There are no words to adequately describe the profound feelings of hope and melancholy inspired by Joseph Wachira’s final goodbye to Sudan, the world’s last male northern white rhino. This image has been chosen as the best photo of the decade by the people who voted yesterday on National Geographic’s Instagram account. I will never forget what it felt like to witness what I believed to be the end of a species. Yet, in a beautiful twist of fate, this image – an image documenting extinction – is the beginning of something powerful, something hopeful.
Our world faces so many challenges. Humans are ushering in a new era of mass extinction. While that thought keeps me up at night, the profound care that Joseph showed for Sudan inspires hope and drives me to work even harder. Those who feel the urgency of this moment in history, are coming together around this image. As I write this, embryos created by Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, Avantea, Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Kenya Wildlife Service and Safari Park Dvur Kralove wait to be transferred into a surrogate mother. This would not have been possible without your support. Please keep supporting the Biorescue Project. This matters.
The coming decades will not be easy, but I believe we are making a real difference. You are my hope for a future that includes rhinos and other endangered species. The key thing is to not fall into the trap of thinking that these issues are too big to deal with or that someone else is taking care of the problems. It is up to all of us. It’s up to you. And to me. Be the VOICE for this planet. Don’t sit this one out. Without rhinos and elephants and other wildlife we suffer more than loss of ecosystem health. We suffer a loss of imagination, a loss of wonder, a loss of beautiful possibilities. Saving nature is really about saving ourselves. Sudan taught me that.
National Geographic published “How Women Photographers Access Worlds Hidden from Men” in celebration of their female photographers on International Women’s Day. In the piece, the women reflect on how gender influences their work. In an industry dominated by men, female photographers face additional hurdles to move their careers forward, but they also have an advantage when it comes to accessing personal stories of women around the world.
The story featured Ami Vitale’s photograph of one of the first women keepers at Reteti Elephant Sanctuary, Mary Lengees, affectionately stroking the head of a baby elephant, highlighting Mary’s devotion to caring for the animals. Ami reflects on the photograph, writing, “Though she and the women who work for her encounter resistance, the team at Reteti is united in its mission to rescue abandoned elephant calves, nurse them back to health, and reintroduce them to the wild. It requires vigilance and round-the-clock care, but Lowuekuduk’s passion for saving these 200-plus-pound babies knows no bounds. In a world where we focus only on the challenges and things that divide us, it’s important also to talk about the solutions.”
See the other photographs shared by female National Geographic photographers and read about their experiences telling women’s stories here.
B&H published an in-depth feature on Ami Vitale, covering the story of her career trajectory from conflict photographer to documenting the natural world. Thanks to one well-timed assignment focusing on people’s relationship to nature in remote locations worldwide, Ami’s whole photographic career shifted.
“That chance for reflection, to look at the natural world, helped me put all the pieces together,” Vitale says of this project. “I realized that all the conflicts I had been covering were ultimately about our resources. That the biggest story, which I had been missing, was our natural world and what we’re doing to it. It was one of the most transformative moments in my career.”
After receiving a Master’s degree in filmmaking, the scope of Ami’s work expanded further, which the story explores along with sharing her advice for other photographers and information on the gear she prefers. It emphasizes her mission to share stories of hope and to encourage people everywhere to take action to preserve the world for future generations.
Read the full feature here.
I am thrilled to announce that I’m launching a chance to WIN a guided trip with me to Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy. You’ll have the opportunity to meet Fatu and Najin, the last two northern white rhinos in the world, and the incredible people who care for them. You will also get a brand new Nikon Z 6 and 24-70mm f/4 S lens to capture every unforgettable moment. A trailblazer for conservation, Ol Pejeta also houses the largest black rhino population in East Africa, and is home to elephants, lions, giraffe, zebra and much more. For a contribution of just $10, you can help support the work that will preserve these animals for generations to come and hopefully win the trip of a lifetime for yourself and a friend. Can’t wait to see you here! Enter today at omaze.com/rhinos.
