Like many children, Britta Jaschinski visited zoos as a young girl. But instead of squealing in delight at the sight of exotic wild animals, she felt anguish.
“I couldn’t understand how anyone could have a nice day looking at animals in cages,” says Jaschinski. “As a child, I instinctively felt that it was wrong.”
Born in Germany, Jaschinski moved to England as a young adult to further her career as a professional photographer. With her innate passion for wildlife, she deployed her photography skills to create her first book, Zoo, which called attention to the plight of captive wild animals. She went on to make unsettling images of orangutans, bears, tigers and other animals forced to perform in circus-like settings. Her most recent work calls attention to the trade in wildlife products and examines the motives behind this multi-billion-dollar industry. She has worked undercover in China to photograph facilities that breed tigers to use their parts in traditional Chinese medicine. To minimize risks to her personal safety when documenting controversial subjects, she keeps a low profile and works fast, concealing her cameras and photographing for just seconds at a time.
“There are always risks, but I go where I’m needed to create a voice for wildlife and get a message out to the world,” she says.
Her work over the past two decades has garnered much recognition. She is the only person to win the title of GDT European Wildlife Photographer of the Year twice and has received top honors with the London Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition and the BigPicture: Natural World competition. She doesn’t consider herself a wildlife photographer but rather a photojournalist. Through her work, she has met other photojournalists documenting similar issues, including endangered species, the exotic pet trade and wildlife crime. She knew that by joining forces, a coalition of photographers could create a compelling body of work that makes a strong case for conserving instead of exploiting wildlife. Jaschinski co-founded Photographers Against Wildlife Crime, a book project bringing together 24 seasoned professionals, including the likes of Brent Stirton, Steve Winter and Michael “Nick” Nichols.
“We can argue about the definition of what is considered wildlife crime or the legal trade in wildlife, but who decides and where do we draw the line?” she asks. “In my view, taking animals from the wild for pets or circus performers or breeding them in captivity for parts is a crime.”
The book is targeted to consumers, with the intent of ending the demand for wildlife as pets, performers or products. Elephant ivory, tiger rugs and traditional medicine made from rhino horn, pangolin scales or bear bile are a sampling of items in high demand. But many people buying these products are unaware that they are contributing to the loss, and potential extinction, of many species.
“The only reason the trade in wildlife products exists is because of the demand. The people who can stop this are the consumers,” Jaschinski says. “I have to believe that people don’t want to cause wildlife to go extinct.”
Rather than point the finger with a patronizing message, the book takes a different approach. Fueling the demand for these products, many of which are considered luxury items, is the desire to display one’s wealth and status. This is particularly evident in China, where an increasing portion of the population is experiencing a higher standard of living. To appeal to this demographic, the book is printed in both English and Mandarin and is designed to look like a luxury item. The book invites people to learn about issues such as elephant poaching, shark finning and farming wildlife for parts and dare to know that they can make a difference.
“We want people to openly embrace the book and its message,” Jaschinski says. “Many people don’t know that elephants and rhinos are killed for their tusks, and they have no idea what a pangolin is. It needs to become ‘uncool’ to display status with wildlife products, and we want people to adopt this way of thinking and drive a global movement.”
The images portrayed in the book are hauntingly beautiful. Some of the photographs are sad and painful to view. But others are endearing and hopeful, celebrating the people who work tirelessly to protect wild animals. The book encourages readers to join these heroes and change the conversation about the true value of wildlife to the world.