‘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.


‘It’s amazing’ — how new NASA time-lapse video shows the Earth breathing.

Time-lapse videos are a dime a dozen these days, or so it seems. It takes a lot for one to stand out.

That’s why NASA’s video, released earlier this week, of how the Earth has changed over the past 20 years, was so stunning. It makes it look almost as though Earth is breathing. The implication is that our home planet is a living being, both beautiful and fragile.

Naturally, climate-science deniers have taken to message boards — on YouTube and elsewhere — accusing NASA of playing to the climate-change crowd, but anyone with a sense of wonder can’t help but be moved by what they see.

NASA scientists created the time-lapse video from data recorded by satellites orbiting the Earth, and shows how life has changed during a time of great social, economic and geopolitical upheaval. The “breathing” effect is caused by repetition of the seasons, as they change throughout each year.

©NASA

©NASA

The colour green represents life on land. Turquoise represents microscopic organisms in the ocean. And white represents winter snows followed by spring thaws. Heat moves around the planet, sea ice grows and shrinks, and vegetation blooms and recedes, changing with the seasons.

That may seem obvious, even to climate-science deniers, but what lends the time-lapse video scientific weight is that it reveals the behaviour of oceans and land simultaneously, over two decades.

“We’ve never had date like this before,” NASA earth scientist Compton Tucker said in a video statement. “Half of all photosynthesis occurs in the oceans, and the other half on land. Having these data to show both at the same time — day after day, month after monthly, year after year, for 20 years — is a great tool to study life on Earth.”

Researchers can both monitor ocean and forest heath, and track conditions in fisheries and agriculture at the same time, to see if there are any connections.

©NASA

©NASA

“You can see greening of the Arctic,” NASA oceanographer Jeremy Werdell added, in a video statement from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “You can see earlier summers, later winters. The view from space has opened our eyes to many different things.”

The project was designed in part to measure the environmental contrasts between El Nino and La Nina, when tropical ocean temperatures in the Pacific shift from being warmer than average to cooler.

Those shifts have far-reaching implications on climate patterns throughout the planet, from severe droughts in California and the Pacific Northwest to more volatile monsoons in South Asia and disruptive rain patterns in food-producing regions as far away as the Horn of Africa.

As with all science, small details play a large role in shaping the big picture. The time-lapse video shows, for example, how phytoplankton growth in the oceans can have a dramatic impact on dry land. The satellites found plankton blooming in ocean regions previously thought to be devoid of life. 

©NASA

©NASA

The Sea-Viewing Wide Field-of-View Sensor (SeaWiFS), as it’s known officially, was launched in 1997, and spent the next decades and more looking down on us from orbit 700 kilometres (about 435 miles) overhead. The satellite’s original purpose was to collect data on the bio-optical properties of the Earth’s land masses and oceans, but it also watched the Blue Planet’s living colours change with the seasons — hence the time-lapse video released for public view.

Past is prologue. For researchers, long-term trends in the past help provide a glimpse of things to come in the near future. Satellite data is used to monitor the health of agricultural crops, rainforests and ocean fisheries around the world, with a mind to hopefully being able to forecast future disasters.

The difference between now and 1997, when the SeaWiFS satellite was launched, is that technology has advanced to the point where sensors can pick up the finer details at wavelengths that can reveal what’s going on at a chemical level. Changes in the light  reflected from plants, for example, can reveal the exact moment when photosynthesis is converting carbon dioxide and water into sugars.

©NASA

©NASA

Climate change isn’t just about receding polar ice caps: The NASA survey has also revealed the expansion of so-called “biological deserts,” uninhabitable regions that have grown markedly in the past two decades.

Meanwhile, green shrubs are expanding their reach into areas once believed to be too cold to sustain life.

“The ability to expand your senses into space,” Werdell said, “compress time; watch visualizations like these; see how the ecosystems of land, sea, atmosphere and ice all interact; and then be able to rewind it and watch it again and again — it’s amazing.”


‘You don’t have to work hard for the beauty:’ Sir David Attenborough on filming ‘Blue Planet II.’

A metre-long worm with dagger-like teeth rising from the coral reef. A cuttlefish hypnotizing its prey by turning itself into an underwater lava lamp. Dead-eyed sharks gorging on spawning grouper fish, like an undersea adaptation of The Walking Dead. Just another night for Blue Planet II — in the U.K., that is.

Blue Planet II won’t bow in Canada and the U.S. until spring, 2018. BBC America won’t be more specific than that, at least for the time being. BBC Earth, the tepid Canadian version at any rate, will follow suit.

Even though it hasn’t aired yet in North America, the David Attenborough-narrated follow-up to 2001’s The Blue Planet is already making waves, so to speak.

©BBC Natural History Unit

©BBC Natural History Unit

And not just in the UK, where the first episode went into the record books as the most watched program of 2017 so far, when it debuted on Oct. 29. 

BBC’s marquee wildlife series was seen by more than 14.1 million viewers the week it aired, according to UK media reports. That’s including repeats, streaming and PVR viewing in the week following the initial broadcast, but still, that’s a telling number.

The UK Daily Mail reported this past weekend that Blue Planet is such a hit in China that it slowed that country’s Internet.

Yes, consider the source — the Daily Mail is the UK intellectual equivalent of the New York Post, but still: Even the idea that Sir David Attenborough, who the Daily Mail described tongue-in-cheek as “the most viewed creature on Earth,” could slow China’s internet service — owing to all those downloads, see — is a conversation starter in itself. Blue Planet II has already had a profound effect, in other words, even if it has yet to air in the land of The Walking Dead and NBC Sunday Night Football.

©BBC Natural History Unit

©BBC Natural History Unit

The world’s oceans — one of planet Earth’s last enduring natural resources — are in serious trouble,  environmentally and climate-wise, and yet they remain home to many of Earth’s most enduring, eye-opening mysteries.

Judging from comments on Weibo, a Chinese social media site modelled after Twitter, Blue Planet is having a profound effect in China, where comments range from, “I watched with my mouth hanging open,” and, “it’s a profound humanistic appeal to protect our environment,” to, “I’ve been crying all the time … it’s just so beautiful.”

Writing in the Guardian this past weekend, media critic Stuart Heritage wrote that BBC’s wildlife sequel has it all — profundity, wonder and trippy visuals. Crucially, he added, it transports viewers to a tranquil place, “untouched by the awfulness above the ocean.”

There’s something more at play, too.

“I can remember with uncharacteristic clarity watching the first episode of The Blue Planet,” Heritage added, “thanks to its context. BBC One broadcast the first episode at 9pm on September 12th, 2001, and it felt . . . necessary. Graphic images of the Twin Towers in flames were on the front of every newspaper. Television schedules were shoved to the wall in favour of rolling news coverage. It was the topic of every conversation, no matter where you went. The anxiety of the moment was suffocating.

©BBC Natural History Unit

©BBC Natural History Unit

“And then the clouds broke. At roughly the same time that most broadcasters were overcooking 9/11 coverage, setting clips of the attack to a Gounod oratorio, BBC One treated us to the most soothing thing imaginable. The Blue Planet, with its whispered narration, gently pulsating light and quiet wub-wub noises, was a screensaver. It was a lava lamp. It was the closest that television had ever got to letting you crawl back into the womb, right at a moment when everyone wanted nothing more than to ball themselves up in a duvet and shut the world out.”

We are living in disquieting times once again, even if these times lack the immediacy and emotional hot button of the 9/11 terror attacks.

Blue Planet II, from what I’ve seen of it so far, is unlike anything else on TV. The second episode —  called, appropriately enough, “The Deep” — ventures to the bottom of the ocean, an area we know less about than we do the surface of Mars, and explores where life may have started.

Hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor — including a vent in the Atlantic Ocean dubbed “The Lost City” — contain as much life as a tropical rainforest. “Something truly extraordinary is taking place,” Attenborough narrates. “Under extremes of pressure and temperatures, hydrocarbons — the molecules that are the basic component of all living things — are being created spontaneously.”