The National Geographic Storytellers Summit is a multi-day celebration of story, featuring the photographers, filmmakers, journalists, and data visualizers who witness the major events of our time, illuminate critical issues, and inspire action.
Photographer and National Geographic Explorer Ami Vitale delivered the talk, “How to Photograph Hope.” Ami has covered conflict, violence, and heartbreak—like photographing the last Northern white rhino during his dying moments—but she’s also made it her mission to find and capture stories of hope.
At Reteti Elephant Sanctuary in northern Kenya, the first-ever community-owned and run sanctuary in all of Africa, rescued orphaned elephants are looked after by local keepers from the Samburu community. They are lovingly rehabilitated and raised with the ultimate goal to reintroduce them back into the wild. The sanctuary isn’t just about saving elephants; it’s about breaking down stereo-types and redefining wildlife management. When people realize that they can benefit from healthy elephant populations, they’re proud to take care of wildlife.
Reteti is also empowering young Samburu women to be the first-ever women elephant keepers in all of Africa. At first, the community didn’t think there was a place for women in the workplace. Now, the success of these women elephant keepers is unlocking new possibilities, setting a powerful example for young girls hoping to pursue their dreams. It’s also changing how the community relates to elephants. Schoolchildren who have never seen an elephant before or who were afraid of elephants visit Reteti and experience these elephants up close, and they realize they can grow up to be a veterinarian or an elephant keeper.
In the past the local people weren’t much interested in trying to save elephants. A rescued calf had to be transported to Kenya’s only orphanage, some 240 miles away, near Nairobi. If successfully rehabilitated, the youngster would have to be released into Tsavo National Park, with no hope of re-unification with its original herd way to the north. But now, elephant orphans can be returned to their home ground, where they’ll have a good chance of reconnecting with their relatives.
What’s happening there, without fanfare, is nothing less than the beginnings of a transformation in the way the Samburu people relate to wild animals they have long feared. This oasis where orphans grow up, learning to be wild so that one day they can rejoin their herds, is as much about the people as it is about elephants.
Reteti operates in partnership with Conservation International who provide critical operational support and work to scale the Reteti community-centered model to create lasting impacts worldwide.
Watch the behind the scenes film on Ami Vitale’s work with Reteti Elephant Sanctuary here.
Ami Vitale worked with Instagram to create a beautiful film about the work happening at Reteti Elephant Sanctuary. Instagram featured it on its new IGTV channel for World Elephant Day, where it was viewed over 630,000 times.
You can view it here.
Over the last two decades, Ami Vitale has travelled to over 95 countries, writing, taking photographs and now making films, driven by belief that telling stories helps connect people rather than emphasize differences. Besides working with National Geographic Magazine, she conducts photography workshops all over the world and is publishing a book, Panda Love: the Secret Lives of Pandas.
In this piece, “How I Got Here: Ami Vitale,” she speaks to Creative Review about how she discovered photography, making an impact and more, and tells the stories of some of her images.
Ami Vitale is thrilled to announce the release of her latest film, My Africa, which is a blue chip VR film on the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary, featuring voiceover by Oscar-winning actress Lupita N’yongo. Ami directed the film with Emmy Award-winning Passion Pictures, Vision 3, and Deep VR for Conservation International.
My Africa premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival as part of the 2018 Tribeca Immersive program to a fantastic reception, where it ran at the Tribeca Festival Hub in NYC from April 20-28.
The film made the Forbes Awesome list and the ABC News Best VR Round-Up from the festival.
My Africa made its online debut on April 30. Since then, it has been written up by Mashable, Earther, and others.
You can watch and share it here.
I’m humbled and honored to named the first place winner in 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, keepers feed baby elephants at the Retiti Elephant Sanctuary in northern Kenya, the first sanctuary in Africa to hire indigenous women as keepers.
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.
You can also see my lecture at the World Press Photo Festival, where I shared the full arc of my photographic journey, including this story on the Retiti Elephant Sanctuary.