Saving wildlife, one story at a time at XPOSURE 2019

Kathy Moran, National Geographic Deputy Director of Photography, outlines the power of conservation storytelling and photography

“Beautiful wildlife images make people care about nature, but the stories that need to be told, the photographs that must be seen, are the ones that shine a light on our relationship with the natural world,” stated Kathy Moran, National Geographic Deputy Director of Photography, at a
packed-house seminar held on the inaugural evening of XPOSURE 2019 at Expo Centre Sharjah.

Speaking of how National Geographic tells the story of conservation of wildlife, Moran described how, over the course of the past 10 years, it has “evolved from telling wildlife stories with a focus on behavior towards features that shine a light on issues of wildlife conservation and animal welfare.”

“Photography becomes evidence,” she said, “highlighting our treatment of animals in the tourism trade, how pangolins are the most endangered mammal you’ve never heard of and how traditional medical beliefs have threatened animals around the world.”

Although the change in narrative at National Geographic came about with a 2007 story headlined ‘Who Killed the Mountain Gorillas’ in Virunga forest, “the truly conscious change,” she says, “came in 2013 with a story on Serengeti lions.”

Although the Serengeti feature and its images veered towards the wildlife angle, other stories in the issue explored the challenges lions face in the modern world and how habitat loss and trophy hunting have taken a toll on lion populations.

“But lions are responsible for more than 250 deaths a year, and to have to ignore that would have been grossly irresponsible,” said Moran.

The feature, ‘Living with Lions’, therefore, depicted how lions are complicated creatures and that when people and lions collide, both suffer. It also highlighted how captive bred lions in South Africa are released for hunting within confined areas, a practice that raises several ethical issues especially as their skeletons are exported for traditional medicines, mostly to Asia.

“Together, the wildlife and conservation photographs made for one of the most powerful conservation stories we had ever produced,” she said.  

A recent story on pangolins,  scaly anteaters that Moran describes as “the world’s most trafficked, least known and most endangered mammals, because of the erroneous belief that their scales have medicinal benefits.” They are also trafficked for their meat which is considered to be a delicacy.

And yet, “we always look for hope,” says Moran, citing the release of 25 rescued pangolins into the wild in Vietnam.

Hope also abounds in the Gorongosa Restoration Project, a partnership launched in 2004 between the Mozambican government and the U.S.-based Gregory C. Carr Foundation, which is now seeing its wildlife populations grow following the devastating Civil War that nearly decimated them years ago.

In its special report, ‘The Hidden Cost of Wildlife Tourism’, National Geographic had earlier this year documented the plight of a captive elephant in Thailand apart from also highlighting the dangers of social media in feeding a frenzy for selfies with wild animals. “The world, however, responded to this baby elephant’s plight, and he has now been moved to a sanctuary. That is the power of conservation storytelling and photography,” she concluded.

Organised by the Sharjah Government Media Bureau (SGMB), the four-day festival runs until Sunday, September 22. From climate change to fashion, politics to nature and wildlife and human disasters as well as natural calamities, the festival’s exhibitions and seminars cover the entire range of life on this planet through pictures, giving the visitor a fresh perspective on life and the workings of the human mind.

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