©BBC Natural History Unit

©BBC Natural History Unit

Indeed, Attenborough adds, “many scientists now believe life on Earth may have begun around a vent like this four billion years ago.”

Filming was dangerous — life-threatening, even — on several occasions. In one instance, a  submersible deep dive in Antarctic waters nearly ended in disaster when a leak sprang a less than hour after submerging. Cameraman and producer managed to avert catastrophe by first finding and then plugging the leak with whatever they had at hand.

Then there was the producer who, while swimming in deep waters off South Africa, found himself within arm’s length of a rarely seen species of  octopus, only to be attacked — cameraman and octopus together — by a marauding shark.

Then there gnarly critters like the colourfully named fang tooth fish, which roams the depths, “snapping at anything that moves or glows,” and the sea toad fish, an ocean predator which can transform its fins into feet, like some kind of marine, sub-aquarian superhero villain.

Blue Planet II was four years in the making. It was filmed virtually wherever there are oceans, from Mexico to Japan and New Zealand, with stops at Hornoya Island, Norway; Sipadan, Borneo; Monterey, Calif.; the Sea of Cortez off Mexico; and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef along the way.

©BBC Natural History Unit

©BBC Natural History Unit

 

“The wonder, the knockout quality that you get from the natural world is infinite and never ending,” Attenborough told a gathering of reporters at the semi-annual meeting of the Television Critics Association, in Beverly Hills, Calif., back when his Planet Earth was about to change the way many people look at the world. “When you see something for the first time, you are knocked out. It’s extraordinary. It’s beautiful. It’s wonderful. But when you see it for the second time, you are beginning to understand more about the way (it) works.”

If programs like Blue Planet II have anything more to offer than the original, it has to do both with the increase of scientific knowledge over time and rapid advances in camera technology, Attenborough explained.

“The technology today is amazing. I started in 1954. My first animal, I was then using a clockwork camera, which ran for 90 seconds, and a hundred-foot roll of film, in black-and-white, which we tried to run for two minutes 40 afterwards. You had to change it. We were using lenses that couldn’t give you a closeup of anything beyond about 10 yards away. And, of course, the results were terrible. Thank goodness no one looks at them anymore. But, in 1954, people hadn’t seen giraffes or even heard of giraffes. Even if they were just a herd on the skyline, or a far distance away, people said, ‘Wow, a herd of giraffes, and they are fantastic.  Which, of course, they were. But now, with the increasing complexity and sophistication of the gear we have, we can do anything. We can put a tiny camera down the burrow of an armadillo or in the nest of a bird. We can slow down a hummingbird’s wings so you can see how they move. You can speed up how plants develop. You can film at night. You can film at the bottom of the sea. The range of images you can bring back is simply breathtaking. Year after year, my breath is taken away more and more.”

©BBC Natural History Unit

©BBC Natural History Unit

 

There is more beauty in truth, even if it is a dreadful beauty, John Steinbeck wrote, in East of Eden. Attenborough would agree.

“The beauty is there,” Attenborough said. “You don’t have to work hard for the beauty, really. Ugly is . . . what is ugly? It’s very odd. You can’t say necessarily an amoeba or a trilobite is beautiful or ugly. I happen to think it’s beautiful, but, in fact, that’s what it is, and that’s what you are dealing with. You are dealing with that funny animal with those eyes, multiple eyes, and a tower on either side. Is it beautiful? I think it’s  absolutely knockout, but it’s up to the viewer to make up their own mind whether it’s beautiful or whether it’s ugly.”



Blue Planet ©James Honeyborne:BBC Natural HIstory UNit.png

Dances with cheetahs: Kim Wolhuter films cheetah family on foot for PBS Nature special.

If there’s one thing lifelong conservationist and wildlife filmmaker Kim Wolhuter hopes viewers will take away from Wednesday’s PBS Nature special The Cheetah Children, it’ll be a sense of wonder for what remains of the natural world. Viewers themselves can take solace, too, in knowing that, if only for an hour, the news events of the day will seem faraway. PBS’s Nature — 36 seasons and climbing — has always been one of the more sober, clear-headed, less sensationalist nature programs, but it’s also carved out a hard-earned reputation for family-friendly programming that’s neither maudlin nor condescending.

The Cheetah Children, in which Wolhuter tracked a mother cheetah and her five vulnerable, weeks-old cubs with his camera through the thorn scrub and miombo bush of Zimbabwe’s Malilangwe Wildlife Reserve, has some hard lessons about natural selection and survival of the fittest, but it’s also a window into a world of almost breathtaking beauty. And simplicity.

There are no contrived confrontations between man and beast, no deliberately manipulative scenes designed to play on the audience’s emotions. In the best tradition of PBS Nature documentaries, what the cheetahs see is what you get at home, warts and all. Warthogs, too.

©Kim Wolhuter

©Kim Wolhuter

First, some background. There’s some of this in the program, but The Cheetah Children was never intended to be an informational lecture, or a PSA for saving endangered species per se.

The cheetah is the world’s fastest land animal, capable of sprints of 70 mph over short distances. More impressively, perhaps, the loose-limbed, lightly built cat is built for acceleration — an average adult cheetah can hit 45 mph in two seconds, faster than any Ferrari built by human hands.

It is also in serious trouble, and not just for the usual reasons — habitat destruction, poaching, trophy hunting, illegal wildlife trafficking for the pet trade, and so on. A genetic bottleneck early in the cheetah’s prehistory means that their gene pool today is tenuous at best. Many cheetahs are born with genetic deficiencies — a weak jaw, a lame foot, brittle bones, etc. Any kind of leg injury to an animal built for speed is tantamount to a death sentence.

Nature has compensated, as viewers learn early on in The Cheetah Children. Cheetahs have big litters, because the infant mortality rate is so high. Whereas the stronger, more powerful — and  more genetically successful — leopard has one or two cubs, a cheetah may have as many as 10 or more. 

©Kim Wolhuter

©Kim Wolhuter

Depending on the terrain, and how many rival predators there are in a cheetah’s territory — lions, leopards and hyenas will all kill cheetahs on sight, because nature has conditioned predators to see any competition for food as a rival for their own survival — as few as two cheetah cubs may live to see adulthood, and often not even that.  

Wolhuter took great pains in The Cheetah Children to show that this is a natural process, one more complication in nature’s game of survival. 

Even so, knowing the species is in real danger of extinction in our lifetimes, it’s hard to watch.

Wolhuter, the grown son of one of South Africa’s original park wardens — his father, Henry Wolhuter, was at one time Head Ranger of South Africa’s world-famous Kruger National Park, southern Africa’s equivalent of Yellowstone National Park — grew up wild.

He learned from a young age how to survive on his own in the wilderness, and how to read nature’s signs, good or bad. He learned walk barefoot through thorn scrub, and in so doing learned how to blend into his surroundings and pick up on the small details that can mean the difference between survival and dying. He learned that wild animals can become more accepting of people outside vehicles, once they determine the intruder poses no threat. The result is that today, virtually alone among contemporary wildlife filmmakers, Wolhuter makes nearly all his films on foot. That affords him a rare intimacy into the lives of his live subjects, one rarely captured by other wildlife filmmakers.

©Ki9m Wolhuter

©Ki9m Wolhuter

At a recent meeting of the Television Critics Association in Beverly Hills, Calif. — a world apart from the mopane forests and Zambezi teak trees of Zimbabwe — Wolhuter shared some of his innermost thoughts about living wild and one of his earlier documentaries, the self-explanatory Man, Cheetah, Wild, made at the time for the Discovery Channel. Malilangwe Reserve is in Zimbabwe’s southeastern hinterland, near the Mozambique border and about as far away from Zimbabwe’s tourist-travelled Victoria Falls as it is to get and still be in Zimbabwe.

“There's no special muti, as we call it, or juju,” Wolhuter said. “It's just that I've spent so much time with them. They've got to know me,  and I've got to know them. It's hard portraying myself to them, how I can present myself with complete confidence. They can read that and understand that. They feel it.

