Photo Ark

There is something special about wildlife photography and for many reasons it has always been my favorite genre of photography. Capturing the essence of wildlife on film is both magical and powerful, the images can help convey a message as well as connect people to wildlife by inspiring awe, action, and even empathy. It’s these elements that help make wildlife photography and in particular conservation photography an important tool for teaching people about wildlife conservation. In a world where many species are now rare, endangered, or in many cases headed for extinction, each photograph taken has become a portrait or permanent record, in essence a type of living digital fossil that tells a story while there is still time to save the species.

Joel Sartore Wildlife photographer, National Geographic Photographer and National Geographic Photo Ark founder has taken the task of documenting the worlds most rare and or endangered species to the ultimate level by creating thousands of portraits of animals that reside in human care in zoos and sanctuaries around the world. This multi-year project hopes to continue to document, raise awareness and find solutions to some of the most pressing issues affecting wildlife and their habitats. Photo Ark aims to do this by inspiring “action through education” and by helping to save wildlife by “supporting on-the-ground conservation efforts”. Joel’s work with the Photo Ark began over a decade ago and to date he has photographed over 7,000 species. Once the Photo Ark is complete he will have created portraits of an estimated 12,000 species, but importantly the project will serve as a  “record of each animal’s existence and a powerful testament to the importance of saving them.”

The photos are instantly recognizable as each animal from the smallest to the largest and most charismatic are represented equally with nothing more than a simple black or white backdrop. With no distractions the viewer must focus on the intended subject as well as the message that lies behind the eyes staring back.

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© Photo by GRAHM S. JONES, COLUMBUS ZOO AND AQUARIUM
‘After a photo shoot at the Columbus Zoo in Ohio, a clouded leopard cub climbs on Sartore’s head. The leopards, which live in Asian tropical forests, are illegally hunted for their spotted pelts.’  Image © Joel Sartore/National Geographic Photo Ark natgeophotoark.org

Being a fan of Joel’s work, one of my personal favorites is the portrait of Uno an endangered Florida Panther who was blinded by a gunshot wound, I was excited to have the chance to hear him speak recently at the Royal Ontario Museum as the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Keynote. Joel has a reputation for being a phenomenal speaker and he did not disappoint, he was engaging, entertaining, passionate and extremely inspirational.

His talk included stories full of humor and hope while others were more serious, the conservation stories of species that we still may have time to save and others that it is already too late for. Some of his portraits would be the last the world would see of these animals and that, a profound message, should resonate deeply on an emotional and spiritual level with anyone concerned for the state of biodiversity on our planet.

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© Photo by Joel Sartore/National Geographic Photo Ark
‘An endangered Malayan tiger, Panthera tigris jacksoni, at Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo.’             Image National Geographic Photo Ark natgeophotoark.org

His photography for The National Geographic Photo Ark involves captive animals so there is a strong affiliation with zoos and, as the topic of zoos has become extremely controversial I did appreciate Joel acknowledging this in his talk, however I personally did not agree with the statement that zoos are necessarily better at providing for wildlife than proper wildlife sanctuaries. This is one point I really wished he had somewhat expanded on considering that there has been such a strong backlash against zoos with stories of healthy animals being killed or evidence that many have inadequate and inhumane conditions in which their animals are kept. Perhaps zoos in some cases provide a purpose in conservation of some species for future re-introductions, but ultimately preserving habitat and ways of keeping species alive in that habitat currently should be an equally important message or at least included in the discussion.

I was however pleasantly surprised to hear Joel comment on the impact of livestock when talking about some of the biggest threats to wildlife conservation, perhaps one the least talked about issues, after human population. This was the slide he used to demonstrate his point, which is just as powerful as any of the animal portraits. It is a reminder that everything is connected and clearly our choices have a lot of power so talking about our eating habits on top of the other issues, must be part of the discussion as it has a direct connection to the loss of wildlife and wildlife habitat.

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Photo taken at the ROM Wildlife Photographer of the Year Keynote: Photo Ark – Image © Photo Joel Sartore/National Geographic Photo Ark

A few things I have always strongly believed in were mentioned as well, one is that he suggests people would also benefit by doing their own research on the issues. The other is that change really comes from within and he encourages everyone, adults and young people, to do something – to find something they want to do to help and do it.

The National Geographic Photo Ark is meant to inspire and to get people to think more critically which is important if humanity wishes to save wildlife, our planet and ultimately ourselves. It shows us that the beautiful art of photography can help save wildlife but it must also be accompanied by a shift in how we view our role in their survival.

