographic)
1. The hard, overlapping scales of the pangolin are made of keratin, the same substance found in our nails and hair. The scales continue to grow throughout its life. 
2. The pangolin does not have teeth. Instead it uses a thick, strong and sticky tongue to catch its food. When extended, the pangolin’s tongue is longer than its head and body. It is attached at its pelvis and last pair of ribs, and the rest of it is stored in its chest cavity. 
3. Their stomach has keratinous spines projecting into its interior. Small ingested stones accumulated in the stomach help to mash and grind food,  in much the same manner as a bird’s gizzard. 
4. Pangolins are capable swimmers. According to Save Pangolins (http://savepangolins.org), “while some pangolin species such as the African ground pangolin are completely terrestrial, others, such as the African tree pangolin are adept climbers, using their claws and semi-prehensile tails to grip bark and scale trees.” 
5. When threatened, pangolins curl up into a tight ball. They may also emit a noxious acid from glands near their rear end.  
6. The life cycle of a pangolin in the wild is largely unknown, as they are hard to study. Some pangolins are recorded have lived as long as 20 years in captivity. 
7. Adult pangolins live solitary lives, rather than in pairs or families.
8. Pangolins are nocturnal — they come out at night, for the most part. 
9. Pangolins eat insects, such as ants and termites, but are fussy in their eating habits, and focus on just one or  two species, even when others are readily available. They can eat up to 70 million insects a year, according to some estimates. They have uniquely designed muscles that seal their nostrils and ears shut, protecting them from insects. They also have special muscles in their mouths which prevent ants and termites from escaping after capture.
10. Mother pangolins keep their young in burrows until they are old enough to ride on their mother’s back. The mother curls up snugly around the baby pangolin at night, or if she senses danger.

A lion’s tale: Reporting from the front lines of lion conservation.

Here’s something you probably didn’t know.

There are fewer wild lions remaining in the world than rhinos.

Yes, it’s true. For all the recent campaigns highlighting the plight of the rhino — and rightly so — one of the most iconic species known to humankind is on the brink.

That seems hard to believe, as the lion is the one animal somebody thinks of — and expects to see — when going to the zoo.

Numbers don’t lie however. Hardly anyone familiar with the impact of overpopulation and stresses on the environment in the post-industrial age will be surprised to learn that Africa’s lion population has crashed 90% in just the past 75 years.

It’s hard to quantify that figure in real terms, though.

A more telling number is that there are roughly 30,000 rhinos left in the wild, according to recent surveys. (These numbers are especially reliable today because recent media attention  over the illegal killing of rhinos for their horns has prompted a wide range of population surveys. Rhinos are relatively easy to count, too, as they can be spotted from the air, are diurnal and favour open spaces over dense bush.)

Lions, on the other hand, number some 20,000. Little more than a century ago, there were more than 200,000. Lions are extinct today in 26 African countries.

©National Geographic/Natural History Film Unit

©National Geographic/Natural History Film Unit

These figures come from wildlife biologist and National Geographic Emerging Explorer Thandiwe (Thandi) Mweetwa, but have been confirmed by any number of peer-reviewed scientific surveys. We tend to think there are more lions than there really are because they’re social animals. They live in large family groups, so when you see one lion in the wild, chances are you will see several of them together, whether it’s a male coalition, a lone lioness with newborn cubs, or a full-on pride. That gives the illusion that they’re plentiful, when in fact the evidence shows they’re anything but.

Mweetwa, Zambian-born and educated at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver (veterinary medicine) and University of Arizona in Tucson (resources conservation), is a senior wildlife biologist with the Zambian Carnivore Project.

When one thinks of African game parks, one naturally thinks of the Serengeti and Maasai Mara in East Africa, Kruger National Park in South Africa or even Etosha in Namibia, but Zambia is home to several of the less trammelled and most pristine wilderness areas on the entire continent.

2. Thandi NatGeo field image.png

Mweetwa is based in the Luangwa River Valley — South Luangwa National Park rests on one of the main tributaries to the Zambezi River, which feeds into Victoria Falls. Luangwa’s ecosystem is every bit as detailed and complex as anything in Serengeti, but the fact that there so few tourist visitors, relative to its more famous cousins in Kenya and Tanzania, makes Luangwa an ideal test lab for biological field studies.

Mweetwa was one of a handful of scientists, nature photographers and program producers who appeared at the semi-annual gathering of the TV Critics Association in Beverly Hills, Calif.this past summer  — I’m an active member, owing to my regular columns for the New Jersey-based site TVWorthWatching.com — to promote NatGeo Wild’s eighth annual Big Cat Week, designed to raise awareness of, and promote interest in, National Geographic’s self-explanatory Big Cat Initiative. Among its other programs, the Big Cat Initiative helps raise funds for big cat conservation; Mweetwa’s work is supported in part by a grant from National Geographic. 

Mweetwa was just 12 when she moved from a small town in southern Zambia to the rural north. Her parents had died within two years of each other; her uncle agreed to take her in, in her mother’s home village of Mfuwe in Zambia’s far north. She had seen wildlife documentaries on the tiny, 12-inch family TV set as a young child growing up in the south, but now she found herself living in a modest red-brick house with no running water or electricity, let alone a TV. She was exposed on a daily basis to the wildlife she had only seen in pictures, though, and it wasn’t long before she developed an interest in the ubiqitous baboons, vervet monkeys, bushbuck, buffalo and puku antelope that frequented the mango groves surrounding the village. That led to a growing curiosity about the shadowy predators one often hears about but rarely sees — the leopard, a creature of the night; African wild dogs, tireless hunters during the day; and, at the top of the food chain, the lion.

3. Thandiwe Mweeta quote.png

“It was the documentaries,” Mweetwa explained, when asked what first piqued her interest in lions. The irony that her field work is now supported by National Geographic’s network of international TV channels is not lost on her.

“We had a black-and-white TV set, and even then there was no colour,” she said. “But these animals just spoke to me at a certain level that I felt, okay, maybe I should do something to protexct them in the wild. With big cats in partitcular, I was completely sold well I saw my very first lion at the age of, possibly, 21 or 22, when I heard them roar, like, in broad daylight. It was nothing I had ever experienced before, and it completely sold me.”

Today, Mweetwa is a senior ecologist and community educator with the Zambian Carnivore Programme. Her work revolves around poplation dynamics and threwats to the survival of lions and other carnivores in eastern Zambia. She believes the key to any species’ survival is getting local communities involved and convincing area residents to support wildlife conservation and environmental awareness programs. 

