When the National Geographic Instagram account, @natgeo, recently reached the milestone of 100 million followers, they celebrated by sharing albums of their most popular images from the account. Three of Ami Vitale’s photographs were included in these selections, which show the imagery that resonated most deeply with audiences worldwide.
Out of 20,000 photos that have been posted on their Instagram account, the photo of Sudan being comforted by his long time keeper Joseph elicited more reactions than all but one photo ever posted on their feed. The moment resonated across the globe and served as a powerful wake up call to tens of millions of people.
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.
Ami Vitale will be leading a 9-day photographic safari through two of Botswana’s most wildlife rich regions. The safari will take place Oct. 9-Oct. 17.
This safari will travel through Botswana’s Chobe National Park and the remarkable Okavango Delta, where guests can make use of Ami’s extensive knowledge as well as specially adapted safari vehicles and on-site photo labs, an experience which provides budding wildlife photographers with everything they need to craft the perfect shot.
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.
“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 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.
Ami Vitale’s photographs of the Retiti Elephant Sanctuary and the heartbreaking image of Sudan, the last male Northern White Rhino’s final moments are featured on 6 foot high cubes in the Dave Matthews Band Ecovillage. They will be on display there at the entrance to all 47 shows this summer, drawing attention to the importance of wildlife conservation.
I am very excited to share an important and hopeful story in Northern Kenya. At the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary, the local Samburu community is helping to save what is left of Kenya’s wildlife. What’s happening here at Reteti, without fanfare, is nothing less than the beginnings of a transformation in the way Samburus relate to wild animals they have long feared. This oasis where orphaned elephants 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. Read more about Reteti in my National Geographic story and please consider donating to Reteti.
The giraffe population has plummeted more than 40 percent over the past 30 years. To make matters worse, scientists know relatively little about giraffe behavior. But a group of scientists and wildlife experts is working to untangle the mystery behind these animals’ rapid decline. In early June, I followed a group from the San Diego Zoo Global and the Giraffe Conservation Foundation working with communities within the Northern Rangelands Trust to collar and tag 11 giraffe in the Loisaba and Leparua Conservancies in Northern Kenya. Learn more about efforts to discover patterns in giraffe behavior from my World Giraffe Day National Geographic post.