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Sunday, October 1, 2006

Empowering Photography With Action

The International League of Conservation Photographers (ILCP) is devoted to using photography to help people better understand environmental challenges

Invertebrate Propaganda
Thinking small is how Piotr Naskrecki carries out his job both as a nature photographer and as Director of the Invertebrate Diversity Initiative at the Center of Applied Biodiversity Science (CABS). An entomologist by training, Naskrecki uses his passion as a photographer to inform as well as help create conservation strategies to protect some of the world's most unique insects and their habitats, especially in the tropical ecosystems. His book, The Smaller Majority, is already considered a classic in both nature photography and writing.

Naskrecki is a scientist first, photographer second. He credits CABS for letting him use his photography skills to document the hidden world of insects and other small creatures. "My photographs help CABS and Conservation International illustrate conservation ideas and messages," says Naskrecki. "I like to refer to my photography as invertebrate propaganda—trying to educate the general public and conservation authorities about the invertebrates' role in the
natural world."

Naskrecki also uses his photography to help decision makers identify which areas should receive protection. Piotr explains: "My main project these days is the Global Dragonfly Assessment. I work with a network of scientists worldwide to map and evaluate the conservation status of every species of dragonfly and damselfly. If I can demonstrate that 50 percent of these species occurring in an area are endemic, then we can identify the area as a very good candidate for protection."

For Naskrecki, the power of photography for igniting action is unparalleled. "There is no better conservation tool than great, compelling imagery that makes people realize how beautiful and fragile the natural world is."

A National Audience For Birds

What began as a self-assignment for Joel Sartore eventually turned into a magazine assignment for National Geographic. The project? Bringing attention to the plight of North America's most endangered bird—Atwater's prairie chicken.

The drive to pursue this project stemmed from Sartore's interest in endangered species. "Endangered species and habitat loss in North America are of real interest to me," he explains. "This bird is so critically endangered, I was thinking I might become the last photographer to get photos of the Atwaters in the wild."

Although Sartore focused on photographing the chickens on their breeding grounds (leks), he also spent time photographing the reasons for their decline, primarily suburban sprawl, industrial development and agricultural expansion. "It is not enough to show just the species if you want to save it. You must show the threats against it and inform readers what's being done and can be done to save it. Those pictures are not as fun to shoot, but they are the most important images of all."

With the bird at such a critically low population, what's the prognosis for its survival? Sartore remains positive: "I think there is hope for the species. Public support is there, and the captive breeding program is going strong." But Sartore acknowledges much more needs to be done: "Habitat acquisition and improvement are now the keys to its survival.

There needs to be several thriving populations of the birds for them to make it in the wild again. I feel my photography finally gave the bird a more national audience."

Working Together To Make A Difference
Morning temperatures hover near 110 degrees F. Sitting for hours on the back of an elephant, you rely on the mahout (elephant driver) to keep the elephant steady. For an hour or more, you hold a massive telephoto lens—handheld, mind you—up to your eye, hoping to get one small movement from a tiger snoozing in the shade.

Theo Allofs endured these conditions to document the life history of the creature that has fascinated him since his childhood days in Germany. Allofs has traveled the world photographing wildlife, but the tiger project is one he hopes will continue to shed light on the ecology and behavior of this imperiled carnivore. "I feel the tiger is one of nature's finest pieces of art—a masterpiece of wildness," he says. "If we lose the tiger, we lose one of the greatest wild spirits in nature."

His tiger project has a unique partnership. It's supported by a lodge near Bandhavgarh National Park in India. This partnership developed because Allofs quickly discovered the area of the park open to tourism has a higher rate of tiger survival than those areas closed to tourism.

Allofs explains, "More than three-quarters of the park is closed to tourism, and it's here where poaching occurs. The tigers are better protected where tourists are allowed to view them."

Allofs hopes his photography and future book about the tiger will continue informing others about tiger conservation. "Habitat protection is important, but we also need to continue making inroads in stopping poaching of the tiger."

Every picture Allofs captures of nature plays a role in helping to make a difference in how others view and support the wild world. He says, "As part of the whole global endeavor, we do make a difference when working together to achieve conservation."

Annual Conservation Photography Fellowship
The International League of Conservation Photographers is creating an Annual Conservation Photography Fellowship. The $30,000 fellowship, a partnership between the Legacy Institute for Nature and Culture (LINC) and the International League of Conservation Photographers (ILCP), will support a professional photographer's work on a project that will advance the international conservation efforts. Visit the ILCP Website to learn more about the fellowship and how to apply at www.conservationphotography.net.

Jim Clark is former president of NANPA and the author/photographer of Mountain Memories: An Appalachian Sense of Place (WVU Press) and West Virginia: The Allegheny Highlands (Westcliffe Publishers). Visit www.jimclarkphotography.com.



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