Mweetwa’s work gained new attention this past week, thanks to her National Geographic video in which she shows that female lions in a pride often have cubs at the same time, to facilitate group parenting, in which a group of new mothers raise each other’s offspring alongisde their own cubs. 

The situation facing lions is serious, Mweetwa says.

(L-R) Steve Winter, Bob Poole, Thandiwe Mweetwa, Brad Bestelink and Andy Crawford. ©NatGeo Wild

(L-R) Steve Winter, Bob Poole, Thandiwe Mweetwa, Brad Bestelink and Andy Crawford. ©NatGeo Wild

Climate change is, marked by longer and more frequent dorughts, has led to significant human-wildlife conflict in Kenya and Tanzania especially, as livestock herders push their goats and cattle inside park boundaries, in an effort to find water and food, while hungry lions leave park boundaries and cause mayhem. In Zambia, where Mweetwa works, and throughout southern Africa, lions are being hunted for the bushmeat trade, and for ritual charms and would-be cures used in traditional medicine.

Mweetwa is mindful that relatively few travellers from the West will ever visit Africa’s wilderness areas, let alone see a lion in the wild.

That’s where National Geographic’s films and magazine come in. Fantastic beasts and where to find them, and all that.

“It’s important to show people really nice footage of these animals that will make them go, ‘Ohhh, this is really cool,’” Mweetwa explained. “A lot of times people have this  perception that these animals cause more problems than they actually do. It’s difficult living with lions, as you can imagine. But (where I live), there’s too much negative perception, lions being blamed for things they maybe didn’t do. So programming like Savage Kingdom, for instance, is very important in getting people to realize that these are magnificent beasts, and they’re worth keeping in the landscape.”

 

https://www.nationalgeographic.org/projects/big-cats-initiative/updates/


Winter is coming for the polar bear — and not in a good way.

“Polar bears require more food to survive than thought,” read Friday’s heading in Scientific American. CNN International’s take: “Polar bears face extinction faster than thought, study says.”

The New York Times’ told a similar story: “What Cameras on Polar Bears Show Us: It’s Tough out There.”

There’s more.

“Polar bear videos reveal impact of melting Arctic sea ice,” CBS News reported.

“Polar Bears Are Fighting For Survival as Melting Arctic Ice Cuts Off Their Only Food Source,” Newsweek’s heading warned.

“Polar Bears Really Are Starving Because of Global Warming, Study Shows,” was National Geographic’s take.

BBC News took a simpler route: “Polar bears ‘running out of food,’ study says."

Results of a study on a group of polar bears off Alaska’s Arctic coast were published late last week in the journal Science, and they make for grim reading, even aside from the technical jargon and sheer weight of detail, as scientific reports tend to be. ”Regional declines in polar bear (Ursus maritimus) populations have been attributed to changing sea ice conditions, but with limited information on the causative mechanisms. By simultaneously measuring field metabolic rates, daily activity patterns, body condition, and foraging success of polar bears moving on the spring sea ice, we found that high metabolic rates (1.6 times greater than previously assumed) coupled with low intake of fat-rich marine mammal prey resulted in an energy deficit for more than half of the bears examined.”

(Link to the original here: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/359/6375/568.full)

In more simple terms that anyone can understand, the 2,600-word final report can be summarized in a few basic highlight notes:

©CC0 Creative Commons/Pixabay

©CC0 Creative Commons/Pixabay

Arctic sea ice is melting faster than expected. Faster even than the most dire predictions.

Temperatures are wamwarminging more quickly in the Arctic than anywhere else on the planet, for whatever reason.

Polar bears need seals for food, in order to survive.

The less sea ice there is, the harder it is for the bears to get at the seals.

The harder it is for bears to find seals, the more energy they expend looking for those seals. This is not rocket science.

The more energy they expend, the more food they need to survive.

The less food bears find, the less energy they have to hunt.

And so on.

Over time, the process speeds up rather than slows down. If bears are in trouble today — and they are — then by tomorrow they be gone entirely.

©CC0 Creative Commons/Pixabay

©CC0 Creative Commons/Pixabay

This isn’t hyperbole or alarmist claptrap designed to gin up donations to conservation organizations — it’s basic fact.

Charles Darwin’s landmark studies in species survival are often mistranslated as  “Survival of the Fittest,” when in fact Darwin’s theory of evolution focused in the main on natural selection — a species' ability to adapt to a changing environment, rather than which individual species is best positioned to win a physical fight.

Polar bears could adapt to a life without sea ice and seals, given time. But they don’t have that time.

And eating out of garbage dumps in Churchill, Manitoba one month of the year isn’t going to cut it.

Polar bears are terrific swimmers — adaptability at work — but they’re not sea mammals. They’re not whales. In open water — i.e. the open ocean — they will drown.

They stay close to land in most cases, and need ice floes to climb onto and rest. If there are no ice floes — and in recent summers, Arctic sea ice has disappeared entirely and the Northwest Passage has opened up to regular sea traffic — they will drown as quickly as any grizzly or black bear that suddenly finds itself out at sea, with nowhere to swim to.

©CC0 Creative Commons/Pixabay

©CC0 Creative Commons/Pixabay

The study tracked nine female polar bears fitted with high-tech tracking collars and GPS cameras, as they foraged for food in the Beaufort Sea, off the coast of Alaska. The study was sponsored by the United States Geological Survey and conducted by researchers from the University of California Santa Cruz (UC-Santa Cruz) over the course of three consecutive springs, in 2014, 2015 and 2016 (https://news.ucsc.edu/2018/02/polar-bears.html).

The study follows on the heels of dramatic — and heartbreaking — video footage that went viral in early December, of a disoriented, starving polar bear in Canada’s far north. That video, taken by one-time biologist-turned-photographer and environmental activist Paul NIcklen, together with National Geographic lecturer and photojournalist Cristina Mittermeier, founders of the non-profit group Sea Legacy, shook ordinary, everyday  people to the core, because it showed a tragedy-in-the-making in simple, stark, emotional terms that no peer-reviewed scientific study can. (Nicklen and Mittermeier’s work is easy to find; Nicklen, a former Wildlife Photographer of the Year and Mittermeier, an environmental photographer who specializes in indigenous cultures throughout the Americas and Pacific Region, have had their work exhibited in galleries around the world.)