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© Photo by Joel Sartore/National Geographic Photo Ark
‘A federally endangered Florida panther, Puma concolor coryi, at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo.’    Image National Geographic Photo Ark natgeophotoark.org

With the thousands of rare and endangered animals photographed you may wonder what Joel could possibly have to look forward to when he has already seen so much? No need to worry he has not lost his enthusiasm and remarked at the end of his talk that he is always excited about the “next animal to photograph”.

To find out more about Joel and The National Geographic Photo Ark, how to help or get involved visit NatGeoPhotoArk.org

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Lions and Elephants

To mark World Lion Day I thought I would share a few more of my photos from my trip last year to Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. Lions are under threat and their numbers are declining rapidly – habitat loss, poaching, trophy hunting, human-wildlife conflict, the lion bone trade, cub petting, canned hunting, human population are all factors. Photo’s like these are a reminder of what a privilege and thrill it is to see them in the wild. Nothing beats shooting wildlife with a camera.

“If one should be a prey, how much the better
To fall before the lion than the wolf.” – Shakespeare, Twelfth Night

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Lions, World Lion Day, ethical tourism, travel, Africa, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, endangered species, wildlife photography

Lions, World Lion Day, ethical tourism, travel, Africa, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, endangered species, wildlife photography

Lions, World Lion Day, ethical tourism, travel, Africa, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, endangered species, wildlife photography

Lions, World Lion Day, ethical tourism, travel, Africa, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, endangered species, wildlife photography

Lions, World Lion Day, ethical tourism, travel, Africa, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, endangered species, wildlife photography

Lions, World Lion Day, ethical tourism, travel, Africa, Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, endangered species, wildlife photography

The Big Cat Man: An Autobiography

I am really excited to start off my recommended summer reading with The Big Cat Man: An Autobiography by Jonathan Scott who you may know as one of the presenters of BBC’s popular TV series Big Cat Diary, the long time running nature show that followed the lives of Africa’s big cats in Kenya’s Maasai Mara.

I have always had an inherent love for the big cats and Africa, as a child I wanted nothing more than to see in person all that I had read about or had seen on TV. While I was still dreaming of Africa (I wouldn’t take my first trip through Kenya and Tanzania until the late 90’s) Jonathan Scott had already been on a path that would change his life forever, a path that would bind his heart and soul permanently to a continent that had called to him since childhood.

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Big Cat Diary aired from 1996 to 2008 leaving a lasting impression on wildlife lovers from all over the world. It gave the viewer an intimate look into the lives and social structure of lions, leopards and cheetahs like never seen before creating an emotional connection between the average person at home and Africa’s most iconic and beautiful animals. Whether or not you have seen the TV series, if you love the big cats and have ever wondered what life was like behind the lens for a wildlife photographer, you will most definitely enjoy reading The Big Cat Man.

Jonathan provides a fascinating and candid look at his life including his childhood, travels, his time in Africa, his accomplishments as a wildlife artist and photographer, TV show presenter and, as an advocate for the animals he spent years filming and photographing. He talks about the success and the challenges, both personal and professional, encountered along the way as well as the one event that would change everything for the better – meeting his wife and partner, Angela Scott, who equally shared his passion for Africa and its wildlife.

The Big Cat Man is full of interesting and inspirational accounts about his experiences with wildlife, including the time spent with the feline characters from Big Cat Diary and wild dogs. In addition there are stories of formidable sea lions, that weigh twice as much and are longer than a male lion, from Jonathan and Angela’s trip to Antarctica.  Accompanying the writing are many wonderful photographs as well as superb wildlife illustrations that appear like little treasures throughout the book.

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Jonathan Scott with Kike the Cheetah – Image © BBC Big Cat Live

The book also touches on some of the harsh realities facing wildlife, as much has changed since Jonathan took his first his overland journey through Africa many years ago. Lion and cheetah numbers have dropped to the point where their future is questionable (there are estimated between 15,000-20,000 Lions and about 7,000 cheetahs left in all of Africa), and poaching, poisoning, illegal wildlife trade, hunting, animal agriculture, the growing human population, corruption and even development threaten wildlife. All odds seem stacked against the animals and the environment, yet Jonathan says that despite this “you cannot give up hope”. The key is to act now while we still can.

There is a lot to take away from this book including the message that the journey is just as important as where we ultimately end up and, the risks we take in order to pursue our dreams and what we love, are worth it.

The Big Cat Man: An Autobiography is part of my Recommended Reading List and can be purchased at online retailers like Amazon.