“There's never actually been a case where cheetah have killed a person. Of all the predators — lions, leopards, wild dogs, hyenas —  cheetahs are the most timid. They would rather run away from something than confront it. Yes, they do bring down antelope and other game. But those animals are running away from them. I don't run away. I present myself in a respectful manner, but also in a confident manner, and they respect that. We have this incredible relationship, which for me just went beyond anything I could ever imagine.”

©Kim Wolhuter

©Kim Wolhuter

Being on foot makes all the difference in the world to the resulting film.

“What I'm doing takes it to a totally different level. I spend a lot of time with these animals. Their behaviour then becomes totally natural, far more natural than if I was sitting in a jeep. I think it’s just so much more intimate than you're ever going to get sitting in a vehicle. So what we're trying to do with these cheetah is try to get you into their world. I think it’s something that people are going to engage that much more with.”

Wolhuter is not crazy, though. There are certain predators he wouldn’t dare get that close to, no matter how well he knows their  habits or how well he read their emotions.

“Lions. Lions are . . . well, for one, you're not just dealing with one individual. You're dealing with a whole pride. But also, they're just far too big . Lions are incredibly aggressive animals, in that they want to kill anything and everything. Any other predator that steps up, comes anywhere near them, they'll try and kill it.  So, you know, they're . . .

“I'm just not going to do it with lions.”


Meet ‘Pongo tapanuliensis,’ the first new great ape to be identified in nearly 100 years.

The news that a new species of orangutan has been discovered — if “discovered” is quite the right word — is both wondrous and troubling.

Wondrous, because it reminds us that, even in 2017, seeming miracles can and do happen. It’s a reminder of both the resilience of nature and the fallibility of science and humankind, in that such a large mammal — and a primate species at that — can elude detection for so long.

Troubling, though, because yet another creature has been added to the IUCN list of Critically Endangered species, the official designation for animals that are not just in trouble but in serious trouble. Just 800 remain of the Tapanuli orangutan, as it’s being called. Tapanuli is the central rainforest region in Sumatra where those remaining apes cling to life, even as Indonesian developers — legal and illegal — are hidebound determined to burn their forest to the ground, all in the name of palm oil plantations.

©Tim Laman/National Geographic Creative

©Tim Laman/National Geographic Creative

But wait, it gets worse. Acting on the notion that what the world really needs is more hydroelectric power dams, Indonesia is in the process of constructing a monster dam that will finish the job the land developers have started, if they have their way.

Naturally, conservation groups, advocates for nature and assorted NGO’s are scrambling to save the rainforest by any means possible, but as the Amazon Basin has shown, petitions and public protests are no match for armed militias willing to burn, loot and murder to do their paymasters’ bidding. Corrupt politicians and land developers get their way every time, and so the Tapanuli orangutan faces uphill odds, even though it’s only now been identified as a separate species.

What constitutes a specific species, as opposed to a subspecies or distant cousin, is a technical branch of zoology, ably explained by National Geographic’s Jason Goldman in a story posted earlier this week. (https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/11/new-orangutan-species-sumatra-borneo-indonesia-animals/)

©Tim Laman/National Geographic Creative

©Tim Laman/National Geographic Creative

The accompanying photos, by the way — a couple of which appear here — were taken by veteran primate photographer Tim Laman for National Geographic Creative, a digital branch of the National Geographic Society’s tree-of-life. Laman is not new to this: He won last year’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award for his image of an orangutan climbing a tree towards his remote-controlled camera placed high in the sky, the rainforest spreading out below.

Scientists are cautious by nature. They’re not inclined to jump to conclusions until a new find has been subjected to peer review. The “discovery” is not technically new; the orangutans in question where first reported to exist following an expedition into the remote mountain forests of Sumatra in 1997. A research project devoted the intervening years to unlocking the apes’ genetic code, to determine whether or not the species was genetically different from the two species already known to exist, the Sumatran and Bornean orangutan.

©Tim Laman/National Geographic Creative

©Tim Laman/National Geographic Creative

This is unglamorous work, involving long hours of poring over electron microscopes and DNA-testing computers — not like tramping through virgin jungle in person, like a latter-day Professor Challenger in a post-modern update on Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lord World. The discovery is only coming to light now because the study, authored by researchers from University of Zurich and Liverpool John Moores University in the UK, in conjunction with the wildlife NGO Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (https://sumatranorangutan.org), published their work in the latest issue of the scientific journal Current Biology.

If the find is still determined to be true years and decades from now, the Tapanuli orangutan will go down in history as the first new great ape to be identified as such in nearly a century.

In the shorter term, though, the Tapanuli orangutan’s greatest contribution to conservation and the fight to preserve what remains of nature, will be that it has forced the plight of Indonesia’s rainforest — and rainforests in general — into the mainstream media, however briefly, from BBC World News to USA Today, from Radio New Zealand to the Hindustan Times, from The Independent to India Today.

©Tim Laman/National Geographic Creative

©Tim Laman/National Geographic Creative

In this case, all publicity is good publicity, where survival of a species is concerned.

As the study’s co-author, Serge Wich, a professor of primate biology at Liverpool’s John Moores University since 2012, told the BBC: “It’s . . . worrying, to discover something new and then immediately also realize that we have to focus all our efforts before we lose it.”


‘Remembering Rhinos:’ “We simply cannot let extinction happen on our watch.”

By any measure, Remembering Rhinos, a Kickstarter-funded photo book for charity, is an eye-opener. Sixty-five prominent wildlife photographers, including many of the leaders in their respective fields, have donated one of their prized images to the coffee-table book, all in the name of raising funds for rhino conservation.

The Kickstarter campaign, launched earlier this year achieved its initial goal in near-record time. It didn’t stop there, either. Galvanized by public opinion and a growing sense of outrage at what is happening to our planet,  it grew from there, much like a baby rhino that has finally found a safe home in which to grow up in the wild.

Remembering Rhinos will be officially unveiled Wednesday at an evening champagne reception at London’s prestigious — and historic — Royal Geographical Society, a Victorian-era redbrick home tucked behind the Natural History Museum in Kensington. It’s from these very halls that 19th century explorers plotted and mapped early expeditions deep into Africa’s interior. The idea of unveiling a coffee-table book dedicated to saving Africa and Asia’s remaining rhinos at the Royal Geographical Society in the 21st century seems entirely appropriate somehow.

©Remembering Rhinos/Margot Raggett

©Remembering Rhinos/Margot Raggett

Remembering Rhinos is a follow-up to 2016’s successful Remembering Elephants, which raised some USD $200,000 in the war against ivory poaching. Remembering Rhinos is more than that, though. It seems more urgent. More pressing.

The situation facing rhinos in 2017 is desperate. The illegal trade in rhino horn — driven by superstition, ignorance and a thriving black market in emerging economies in Southeast Asia and China — threatens to wipe out one of the planet’s oldest, longest-surviving land mammals, an animal so deeply buried in the human imagination that virtually anyone can recognize a rhino at a brief glance.

©Remembering Rhinos/Mike Muizebelt

©Remembering Rhinos/Mike Muizebelt

The photographers represented in the book include freelance photographers, staffers for some of the world’s leading nature periodicals and international award winners. They may not be household names outside the nature community, but they represent some of the most respected photographers working in the field today — Mike Muizebelt, Steve Winter, Greg du Toit, Frans Lanting, Piper Mckay, James Warwick, David Lloyd, Ayesha Cantor, Jan van der Greef, Will Burrard-Lucas, Marina Cano, Hilary Hann, Remembering Rhinos founder-editor Margo Raggett,  and countless others.

©Remembering Rhinos/Hilary Hann

©Remembering Rhinos/Hilary Hann

“Everyone in the wildlife world is sick to their back teeth of animals being treated like commodities and slaughtered on a daily basis for their horns, tusks or whatever other body part the . . . market in the Far East seems to crave,” Raggett explained, when launching her Kickstarter campaign.

“Our book hit a nerve as a way for photographers and animal lovers to unite and do something positive to stand up to poachers. We don’t want to see these species wiped out in our lifetime.”