©CC0 Creative Commons/Pixabay

©CC0 Creative Commons/Pixabay

The original video — warning: it’s not easy to watch — can be found by following the links from National Geographic’s main website (https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2018/02/polar-bears-starve-melting-sea-ice-global-warming-study-beaufort-sea-environment/) reignited the debate about what’s happening to the world’s polar bears.

Since the polar bear is one of the most easily recognized and readily identifiable living beings on the planet, it highlights a basic, simple question anyone and everyone needs to be asking themselves:

If we can’t save an iconic species like the polar bear, what can we save? Food for thought, if not exactly food for the bears.

 

A note on the video links below: The first is a generic news item from earlier in the week from CNN International, about the USGS UC-Santa Cruz survey. The second is an 18-minute TED Talk Paul Nicklen gave in 2011. Yes, that’s years ago now but, if anything, it’s even more relevant today than then. It has everything you might expect from a TED Talk: a compelling story, a charismatic storyteller, and a real emotional punch at the end. Well worth seeing, and seeing all the way through.


The year in pictures — not all opinions are equal.

The end of one year and the beginning of the next is a time when we’re inundated with best-of lists and conversation starters about things to come. There’s almost too much to choose from, which is why we need curators — for everything from social media to the day’s news. Judgment, and taste, is everything. Not all opinions are equal, no matter how loudly and how often we’re told they are.

I disagreed strongly with the judges’ final choices in some high-profile photography awards this past year, but who am I to judge? I just know what I know. The Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards got it right, in my opinion; other competitions, which I won’t name here, got it quite wrong.

That’s why I was more interested in some of the year-end collections of curated material by individual publications — not, “This is the best,” but rather, “These are our favourite pictures of everything we published this year.”

That’s why National Geographic editors’ 57 favourite images of the year — all published in the magazine at some point during 2017, and hardly an award winner among them — struck a nerve with me, chosen as they were from 88 photographers who worked on some 112 stories, accumulating a total of more than 2 million photographs.

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/photography/best-of-2017/best-pictures/

I learned more, too, that I didn’t know before from Nature’s “2017 in Pictures: The best science images of the year,” than I did from many other, more prominent periodicals.

 https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-017-08492-y)

On one level, that’s to be expected, of course, because Nature, “the International Journal of Science,” is a peer-reviewed periodical. So a hitchhiking octopus, nanoscale fireworks and the “worm from hell” (the pork tapeworm, but you know it better as Taenia solium) become every bit as fascinating as anything on Animal Planet or NatGeo Wild.

©Teresa Zgoda/Nikon Small World

©Teresa Zgoda/Nikon Small World

 Anyone who reads this space regularly knows I’m more of a Guardian man than a Daily Mail man, and I don’t care who knows it.

That’s why I was gratified to see The Guardian, in its Boxing Day edition, do a summary of the year’s wildlife-photography competitions from around the planet, rather than one of those subjective, often parochial lists of, “These are our favourite images of those we happened to see.”

It’s worth noting that veteran photojournalist Brent Stirton’s controversial image of a rhino butchered for its horn — “Memorial to a Species” — won both the Wildlife Photographer of the Year award and the World Press Photos award in the nature category. It’s not often that nature photography and photojournalism coincide.

©Brent Stirton.png

I wouldn’t be doing my due diligence if I didn’t note that, judging from comments on the WPOTY’s Facebook page, many animal lovers were annoyed — livid, in fact — that Stirton’s image won best-in-show.

 “How am I supposed to keep my child interested in nature,” went one refrain from an outraged mom, “if you promote such a disgusting image as yourbest-of? I couldn’t show my young daughter that picture. How is that helping anything?”

Another mom took a differening view, however, commenting on the Daily Mail’s message board, “The beauty and heartbreak in these pictures makes me proud that my daughter wants to pursue ecology and conservation as a career.”

Others pointed out — and I happen to agree — that nature photography isn’t just about big eyes and happy faces. There were better images in the final mix, both from a technical and a creative point-of-view, but few were as important.

Enough about me and my own personal opinions, though. Here’s an edited — curated, if you will — look at The Guardian’s year-end summary of award-winning images from around the world.

The complete version can be found at

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2017/dec/26/the-best-of-the-wildlife-photography-awards-2017-in-pictures

Interestingly — for me, anyway — if there’s one subject that unites many of these images, it’s our growing interest in the sea and the future of our oceans.

That isn’t just because of Blue Planet II. The legacy of the sea is a cause that runs deep.


©Gabriel Barathieu/The Guardian 2017

©Gabriel Barathieu/The Guardian 2017

©Francis Perez/The Guardian 2017

©Francis Perez/The Guardian 2017

©Thomas Peschak/The Guardian 2017

©Thomas Peschak/The Guardian 2017

©Troy Mayne/The Guardian 2017

©Troy Mayne/The Guardian 2017

©Jaime Rojo/The Guardian 2017

©Jaime Rojo/The Guardian 2017

©Andrew Parkinson/The Guardian 2017

©Andrew Parkinson/The Guardian 2017

©Bence Máté/The Guardian 2017

©Bence Máté/The Guardian 2017

©Britta Jaschinski/The Guardian 2017

©Britta Jaschinski/The Guardian 2017

©Daniel Stenberg/The Guardian 2017

©Daniel Stenberg/The Guardian 2017

©Daniel Trim/The Guardian 2017

©Daniel Trim/The Guardian 2017


‘A great photo tells a story’ — veteran National Geographic photojournalist Steve Winter.

There are as many photographs as there are photographers with cameras and subjects to photograph, but one thing links them all, Steve Winter believes.

“My father used to say there are three things you need to have in a great photograph: composition, composition, composition,” Winter said, during a wide-ranging, sit-down conversation in Los Angeles this past summer.

The career National Geographic photographer and Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2017 finalist has a new photo essay in December’s National Geographic magazine, “Kingdom of the Jaguar,” with an article by writer Chip Brown, along with a new nature film, Jaguar vs. Croc, which Winter recorded in Brazil’s Pantanal region with cameraman Bertie Gregory. Jaguar vs. Croc will premiere on NatGeo Wild in the US and National Geographic channels around the world on Dec. 10, to kick off NatGeo’s eighth annual “Big Cat Week.”

©Steve Winter/National Geographic

©Steve Winter/National Geographic

“Like any art form, a photograph needs to connect emotionally with the viewer,” Winter explained. “Without that you have nothing.”

Winter wants to give viewers pause, with his own photos. For the past 26 years he has specialized in conservation photography, specifically big cats, a vocation that has seen him journey around the world, to grasslands, savannahs, rainforests, mountain peaks and arid deserts.

