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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
Ami offers some background on her career and the stories she shares in her lectures, particularly focusing on Sudan, the last male Northern White Rhino. Ami had first met Sudan at a zoo in the Czech Republic, years before she captured the heartbreaking image of his final moments alive. It was this story that marked her shift from photographing conflict to focusing on stories about animal and environmental conservation.
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.
Momondo published an interview with Ami Vitale about her work traveling the world, covering stories that unite humanity – be it endangered animals, local communities or social unrest.
Ami has spent the past 18 years traveling from country to country, telling one story at a time. Whether it’s social unrest in Asia, the last northern white rhinos in Kenya or the award-winning photo story of the world’s most iconic endangered animal, the giant panda – Ami has lived in mud huts, contracted malaria and even donned a panda suit, all in keeping her philosophy of “living the story.” Throughout the years, Ami has kept returning to the same places, engaging with the local communities. She has made it her mission to tell stories that challenge existing prejudices.