At nineteen and a half thousand square kilometres, Kruger National Park in South Africa is vast and home to many thousands of native animals. The conservation effort within comes from the efforts of hundreds of staff, who work round the clock to keep the park ticking over, the animals observed and – as much as possible – protected in their natural environment. However, poaching has been a scourge on rhino populations here for as long as anyone can remember and despite a sustained campaign on the part of Kruger staff and law enforcement it shows no sign of significantly abating.
Prior to 2008 the numbers of rhino poached was low, but it has increased alarmingly. Since 2013 there have been around a thousand confirmed losses in South Africa every year and last year one rhino was killed or poached every twelve hours. If this continues there will be no wild rhinos anywhere by 2025 and all because rhino horns are an extremely valuable commodity in some markets. In traditional Chinese medicine they are erroneously believed have healing qualities – even so far as to be used for treating cancer – but they are also increasingly being used as a status symbol. In Asia, where rhinos have largely been hunted to extinction, trafficked horns can command a small fortune.
Kruger’s location makes it a hotspot for poachers, both for its large rhino population and its location bordering Mozambique, which offers an escape route into a different legal jurisdiction. Unfortunately, all these things combined have created an atmosphere of normalisation in the areas neighbouring Kruger, where generation after generation of communities see less in the value of the actual wildlife and more in the financial benefits that poaching can bring.
Anti-poaching education has many entry points – from poacher to purchase – and in the communities around Kruger there is plenty of work to be done. Conservationist Mike Kendrick founded Wild Shots Outreach to “engage young people in nature and conservation through photography” and through his outreach programme, Mike visits the communities on Kruger’s doorstep. It’s a saddening fact that many of the local young people have never been inside the national park or seen any of its extraordinary animals, despite living right next door.
Founded in 2015, the programme has already reached over 455 learners through 51 courses. Every student who passes through the programme is given an education in the fundamentals of conservation, photography and visual storytelling, which takes a more global outlook on a region that is normally just the backdrop to their day-to-day lives. They then have the opportunity to apply their learning as they head to the park for a game drive. There are lively discussions, critiques and feedback, and at the end of their week students are presented with certificates and prints of their photographs. Their school also receives a DSLR camera in order that they can continue to apply their skills.
Mike’s visits to local schools and workshops with previously disadvantaged students aim is to offer a different perspective on the park, while teaching new and transferable life skills. The hope is that when the young people start to see the animals through the lens of a photographer and conservationist, they will stop seeing their potential as a saleable commodity. By reframing the opportunities available, Mike gives the students the chance to see a future where creative careers are possible and real step changes within communities can be made, as these young people enthusiastically share a new world view with their peers, families and friends.
Wild Shots Outreach is supported by Canon Imaging for Good, which seeks to empower a new generation – helping them to develop their skills, firing their passion for imaging and inspiring them through the power of visual storytelling.