The Remembering Rhinos campaign has drawn numerous nigh-profile celebrities, from film actors Michelle Pfeiffer and Russell Crowe to comedian and animal-rights campaigner Ricky Gervais, Mad Men ensemble player Jared Harris and Coldplay frontman Chris Martin. 

©Remembering Rhinos/Margot Raggett

©Remembering Rhinos/Margot Raggett

©Remembering Rhinos/Chris Martin

©Remembering Rhinos/Chris Martin

Virginia McKenna, a lifelong animal-rights campaigner, former model and actor who starred in the 1966 film Born Free, and Will Travers OBE, president of the Born Free Foundation, are closely involved.

©Remembering Rhinos/Virginia McKenna

©Remembering Rhinos/Virginia McKenna

Travers will introduce Wednesday’s reception.

The keynote speaker is Steve Winter, veteran wildlife photographer and lecturer with the National Geographic Society and a former winner of the Natural History Museum’s prestigious Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award. Winter was a nominee again this year, for his sad, haunting image of a captured, caged Sumatran tiger that had just had its hind leg amputated to save its life.

The idea behind Remembering Rhinos was to produce the most beautiful, memorable book about rhinos possible, in the hopes that, decades and centuries from now, photographic images won’t be all future generations have to remember rhinos by.

All proceeds from sales of the book go toward protecting rhinos in Africa and Asia.

©Remembering Rhinos/James Warwick

©Remembering Rhinos/James Warwick

The World Wildlife Fund’s official website (worldwildlife.org) notes that rhinos once roamed freely throughout Eurasia and Africa. They were known to early Europeans, who depicted them in cave paintings, and frequented savannah grasslands and tropical forests throughout Africa and Asia.

Today, very few rhinos survive outside national parks and reserves. Two species of Asian rhinos — the Javan and Sumatran rhinos — are officially classified on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) list of endangered species as Critically Endangered. A subspecies of the Javan rhino was declared extinct in Vietnam in 2011.

Conservation efforts have helped a third Asian species, the greater one-horned (or Indian) rhino, to increase in number, albeit slightly. Their status has been upgraded to Vulnerable from Endangered, but Indian rhinos are still poached for their horns.

©Remembering RhinosAyesha Cantor

©Remembering RhinosAyesha Cantor

In Africa, Southern white rhinos, once thought to be extinct, now thrive in protected sanctuaries and are classified as Near Threatened. A surge in land invasions and poaching raids in the past year by heavily armed crime syndicates in South Africa now threaten even the most protected sanctuaries, however. 

The Northern white rhino subspecies is now believed to be extinct in the wild, and only a few captive individuals remain in a sanctuary in Kenya — also threatened by poaching. 

©Remembering Rhinos/Piper Mckay

©Remembering Rhinos/Piper Mckay

Black rhinos have doubled in number over the past two decades from their low point of fewer than 2,500 individuals in the mid-1990s, but their total numbers are still a tiny fraction of the estimated 100,000 that roamed across Africa’s grasslands in the late 19th century and early part of the 20th century.

“We simply cannot let extinction happen on our watch,” Raggett said simply.

It will take more than a book to prevent that, of course, but every bit helps. Especially when the book is as elegant and hard-to-forget as Remembering Rhinos.


Remembering Rhinos
Wildlife Photographers United
Envisage Books
£45, 144 pages, hardback
978-0-99301-932-6

https://rememberingwildlife.com/remembering-rhinos/


10. screen build1 ©Remembering Rhinos.png
©Remembering Rhinos/Margot Raggett

©Remembering Rhinos/Margot Raggett


An astronaut’s view from space: ‘The earth is a beautiful planet.’

“If you could see the earth illuminated when you were in a place as dark as night,” Galileo wrote in 1632, “it would look to you more splendid than the moon.”

“Never in all their history have men been able to truly conceive of the the world as one,” the American poet Archibald MacLeish, a Boston native, said in his commencement address at Williams College, Williamstown, Mass., in 1942. “A single sphere, a globe, having the qualities of a globe, a round earth in which all directions would eventually meet, in which there is no centre because every point, or none, is centre — an equal earth which all men occupy as equals.”

American astronaut Scott Kelly, who spent a then-record 340 days in space as part  NASA’s proposed “year-long mission to the International Space Station from March 27, 2015 to March 1, 2016, put it more succinctly, if less poetically, in his oft-quoted, “The earth is a beautiful planet.”

Kelly expounds on that thought in his biography  Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery, published just last week — “The space station is a great vantage point to observe and share our planet in pictures . . . It makes you more of an environmentalist.”

©NASA

©NASA

Kelly was relaxed, laid-back and jocular in conversation Friday night with Stephen Colbert in an appearance on CBS’s The Late Show, allowing that a day doesn’t go by that he doesn’t think about being back on the ISS, where planet Earth seems less both fragile and beautiful, and life, politics and the battle for the environment seem less . . . complicated.

“I believe in exploration, and I will miss being on the front lines of that endeavour,” he said at the time. “On one hand, I look forward to going home, but it's something that's been a big part of my life, and I'm going to miss it.”

3  screen shot 2.jpg

There was more where that came from.

“When you look at the... atmosphere on the limb of the Earth, I wouldn't say it looks unhealthy, but it definitely looks very, very fragile and just kind of like this thin film, so it looks like something that we definitely need to take care of. . . 

“The thing I like most about flying in space is not the view. The thing I like about it is doing something I feel very, very strongly about.”

©NASA/Scott Kelly

©NASA/Scott Kelly

And this: “There are parts of the Earth that are covered with pollution all the time. I saw weather that was unexpected. Storms bigger than we've seen in the past. This is a human effect. This is not a natural phenomenon.”

And this: “There are . . . parts of Asia, Central America that, when you look at them from space, you're always looking through a haze of pollution. As far as the atmosphere is concerned, and being able to see the surface, you know, I would say definitely those areas that I mentioned look kind of sick.”

Screen Shot 2017-10-28 at 11.01.47 AM.png

“A year is a long time to live without the human contact of loved ones, fresh air, and gravity, to name a few.”

This, too, shall pass.

The first thing Kelly did, when he got home — as in literally home, his own house — Kelly told Colbert was jump in the swimming pool. For all the things the International Space Station offers, from spectacular  sunrises to a new perspective on our home world, it’s impossible to take a shower. Kelly simply wanted the feel of water on his body, he told Colbert. It’s always the simple things.  

The complete interview:


'A cat is more intelligent than people believe,' and other just-so stories.

Mark Twain liked cats more than people, Smithsonian reported the other day.

This is old news — Twain’s lifelong affinity for cats is not a new revelation — but just because it’s old news doesn’t make it old. Twain had a way with words, after all, and there’s never a bad time to revisit Twain’s writings and sayings.

Twain is reputed to have made a home for as many as 19 cats at a time, according to Livius Drusus in Mental Floss, “all of whom he loved and respected far beyond whatever he may have felt about people.”

Screen Shot 2017-10-23 at 1.23.43 PM.png

He gave them colourful names, too: Blatherskite, Apollinaris, Satan, Tammany, Soapy Sal, Beelzebub, Zoroaster, Sin, Buffalo Bill, Sour Mash, and that old reliable, Satan (presumably a black). The naming of cats can be a difficult matter, as T.S. Eliot can attest. It isn’t just one of your holiday games.

Screen Shot 2017-10-23 at 1.22.56 PM.png

Twain was hardly an outlier in the literary community, where his affection for cats was concerned. Ernest Hemingway, Patricia Highsmith and T.S. Eliot all suffered a touch of the old ailurophiles — a highfalutin’ word for “love of cats” — and several notable authors of the day incorporated cats in their fiction. Hemingway devotes an entire chapter to cats in his posthumous Bimini-set novel Islands in the Stream.

