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Photographing elephants in the wild led to them also capturing this photographer’s heart
Working as a communications consultant for Save the Elephants and the Elephant Crisis Fund, wildlife photographer Jane Wynyard has witnessed, and lensed, moments in nature one can only dream of. From cheetahs and hyenas in the remote Namib desert to endangered mountain gorillas in the Virungas in Rwanda, it was the wild elephants in Samburu “that truly captured my heart”. Here, she shares her thoughts on her path to wildlife photography, the power of nature, and her hopes for the future of the planet.
Save the Elephants is a research and conservation foundation aiming to protect African elephants from myriad human and climate-related threats. Throughout history, the stoic creature has inspired respect from the people that share the landscape with them, giving them a strong cultural significance. Save the Elephants conduct vital research on elephant ecology leading to solid scientific data that has helped shift international policy towards a better future for the species. They defend elephants against ivory poachers and traffickers, create innovative solutions to prevent elephants from raiding crops and spread awareness of the elephants plight by involving local people in research and education to develop a deeply sensitive and localised conservation ethic. They recognise that the best ambassadors for elephants are the people with whom they share their land.
What is your hope for the future of the world? What gets you excited about the future?
I think the pandemic has drawn much-needed attention to the natural world and how much we rely on healthy ecosystems. We can learn so many lessons from Covid especially about the intricate balance of life and nature. While it’s been wonderful to see nature ‘recovering’, air pollution reducing and oceans becoming cleaner, we all need to continue to re-examine our relationship with the natural world and ensure we don’t slide backwards. The pandemic has woken us up, I truly hope we don’t go back to sleep.
Did your upbringing in New Zealand lead you where you are now?
I was born in New Zealand and grew up there and in Canada and the US. I believe my upbringing had a lot to do with where my life has ended up. Firstly NZ is surrounded by nature and the ocean and so much of my childhood was spent exploring the outdoors.
My mum is a passionate environmentalist having won awards for her advocacy work in New Zealand. She has a great love of animals and nature and taught me so much about the natural world. The first movie she ever took me to was Born Free when I was about six years old. My step-dad also loved National Geographic and we watched a lot of nature documentaries together. He died this year after a long illness but I know that he was enormously proud of the work I’m doing.
We were a very outdoorsy family – hiking, sailing, swimming, camping. We once spent six weeks staying on a remote island in the Coromandel and lived off the land and sea. It was magic. I also learnt to surf in New Zealand and fell in love with the ocean. I guess I’ve always had one foot in nature and one foot in the urban world.
“It’s just that fashion is no longer my life. Elephants are.”
What do you think the natural world is desperately needing right now?
Space to grow and move. Humans are smothering the planet. Elephants across Africa for example are being squeezed out of their natural habitats; their ecosystems destroyed by deforestation, urban development and growing human populations. As a result human-elephant conflict is on the rise as humans and elephants bump up against each other, competing for resources and space. Elephants and humans can and do get killed or badly injured as a result. Human-elephant conflict is a growing major threat to the future of wild elephants on our planet.
You have said you feel the happiest in the natural world, why is this? It is a world away from the urban life you lived in London.
Because I feel alive. I have purpose – I’m helping to save elephant lives for starters and hopefully inspiring others to do the same. I’m connected with the beauty of nature and surrounded by bush and wildlife and I’m doing something wonderfully creative. I see and experience new things every day and I love my work. Nature feeds my soul and reminds me of why I’m on this planet. I am also for the first time in a long time, truly at peace with myself here. I can happily spend hours and hours alone watching elephants in the field and my mind is clear and calm. When I lived in London, I could barely sit still for more than half an hour, always seeking out people, things to do, places to go.
Coming from a fashion background where aesthetics are everything, do you see beauty in the everyday and not necessarily beautiful things?
I see beauty in everything - the sky, the evening light, changing colours of the landscape, the mountains and hills in the distance, the reflection of the water in the river, the patterns of elephant skin, lizards on trees, birds in flight. But there is nothing quite like going to the nearest town, Archer’s Post, on market day and seeing the beautiful Samburu warriors with their bright colours, head dresses, beadwork, feathers and blinged out motorbikes all mingling together in one crowded dusty street. The colours and energy are invigorating!
And just because I live in the bush doesn’t mean I’ve completely turned my back on fashion. I still love to dress up when I’m in Nairobi or visiting places like London and Sydney. In Samburu, I buy five dollar diras (long Somali dresses) from the nearby town of Isiolo and accessorise them with local beadwork. It’s just that fashion is no longer my life. Elephants are.