For more on Jonathan and Angela Scott, be sure to visit: Big cat people. They can also be followed on Instagram @thebigcatpeople or Facebook @JonathanAngelaScott

Leopards in High Places

Many of the big cats are known for climbing trees to escape the heat, flies, to watch for prey or to escape other predators. It is not uncommon to see them taking to heights and, in Africa leopards are commonly seen hanging out in tall trees. Although lions have been known to do the same in certain places they are not exactly designed for tree climbing and come across a little more awkward compared to the fluid and graceful leopard who is naturally at home in the heights where they will stash kills, eat and happily sleep.

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©Tori-Ellen Dileo – Salt Pan female hangs out and catches a breeze in a large tree – South Luangwa NP. Zambia

During my trip to Africa last year I was fortunate to have many wonderful leopard sightings both on the ground and up high, in fact over a few days all I had to do was look up to see these dappled beauties looking down at me. Of course, that’s when they weren’t busy enjoying a siesta or post-meal nap.

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©Tori-Ellen Dileo – Kataba the one-eyed legend – Puku Ridge South Luangwa NP, Zambia

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©Tori-Ellen Dileo – Kataba sleeping with a full belly – Puku Ridge South Luangwa NP, Zambia

While leopards are able to climb some very tall trees you might be surprised to know that at least one had made it all the way to the top of Africa’s highest mountain to take in a view that perhaps no other has. In 1926 on Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro, a frozen leopard carcass was found along the volcanoes crater rim by Pastor Richard Reusch, a Missionary for the Lutheran Church. The Pastor was supposedly the first to discover the leopard which would later inspire, and be immortalized in, Hemingway’s book The Snows of Kilimanjaro. The Pastor made sure to get proof of his find and cut off an ear as souvenir on a subsequent climb the following year, afterwards the leopards remains were reported to have mysteriously disappeared. No reason was given as to why the leopard would have been that high, approximately 18,500 feet (or 5638.8 meters), close to the western summit at a place that would be christened Leopard point, but Pastor Reusch had hypothesized that the cat had been chasing a goat since he also found the remains of one not far from where the leopard lay. Since there were no remains and no radiocarbon dating, the leopards age along with length of time it remained locked in the once famous snows of Kilimanjaro will also remain a mystery.

Interestingly, there is a reference that notes the first report of a leopard carcass on Kilimanjaro was in 1889 by a German Geologist and Geographer named Hans Meyer who had seen one not far from where Reusch would later spot his. Among some of the theories included the possibility that the leopard could have come from the Kilimanjaro Mountain  Forest Reserve and took a wrong turn, or that the leopard was pursued up to high elevations by local hunters as Meyer had seen a hunting camp nearby. Officially though, nothing has ever been confirmed and to this day there has been no explanation for either Meyer’s or Reusch’s leopard.

Leopard, big cats, Tanzania, Kilimanjaro,

Kilimanjaro stands 5,895 meters high, the leopard was found at about 5638.8 meters – Image – John Reader/Science Photo Library via Earth Touch News

It does seems that leopards had an affinity for the mountains and in 1997 another leopard carcass was discovered on Africa’s second highest mountain, near Tyndall Glacier, Mount Kenya. In this case there were remains, although very decomposed, which turned out to be enough for radiocarbon dating placing the animal at about 900 years old.

There are opportunities to see wildlife during the early stages of a Kilimanjaro climb at lower elevations, but those still hoping to spot a leopard on higher slopes shouldn’t hold their breath. The high altitudes that are reached during climbs are not ones that most wild animals can survive at and if there are any, most will do their best to steer clear of humans.

If you are set on a chance to glimpse a leopard in high places it is probably best to keep your eyes on the trees and maybe, you will be lucky enough to have one of these beautiful cats reveal themselves and all their spotted splendor.

Saving Africa’s Dappled Beauty

On my trip to Africa last year I had the amazing fortune and privilege to see a handful of leopards which are unbelievable in person with their relaxed, enigmatic, graceful beauty even in the extreme heat. I will be posting more photos of my trip at a later time but wanted to share this one of a lovely young female from Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park. She had just had her Impala stolen by the famous resident one-eyed male known as Kataba – more on him later as well, who was sitting in a tree not more than five feet from her!

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Right now Panthera pardus needs your help, they have been over-hunted and persecuted to such an extent that South Africa has extended the ban on hunting them into 2017. This means there is a zero quota which has stayed in place since last January. While it doesn’t protect them from illegal hunting, retaliatory killings, poisoning, poaching etc…eliminating at least one form of mortality is a decent step. Leopard numbers are not known and to continue to allow these animals to be killed for sport is just not acceptable.