Twain’s most famous — or perhaps that should be infamous — was arguably Bambino, a cat originally owned by his daughter Clara. Twain famously posted a cash reward in the New York American for the return of Bambino, after the irascible but loveable critter vanished one morning “Large and intensely black; thick, velvety fur; has a faint fringe of white hair across his chest; not easy to find in ordinary light.” Bambino eventually found his way home on his own — so like a cat — but not before several persons of marginal scruples and loose morals turned up at Twain’s doorstep, proffering cats that matched the description in his notice.

“Some people scorn a cat and think it not an essential; but the Clemens tribe are not of these,” the artist formerly known as Samuel Clemens was quoted as saying in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Screen Shot 2017-10-23 at 1.23.16 PM.png

“The person that had took a bull by the tail once had learnt sixty or seventy times as much as a person that hadn't, and said a person that started in to carry a cat home by the tail was getting knowledge that was always going to be useful to him, and warn't ever going to grow dim or doubtful,” Twain noted in Tom Sawyer Abroad.

“You may say a cat uses good grammar. Well, a cat does — but you let a cat get excited once; you let a cat get to pulling fur with another cat on a shed, nights, and you'll hear grammar that will give you the lockjaw. Ignorant people think it's the noise which fighting cats make that is so aggravating, but it ain't so; it's the sickening grammar they use,” Twain wrote in A Tramp Abroad.

“A cat is more intelligent than people believe, and can be taught any crime,” he wrote in Notebook, in 1895.

There were longer passages, too, as told to himself in Autobiography of Mark Twain:

“I had a great admiration for Sour Mash, and a great affection for her, too. . . . She had an abundance of that noble quality which all cats possess, and which neither man nor any other animal possesses in any considerable degree — independence. Also, she was affectionate, she was loyal, she was plucky, she was enterprising, she was just to her friends and unjust to her enemies — and she was righteously entitled to the high compliment which so often fell from the lips of John T. Lewis — reluctantly, and as by compulsion, but all the more precious for that: 

Screen Shot 2017-10-24 at 3.58.38 PM.png

‘Other Christians is always worrying about other people's opinions, but Sour Mash don't give a damn.’

Indeed, she was just that independent of criticism, and I think it was her supreme grace. In her industries she was remarkable. She was always busy. If she wasn't exterminating grasshoppers she was exterminating snakes — for no snake had any terrors for her. When she wasn't catching mice she was catching birds. She was untiring in her energies. Every waking moment was precious to her; in it she would find something useful to do — and if she ran out of material and couldn't find anything else to do she would have kittens. She always kept us supplied, and her families were of choice quality. She herself was a three-colored tortoise- shell, but she had no prejudices of breed, creed, or caste. She furnished us all kinds, all colors, with that impartiality which was so fine a part of her make. She allowed no dogs on the premises except those that belonged there. Visitors who brought their dogs along always had an opportunity to regret it. She hadn't two plans for receiving a dog guest, but only one. She didn't wait for the formality of an introduction to any dog, but promptly jumped on his back and rode him all over the farm. By my help she would send out cards, next day, and invite that dog to a garden party, but she never got an acceptance. The dog that had enjoyed her hospitalities once was willing to stand pat.“

Mark Twain Bambino&MrTwain.jpg

And this, from A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court:

“I urged that kings were dangerous. He said, ‘Then have cats.’ He was sure that a royal family of cats would answer every purpose. They would be as useful as any other royal family, they would know as much, they would have the same virtues and the same treacheries, the same disposition to get up shindies with other royal cats, they would be laughably vain and absurd and never know it, they would be wholly inexpensive and finally, they would have as sound a divine right as any other royal house. . . 

“The worship of royalty being founded in unreason, these graceful and harmless cats would easily become as sacred as any other royalties, and indeed more so, because it would presently be noticed that they hanged nobody, beheaded nobody, imprisoned nobody, inflicted no cruelties or injustices of any sort, and so must be worthy of a deeper love and reverence than the customary human king, and would certainly get it.”

And finally this, from Notebook, in 1894, and as good a note as any to end on:

“Of all God's creatures there is only one that cannot be made the slave of the lash. That one is the cat. If man could be crossed with the cat it would improve man, but it would deteriorate the cat.”

Alrighty, then.


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

 


Doors opening a new window onto the world of fine art photography.

Doors open a window onto the world. From the back alleys of Zanzibar — subject of a new book I’m working on — to the blue-tinted ancestral homes of Chefchaouen in Morocco’s Rif Mountains, and in all the inhabited places in-between, doors are both a personal expression of one’s own home and a historical record of local ancestry and culture writ large.

©Chefchaouen-Hamam/Tom Keene, Wiki Commons

©Chefchaouen-Hamam/Tom Keene, Wiki Commons

They’re also creative inspiration for a new wave of portrait painters and fine-art photographers, as represented by the emerging South Asian artist K.R. Santhana Krishnan.

Krishnan, from the town of Kumbakonam in India’s Tamil Nadu state, has painted more than 800 doors in just the past 18 years. He takes inspiration from the ancestral homes right outside his doorstep: His grandparents’ house boasted some 82 doors.

As with many fine-art photographers with an eye for detail in the seemingly mundane rituals of day-to-day life, Krishnan sees his painted doors as a way of bringing back memories from a simpler, more earthbound past, when brass, copper and wood were preferred over glass, steel and concrete as building materials.

In a recent profile for The Atlantic’s online magazine Quartz, Krishnan said that even something as simple as a bicycle can catch the artist’s eye, if the artist is willing to look beyond the obvious. Even a selfie with an antique bicycle can be art to the keen eye.

Krishnan’s work, and that of other South Asian artists, is enjoying a new life, thanks to advances in online technology that make it possible to display local artworks to the global village at the click of a button. 

After all, Krishnan has said, what says more about who we are as a people than our ancestral homes. And what reflects our ancestral homes more than the door we first have to walk through to see what’s inside. “Only when the everything is in place does the door open.”

http://www.asianartgallery.org/artists/k-r-santhana-krishnan/



©K.R. Santhana Krishnan

©K.R. Santhana Krishnan

©K.R. Santhana Krishnan

©K.R. Santhana Krishnan

©K.R. Santhana Krishnan

©K.R. Santhana Krishnan

©K.R. Santhana Krishnan

©K.R. Santhana Krishnan

©K.R. Santhana Krishnan

©K.R. Santhana Krishnan

©K.R. Santhana Krishnan

©K.R. Santhana Krishnan

A bolshie speaks! Save the planet first, then save the elephants.

Yes, yes, environment writer Lucy Siegle wrote this past weekend in the Sunday Observer: It’s all very chic to save the elephant — or the rhino or cheetah, for that matter — but what about the world?

In a heartfelt essay, Siegle singled out the likes of UK environment minister Michael Gove and Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge — the créme de la créme of the chattering classes — as being little more than dilettantes, figurehead conservationists drawn to high-profile campaigns to save icon species like so many moths to the flame. 

©Adnan Abidi/AP

©Adnan Abidi/AP

Siegle admitted her stance will get her disinvited to any number of black-tie environmental soirées — no canapés at the Natural History Museum for you! — but the real world of conservation, she argued, is gritty, grimy and decidedly unglamourous.

It didn’t help the optics that last week’s announcement that Britain’s Conservative government is widening its ivory ban to include ivory carvings made prior to 1947 — dropped from the Tories’ recent election manifesto — kicked off a weekend of elephant celebrations that included “a copcktail and canapé send-off for a fleet of 50 Gujarati Chagda bikes under the Travels to My Elephant initiative, attended by the Duchess of Cambridge, and the Warrior Games promising (retired) Maasai spears and Maasai photographs taken by Jack Brockway (Richard Branson’s nephew) in the company of HRH Eugenie.”

Bolshie! Satisfying as it may be, though, to see the upper classes brought down a peg or two, there’s a sober point here. Framing the ecological debate through a single species can seem myopic when the future of the entire planet is at stake. Scientists warnthat we have already triggered the sixth great mass extinction. This one is different, too, because it’s the first mass extinction of our own making. There’s not much point in saving the elephant if there are no savannahs left in Africa or Asia for them to roam.

