Special among the ranks of nature photographers is a group of individuals who have dedicated their careers to document not only the beauty of nature, but also the threats facing the world’s most remote wildlands and endangered creatures. Called the International League of Conservation Photographers (ILCP), members of this newly formed association combine their skills, talent and experience to help save the places all nature photographers cherish.
The following six photographers—all members of ILCP—have worked to create awareness and ignite action to protect wildlife and wildlands. The most common thread among these dedicated professionals is a love for the resources and a commitment to contribute to the preservation of our planet for future generations.
Translating Science Into Pictures
With a master’s degree in tropical ecology and a thirst for adventure, Christian Ziegler is well suited for tromping through the remote regions of Panama in search of the elusive and rare ocelot. “My work these days is about translating science content into images—to make it understandable for the general public,” explains Ziegler. “Such is the case for my work with the ocelot, which became the focus of an automated telemetry project for wildlife research studies.”
Working in partnership with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), Ziegler helped develop a technique allowing research scientists to observe a large number of animals at the same time and relate their behavior to each other. “The pilot study tracked the movement of ocelots and one of their main prey—the agouti—to investigate what is called the—top down’ effect of predators,” he says.
Ziegler had to endure the typical challenges that tropical weather exerts on both photographer and equipment. But the real test was getting close enough to photograph the ocelot. To do this, he walked trails at night and used camera traps.
With partial funding and assistance from National Geographic, Ziegler helped develop an infrared digital camera trap sturdy enough for use in a tropical rain forest. “This is a very exciting technique because no light in the visible range is needed, and it expands the opportunities to take images of nocturnal creatures without them noticing it.”
Ziegler agrees nature photographers help to increase the body of knowledge about our natural world. “Photographers can be very useful in communicating complex science content. While the researchers help me find the animal, I often help them through my photography to understand or even discover behaviors never before documented.”
Conservation Is About Emotions
The albatross is without equal among the myriad species of seabirds plying the world’s oceans. A global wanderer, this magnificent creature is considered by many to be the most graceful bird on the face of the earth.
To undertake the photographic challenges of documenting this extraordinary bird takes an equally dedicated photographer—one who is just as at home on the high seas as the albatross. Tui de Roy is that person, a photographer who mirrors the wanderlust of the species she has spent the past several years photographing. “To me there is nothing on this planet that represents total freedom and pure wildness more vividly than the albatross,” explains de Roy.
Whereas it would be easy to assume de Roy does this for the pure joy of it, she has a more driven reason: the albatross’ survival is at stake.
Three quarters of all albatross species are either threatened or endangered, dying by the thousands from drowning on the millions of fishhooks used by longline fishing boats in the southern ocean region or ingesting plastic debris in the flotsam drifting on the high seas.
Working with the Birdlife International Albatross Campaign, de Roy along with Mark Jones and Julian Fitter are producing a book they hope will serve as a wake-up call to the world about the plight of this creature.
De Roy hopes the book and the many projects stemming from it will raise awareness and create action to protect the albatross. “Beauty moves people, and conservation is about emotions driving the will to conserve,” she says. “At the end of the day, statistics and predictions of doom are less likely to sway decision makers than the profound impact of sheer beauty. Therein lies the power of honest conservation photography.”
From The Heart
In the emerging sciences of conservation biology and landscape ecology, a new concept of species and ecosystem protection is taking hold—the linking of viable tracts of landscapes through natural corridors. One piece of protected land might not be enough to ensure the survival of a species, but by linking it with other distant protected tracts, the likelihood of survival increases.
One area receiving much attention these days is the Rocky Mountain region from Yellowstone to the Yukon. For the past ten years, German-born nature photographer Florian Schulz has been documenting this vast stretch of wild terrain. Working with many conservation organizations, Schulz recently published his book, Yellowstone to Yukon—Freedom to Roam. “Thanks to the Blue Earth Alliance, my project received more attention and opened the door for me to increase my network of contacts,” he says.
Schulz’s book doesn’t just include pretty pictures of the region’s wildlife and landscapes. “It was important for me to include images of the problematic themes,” he explains. “While we prefer not to see these types of images, I felt we needed to be reminded of the threats.” The book also includes recommendations for crafting future conservation strategies for the region.
Schulz travels across the country to talk about the importance of not only the Y2Y corridor, but the need to create additional corridors around the world. “The more people I can reach, the closer we are to reaching our goal.” For Florian, it also means something much deeper: “I create my images from the heart, and this is what I hope to touch—to create emotions in others that will lead to action.”
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
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.