How you can help

Until midnight on January 30, 2017 the USFWS will be taking comments on leopards. We are asking to protect them from both hunting and the trade in their body parts. What the leopard needs is a reclassification to an Endangered status. If you could take a few minutes to visit the link and leave comments based on the following below.

Please try to modify with your own words but include some of the scientific facts and references as the USFWS will only consider comments if they include this important information. You may leave your comments with your name or as anonymous. Just click the blue ‘Comment Now’ button on the upper right corner! We urgently need more comments before the deadline – please share!

I strongly support the reclassification of the Leopard (Panthera Pardus) to Endangered Species. I support this for the following reasons:

  • First, scientific data shows that leopards are the most persecuted cat species in the world and that there is a major lack of data on the actual number of leopards remaining. Camera trapping surveys conducted during a study period indicate that leopard population in Southern Africa is declining rapidly and at a very concerning rate.
  • One of the major causes of leopard mortality, trophy hunting, can be stopped immediately. It is known that trophy “off take rates” are exceed and that corruption in the release of permits for trophy hunting occurs on a frequent basis making hunting these big cats for sport simply unsustainable.
  • Along with Trophy hunting there is illegal hunting, trapping and snaring, poisoning, killing for skin, legal destruction, farm livestock protection, revenge killings all pushing leopards to the brink of extinction. Leopards are also victims of Climate change and drought, which has an impact and threatens the leopard population worldwide.
  • Leopard habitat has greatly decreased which also threatens the leopard population worldwide; this creates conflict with growing agriculture, livestock farming and urbanization. Fences and fragmentation of the leopard habitat will in turn reduce the reproduction rate of the species.
  • Unreported and illegal killing of leopards is widespread across Southern African countries all of which have inadequate legislation and poor control to persecute illegal killings and manage the leopard population.
  • Another growing problem is the illegal trading of leopard parts – like with other big cats the trade is not adequately punishable or discouraged by the countries where the leopard is an indigenous species.
  • Finally enforcement is weak, incompetent, under-staffed and dysfunctional. Conservation departments are simply unable to monitor a particular elusive species such as leopard.
  • For these many legitimate reasons I am asking that Leopards be immediately reclassified as an Endangered Species and all hunting and trade of this highly imperiled species cease.

For your reference I am providing the following references:

  • Kahler & Gore, M.L. 2005, Local Perceptions, Human-Wildlife conflicts in Namibia
  • Minin-Fraser-Slotow-McMillan, Understanding the preference of tourists for big game species. Implication for Conservation, 2013
  • Nadal &Aguaio, A review of the Economic Analysis of wildlife trade, 2014
  • Richardson-Loomis, The total economic value of threatened, endangered and rare species, 2009
  • Ripple-Estes-Beschta, Status and ecological effects of the world’s largest carnivores, 2015
  • St John-Keane, Identifying indicators of carnivore killing, 2012
  • Swanepoel-Lindsey-Somers, Extent and fragmentation of suitable Leopard habitat in South Africa, 2013
  • Thorn-Green-Scott, Characteristics and determinants of human-carnivore conflict in South African farmland, 2013
  • Wilson-Spaeth, Governments are not doing enough to stop wildlife crime, 2017
    http://city-press.news24.com/…/governments-are-not-doing-en…
  • Cameron, Bustling trade in illegal wildlife products at Johannesburg market, 2016
    https://www.biznews.com/…/watch-bustling-trade-in-illegal-…/
  • THE COMPREHENSIVE STUDY PRESENTED TO THE FWS ON THE 25TH OF JULY 2016 BY HUMANE SOCIETY INTERNATIONAL –USA
    https://drive.google.com/…/0BxP8B7Q8gpNZeEZjTm5ia3FDZ2M/view
  • EMS Foundation Comments to the Department of Environment Affairs/Leopard Trophy Hunts
    https://www.dropbox.com/…/EMS%20Foundation%20Comments%20on%…

Family Tree

Lions are known for many things but climbing trees is generally not considered their best skill, however with a little motivation – for food, to escape danger, catch a cool breeze or escape the nasty tsetse fly, Lions will climb trees. There are two groups of very well-known tree climbing Lions that reside in  Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda and the other in Lake Manyara National Park in the Southern part of Tanzania. While the phenomena of tree climbing Lions is not isolated to these two regions and has been seen elsewhere in Africa, it is unclear whether the behavior is learned or innate.

