Photographer Fights African Poaching With Grisly Pictures

David Braun
National Geographic News

September 30, 2004

Africa's last wild great apes are vanishing. Studies suggest that unless their situation can be stabilized, they may become extinct in the wild within 20 years. The problem has been exacerbated by logging of their habitat—and a huge increase in poaching as hunters gain access to forests along logging roads.

Karl Ammann is a Swiss-born veteran wildlife photographer, author, and conservation activist. He has become increasingly outspoken about the "bush-meat crisis"—bush meat being the meat of wild animals, including apes. The latest book to feature his images, Consuming Nature, draws attention to the slaughter in Africa's remaining forests.

Ammann's sometimes brutally explicit photographs are meant to expose the harshness of the fate of the great apes and other forest animals—in the hope that people everywhere will be shocked into learning more and doing something to help. (See Photo Gallery 1 and Photo Gallery 2. Warning: Photos include depictions of butchered animals.)

National Geographic News interviewed Ammann about his controversial activism. The interview took place by e-mail, with Ammann often responding to questions late at night from his home near Nanyuki in Kenya, or from Thailand, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where he was traveling mostly to document conservation issues.

Ammann has lived in Africa for 25 years, half of that time in his current home on Mount Kenya, which he shares with his wife Katherine, two domesticated chimpanzees, and numerous dogs.

You criticize National Geographic and others for promoting "feel-good conservation." What do you mean by that, and what is your concern?

Anybody who travels this planet and decides to keep an eye on the state of the natural world—as I do regularly—and then combines this anecdotal firsthand data with the flood of scientific information coming over the Internet will come to the conclusion that our natural world is in a hell of a mess.

Anybody sitting at home reading National Geographic, watching [the Discovery TV channel] Animal Planet, and sending an annual check to a major conservation organization will not get that impression. He or she will be confronted with a wide range of "world-in-order tales," with the problem issues tacked on at the end of the story, perhaps with one little paragraph or picture.

Most producers and editors have decided that the public does not want to be confronted with the harsher realities and that their main mission in life is to entertain—and not to lose viewers turning to other entertainment.

Conservation organizations go a step further. They combine the tale of success stories with highlighting some "new problem issues" and the message: If you write us a check we will take care of it. That is what I call feel-good conservation.

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