A photograph of a jaguar projected onto a dark fence at night. A starry sky can be seen above.

Another Barred Migrant, by Alejandro Prieto

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Wildlife Photographer of the Year: the border wall blocking biodiversity

Over 1,500 different species live in habitats spanning the United States-Mexico border.

US President Donald Trump's proposal of an impenetrable wall would put an end to the natural movement of these animals.  

Alejandro Prieto's striking shot of a jaguar projected onto a wall along the USA-Mexico border highlights the impact that man-made boundaries are having on the wildlife that we share our planet with.

Mostly found in South America, jaguar populations have historically stretched into the southwestern USA. Over the last twenty years however, their numbers have dropped by more than half. In Mexico, jaguars have become critically endangered due to significant habitat loss and illegal hunting.

Alejandro, a wildlife photojournalist based in Guadalajara, Mexico, hopes to encourage the 'message of conservation and respect for all living creatures' with his work.

Alejandro captured this image at the border in the Huachuca mountains between the states of Sonora, Mexico, and Arizona, USA.

'This Jaguar lives in Mexico,' he says. 'He lives pretty close to this area in Sonora, so I took this photograph and then projected this same jaguar in the place where it should be crossing into the United States.'

Image credit: Alejandro Prieto

The winning image is the result of careful planning and years of hard work. 'There are only two or three jaguars living in this area. It's almost impossible to get a photo of a living jaguar.'

After working for two years with carefully positioned camera traps, Alejandro finally had the perfect shot of a male jaguar to project onto the wall.

Considering the rest of the composition, Alejandro explained that 'the night is the time where the jaguar moves. To make it more dramatic I needed to add an extra component to the photograph. It was easy to choose the composition but I needed a clear and dark night, so I waited for the perfect moment for everything to come together.'

'To make this image possible, I projected an image of a wild jaguar that I had photographed before in a close area, onto the border fence under a luminous starry sky. It was a 30-second-long exposure and it was the result of long-time planning.'

The striking contrast between the jaguar's illuminated body and the imposing presence of the wall at night is illustrative of the area's ongoing conflict between man and nature. 

Image credit: Alejandro Prieto


A shared border

Jaguars are not the only species at risk from the border wall. Alejandro has worked hard to highlight the problem that this wall will cause for many of the other animals that live in the area. 'There are 1,506 native animals and plants, including 62 species that are listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List,' he explains.

'Iconic species such as peninsular bighorn sheep, American bison, the Mexican grey wolf, Sonoran pronghorn, ocelot and even low-flying birds like the ferruginous pygmy owl are at risk from this border wall.'

When considering his choice of the jaguar for this particular image, Alejandro says, 'I chose a jaguar because it is the perfect example of how this iconic species has almost disappeared from the United States, and it will never be back unless the border opens. Habitat loss is the most important reason that jaguar populations are on decline.

'In this case the wall will not affect the jaguar population in Mexico, but with so few individuals it will definitely extinguish them in the USA.'

Despite this dramatic threat to the biodiversity of the United States, Alejandro worries that decision makers are not sufficiently concerned about the implications of the wall for wildlife. 

Image credit: Alejandro Prieto


'The border wall is blocking or stopping the connectivity and the movement of this animal, from one place to another,' he says. 'Animals don't know about borders or barriers, so I think this is really important to show, because most of the time we talk about immigrants and we talk about drug smuggling, but we never talk about wildlife.'

Alejandro's work provides a unique perspective on the issue of the border wall and highlights the impact that humans are having on the natural world.

The bigger picture

In 2017 the Trump administration committed to building and completing the remaining 2,095 kilometres of the border wall. His team intends to sidestep existing environmental and conservational laws in order to make this happen. If successful, jaguars as well as several other species are likely to go extinct in this region.

Alejandro is passionate about using his platform to spread awareness of the biological and environmental impacts of this man-made blockade.

'I think this is something that has to be told and I think this is the perfect example of how to show it,' he says.

'This competition goes around so many countries. For me as a storyteller, I work doing conservation stories, and I think for me it's necessary to have this kind of exposure so my pictures can be seen as much as they can, by many people around the world.'

On the topic of photojournalism, Alejandro says, 'I think there has never been a more important time for photojournalism than now. Photography is an extraordinary tool to get to millions of people from all around the world and a photojournalist's job is to show people what is happening out there, to create those images that inspire or move people to act, hopefully in a positive way.'

With the biodiversity of these landscapes under threat, environmentalists like Alejandro are relying on their ability to educate and promote awareness as a means of protecting the wildlife that is in danger. 

You can see more of Alejandro's work on his website and find out more about the Northern Jaguar Project online. 

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