book norton conservation 025 pg78 79 .pdf
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Why did we
choose this picture
for the cover of my
book? Rhinos are
near extinction in
the wild. This photo
imparts a sense of
solitude against a vast
landscape. It asks,
“Are these the last two
rhinos left on earth?”
“The quicker we humans learn that saving open
space and wildlife is critical to our welfare and
quality of life, maybe we’ll start thinking of doing
something about it.” —Jim Fowler
or a conservation photographer, perhaps one of the
most important factors in photographing wildlife
is relating animals to habitat. This is important if
you are involved in protecting a particular ecosystem
threatened with destruction. Resident wildlife there is
dependent on that ecosystem. It becomes a challenge,
then, to portray this relationship in a meaningful way.
A series of photos might do it: close shots of various
animals, habitat photos of the region. A single photo,
done well, can have significant impact.
Large and Small
We are always attracted to what might be called the
charismatic megafauna, the large animals in a particular
habitat: moose, elk, deer, grizzly bears, bighorn sheep,
elephants, lions, etc. These are important, but don’t
overlook the small critters. In many ways, these are
more challenging but equally significant.
A good example is the pika, a small rabbit-like
mammal living above timberline in the high mountain
country of the West. Pikas have been likened to canaries in a coal mine, warning us of the dangers of global
warming. How? Pikas are adapted to very cold temperatures. Rather than spend a winter in hibernation,
they harvest and store tundra grasses in rock shelters
under deep snow and pass away the frigid season wide
awake, happily feeding. Warming temperature, diminishing snowfall, and fewer grasses in the high moun-
The large species (here, a moose and calf in Alaska’s Kenai National
Wildlife refuge) are always fun to portray—but don’t forget the smaller critters.
All of them, large and small, have niches in the ecosystem.
78 conservation photography handbook
top. The American pika is a small lagomorph (rabbit family) that lives in
cold, high-elevation habitats. The species has been likened to the canary in a
coal mine, in this case being adversely affected by global warming. Pikas have
disappeared from more than a third of their previously known habitat in Nevada
and Oregon. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering classifying them as
an endangered species. This one was photographed near the 14,000 foot summit
of Mt. Evans in Colorado.
bottom. Elk in the road in front of my home in Colorado’s Front Range. This
is indicative of certain species adapted to humans in their environment. Elk are
so common that no one pays much attention to them—until they eat the flowers
or vegetables in your garden.
tains are forcing pikas to even higher elevations. But
when they’ve reached the tops of the peaks, there isn’t
anywhere else to go. This is but one conservation story
to be told.
Do Your Research
Undisturbed landscapes have at least two attributes
important to most people: beauty and wildlife. There
are other things of importance as well (such as watershed protection, recreation value, and air quality), but
for many people unspoiled nature is wild animals and
scenic splendor. Polls have shown that wildlife viewing
is one of the top aims for national park visitors.
As a photographer, you’ll probably find it easier to
document the aesthetic features of the place. Wildlife
takes a little more time and patience. If the area you
are documenting is near your home, you are probably
familiar with the wildlife there. If it’s a place in a distant region, then research is important. A simple online
search can bring up a wealth of information. In fact,
you may be surprised to learn about threatened species
even in the habitat you are familiar with.
To test this, I entered in Google Search “wildlife in
front range of Colorado.” Now I’ve lived in Colorado’s
Front Range for nearly fifty years and I’m familiar with
much of the wildlife because I often see mule deer, elk,
and foxes right outside my office window. Neighbors
have seen mountain lions, bobcats, black bears, and
even a wayward moose. Not far from home, on Mt.
Evans, I have photographed mountain goats, bighorn
sheep, and smaller species such as marmots and pikas.
“ Undisturbed landscapes have at
least two attributes important to
most people: beauty and wildlife.
But I had never heard of a Preble’s meadow jumping
It happens that this species is listed as threatened on
the Endangered Species list and is found only in Front
Range habitat in Colorado and southern Wyoming.
It may also be an indicator species reflecting the water
quality in the region because its preferred habitat is
alongside pure, healthy streams lined with grasses it
uses for food and cover. So, you see, research can bring
a lot of information to your attention and give you ammunition in your battle.