Africa's conservation heroes: A guest blog from Peter Chadwick
02 February 2018 posted by: Zoe - WPY Comms Officer
Wildlife photojournalism often grabs our attention with images depicting the world’s most vulnerable animals and the threats they face. It’s perhaps less common to see pictures of the people who work to protect them and aid their conservation.
Peter Chadwick’s shortlisted #WPYPeoplesChoice image ‘Bloody ivory’ symbolises the experiences and struggles of African rangers. As part of our guest blog series, he tells us more about the rangers working to protect Africa’s wildlife, and the risks they’re frequently confronted with.
Taken in a protected area of Zululand, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, Peter’s image ‘Bloody ivory’ depicts a ranger’s bloody hand resting on a heavily grained ivory tusk, also covered in the blood of an African elephant.
As a conservationist and photojournalist, I have spent the last few years documenting the unprecedented upsurge in wildlife crime and the slaughter of Africa’s vast natural wealth. In the last decade, well over 8000 rhino have been slaughtered for their horns that have been filtered into the illegal market where they are far more valuable than gold and the hard-core drugs.
Elephant herds have been decimated for their ivory and the additional threats of bushmeat poaching, the illegal pet trade, mining interests and illegal logging face some of the greatest conservation areas on the continent.
The ravages of this wildlife slaughter are reported daily in the media, but little is said about the actual rangers on the ground in the national parks and protected areas who have to deal with the impact of this poaching on a 24/7 basis.
The rangers’ job is often undertaken without recognition where they have to work in remote wilderness areas under arduous conditions, usually where communication is a serious challenge and resource support is extremely scarce.
These rangers make enormous sacrifices and regularly place their lives at risk in apprehending poaching groups and by ensuring the integrity of Africa's protected areas.
Sadly, during the last ten years, over 1000 rangers have sacrificed their lives for conservation and the rate of rangers being killed by poachers is rapidly escalating on the African continent. This increase in encounters with often well-armed poachers is also resulting in increasing incidents of post-traumatic stress disorder, acute stress disorder and burnout fatigue amongst the rangers.
Despite the stresses from undertaking dangerous anti-poaching patrols the rangers form close bonds and will go to extreme lengths to protect one another from danger. They have incredibly positive outlooks on life and have an amazing sense of humour, finding reason to laugh at the smallest things.
It is time for us to acknowledge that these rangers are the guardians of Africa’s iconic wildlife and the wider habitats these animals live in. Without the crucial protection provided by rangers, the lion, elephant, rhino and countless other species could soon disappear, and the wildlife tourism industry would collapse with it.
I hope that by documenting their work through the medium of photography and communicating their story through channels like this blog I can help these conservation heroes to gain the recognition they deserve and the support they need.
• Voting for the People's Choice Award is open until 12.00pm GMT on 5 February. See the shortlist and vote for your winner.
• The winning image will be revealed on 13 February, and will be showcased in the #WPY53 exhibition at the Natural History Museum in London, open until 28 May.
ABOUT PETER CHADWICK
Peter Chadwick is an internationally recognised award winning photographer. He specialises in photographing and writing about conservation and environmental issues on the African continent. Peter is a Fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers.
Peter’s conservation photography project was carried out in partnership with the International League of Conservation Photographers and the Game Rangers Association of Africa (GRAA).
To find out more about Peter, visit his website.