“It’s one thing to know the planet is in crisis. It’s another to see what that looks like.”
I am proud to be a member of WeTransfer’s Union of Concerned Photographers along with Lucy Pike, Mandy Barker, Frans Lanting, Luca Locatelli, & Joel Redman. We are a group of photographers dedicated to using the power of imagery to underline the urgency of environmental concerns. Learn more and get involved at we.tl/UCP
You can read my story on WeTransfer’s Union of Concerned Photographers website here.
I’m humbled and honored to be among the nominees for the 2018 World Press Photo awards for my National Geographic story “Warriors Who Once Feared Elephants Now Protect Them.” Thank you to all my friends at Reteti Elephant Sanctuary Community United for Elephants for trusting me to share your powerful story, to my editors Alexa Keefe and Sarah Leen for giving us the platform to share it and now to World Press Photo, for further casting the light on this important story of community and conservation.
I was awarded a World Press Photo, Second Place, Nature, stories, in 2017 for “Pandas Gone Wild.” In 2015, I received a Second Place, Singles, award in the World Press Photo Nature category for Orphaned Rhino, which is also from my body of work on Northern Kenya, like this year’s prize. This work is a long term examination of the change in the relationship between people and animals in the region.
In the photo above, Joseph Lolngojine, a Samburu warrior turned elephant caretaker, watches over Kinya. Moments after this photo was taken, it was decided to bring her to the sanctuary to try to save her life.
Please have a look all of the World Press Photo stories. Some will break your heart, others may make you laugh and hopefully inspire all of us to work harder to find solutions to our planet’s most pressing challenges. This year, World Press Photos will announce the winners at the Awards Show in Amsterdam on April 12, 2018.
Shortlisted for the main prize are five photographers, Patrick Brown, Adam Ferguson, Toby Melville, Ronaldo Schemidt and Ivor Prickett with Prickett nominated for two separate images shot in Mosul. World Press Photo launched a new code of ethics for entrants, which means that images submitted to the prize have been thoroughly checked before the shortlists have been announced.
Ami’s panda images for National Geographic earned third prize for science and natural history picture story in Pictures of the Year International, second prize for stories in the Nature category in this year’s World Press Photo Contest, and are shortlisted for the 2017 Sony World Photography Awards.
The contests were covered by dozens of media including the BBC, The Atlantic, Yahoo News, Smithsonian Magazine, National Geographic Australia, The Express Tribune, the Daily Mail, and DigifotoPro, where she also gave interviews.
Thinking about end of year contributions? One powerful way to make a difference is to support the work of The Nature Conservancy in Africa. Last summer, I visited the 56,000 acres of Loisaba Wildlife Conservancy in northern Kenya and learned about the variety of ways TNC is working with local communities to protect elephants and their vital ecosystems.
Bloodhounds like Warrior and Machine, 200 plus pounds of slobbery goodness, are the unlikely best friends of elephants. More than 25,000 elephants are killed each year for their ivory, and the tracker dogs are an important part of anti-poaching security forces working to protect these gentle giants.
In addition to being an integral part of this landscape, elephants keep forests and grasslands healthy for other species, including humans. They are a cornerstone of the tourism industry, which provides jobs and income for thousands of Kenyans. See my photos and writing in National Geographic’s A Voice for Elephants.
Incredible news for one of conservation’s greatest ambassadors. As of September 4th, the giant panda is no longer on the endangered species list. It’s a testament, in part, to the incredible team I had the honor of documenting. It’s no easy task raising captive born pandas and releasing them into the wild. Scientists and conservationists have had to crack the code for breeding pandas and create habitat and space for them to roam. There is still so much to do to protect the panda, but for now we can celebrate the people behind this incredible effort. It is heart-warming to see these magical bears, an icon both to China and to conservation, returning to the wild.
I was thrilled to give interviews about my National Geographic story, including CCTV, NPR’s Weekend Edition, UPROXX, Vice, Huffington Post, the How to Do Everything podcast, Mother Nature Network, Global Times, L’Illustre, Tech Insider, and Business Insider.
After my National Geographic cover story appeared in August, many were fascinated by the scented panda suits! I talked with a number of media personnel, such as The Creators Project (part of Vice), NPR’s How To Do Everything podcast, Business Insider, and My Modern Met, about what it takes to get candid shots of these elusive animals.
As a photographer, I often try to look as little like a photographer as I can and this costume was definitely an extraordinary example. The disguise prevents pandas from getting accustomed to their human caregivers and allows me to get close to my subjects. The suits are scented with panda urine and feces, which is not as gross as it sounds. It smells like bamboo and something similar to wet puppies. But I have to say, when you wake up every morning and put on an outfit somewhere between a mascot and a bank robber, you know you’re really living the story.
I am excited to share our panda story, now on newsstands in the August issue of National Geographic Magazine. Tremendous gratitude to the incredible team in China working to protect these magical bears and to my colleagues at National Geographic for giving me the opportunity to share this incredible story.
This journey turned out to be one of the most unimaginable explorations I’ve ever had. It is not that anyone hasn’t seen a panda; we all have. But after going to China multiple times, getting to know the people, getting to understand the pandas and learning to really think like a panda, it kind of blew my mind.
In a region where bad environmental news is common, the giant panda might prove to be the exception and is a testament to the perseverance and efforts of Chinese scientists and conservationists. By breeding and releasing pandas, augmenting existing populations and protecting habitat, they may be on their way to successfully saving their most famous ambassador and in the process put the wild back into an icon. Pandas’ irresistible power make them important ambassadors for ALL endangered species.
The images and the behind-the-scenes story of my work documenting pandas over three years were also covered by UPROXX, Vice, Huffington Post, Mother Nature Network, Tech Insider, and Business Insider.
I spoke recently to The Weekly Wrap, the audio home of National Geographic’s Your Shot blog, about my panda story, which will be published in National Geographic Magazine in August. I talked about the origins of this story in 2013, how I pitched it to National Geographic, what the shooting process was like, and what I found in China that surprised me.
Kilifi is an 18-month-old rhino that Kamara is currently hand-raising along with three other baby rhinos at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya. Kamara spends 12 hours every day, sometimes in pouring rain, watching over the vulnerable baby rhinos. He calls them his children. He is part of the reason Kenya’s black rhinos, whose population had plummeted to near extinction, are doing so well here. Much needed attention has been focused on the plight of wildlife and the conflict between heavily armed poachers and increasingly militarized wildlife rangers. But very little has been said about the indigenous communities on the front lines of the poaching wars and the incredible work they do to protect these animals. These communities hold the key to saving Africa’s great animals. —Ami Vitale
Beginning July 6th, we launched a limited print sale of the touching photo of “Kamara and Kilifi” featured on National Geographic. All proceeds will go to Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and Northern Rangelands Trust in Kenya to support their powerful work protecting both the endangered wildlife and the people of Northern Kenya. This is a tremendously hopeful story and your support will help rangers, including Kamara, continue this important work.
The $225 prints are 11×14 inches (29×36 cm) printed on matte archival paper and will ship from my studio (free domestic, $35 international). If you are interested, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and include “Flash sale” in your subject line.
Thank you for your support!
This week, I will be taking over The Nature Conservancy’s Instagram account (@nature_africa) with photos of Loisaba Conservancy (@loisaba_conservancy) in Laikipia, Northern Kenya. Loisaba is an important elephant corridor, with more than 800 elephants spending significant time there, and it plays a critical role in maintaining ecological connectivity between Laikipia and Samburu. I am excited to be able to share this special place with you. You can follow along on my Instagram, @amivitale, and with @loisaba_conservancy and @nature_africa.