“Obviously, with a great photograph, you want your eye to move around the frame, but without that emotion there’s really nothing,” Winter continued. “As far as my work with big cats goes, I want something that also that makes you stop and go, ‘ah.’

“A lot of people look at some of my pictures and think they’re photoshopped. I love that. Because that means your brain had to a connect in a way that you actually had that thought, rather than just look at it and move on.”

©Steve Winter

©Steve Winter

Winter is fastidious about not using bait, or any other form of human interference that could affect the natural behaviour of the animal he’s trying to photograph. Working for National Geographic affords him that luxury, he says: He lives, breathes and sleeps in the field for months at a time, in pursuit of that elusive, all-important single image that tells a story that hasn’t been told before.

Arguably his most famous photograph, of a wild mountain lion living in Griffith Park the Hollywood Hills, in the heart of the Los Angeles metropolitan area, was taken with a camera trap. The cat, dubbed P-22 and fitted with a remote-control tracking collar by local field biologists, arguably became the most famous city-dwelling big cat on the planet, if only for a moment, owing to that one image.

©Steve Winter

©Steve Winter

Without camera traps, many of the world’s most elusive animals would never be captured in the wild, exhibiting natural behaviour. The world might not even know they exist. It’s good that people know such animals do exist, as habitat destruction is the single greatest threat facing them. The camera trap has done more to aid wildlife conservation efforts than perhaps any recent breakthrough in scientific technology.

“The Hollywood Cougar,” as Winter’s 2013 photo has come to be known, “looks fake,” he said, “but it’s not.

“I’ve never baited. We never do that. We spend so much trying to get that photograph that nobody’s ever seen — why would I waste my time or my assets or my anything baiting? That’s why I get two-and-a-half months to do an assignment.”

Winter’s recent work with jaguars involved old-fashioned sweating in the jungle and staking out jungle trails, finding and photographing big cats the old-fashioned way, but it was camera traps that shaped his earliest National Geographic  assignments.

“Camera traps changed the game for me because I opened my mouth and said that I would do snow leopards. In 1999 my editor sent an email out and it took me seven years to start the story, because I don’t like the cold. I had used camera traps on jaguars to fairly nominal effect, and that’s how I found the Pantanal. (One of the unintended success stories of my career is finding the Pantanal and it now being where everybody goes to see jaguars.)

©Steve Winter

©Steve Winter

“Camera traps changed the game for me because I said I’d do something that l could never have done without camera traps. To this day, every wild snow leopard picture that anybody gets is one of the  luckiest things they’ve gotten, and will ever get, and it all goes back to that.”

He came to jaguars for Jaguars vs. Croc honestly.

“I did the first ever jaguar story for the National Geographic. I did it partly for economic reasons. I was struggling to do stories other people hadn’t done because I wouldn’t get a ‘no.’ 

©Steve Winter

©Steve Winter

“I had a great interest in jaguars because my first ever animal encounter with a big cat was with a black jaguar, one night in Guatemala. It came up to my door at night because cats are curious. Scratched under the door, sniffed. Luckily the door was locked. 

“If anybody would have told me then my next story would be jaguars I would have told them they were crazy, because I didn’t know anything about them.

“Then I found out that National Geographic had never done a story on jaguars. My wife, who is the smarter of the two, said, ‘If Nat Geo has never done a story on the world’s third biggest cat, don’t you figure there must be a good reason why?’”

Adjusting back to civilization after a long time in the wild can pose its own challenges. Winter, just hours off a flight from Peru, was sitting in the lobby bar of the Beverly Hilton hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif., home to Hollywood royalty and a history that dates back to the silent movies, just a half-hour’s drive inland from Santa Monica and the Pacific Ocean.

“When I first started, I had a very difficult time coming home. Because you could go from the Pantanal, which was my second wildlife story since I was a photojournalist, and then be driving over the Pulaski Skyway through Newark and seeing Manhattan in the distance and going home, after being gone for two months. It was psychologically difficult. How I got through it is I call home twice a day and talk to my wife. In the beginning, it was satellite phones, because I had no choice.

“That’s 100% true. If I wasn’t connected, number one, I couldn’t do my job. Some people say, ‘Oh I don’t call home, because psychologically that’d screw me up.’ No. Because I have a psychological life outside of where I am doing these stories. That life is valuable to me. My family is valuable to me. I have a connection that I found was necessary.

“Now, after all these years, we’re still together, working together, and loving working together. I know a lot of people say, ‘Oh, I wouldn’t want to do that.’ Not me. I’m so lucky in many areas. I’m doing my life. I’m living my dream. And I get to work with my wife.”

©Steve Winter

©Steve Winter

When in public, Winter is often asked if he’s ever been in perilous situations photographing some of the world’s most dangerous predators, in their backyard. It’s not a foolish question exactly, Winter says, but there’s a simple answer.

“Close calls, I’ve had quite a few. The one thing you have to realize is that we’re not a part of any of these predators’ image search, haven’t been for millennia. The reason people fear sharks or big cats is because of a few individual circumstances, whether it’s Jaws, The Man-eaters of Tsavo, Jim Corbett’s tales of man-eating tigers and leopards — these individual tales have created this collective fear in us.

“But these animals have no desire to hunt us. Every situation that I’ve been in where I’ve been scared me to death, where I can’t breathe, has been through accidental circumstances. On my first jaguar story, I was following a cat who decided he was going to follow me, and I accidentally came within 12 feet from him. That’s how I got my opening picture. I couldn’t breathe, I was shaking so bad, I figured it’d be blurry. It wasn’t.

“Usually, for me, it’s coming into an animal’s territory when they don’t want you there. You live and learn. Everything’s a learning experience. One of the most important parts of my life has been making mistakes and or being in uncomfortable situations, and then doing a better job and acting differently the next time. You need to learn that in the natural world. Especially for a layman such as I was when I started out. My education was funded by the National Geographic, I like to say. I learned all about big cats from just doing.”

©Steve Winter

©Steve Winter

Winter is now active on the lecture circuit. Far from being a letdown after the excitement of being in the field, Winter says it has opened a whole new road in his life’s path. Holding an auditorium’s attention is a challenge in its own right.

“I start with a video, and then it’s a constant barrage. Well, not a barrage, exactly but I do try to show a lot of work in a short period of time. I make every effort to make it personal. I always used to say that if I wasn’t onstage, I’d be in the crowd. And as long as I think that way, then I can hold the crowd. Because that makes it personal.

