It is one thing to know that the world’s wild animal population is sharply declining and it is quite another to understand what this actually means. In the past half a century, we have seen the abundance of the world’s animal species decline at a rate that has been otherwise undocumented in human history, leading scientists to assert that we are in fact in the midst of the world’s sixth period of mass extinction. While other periods of mass species loss have been caused by meteors or natural changes in climate, this particular epoch of extinction is driven by humans.
From poaching to mass deforestation, pollution and man-made greenhouse gas emissions, human actions have caused over 1,000 species to go extinct in the past 200,000 years and this number is only predicted to increase and accelerate in coming years. As we begin to see the connection between our actions, species loss and the downstream ramifications for the world’s ecosystem, our fate and resilience becomes intrinsically tied to the animals around us. With this, the need to understand what is happening to the world’s animals and take action to protect them becomes incredibly important. This is where conservationist Adrian Steirn steps in.
Using Photos to Tell the Stories of Endangered Animals
“For as long as I can remember I have been obsessed with animals,” Steirn tells One Green Planet. “When I was a boy I used to read obsessively about wildlife, learning Latin names and behavior.”
Despite this obsession with the world’s different animal species, Steirn pursued a law degree and did not seriously consider getting involved in an animal-related field until he took a trip to Africa. With his father’s camera in hand, Steirn immediately fell in love with all of the majestic creatures that surrounded him and capturing their images on film.
“Becoming a photographer was something of a happy accident,” he explains, “I realized that photography was a way to see the world and tell stories, and things developed from there.”
Using photographs to convey a message about the need to conserve wildlife has become a passion of Steirn. It has carried him across the world and he now serves as the photographer in residence for the World Wildlife Fund-South Africa. The animals that Steirn photographs are more than just animals, they are individuals who serve as ambassadors for their species. Using expert techniques, he is able to capture a haunting sense of intimacy and urgency in his subjects that makes it impossible for his audience to walk away without feeling they’ve made a connection with these creatures.
When they learn about the struggles these animals are facing as a result of human actions, they have no choice but to want to help.
Spreading a Conservation Message to Those Who Need it Most
Reaching a broad and diverse audience is Steirn’s ultimate goal, as he believes that the conservation movement has been isolated to a small group of people for far too long.
“At the moment, a lot of conservation activity is directed at people who are already invested in conservation,” he explains, “A group of scientists will attend a conference and talk to each other about their research. It’s a valuable process and one that needs to take place. But in order for conservation to move forward, there needs to be a concerted effort to take these conversations, make them appealing to the broader public, and involve them in the process. Without awareness on a broader scale, change will be slow and ineffective.”
Considering the fact that one elephant is poached for their ivory every 15 minutes, it is clear that this species, (like many others), cannot afford to wait for slow or ineffective action.
We have seen recently in the U.S. how the public’s awareness of the illegal ivory trade has lead to direct and pointed bans on the import and export of ivory on a state level. The U.S. is the world’s second largest market for illegal ivory, so this legislation plays stands to make a real difference for elephants across the world. Seeing this as an example, Steirn’s assertion to the power of spreading the need for conservation to the general public is proven. Individual governments and figureheads can only take so many steps to protect wild animals, it is up to us as a collective whole to bring about real, meaningful change.
“All I can ask is that people continue to share their passion,” says Steirn, “By spreading the message of conservation, we can make a difference. The world can and should understand that what we do to the animals we do to ourselves.”
What Can You Do?
While mankind has proven to be an incredibly destructive force, we can also be an equally productive one when we put our minds to it. After all, concerted conservation efforts helped to bring the yellow-tailed wooly monkey back from the brink from extinction in the Amazon or the Gray Wolf in North America. When we work to understand how our individual actions impact the animals around us, we are empowered to take action for the better. We have a long way to go to repair the damage that we’ve done to the world’s species, but if we do not start to act now, we can only expect to lose more species within our lifetimes.
“If my work in conservation has helped to preserve some of our planet’s wild places and animals I will be satisfied. Protecting endangered species is a struggle that will go on past my lifetime, and we need to start making a difference now before it is too late.”
So Green Monsters, remember the power that you have to make a difference and share these photos and this article with everyone you know.
All image source: Adrian Steirn