©Biplab Hazra-Nature InFocus

©Biplab Hazra-Nature InFocus

There’s more to saving the orangutan, in other words, than throwing a black-tie soirée or sponsoring a 10K run through the smog-choked streets of London. Environmental activism is messy, grubby and often nasty. 

“If your gateway to environmentalism is saving a big beast, great,” Siegle argued in the Sunday Observer. “But (your) next move needs to be switching your bank account so that your money is no longer funding the destroyers of Sumatran forests for palm oil.”

Whenever a nob, a royal or another standing member of posh society lectures the unwashed on the merits of saving elephants, or whatever the icon species-of-the-moment happens to be, Siegle says that, to her, the great unspoken question — the elephant in the room, if you will — is: “When did your family stop hunting big game and decide to save it?’

Bolshie! Sometimes, though, even bolshies have a point.

 

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/07/it-is-chic-to-save-the-elephant-but-what-about-the-world

©Hilary O'Leary/Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year

©Hilary O'Leary/Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year


Ivory ban: World’s largest exporter of legal ivory is shutting down the trade.

Finally. The UK government has bowed to pressure from wildlife campaigners and will ban the sale of ivory, regardless of its age.

At least, that was the word this past Friday, after acting UK environment secretary Michael Gove — of all people — put forward a ban on the sales of all items carved from ivory, including those carved before 1947.

That’s key because, while the international trade in ivory had been illegal since 1990, a loophole in UK law permitted trade in ivory “antiques,” loosely defined as an ivory item carved before 1947. A further loophole — a loophole inside the loophole, if you will — permitted ivory “worked before 1990,” provided those items were accompanied by government certificates.

©Jim Panou/Panimages

©Jim Panou/Panimages

Given that government corruption is a driving force behind the illegal wildlife trade in many of the developing countries where elephants are trafficked for their tusks by international crime syndicates, the UK loophole was the very definition of hypocrisy. Why should UK government officials be allowed to sign off on supposedly “antique” ivory, but not government officials in, say, Tanzania or Namibia?

The UK is, or rather was, the world’s largest exporter of legal ivory —  I did not know that until this past week — and cutting off the trade will in theory help slow down the illegal trade in ivory by international crime syndicates.

©NBC News

©NBC News

Despite recent wins by wildlife campaigners — China and the U.S. have both resolved to scale back trade in ivory, if not eliminate it entirely — poaching continues to be a serious problem. More than 50 elephants are killed by poachers every day. A 2016 elephant census across Africa, funded in part by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, showed that the continent lost a third of its remaining wild elephant in just the 10 years prior to 2016.

If anything, poaching has only increased over the past year, exacerbated by a sudden, unwelcome surge in the poaching of rhinos for their horns. Considering the gestation period for an elephant is two years, and elephants only give birth to one baby at a time, it doesn’t take an advanced degree in mathematics to see how see where an already dwindling population of wild elephants could be heading.

The ruling Conservative government was believed to be disinterested in widening the UK ban; the Tories removed a pledge on ivory from their 2017 election manifesto in June, even though it had been included in the party’s 2015 election manifesto.

©BBC News

©BBC News

Celebrity campaigners from Prince William to Jane Goodall, Stephen Hawking and Ricky Gervais mounted a vocal protest that found favour with ordinary, everyday voters fed up with what they perceive to be wanton greed — the rich getting richer — with utter disregard for the wellbeing of the planet.

Of course, bans are one thing; discouraging demand and eliminating the market entirely is another.

“The unprecedented crisis we face – with Africa’s natural heritage being destroyed and communities put at risk due to poaching by illegal armed gangs – will only stop when people stop buying ivory,” Stop Ivory’s John Stephenson told the media Friday.

Even so, Stephenson said he was gratified by the government’s “important step,” and looks forward to seeing the ban implemented and enforced “without delay.”

©Jakarta Post

©Jakarta Post

Other NGOs caution that the road ahead is not entirely clear, either for elephants or any other endangered animals trafficked for profit.

World Wildlife Fund CEO Tanya Steele warned that the scale of the problem is vast, and promises need to be back up with action.

“The illegal trade involving organized criminals is a global problem requiring global solutions,” Steele told reporters. “To end it anywhere means ending it everywhere. This is about more than banning ivory sales in one country. It means working with leaders and communities around the world, particularly in China and Southeast Asia.”

While China has appeared to have turned a corner, for example, and to a lesser extent Vietnam, Laos has suddenly become the new frontier in the wild west of illegal wildlife trafficking.

©Reuters/Al Jazeera

©Reuters/Al Jazeera

In the meantime, carefully staged photo ops in developing countries like Kenya — twice in four years, now — have seen governments burn stockpiles of elephant tusks, to show the world that they value their remaining living elephants, and the tourist revenue they bring, over selling ivory on the black market and getting rich at the expense of future generations.

The ivory burns, dismissed by some as a cheap publicity gimmick — even though, given the value of the ivory involved, they can hardly be said to have been inexpensive — clearly had an effect on public opinion in the media-savvy West. 

©Africa Geographic

©Africa Geographic

The UK Tory government didn’t widen the ivory ban because they wanted to, but because ordinary, everyday people shamed them into doing it, and not just because of the Duke of Cambridge and Stephen Hawking.

Yes, the UK is just one country, but wins in wildlife conservation have to be taken as they come, day by day, and at a time.


©African Parks/AFP

©African Parks/AFP


First Hubble, and now James Webb: Boldly looking where no telescope has looked before.

The earliest science-fiction writers talked about “sense of wonder” as the creative instinct driving fictional exploration of the stars, in short stories, novels and, eventually, TV scripts and screenplays.

In later years, science-fiction writers turned to acronyms like “GAFIA” — getting away from it all — as one of the reasons readers of all kinds are drawn to science fiction in troubled times, science fiction in the Utopian sense of space exploration, and not necessarily the dystopian novels of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley, and their philosophical successors J.G. Ballard and Philip K. Dick.

This is all very instructive now because, in a year that in many respects marks a low point for humanity, remarkable things have been happening in the worlds of outer space, living reminders that planet Earth is just one tiny speck in a very large universe.

It wasn’t just last month’s 50th anniversary of the Voyager spacecraft or NASA’s Cassini mission to explore Saturn’s rings and Jupiter’s moons, but recent revelations — just in the past few weeks — of the Hubble Space Telescope.

©NASA-Hubble

©NASA-Hubble

Hubble was launched into low Earth orbit in 1990, and remains in operation, despite a — literally — shaky early start. Hubble is the only telescope to be examined and repaired by astronauts in space, five times so far, in shuttle missions. That’s one reason it has managed to continue boldly looking where no telescope has looked before.

As it is, the past weeks’ discoveries are only a prelude of sorts for science’s next space mission, the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for launch in the spring of 2019. (The “Next Generation Space Telescope,” as the James Webb telescope is sometimes called, is a joint mission of NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and the Baltimore, Maryland based Space Telescope Science Institute (STSi), and will be launched into space by a European Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana in South America.)

©ESA-James Webb Space Telescope

©ESA-James Webb Space Telescope

That is then, though; this is now.

After 27 years in space, the Hubble Space Telescope is still sending back some of the most beautiful and revealing images from across the universe.

When we look up at the night sky, we’re getting a mere glimpse of what’s out there. There are countless — almost literally countless — galaxies humankind never knew existed, except in the imagination of science-fiction writers. Until Hubble, that is.

“I believe Hubble has been the single most transformative scientific instrument that we’ve ever built,” NASA astrophysicist Amber Straughn told 60 Minutes’ Bill Whitaker this past Sunday.

Transformative, she said, because Hubble keeps improving our understanding of the universe. 

©CBS News-60 Minutes

©CBS News-60 Minutes

We look at the night sky, and in patches we see nothing but darkness.

“And then, when we look at it with Hubble,” Straughn said, “what we see is thousands of galaxies.”

Not stars. Galaxies.