Recently some amazing pictures hit the internet taken by Australian photographer Bobby-Jo Clow while on a safari in the Moru Kopjes area in the central Serengeti, Tanzania. When I first saw these last week I couldn’t believe my eyes and had to do a little more research to believe the Family Tree of Lions was real. Bobby-Jo Clow hit the jackpot capturing not just one, but a whole pride of big cats in a tree.

Lions, Lions in a Tree, Lion Pride in a Tree, Tree climbing Lions, Australian photographer Bobby-Jo Clow, central Serengeti,  Tanzania, Africa, Serengeti, Safari in Tanzania, Save Lions

All images taken by Australian photographer Bobby-Jo Clow

I have to say I am just a little obsessed with these photos. Lions do not have the climbing skills of Leopards, but this group is doing ok. A+ for effort and style!Lions, Lions in a Tree, Lion Pride in a Tree, Tree climbing Lions, Australian photographer Bobby-Jo Clow, central Serengeti,  Tanzania, Africa, Serengeti, Safari in Tanzania, Save LionsLions, Lions in a Tree, Lion Pride in a Tree, Tree climbing Lions, Australian photographer Bobby-Jo Clow, central Serengeti,  Tanzania, Africa, Serengeti, Safari in Tanzania, Save LionsLions, Lions in a Tree, Lion Pride in a Tree, Tree climbing Lions, Australian photographer Bobby-Jo Clow, central Serengeti,  Tanzania, Africa, Serengeti, Safari in Tanzania, Save LionsLions, Lions in a Tree, Lion Pride in a Tree, Tree climbing Lions, Australian photographer Bobby-Jo Clow, central Serengeti,  Tanzania, Africa, Serengeti, Safari in Tanzania, Save LionsLions, Lions in a Tree, Lion Pride in a Tree, Tree climbing Lions, Australian photographer Bobby-Jo Clow, central Serengeti,  Tanzania, Africa, Serengeti, Safari in Tanzania, Save Lions

Bobby-Jo Clow writes in Africa Geographic that they were close enough to hear vocal interaction and even snoring. The group was also fortunate to observe breeding behavior and watched a male Lion get blocked by a young Lion when trying to unsuccessfully pursue a female up the tree.

Lions, Lions in a Tree, Lion Pride in a Tree, Tree climbing Lions, Australian photographer Bobby-Jo Clow, central Serengeti,  Tanzania, Africa, Serengeti, Safari in Tanzania, Save Lions

Lions, Lions in a Tree, Lion Pride in a Tree, Tree climbing Lions, Australian photographer Bobby-Jo Clow, central Serengeti,  Tanzania, Africa, Serengeti, Safari in Tanzania, Save Lions

Throwback Thursday Lion Around

Throwback Thursday – Lions doing what Lions do best. All photos taken in Moremi Game Reserve – Okavango Delta Botswana

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Lions, Africa, Botswana, Lion cubs, Save Lions, Ban Trophy Hunting, Ban Canned Hunting, No cub petting, No walking with Lions, Lions belong in the wild, African Lion Endangered, Extinction is forever. Ethical Toursim, Lions are not Trophies

Lions, Africa, Botswana, Lion cubs, Save Lions, Ban Trophy Hunting, Ban Canned Hunting, No cub petting, No walking with Lions, Lions belong in the wild, African Lion Endangered, Extinction is forever. Ethical Toursim, Lions are not Trophies, Lioness in the grass

Lions, Africa, Botswana, Lion cubs, Save Lions, Ban Trophy Hunting, Ban Canned Hunting, No cub petting, No walking with Lions, Lions belong in the wild, African Lion Endangered, Extinction is forever. Ethical Toursim, Lions are not Trophies, Lioness in the grass

Lions, Africa, Botswana, Lion cubs, Save Lions, Ban Trophy Hunting, Ban Canned Hunting, No cub petting, No walking with Lions, Lions belong in the wild, African Lion Endangered, Extinction is forever. Ethical Toursim, Lions are not Trophies, Lioness in the grass

Over the past 50 years Africa’s lion populations have plummeted from over 200,000 individuals back in the 1960’s to fewer than 25,000 today.”

Time is quickly running out for Lions and one day soon all that may be left are images like these ones. January 27 is the final day to ask the USFWS to list the African Lion as endangered and to ban importation of all Lion trophies into the USA, please take a few minutes to leave your comments The online form can be found here.