Great news to end a busy 2013 has been the recognition for two of our recent photo-journalism projects in this year’s Melvita nature photography competition with French magazine Terre Sauvage and the IUCN.
Images from our work photographing a crack team of top US and South African veterinary surgeons performing pioneering keyhole surgery in the middle of the African bush on wild elephant bulls have been awarded a top prize in the competition – a bursary of 4,000 Euros to photograph a conservation assignment (yet to be decided) for the IUCN.
The portfolio of winning images showed how the vets, in full operating room scrubs, handled these tricky patients using oversized surgical instruments and cutting edge keyhole surgery techniques to perform vasectomies on a number of elephant bulls on a South African reserve to help control population numbers. The procedure, while expensive, is seen as a potential solution to the problems caused by elephant overpopulation in some parts of southern Africa, particularly on smaller game reserves.
Not to put too fine a point on it, an elephant’s testes are inside his body so quite difficult invasive surgery is required. And that’s once you’ve tracked the elephant bull down, tranquillised it from the air and manoeuvred him into position so two teams of surgeons, and their support crew, can safely get to work.
We watched and photographed three such 90 minute operations. All were successful, with the bull stitched up and back on his feet at the end of the complex procedure.
A big thanks to the expert team from the Elephant Population Management Program in America and South African vet Johan Marais for all their help and assistance with this photo project.
A second portfolio of images from our current Project African Rhino photo-journalism campaign to raise awareness about all issues relating to the poaching crisis was also nominated in the competition’s ‘Mankind and Nature’ category.
Our latest toy is a GoPro Hero3+ action camera, and we’re itching to play with it on our upcoming trip to South Africa. We tried out its underwater capabilities on a recent visit to Arran, capturing some snatches of video of jellyfish (there’s a brief clip above of raw footage), and were impressed by the quality for such a tiny, lightweight piece of kit.
We’re not expecting to get much underwater use out of it in the Kalahari (unless the summer storms are particularly bad!) but for wide angle, ultra-close-ups its diminutive size and the ability to operate it from a smart phone or iPad offer exciting possibilities. We’re just keeping our fingers crossed that it doesn’t end up as lunch for an over-curious lion or hyena.
We’ve always had a soft spot for giraffes. Maybe it’s those big, soft eyes and that slightly dopey expression. Or maybe it’s because they’re uniquely African: iconic may be a much over-used word, but in the giraffe’s case it’s certainly appropriate. Yet for all that this gentle giant is instantly recognisable and a favourite of safari-goers and zoo visitors alike, the giraffe has had a poor deal from scientists and conservationists, under studied and under protected.
It seems hard to credit that an animal with such a distinctive and unique physiology has been given so little attention, but finally that’s changing, and new and fascinating information about the giraffe’s natural history is being revealed. It’s not a moment too soon, for Africa’s giraffe population is in an alarming decline, and new research on genetics and taxonomy could be critical in targeting belated conservation efforts.
It’s a timely moment to publish a book about giraffes, and that’s exactly what we’re doing. Our first ebook written and designed specifically for the Apple iPad, is now on sale – just click on this link, or visit the iBook store on your iPad and search for ‘giraffe’ . It’s packed with lots of fascinating insights into the biology, social behaviour and conservation of these charismatic creatures, and illustrated throughout with our favourite images, which look great on the iPad’s screen. If you like it, please give us a review, if you don’t keep it to yourself!
Special thanks to leading giraffe conservation scientist Dr Julian Fennessy, co-chair of the IUCN SSC Giraffe & Okapi Specialist Group , who very kindly checked the text and contributed a foreword to the book.
Wildlife, conservation, photography and ecotourism: the adventures of award-winning photojournalists Ann and Steve Toon