©Steve Winter/National Geographic

©Steve Winter/National Geographic

“The most important aspect to me are the school lectures. Because I can hold people. I’m very proud of my NG Live [National Geographic Live] tour and selling out the Sydney Opera House for the first time in NG Live history, and all that. But to keep kids’ attention and then have teachers come up aghast, where they saying,‘You could’ve heard a pin drop. How did you do that? I know these kids. I’m their teacher; I can’t keep them quiet’ — that means everything to me. Sometimes you’ll have 2,500 kids, and that is a challenge. 

“One other thing I wanted to say. It’s my new career, and I love it more than anything than I’ve done recently — standing in front of a crowd and telling my stories. Because I don’t see people when they turn the page of the magazine. I don’t sit in their living room while they watch the television programs. But I can watch their faces as I‘m standing onstage,  and I absolutely love it.”

https://www.npr.org/sections/pictureshow/2010/08/05/128999515/steve-winter

9. S.Winter Apple caption.png

The images that force you to look away are often the most effective: National Geographic photographer Steve Winter.

It’s the images you don’t want to see — the ones that make you want to turn the page — that are most important to Steve Winter.

The career National Geographic photographer, a past recipient of the UK Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year top honour — and a nominee again this past year, in the environmental awareness category — doesn’t see his role so much as inspiring a love for nature as galvanizing people to action. And as much as his photos of tiger moms playing with their cubs have moved a generation of National Geographic readers over his 35-year-plus career as a cameraman specializing in big cats in the wild, he sees his role now as warning the world that planet Earth’s remaining wild cats — all of them — are in serious trouble.

Winter’s pioneering work with jaguars in the jungles and riverine rainforests of Brazil — he was the first staff photographer in National Geographic history to do a photo essay for the magazine on the world’s third-largest and arguably most elusive big cat — is on full display in NatGeo’s December, 2017 issue, in an article headed “Kingdom of the Jaguar.” 

Winter didn’t want the article to be another photo essay on the natural history of South America’s most elusive jungle predator but rather a carefully researched treatise on the threats faced by jaguars in the wild, from development projects to poaching, and the effect the jaguar’s population crash is having on local indigenous culture and heritage.

©Steve Winter/National Geographic

©Steve Winter/National Geographic

In a wide-ranging, exclusive sit-down conversation this past summer in Los Angeles, Winter — fresh off a plane from Peru — explained that while he appreciates Sir David Attenborough’s assessment during a 60 Minutes interview that nobody wants to be told the world is going to hell and it’s all their fault, it’s time for all of us realize what’s happening behind the camera on all those pretty pictures.

“I believe you have to find a way to show the reality that these animals are living,” Winter said. “Because that narrow view of a mouse jumping around on a blade of grass that I just saw on Planet Earth II yesterday is just that — a narrow view of that animal’s world. But beyond that, the world could be different.”

As an example, Winter cited his photography of tigers in the wild, a lifelong project that has seen him visit most of India and Nepal’s major wildlife parks over a 30-year period.

“I’m doing tigers,” he recalled, “and I keep hearing about Tadoba, Tadoba, Tadoba. Taboba Tiger Reserve. So, I see pictures of Tadoba. And they’re regular old tiger pictures, nothing unusual. 

“Then, one day, I’m driving up to the park gate and I’m surrounded by the biggest coal mine I’ve ever seen in my life. Open pit. And at the edge of that coal mine is the beginning of this tiger reserve. Now that tiger reserve is under direct threat because of the coal mine — but I’ve never, ever seen a photograph of it.

©Dhiraj Singh/Greenpeace

©Dhiraj Singh/Greenpeace

“So I go in, take pictures, then we do a video for Nat Geo, and I go in again. No one questions me because I’m a westerner. I stand on top of a rise, wait for these giant trucks to come by with tires as big as this ceiling. 

“I feel that that’s important, because you have to understand that all the protected areas in India lie on top of these coal reserves and they have a new prime minister, Manmohan Singh Narendra Modi, who would like to go in and take that.

“Now if you don’t realize the extent of that, that if you walk back not that far from the border of the park you’d fall into one of the biggest mine pits I’ve ever seen — if you don’t know that exists — then you can’t put those two things together. This reserve is under threat, and that’s important because this is the stronghold, the foundation for all the other wild tigers on the face of the earth.

“By telling people about that, you’re not beating anybody over the head. You’re just showing people the reality of the situation. We have problems. We also have solutions. I’m one of the most positive guys on the face of the earth. But I do not believe that if I just showed you these pristine tiger families and their cubs, without telling you about the other issues, I’m not doing my job. The story that needs to be told about tigers is completely different than any story we’ve heard. That was a long answer, but, you know, it’s important that people know this. “

S.Winter Tigers-Forever book cover.jpg

Winter began his career as a traditional photojournalist, covering the world’s hot spots and recording the remains of vanishing cultures. He came to nature photography late in life; he estimates he didn’t see his first big cat in the wild until he was in his early 30s. Interestingly enough, given the subject matter of his photo essay for this month’s National Geographic, that cat turned out to be a jaguar. And a black jaguar at that, that scratched at his screen door late one night while he was overnighting in the rainforests of Guatemala.

It was a very different animal, though, in a very different part of the world, that made him realize the power of those disturbing photos that make you want to turn the page.

“The pictures you don’t want to look at are very important,” Winter said. “Those are the images that have done more in my career than any other. Because I saw how they propelled people to action.

“The best example I can think of, from early in my career, was when I did a story on the Kamchatka bears. We were invited by this outfitter to come to this hunting camp in Alaska. They were losing all these 14-, 15-foot bears. The guy knew why; I just don’t think he wanted to admit it. It was because they had a guaranteed hunt, which means nobody would leave without a dead bear. A bear trophy. Obviously, they were killing everything, including young females.

“I had a picture of all these skinned bears, the heads sitting in the snow, with bare teeth, skinned heads. It couldn’t have been more gross. The heads were getting ready to go into the hot springs, which would get all the dead meat off, leaving a perfectly clean skull, courtesy of mother nature. 

©Steve Winter

©Steve Winter

“Well, right off the bat, that project got a hundred grand. It turns out each hunting outfit was counting each bear three times. So they thought they had three times more bears than they actually had.

“I saw then that the pictures that make people want to turn the page actually brought about more change for that specific species than any of the pretty pictures that I could have gotten.”

Winter’s most famous image — by far — was of a wild mountain lion living literally in the Hollywood Hills, surrounded by a metropolitan area of some 10 million residents. Winter used a camera trap, a technique he pioneered decades earlier while doing a story on the elusive snow leopard in the mountains of Nepal. 

