On Mar. 16, 2019 Ami delivered the talk “Falling in Love With a Unicorn” to a sold out crowd at TEDxBergamo. In it, she discusses the foundations of her work and how falling in love with a rhino named Sudan changed the course of her life and the lives of many others. Watch the whole inspiring talk at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=00bunXTIKJw
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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 email@example.com and include “Flash sale” in your subject line.
Thank you for your support!
Five years ago, I heard about a plan to airlift four of the last Northern White Rhinos from a zoo in the Czech Republic back to Africa. It sounded like a storyline for a Disney film but in reality, it was a desperate, last ditch effort to save an entire species. There are only seven of these rhinos left in existence. When I saw these huge, hulking gentle creatures surrounded by smokestacks and factories in the zoo outside of Prague, it seemed so unfair that we have reduced an entire species to this.
In December 2009, the Lewa Conservancy in Kenya airlifted the last four breeding age Northern White Rhinos from Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. As of 2014, there are only seven of these rhinos living in the world.
Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya worked hard to make the move possible and the rhinos were flown on a cold, snowy night in December, 2009. They landed and were brought to roam “free” on the savannas of Kenya at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy. The hope was then, and now, to breed them. The air, water, and food, not to mention room to roam, might stimulate them to breed—and the offspring would then be used to repopulate Africa. Failing successful breeding, they will be cross-bred with Southern White Rhinos to preserve the genes.
Recently, I had the opportunity to go back to Kenya on behalf of the Nature Conservancy to visit the four rhinos who had been airlifted to Kenya: Sudan, Suni, Najin and Fatu. It warmed my heart to see them nuzzling on the open plains, but I was reminded of a tragic truth by the team of armed guards who are there to protect them from poachers. Poaching is not slowing down, and it’s entirely possible, even likely, that if the current trajectory of killing continues, rhinos, along with elephants and a host of lesser known plains animals, will be functionally extinct in our lifetime. Organized by sophisticated heavily armed criminal networks and fueled by heavy demand from newly minted millionaires in emerging markets, poaching is devastating the amazing mega-fauna of the African plains.
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 frontlines of the poaching wars and the incredible work that is being done to strengthen them. These communities may hold the key to saving Africa’s great animals.
The Nature Conservancy has been helping the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) form “community wildlife conservancies.” These conservancies benefit the indigenous communities, and help locals understand that high-end tourists are far more valuable to them over the long term than the short-term gain of poaching. The hope is that if their welfare, education and livelihoods are being jeopardized when a rhino or elephant is killed, local communities won’t let it happen.
We can often forget that the best protectors of these landscapes are the local communities themselves. Their efforts to preserve community cohesion is ultimately the best immunization against forces that threaten both their wildlife and way of life. See more HERE.
They are huge but gentle, lumbering beasts and there are only eight left on the entire planet. Scientists believe the magnificent Northern White rhinos are nearly extinct. There are rumors of some, a few at best, in Southern Sudan but none have been seen for many years now. These eight, two in the San Diego Zoo and six in the Dvur Kralove Zoo in cold, snowy Czech Republic are all we know of the second largest land animal on earth.
In a last ditch effort to save this species from extinction, the Lewa Conservancy in Kenya cut a deal to airlift the last four breeding age animals from the Czech Zoo to live “free” on the savannas of Kenya, not too far from Mt. Kenya. The hope is that Africa, the temperance of the climate and the room to roam will entice them to breed and establish a nucleus for the future re-population of their former Central African range. If that does not work, then breeding them with Southern Whites can help preserve their genes.
I heard about the plans and immediately visited them while I was in Prague for a workshop last October. The story captured my heart instantly. It is a story of hope and of a second chance, something rarely seen in the environmental movement. Surprisingly, no one was interested because it was not a visual story. The rhinos would be in wooden crates for the entire journey and to most editors, it justifiably was a lot of expense for a story that would be difficult to tell. In today’s economic climate, no one can afford to risk investing in a story that might not work.
Yet, I could not let go and wrote another more impassioned appeal for help to get me there. This move was a last ditch effort for saving this entire species and I did not want to miss the opportunity to document it. It was more than a story of flying rhinos 4000 miles across the globe. It was a story of conservationists feeling confident enough with Africa to bring back a critically, endangered animal. The animals are getting old and they would not live long in the Eastern European zoo, under smokestacks and snow. I could not imagine a more poignant picture.
Thankfully, several organizations pitched in. None could afford the entire costs but each was willing to help. Organizations like National Geographic, MSNBC.com the Knight Center for International Media and The Nature Conservancy supported me to tell this great story of hope and reversals. I am so grateful to them and the people that allowed me access, specifically the wonderful, generous people of Dvur Kralov Zoo and Ol Pejeta Nature Conservancy. There are so many people to thank and the woman who made it all possible is Elodie Sampere of Ol Pejeta. I am eternally indebted to her for her persistence and generous spirit. Berry White and Pete Morkel are the veterinarians who were incredibly patient as I followed them in what must have been one of the more sleep deprived moments of their lives. There are so many people to thank for allowing me the privilege to witness this incredible moment.
On my last day, moments before I was set to drive back to Nairobi, the skies darkened and it felt like a monsoon in the middle of the savannah. Within minutes, the rhinos responded like children, running as fast as they could and then flopping their 2 ton bodies into a belly dive in the most glorious mud bath. Sure I don’t want to be too anthromorphic about such things, but they looked like they were smiling. That moment alone was worth all that it took to be there. The fact that this is the beginning of a renewed interest in keeping and repopulating parts of Africa with this magnificent species, whose only curse was to be born with a price on its head, is all the inspiration I need.
The rhinos are doing well and adapting quickly. If you want to keep updated on how they are or find out how to visit them, go to Ol Pejeta’s website.
View the story at msnbc.com
They are huge but gentle, lumbering beasts and there are only eight left on the entire planet. Scientists believe the magnificent Northern White rhinos are nearly extinct. In a last ditch effort to save this species from extinction, the Lewa Conservancy in Kenya cut a deal to airlift the last four breeding age animals from the Czech Zoo to live “free” on the savannas of Kenya. You can read more about the trip in my blog.