That was 22 years ago. Since then, Hubble has stared deeper and longer into space with enhanced technology. One recent image revealed more than 10,000 galaxies, in which every single point of light represents an individual galaxy, in Straughn’s words, “its own little island universe.”

©NASA-Hubble

©NASA-Hubble

What Hubble has taught us is that the universe is filled with hundreds of billions of other galaxies. The most recent results tell us there could be more than two trillion in all, 10 times more than previously thought. Typical galaxies, like our own Milky Way, are home to 100 billion stars.

In more earthbound terms, according to the Nobel Prize winning astrophysicist Adam Riess, there are more stars in the visible universe than there are grains of sand on every beach on Earth taken together. Hubble has changed what we know about the universe, its structure, its age (3.8 billion years, give or take) and its evolution, from early origins to black holes and supernova explosions — quite literally, death stars.

©NASA-Hubble

©NASA-Hubble

In more earthbound terms, according to the Nobel Prize winning astrophysicist Adam Riess, there are more stars in the visible universe than there are grains of sand on every beach on Earth taken together. Hubble has changed what we know about the universe, its structure, its age (3.8 billion years, give or take) and its evolution, from early origins to black holes and supernova explosions — quite literally, death stars.

“Yes,” Straughn told 60 Minutes. “Space is big.”

One of the many remarkable things about Hubble’s findings is that it shows how colourful the universe is.

“Big stars, when they die, they explode and send their contents into the surrounding universe,” Straughn said. “And these contents are what seed future stars and future planets and help to seed life, ultimately. The iron in your blood and the calcium in your bones was literally forged inside of a star that ended its life like this. We literally are stardust. We are viscerally made of the stars.”

That’s a striking image. And its images like that which make today’s news events pale in comparison.


How ‘One Little Elephant’ will change your life, if only for an hour.

“Naledi” is the Setswana word for ‘star,’ but it doesn’t end there. Naledi is also the name of a 90-minute documentary about efforts to revive a sickly, wild elephant that was found orphaned and near death in a private wilderness reserve in Botswana, Africa’s most forward-thinking wildlife country and home to one of the last bastions of wild elephants on the planet. 

Naledi: An Elephant’s Tale, made in 2016, followed a European documentary film crew as they tagged along with wildlife rangers who made a timely intervention, to see if they could nurture the starving, emaciated month-old baby back to health. The subsequent film caused a stir on Netflix, which has pursued an active program of award-winning documentaries of late. Naledi: A Baby Elephant’s Tale proved to be a crossover hit for Netflix, popular with both an adult audience jazzed by timely, topical, hard-hitting documentaries and the family audience that typically gravitates toward warm-hearted programs about cute animals.

©Netflix

©Netflix

Now, PBS’s venerable film showcase Nature has chosen a trimmed-down, 55-minute version of Naledi to open its new season (PBS, Wednesday at 8ET/PT; check local listings).

Please don’t think the edited version is a simple retread, though. Retitled Naledi: One Little Elephant, the shorter version is a tight, lean, skillfully made film in its own right. Much of the back story is hinted at, but not explained. There is no narration. Game rangers, conservationists and surrogate elephant parents tell a chronological story in their own, often revealing words; no narration is needed. 

The cinematography is clean and crisp, and at times breathtakingly beautiful. Naledi doesn’t look or sound like your typical TV program made on the cheap and on the fly. There are moments when the photography takes on an almost Game of Thrones-like feel. The music, composed specifically for the film by the feature-film composer Nick Urata, is gorgeous. 

That’s a tell right there, because there’s a trend in TV documentaries of late to hire online music charnel houses that stitch together pre-recorded music cues, selected by computer programs and mashed together to form some kind of fetid, ghastly pastiche of aural wallpaper — white noise.

©Abu Camp Botswana/Dr. Mike Chase

©Abu Camp Botswana/Dr. Mike Chase

Naledi is not that program.

The music was composed by a living, breathing human being, not an AI program.

Urata founded the Denver-based underground band DeVotchKa in 2007 and was Grammy-nominated for the film score of the Oscar-winning Little Miss Sunshine. More recently, Urata composed the title music for Netflix’s Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, with Neil Patrick Harris.

Naledi: One Little Elephant is not your typical TV fare, in other words. It comes in at the high end of the nature program scale, and it’s easy to see why veteran Nature executive produce Fred Kaufman chose it to open the program’s 36th season.

This is just background, of course. The important thing to know — both from a conservation point of view and for an evening’s relief from the day’s news headlines — is that this is a moving, true-life story that will entertain the kids while at the same time engaging the adults in the family.

©Kate Bradbury

©Kate Bradbury

Raising orphaned baby elephants in captivity and then reintegrating them into the wild is never easy.

Thanks to the remarkable work being done on a daily basis now by the Nairobi-based David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, home of the famous — thanks to a classic 60 Minutes segment that went viral — elephant orphanage run by Sheldrick’s widow, Dame Daphne Sheldrick. Raising a baby elephant is not like raising a calf or steer; Sheldrick toiled for years before finally hitting on a baby-milk formula that orphan elephants would both accept and draw sustenance from.

©Daphne Shedrick

©Daphne Shedrick

What makes Naledi so compelling is that an elephant never forgets. Or, more accurately — and more importantly for an audience-friendly TV program — an elephant never forgets a person’s face. Sheldrick herself has been recognized by elephants released back into the wild after 20 years or more.

It helps that Naledi’s story is compelling, of course. It helps, too, that there’s a message — implied, but not shoved in your face — about the crisis facing today’s fast-disappearing population of elephants. The last large-scale elephant census, taken in 2016, found that Africa had lost a third of its remaining elephant population in just the 10 years prior.

As of this moment in time, China and the U.S. have closed their ivory markets — officially, anyway — but poaching is still a problem. Illegal ivory is still readily available throughout China, the Far East and Southeast Asia. 

©Wilderness Safaris

©Wilderness Safaris

Naledi was backed by Paul Allen — the other guy behind Microsoft — and his conservation foundation. Allen, now a full-time philanthropist living in Seattle, was oneof the backers of the 2016 elephant census.

Naledi was made by veteran BBC and National Geographic filmmaker Ben Bowie, alongside Amsterdam-based filmmaker Geoff Luck, also an alumnus of National Geographic and PBS.

The program’s resident wildlife expert is Dr. Mike Chase, founder of Elephants Without Borders. Chasehas been working out of a research station in Botswana’s Okavango Delta for the past 15 years.

©Dr. Mike Chase

©Dr. Mike Chase

Naledi is not a cheapo wildlife doc, in other words. It’s a proper film, in both its shortened Nature version and in the Netflix original.

More importantly, perhaps, for these troubled times, it will lift your spirits, if only temporarily. PBS Nature is back, and not a moment too soon.


Rhino horn auction is pointless, animal rights groups say.

If there were a one-off sale of illegal drugs, would it kill the drug trade?

It’s not an entirely pointless question.

That exact reasoning — take something that’s illegal and make it temporarily legal, to satisfy demand and discourage black marketeers — was the excuse/aim/purpose/rationalization/justification, whatever you care to call it, behind a one-off auction of rhino horn last month in South Africa.

This was not a government auction, though the South African government sanctioned it, albeit begrudgingly. At first.

The auction was organized by a private rhino rancher in South Africa, John Hume. He took the government to court — at the time, South Africa was insisting that wildlife laws and international trade agreements be honoured — and won the right to sell 265 rhino horns, weighing about 500 kg. Hume owns and has bred more than 1,100 rhinos, according to published reports.

©Mario Moreno/Africa Foundation

©Mario Moreno/Africa Foundation

The absurd price of rhino horn — USD $100,000 per kilogram on the black market, more than the price of platinum — is driven by demand in, guess where, Asia. Ten years ago, rhino poaching had been virtually eliminated. Since 2013, an average of 1,000 rhinos have been poached each and every year, with a dramatic spike in the past 24 months, especially in South Africa, home to the world’s largest surviving population of rhinos, both captive and wild.

With World Rhino Day having passed a week ago and World Animal Day just around the corner (Oct. 4), the issue of rhino poaching is once again part of the public conversation.