©Steve Winter/National Geographic

©Steve Winter/National Geographic

“The photo of the Hollywood cougar galvanized the people of LA,” Winter recalled. “The image on the front page of the LA Times excited people. It made them realize they live in such a huge metropolitan area, and yet there is actually a mountain lion in an eight-square-mile park.

“There were maybe only five people who’d truly ever seen that cat with their own eyes, and yet there are 10 million visitors a year to that park. That really woke people up.”

In a post later this week, Winter expounds on what makes a great photograph; on how camera traps changed the game, both for him personally and for conservation photography in general; on when he felt most awkward while on the job; on what it feels like to return to civilization after weeks and even months in the wilderness; on what National Geographic meant to him growing up as a small boy in rural Indiana, and what the society has brought to the world today; on the special challenges posed by jaguars; and why he now considers the lecture circuit to be his greatest calling.

©Steve Winter/Finalist, NHM Wildlife Photographer of the Year, 2017.

©Steve Winter/Finalist, NHM Wildlife Photographer of the Year, 2017.

“Pictures that you don’t want to look at sometimes have more power,“ Winters said in a 2014 promo reel for National Geographic. “I mean, beauty’s one thing. Heartbreak is another. Pictures that you just can’t stand looking at are the ones that maybe have the most power.”

Winter’s latest nature film, Jaguar vs. Croc, anchors National Geographic Channel’s “Big Cat Week,” premiering Dec. 10 at 9/8c.


Can a single image change the planet? Just ask Brent Stirton, winner of 2017’s Wildlife Photographer of Year award.

Brent Stirton’s haunting image of a dead rhino, killed and butchered for its horn, was already widely known before it won Tuesday’s top honour at the 53rd Wildlife Photographer of the Year awards.

Stirton, a lifelong documentarian and senior staff photographer with Getty Images’ Reportage unit, photographed an eye-opening spread for National Geographic — both the magazine and the website — before rhinos became the tipping point of the worldwide conservation movement.

Stirton won the top award after earlier winning in the photojournalism category before a black-tie audience at London’s Natural History Museum.

Winners in each category faced off for the WPOTY equivalent of best-in-show, capping a confusing process in which a dozen semi-finalists were released to the media last month. The fact that Stirton’s image was even in the running — it was curiously omitted from September’s selection, along with several other finalists for the top award — would have been a clue right there as to the eventual winner. As jury chair Lewis Blackwell told the assembled audience, the final decision was unanimous.

©Brent Stirton

©Brent Stirton

That in itself may well be a first for a photo contest involving a panelled jury — judging photography is subjective, after all, and subject to individual, personal tastes — but then hardly anyone looking at Stirton’s image, either for the first time or after multiple viewings, can fail to be moved.

Stirton is no dilettante who got lucky. Luck plays a huge role in wildlife photography — that, and patience and a willingness to put in the hours — but in this case Stirton called on a lifetime of placing himself in life-threatening situations, camera at the ready.

His CV reads like a modern-day Robert Capa of combat photographers. Stirton works on a semi-regular basis for the Global Business Coalition for HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, the Ford, Clinton and Gates foundations, and the World Economic Forum. He’s on the road an average 300 days out of the year. His work has been published in Time, Newsweek, The Sunday Times Magazine, Geo, The New York Times Magazine, as well as by Human Rights Watch andCNN.

©Brent Stirton

©Brent Stirton

A Canon ambassador, he has won the prestigious World Press Photo seven times, as well receiving citations and plaudits from the Overseas Press Club, Days Japan, the Deadline Club, China International, Graphis, the American Society of Publication Designers, Germany’s (news) Lead Awards and the London Association of Photographers. In addition, Stirton has two United Nations honours to his name, for his exposés on the global environment, and for his photo essays on the worldwide fight against HIV/AIDS.

He has said photojournalists strive every day to find new ways to tell an old story. And the trade in illegal wildlife trafficking is an old story indeed.

In his own work, Stirton consciously looks for images that will move people and galvanize them to action, in ways that extend beyond the 24-hour news cycle.

The single image that changed his life, he said, came in 2007, when he witnessed park rangers with Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)’s Virunga National Park anti-poaching unit hauling the bodies of four mountain gorillas — one of the world’s most critically endangered animals — following their deaths under suspicious cicrumstances. 

©Brent Stirton

©Brent Stirton

One of the gorillas was a silverback alpha male and the leader of the group. The others were females, two of them with babies and the third one pregnant at the time. The babies were never found; it is thought they probably died of stress and dehydration.

Stirton went about his work clinically andprofessionally, but deep down he was both shaken and angered. He resolved then-and-there to use his camera to expose and document the illegal wildlife trade, for the rest of his career in photography.

©Brent Stirton

©Brent Stirton

“The image of the dead silverback gorilla in Congo transformed my thinking about photojournalism and the environment,” Stirton posted on Getty’s InFocus page.  “It got a huge reaction that I totally wasn’t expecting. The reason that image affected me so much was that it was a genuine crossover photograph that talked about both conflict and the environment in a single frame. It made me realize how connected those two things are.”

Though based in New York, Stirton’s recent work has focused on his home continent of Africa, everything from unexplained mass die-offs of hippos to the massacre of elephants for their ivory, to the recent, dramatic spike in rhino poaching for their horns.

It’s not often that Stirton is caught at a loss for words, he told his audience Tuesday, after the top award was announced.

©Brent Stirton

©Brent Stirton

“I have huge admiration for all those of you who go out and spend months in a single place, in tremendously difficult conditions, trying to take a unique picture of wildlife,” he said. “I look at these images as the reason behind my work. . . . My job is to reinforce the magnificence of these creatures.’ These pictures are evidence of their magnificence.

“I always think that photojournalism is the red-headed stepchild of the photography world, when it comes to wildlife. I always have that in my mind. So for you to think this of me, for the kind of work I do, in this space — I’m blown away.”

‘Blown away’ is as apt a way as any to describe his image of the dead rhino.

https://www.interviewmagazine.com/culture/brent-stirton


©Brent Stirton

©Brent Stirton

©Brent Stirton

©Brent Stirton

©Brent Stirton

©Brent Stirton


Not just a pretty picture: Wildlife Photographer of Year Awards strive to save the planet.

A saved but caged Sumatran tiger. A tiny seahorse clinging to a discarded Q-tip cotton swab to swim downstream. Anemone fish showing off parasitic isopods that live inside their mouths (banner, above). An Arctic fox carrying a stolen egg. An elephant matriarch caught in repose after she’s led her herd to water during a dry spell.

