Do wildlife photographers help save wildlife?
Blog about Wildlife Photographers and their contribution to wildlife conservation
In the early days of our travel business, there were far fewer visitors to the national parks, and ‘real’ wildlife photographers used to stand out from the crowds, especially in India; with a jeep to themselves and huge lenses mounted on robust tripods. Since my background was in wildlife conservation and the major reason for starting wildife trails, was to raise money for community schemes around the parks and protect remaining wildlife populations, I was curious about their own contribution to wildlife conservation. Nearly all of them I asked gave me the same type of reply - ‘through our pictures we are bringing the plight of these animals to a worldwide audience, who will buy our books or the magazines our pictures are published in and be inspired to save wildlife’. The international league of conservation photographers website states ‘Our mission is to further environmental and cultural conservation through photography’; but what does that actually mean?
They have a point; if I had not watched Fateh Singh Rathore and Valmik Thapar in their famous ‘Land of the Tiger’ television documentary back in January 1997, I would have bypassed India and headed to the easier travel destination of SE Asia. The month I spent as a backpacker at Ranthambhore National Park in February 97, opened my eyes to the many problems with conservation efforts in India and around the world; one of the major ones being, that like the largest bird in the nest, the most vocal and powerful NGO gets the most worms - but are often unwilling to share!
Anyway back to photographers and how they can contribute to saving wildlife. Some of them allign themselves with a specific charity or NGO. If you are going to do this, it is imperative that you check out the local NGO and see for yourself the work they are doing on the ground. Because professional wildlife photographers tend to stay in locations much longer than average tourists, they are well placed to visit such projects and get a feel for their effectiveness - if they can drag themselves away from their laptops, facebook and cameras. They can then use their books, blogs, facebook and twitter to constantly promote these charities to their captive audience.
These days only a very few photographers in the world are able to command good prices for their photos and even sponsorship deals with various international companies and magazines. They are in a relative position of power and can, if willing, donate or auction their best photos to a charity which works in wildlife conservation, Although we are not serious photographers, this actually happened to us in 2008, when the Brogan Group in the UK approached our North American Operations Manager, James Manson, about using some of his Polar Bear photos on our website. At that time, photographs of swimming polar bears taken around Baffin Island, Nunavut, especially close ups, were quite rare, and the company was keen to us them. We gave our permission on the condition that the company make a $500 donation to Polar Bear International ; which they did, and this charity which has some of the longest study programs on Polar Bears in the world was a greatful beneficary.
Conclusion: Powerful photographs inspire and delight, but without a clear plan of action or commitment to using these images in the most effective way for conserving wildlife, they can be mere personal trinkets, and ultimately a sad reminder of a time when charismatic wildife still roamed our planet.