It’s too early to judge what effect, if any, the auction had. Rhino poaching was already out of control — it has been for the past two years — and if the sudden accessibility of “legitimate” rhino horn on the market is going to stem the illegal trade, it will take weeks if not months to register.

Conservationists meanwhile argue the sudden availability of rhino horn will only boost the market, not discourage it, as the auction’s promoters insist.

©Heidi Venter/Africa Geographic

©Heidi Venter/Africa Geographic

It’s not an isolated, one-off debate. Many governments in southern Africa — Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique, Botswana, Malawi, Zambia and South Africa itself — are sitting on stores ofvaluable ivory in the form of elephant tusks. Southern African governments — with the notable exception of Botswana — have called for one-off legal sales of ivory, to fund conservation programs.

In East Africa the issue has divided Kenya, the mosthigh-profile and successful tourist destination of Africa’s wildlife countries, where trophy hunting has been banned across the board, and Tanzania, home to East Africa’s largest population of wild elephants — by far — and a vocal supporter of trophy hunting.

The international trade in both ivory and rhino horn has been banned, thanks to an agreement by the member states of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a kind of United Nations of countries with indigenous wildlife — virtually every country on the planet.

©Federico Veronesi/Remembering Rhinos

©Federico Veronesi/Remembering Rhinos

To get technical about it — and while no one likes to be snarled in legal verbiage and technical jargon, it’s good to know — rhinos are listed on Appendix 1 of the CITES index, which means horns cannot be legally taken out of South Africa into any signatory CITES state. The auction, in other words, was only applicable to buyers in South Africa, as the South African court’s jurisdiction only applies to its home country. (Yes, that might seem to be obvious, but the obvious has a way of being obscured whenever large sums of money are involved.

The international ban in trade of ivory and rhino horn has led to a flourishing black market. Until the issue of demand is addressed — do the Chinese really need ivory trinkets and powdered rhino horn? — the black market will always thrive. Law enforcement can only do so much.

And when crazy ideas enter into the equation — the widespread belief, for example, that powdered rhino horn cures cancer and enhances one’s sex life — solving the problem becomes that much more difficult. “I think, therefore I am” becomes “I believe, therefore I’m right.”

©Hilary O’Leary/Natural History Museum

©Hilary O’Leary/Natural History Museum

Conservationists argue, however, that legal auctions have the opposite effect: The result of one-off legal sales creates an explosion in demand, as what was once forbidden is now legally available. Those involved in the enforcement of wildlife laws also argue — plausibly, it would seem to me — that it becomes almost impossible to tell the difference between “legal” ivory (or rhino horn) and that which has been illegally poached. Tanzania, which has lobbied hard for the legal sale of its stored elephant tusks — to fund conservation efforts, they say, though detractors argue that cash earmarked for conservation has a funny way of disappearing before it’s used for its stated, intended purposes — etches serial numbers into its elephant tusks, serial numbers that can be modified or scratched off entirely.

Interestingly, in an effort to save a critically endangered species, hundreds of rhinos have been imported to Australia, with its similar climate, though that will not dissuade the international crime syndicates if they’re motivated enough and the population in Africa crashes.

©Paula Kahumbu/Wildlife Direct

©Paula Kahumbu/Wildlife Direct

Rhino ranchers argue that, instead of killing wild rhinos, as poachers do, they can harvest the horn from living rhinos, as with livestock. Each rhino’s horn is trimmed, like wool sheared from a sheep, and the pieces are stored, in expectation of a future sale.

The real irony, of course, is that the market for rhino horn in South Africa itself — and other countries — is negligible, if not nonexistent.  As a general rule, Africans do not believe that rhino horn, ground up and sprinkled in a glass of water, cures headaches, hangovers and high blood pressure, let alone cancer.

As Paula Kahumbu, CEO and director of the animal-rights advocacy and conservation group Wildlife Direct wrote last month in an op-ed piece for theGuardian newspaper, you can kill all the rhinos you want, but people will still die from cancer.


Monkey see, monkey sue — and settles out of court.

Remember that selfie of the grinning monkey that sparked a three-year court fight?

Well, it’s over — pending appeal, that is. 

PETA took wildlife photographer David Slater to court in 2014, on behalf of an Indonesian crested macaque named Naruto. A selfie photo of a grimacing Naruto went viral in 2011 and became a talking point from Indiana to Indonesia.

PETA argued before San Francisco’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal that Naruto is the legal copyright holder — since he took the photo — and as such is entitled to any proceeds Slater made from future transactions.

©David Slater. Or Naruto the monkey. Not sure which.

©David Slater. Or Naruto the monkey. Not sure which.

 

Given Slater’s court costs — he’s a self-employed nature photographer, after all, not a Wall Street banker — that was never going to amount to much.

As it is, Slater told everyone from the BBC to the Daily Telegraph that the case has driven him to the brink of bankruptcy, even though, to most eyes, the case is bafffling, not to mention bananas.

PETA has argued that, under US copyright law, the person who takes a picture is the copyright owner, even if, as happened in this case, Slater who flew to Indonesia, provided the camera and set up the shot. Slater later included the resulting image in a book of his wildlife pictures, published by Blurb Inc.

02 monkeygenderfeat-800x420.jpg

 

Not wanting to leave anyone out of the frame, PETA also named Blurb as a defendant in its suit.

Now, word comes that the two parties have agreed to a settlement, one they both profess to be being happy about but will likely please no one, least of all the monkey.

Ironically — though not surprisingly — the photo in question is appearing all over again, all over the world, from Indiana to Indonesia, even though neither PETA nor Slater stand to get rich from the notoriety. One online publication has credited the infamous photo as, “Copyright David Slater. Or Naruto the monkey. Not sure which.”

Slater, 52, is from South Wales. And if you’re wondering why a San Francisco court got involved in a case involving a macaque from Indonesia and a photographer from the UK, well, you’re not alone. US copyright law extends the world over, evidently.

“It is absurd that a monkey can sue for copyright infringement in court,” Angela Dunning, Slater’s co-counsel and in-house attorney for Blurb, told the appeals court in July.

“Naruto can’t benefit financially from his work,” Dunning added. “He is a monkey.”

 

Court judge Carlos Bea asked at the outset why the case shouldn’t be tossed, on principle. He asked if anyone, inside or outside the courtroom, can point to any case law which specifically states thatman and monkey are equal in the eyes of the law.

Bea also wondered aloud whether PETA had “sufficient relationship” with Naruto to represent themselves in the legal capacity of “next friend.”

With friends like this, who needs enemies, the dispassionate observer might well ask.

The monkey business came to an end Friday when PETA gave up its appeal, as dutifully reported by the insider website law.com.

Details of the settlement were announced Monday, though not in full.

There was no mention of court costs, for example, or attorney fees, which the near-bankrupt Slater hoped to recover.

Instead, the two parties issued a joint statement, in which PETA and Slater agreed that the case raises “important, cutting-edge issues about expanding legal rights for non-human animals.”

Slater insisted from the beginning that he wants his wildlife photos to highlight the plight of endangered species around the world. 

As part of the settlement, then Slater agreed to pay 25 percent of future gross revenues from the monkey selfies to a range of non-governmental organizations dedicated to preserving the macaque’s natural habitat in Indonesia.

It’s hard to judge whether any legal precedent was set by a court case that captured the imagination of headline writers the world over.

In the end, the two parties couldn’t even agree on what gender the monkey was. Or is.

PETA claimed Naruto is a female well-known to park custodians in that region of Indonesia; Slater argued it’s a different monkey altogether, and a male at that.

For the record, court documents referred to Naruto throughout the trial as a male.

Meanwhile, the all-important question — what would the monkey have done with the money if he were human? — will have to go unanswered. For now.

 

http://www.law.com/sites/almstaff/2017/09/11/monkey-authors-will-have-to-wait-another-day-for-copyrights/

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/legal-arguments-monkey-selfie-case-are-bananas-at-hearing-1020376


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