These are the finalists in the 53rd annual running of the prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards, to be presented Tuesday night at La black-tie ceremony at London’s Natural History Museum.

©2017 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

©2017 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

The awards feature categories ranging from animal portrait to emerging young photographers, aged 11-14. One of the distinguishing features of this year’s competition is that two of the 13 finalists for Wildlife Photograph of the year — the WPOTY equivalent of best-in-show — come from the young age group: Laura Albiac Vilas’ blink-and-you’ll-miss-it glimpse of a rare Iberian lynx in Spain’s Sierra de Andújar Natural Park, and Ashleigh Scully’s serendipitous capture of a bear cub hugging its mother in Alaska’s Lake Clark National Park.

©Ashleigh Scully/2017 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

©Ashleigh Scully/2017 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

As in past years, though, it’s the environmental awareness images — the photos that trigger an emotional and intellectual debate about habitat destruction, climate change and the sixth mass extinction — that are causing the biggest stir. Veteran National Geographic big-cat specialist Steve Winter’s image of an adolescent Sumatran tiger snarling in a cage, shortly after having a badly damaged leg amputated, and California photographer Justin Hofman’s image of a seahorse swimming against a sea of muck, are standouts.

©Justin Hofman/2017 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

©Justin Hofman/2017 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Hofman’s seahorse, in particular, has gone viral, in part because it’s an artistically striking image — brilliant colour rendition and near-perfect compositional balance — and primarily because it tells such a vital story.

“It’s a photo I wish didn’t exist but now that it does, I want everyone to see it,” Hofman posted on his Instagram account (https://www.instagram.com/justinhofman/). “What started as a cute opportunity to photograph a cute little seahorse turned into one of frustration and sadness as the incoming tide brought with it countless pieces of trash and sewage.”

Hofman captured the image off the Indonesian island of Sumbawa, where he happened to be diving at the time. As striking to the eye as the image is, it tells a disturbing story about the daily travails of marine life living in seas and oceans choked by human and industrial pollution.

“This seahorse drifts along with the trash day in and day out as it rides the currents that flow along the Indonesian archipelago,” Hofman continued on Instagram. “This (image) serves as an allegory for the current and future state of our oceans. What sort of future are we creating? How can your actions shape our planet?”

Indonesia is increasingly in the environmental crosshairs. Winter’s injured tiger was captured in Indonesia; last year’s winning WPOTY image, captured by Tokyo-born National Geographic wildlife photojournalist Tim Laman, was of an Indonesian orangutan — critically endangered, owing to the wholesale destruction of its forest habitat. In a 2015 Environmental Health Perspectives study, Indonesia ranked second only to China among the world’s largest producers of marine pollution on the planet, thanks to more than 3 million metric tons of plastic waste dumped into the ocean every year.

©Tim Laman/2016 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

©Tim Laman/2016 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Hofman hopes his photo will shake people’s complacency and help galvanize change.

This year’s 13 finalists were chosen from a shortlist of 100 images, themselves culled from more than 50,000 entries from 92 countries around the world.

London’s Natural History Museum will present a full exhibition of images from Oct. 20 through the spring, in the hopes that, to paraphrase the late jazz great Louis Armstrong, humanity may once again see skies of blue and clouds of white, the bright blessed day and dark sacred night, so we may collectively once again be able to think to ourselves, what a wonderful world.

©2017 Wildlife Photographer of the Year   

©2017 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

 

©Sergey Gorshkov/2017 Wildlife Photographer of the Year   

©Sergey Gorshkov/2017 Wildlife Photographer of the Year

 


Africa’s unsung wildlife heroes: Wayne Lotter did not die in vain.

Here’s the thing. Every day, thousands of park rangers and conservationists like the late Wayne Lotter, shot to death late last month by as-yet unidentified gunmen in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, risk their lives to fight against global wildlife trafficking. Too often, their lives end in tragedy. More than 1,000 rangers have been killed in the line of duty in just the past 10 years.

The killings are not meant to be taken in isolation. They’re designed to send a chilling message to anyone who vows to expose crime syndicates that traffic in animal skins, illegal trophies and body parts, from Chilean sea bass and shark fin soup to rhino horn and, in Lotter’s case, elephant ivory.

©CNN

©CNN


Violence rarely — if ever — deters committed crusaders for the environment from pursuing their goal, though it can have a chilling effect on potential whistleblowers, those people on the inside who can point law enforcement in the right direction, on those occasions law enforcement isn’t compromised by corruption in high places.

Neighbouring countries often take a different approach to the same problem, though. Despite Tanzania’s gift of a natural bounty unmatched in neighbouring countries — a thriving tourist industry based on the annual Serengeti wildebeest migration, the justifiably famous “Cradle of Humankind” in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and one of Africa’s largest surviving remnant populations of wild elephants — Tanzania is also home to endemic corruption on an almost epic scale. Here’s a harsh reality: Where there is corruption on an institutional, national level of governance, China is rarely far behind.

©WWF-UK

©WWF-UK

Kenya, Tanzania’s neighbour, has traditionally taken a radically different approach to wildlife conservation, though, just as Botswana routinely and consistently annoys its neighbours Zimbabwe, South Africa and Namibia with its own, forward-thinking conservation practices. Trophy hunting, for example, is part of the natural order of things in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia; Botswana has banned it outright, despite the loss in potential income and revenue. Big game hunting is de rigueur in Tanzania; Kenya has banned it outright, despite the loss to its economy.

Thanks to its natural bounty, Tanzania has managed to generate income from both hunting and tourism; Kenya, despite being more prone to droughts — much of northern Kenya is semi-arid desert as it is — and despite endemic street crime, a serious terrorist threat and its own share of government corruption, has gone all-in on wildlife tourism, even as it has mounted some of the toughest, most aggressive anti-poaching military campaigns on the entire continent.

©WWF-UK

©WWF-UK

Whistleblowers are key. Without ordinary, everyday citizens finding the courage to report trafficking activity, it’s hard for law enforcement to bringwildlife criminals to justice, let alone put a dent in the Asian crime syndicates.

Lotter, interestingly enough, was closely involved in equipping and training Tanzanian park rangers in how to defend themselves in a firefight and mete out justice of their own — based on the Kenyan model, in other words, instead of looking the other way and pretending nothing happened.

