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.
I am excited to continue touring as one of the featured National Geographic photographers at the National Geographic Live series in Portland, Victoria B.C., Omaha, Ontario, Buffalo, San Jose, and Los Angeles. My talk, titled “Rhinos, Rickshaws & Revolutions,” is about my exploration of the world from temples to war zones and rhinos to pandas. Tickets and information are available online. In the mornings, I will speak to local schools, and later in the evenings t0 adult audiences. See you out there!
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 honored to speak to National Geographic’s Through the Lens blog about my work and the power of photography to connect people. I wanted to convey the truth about places beyond the dramatic headlines and spend my life working to highlight our commonalities rather than our differences.
The power of photography is that you can look at an image and instantly feel something. I’ve been on this mission to tell stories that connect and inspire people and at the core of that is empathy. Empathy is more valuable than any piece of gear or beautifully crafted image.
A technically perfect image, beautiful in every way, is not a perfect image. To me an image has to have soul. It has to work together with other images to tell a story that make me think.
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.