Those stories you told; of smoky jungles filled with exotic animals, of untouched coral reefs overflowing with life, of African plains dominated by millions of migrating animals and awaiting predators. These weren’t fictitious lands. This was real: this was planet Earth. Or so I thought.
In 2009, seduced by these visions, I bought a cheap camera and left behind corporate life in London and headed to Africa on a one-way ticket. My goal was to document the beauty of the natural world and share it with as many people as possible.
It turned out that things weren’t always as they seemed on those BBC documentaries. Everywhere I turned, wildlife was under pressure. Animals were losing their homes to deforestation, targeted for body parts or to create bogus medicines, hunted unsustainably, or kept in cages for our personal amusement or financial gain.
Documenting these stories became my focus. I would spend the next decade travelling to some of the most remote places on the planet, often working undercover, writing about, filming, and photographing human-animal conflict.
I lived with shark fishermen in Mozambique, trained as a wildlife ranger in Zimbabwe and Borneo, and went on a military-style mission to expose Namibia’s annual seal cull. There was a trip to track the ‘tortoise mafia’ through Madagascar’s sacred forests, and another to document the dog-drowning dungeons in Cambodia.
I’ve spent recent years working to expose cruelty in the exotic pet trade and Wildlife Tourism industry, and been subjected to scenes that no one should witness; images that are burned into my brain. In the process of working on these projects, I’ve seen the worst of humanity, and also the best.
The stories contained within ANIMOSITY provide a snapshot of human-animal conflict in today’s ever-changing world; complex, multifaceted issues that often lead to more questions than answers.
Would you fin a shark to support your family? Is killing and eating dogs any worse than chickens? Why does one animal make a suitable pet and not another? Can we condemn ancient traditions and practices that involve the sacrifice of critically endangered animals?
It is the role of photojournalists to document and then to broadcast the truth, without judgment. Well, mostly without judgment. I look at the photograph as a modern day fossil: a permanent reminder of a planet in flux, and a record of what may soon be lost forever.
Animals have always been viewed as commodities to eat, exploit or enjoy. It’s going to take a monumental effort to change perceptions and reverse the statistics. But we cannot continue on the path that we’re on, because sometimes - as we are witnessing in the face of a global pandemic - the animals bite back.
So sit back, enjoy, shed a tear, and be repulsed or inspired by some of the stories contained within AMIMOSITY.
And to Sir David – who has shifted focus from celebrant of the natural world to its fierce defender – you’re my hero.
This is Environmental Photojournalist Aaron 'Bertie’ Gekoski's Introduction to his latest book ANIMOSITY – Human-Animal Conflict in the 21st Century.
We say: ANIMOSITY is a brilliant title for this book ... "Human-Animal Conflict in the 21st Century" is an huge problem in our ever-expanding human world but it is mostly out of our site, hidden away in far-flung places as we continue to encroach on the natural world, using and abusing it until it screams and breaks. Aaron is really an hero for shining a light on these atrocities, born out of wildly different cultural perspectives and complex socio-economic situations. Those that choose to read this stunning book will undoubtably encounter feelings of "animosity" but also a greater understanding of our dire impacts on animals, the natural world and a keen desire to do something about it. JP
ANIMOSITY is available from The Book Depository with FREE DELIVERY WORLDWIDE
Also at Amazon.co.uk (Hardcover) or get the Kindle Edition (in the US: Amazon.com + Kindle)
Purchasing the book from the links provided above will produce affilliate income that will help to support this site.
Or visit: animosity.cpsbooks.com
Also read: ANIMOSITY: Snapshots from the Frontline of Conservation – Will COVID-19 Finally bring an End to Wildlife Tourism?
All images ©Aaron Gekoski
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