©iAP/Ben Curtis

©iAP/Ben Curtis

This is not simply a case of the great white man telling the black man what to do and how to do it. In Kenya, in Botswana and in the gorilla parks of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), it’s local — black — citizens who are donning automatic rifles and camouflage gear and putting their lives on the line, often for little more than what developed nations would regard as the minimum wage. Once again, as is so often the case in Africa, it is the most impoverished people who are the most incorruptible, and the monied class, often at minister level, who are most inclined to take kickbacks from crime syndicates.

©Ol Pejeta Conservancy

©Ol Pejeta Conservancy

If anything, Kenya is ramping up its anti-trafficking campaign, not scaling it back, despite recent setbacks in Tanzania. Kenya has announced it is about to “significantly” increase the number of specialist prosecutors who prosecute wildlife crime. The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) currently has two full-time prosecutors on call; that number will soon jump to 14. The conservation organization Space for Giants — Space for Giants’ patron is Evgeny Lebedev, owner of the UK Independent newspaper — is underwriting the training and mentoring of the new prosecutors.

©Ol Pejeta Conservancy

©Ol Pejeta Conservancy

KWS acting director general Julius Kimani told The Independent that while Kenya has experienced success in both intelligence and criminal investigations, they recognized there was a gap in the courts.

Lotter understood this. There is an argument to be made — as yet unproven — that this is why he was murdered.

Murdered, yes, but not silenced. It might not look like it now, but Lotter may well have been on the right side of history. As the heavily armed elephant and rhino rangers and a newly invigorated court system in Kenya show, and as the heavily armed gorilla rangers in Rwanda and Congo prove, ordinary, everyday people can and will stare down the international crime syndicates, given the chance, given the moral authority and the knowledge that doing the right thing almost invariably wins out in the end, despite the potential terrible personal cost.

No, Wayne Lotter did not die in vain. Kenya is showing the way. 

http://spaceforgiants.org


A year of living dangerously for nature’s defenders

Even before last month’s murder by unknown gunmen of leading elephant conservationist Wayne Lotter in Dar es Salaam. Tanzania — which ironically enough translates from the Swahili as “Place of Peace” — the world has become a more dangerous place for nature and the people trying to protect it.

In just the past year, according to the non-governmental organization Alliance of Leading Environmental Researchers & Thinkers, or ALERT, more than 200 conservations and wildlife workers from some 24 countries were killed while confronting environmentally destructive development projects. Mining, logging, illegal farming and wildlife poaching are mainly to blame, though old-fashioned human greed is never too far away.

©PAMS Foundation

©PAMS Foundation

In Lotter’s case, his lifelong campaign to protect wild elephants and expose the illegal ivory trade, made him a target. Unlike some of the more prominent wildlife campaigners, he preferred to stay in the shadows, away from the media spotlight — a silent hero. He earned a hard-won reputation as a pragmatist eager to work with local communities in alleviating poverty and show through example the wisdom of conservation over making a fast buck from ivory poaching. He was never going to become a household name. Until now, that is.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that Wayne’s anti-poaching efforts made a big difference in the fight to save Tanzania’s elephants from the illegal ivory trade,” Jane Goodall said, in a public tribute. “His courage in the face of personal threats and his determination to keep on fighting has inspired many, and encouraged them to keep on fighting for wildlife. If this cowardly act was an effort to bring his work to an end, it will fail.”

©PAMS Foundation/Krissie Clark

©PAMS Foundation/Krissie Clark

Famed elephant researcher Iain Douglas-Hamilton, who played a prominent role in writer Peter Matthiessen’s 1960’s classic The Tree Where Man Was Born, credited Lotter with exposing corruption in the highest levels of power in Tanzania.

Lotter made enemies in high places, wealthy people who benefitted for decades from the poaching of illegal ivory in Tanzania. The East African country is home along with Botswana to Africa’s largest surviving population of wild elephants.

“He pursued justice for wildlife with little apparent concern for his own life,” Douglas-Hamilton said. “His loss is a grave blow to the defence of the living planet.”

©Nuria Oretga/African Parks

©Nuria Oretga/African Parks

Lotter, the South African-born co-founder and director of the Tanzania-based, somewhat prosaically named Protected Area Management Solutions (PAMS) Foundation, was one of the subjects of the just-released Netflix documentary The Ivory Game, produced by Leonardo DiCaprio. He was 51. He leaves behind a wife and two young daughters.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/aug/17/leading-elephant-conservationist-ivory-shot-dead-in-tanzania#img-1

East Africa is not the only region in the world beset by violence against conservationists and wildlife workers, despite ongoing armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), home of one of the last remaining strongholds of the critically endangered mountain gorilla.

©Andrew Bruckman/African Parks

©Andrew Bruckman/African Parks

 

Brazil’s Amazon rainforest is the most dangerous place to be a conservationist, with 49 deaths in 2016 alone, according to ALERT. Land theft by wealthy cattle ranchers and speculators is driving the violence there, as evidenced by the 2005 murder of Dorothy Stang, an American-born Catholic nun and active campaigner for indigenous rights. The Amazon is currently under siege from government efforts in Brazil to weaken environmental laws and reduce the size of protected areas, while at the same time looking away from illegal land-grabs.

Despite the murder of Lotter and other, less well-known wildlife campaigners, all is not lost. 

In an impassioned call to action, ALERT director William Laurance urged followers not to lose hope, and cites several “win-wins” that suggest the battle to save the planet is far from over.

©Alliance of Leading Environmental Researchers & Thinkers (ALERT)

©Alliance of Leading Environmental Researchers & Thinkers (ALERT)

 

Campaigns to slow down and in some cases stop altogether the building of dams, roads and highways through ecologically sensitive hot spots in Sumatra, Cambodia, Papua New Guinea and even Tanzania’s own Serengeti National Park have proven surprisingly effective.

The fight is hard, but the battle is not over yet.

 

http://alert-conservation.org/issues-research-highlights/2016/6/28/is-nature-conservation-hopeless?rq=good%20news

http://alert-conservation.org/



©Charlie Hamilton James/National Geographic

©Charlie Hamilton James/National Geographic

©Charlie Hamilton James/National Geographic

©Charlie Hamilton James/National Geographic

©Babi Prokas/African Parks

©Babi Prokas/African Parks

©Charlie Hamilton James/National Geographic

©Charlie Hamilton James/National Geographic

©Japan Times

©Japan Times

©Charlie Hamilton James/National Geographic

©Charlie Hamilton James/National Geographic

©Charlie Hamilton James/National Geographic

©Charlie Hamilton James/National Geographic