The theme for this year’s World Environment Day is biodiversity protection and the call to action could not be more pertinent. The outbreak of the COVID-19 made us acutely aware of the increasingly visible connection between the wellbeing of humans and the natural world. Our shared experience of the pandemic has highlighted the need for collaboration to tackle the unprecedented and dangerous biodiversity loss, with one million animal and plant species now threatened with extinction.
For the past three years, The Canon Young People Programme (YPP) has been working with the inspirational Mike Kendrick, wildlife conservationist and founder of the Wild Shots Outreach (WSO) NPO in South Africa to support the UN efforts to drive the 2030 Sustainability Goals (SDG). With the UN SDGs 15 – Life on Land as the foundation for the project, Mike has been using photography to break down the barriers between young people in black communities living near the Kruger National Park and their natural heritage, helping them to understand the intrinsic value of wildlife.
Each year, 1.8 million people visit the Kruger National Park, a world-famous wildlife reserve in South Africa. It is home to some of the planet’s most iconic animals including lions, rhinos and elephants, over 500 bird species and 114 reptile species. Surprisingly, the majority of local schools and young people living in the area have never visited the park or seen the wildlife on their doorstep. The lingering impact of apartheid, relatively expensive park entry fees and the lack of transport or fuel means that the national park is not seen as an accessible destination. This disconnect, and complete lack of exposure to the natural habitats are damaging for both the local communities and the wildlife.
How are we ever going to stop and reverse Africa’s dramatic loss of biodiversity when its young people have never seen the country’s wildlife and have no connection to it?
The collaborative project between Mike’s WSO & Canon’s YPP has been addressing this issue, supporting young South Africans from disadvantaged communities in discovering their wildlife heritage and helping them to understand the importance of wildlife conservation. Working with Canon Ambassadors, and Canon camera equipment, Mike Kendrick trains students and unemployed young people in wildlife photography. He takes them on game drives to see the animals and explore what wildlife conservation means to their lives and the benefits it brings to the wider ecosystem. With wildlife tourism contributing an impressive 10% of South Africa’s GDP, there are great opportunities for young people to join this thriving sector and develop employment skills in both conservation & tourism through photography.
Through photography, the YPP students are given the tools to understand the value and precious nature of local wildlife. Connecting with their heritage and developing new, creative skills has seen the students flourish and their self-esteem and confidence grow. Students who joined the project have been incredibly successful in pursuing a career in photography and wildlife conservation. Kgaugelo Neville Ngomane, a participant in the programme, won the 2019 CIWEMs ‘International Young Environmental Photographer of the Year Award’ for his dramatic work depicting wildlife conservation action of rhino de-horning entitled “Desperate Measures”. Three of the YPP students, now part of the WSO Media Team, are in paid employment with Conservation South Africa through the government’s Yes4Youth programme.
The Canon South Africa collaboration has helped WSO to strengthen and extend its schools programme and deliver more advanced courses and workshops. Each year, the programme hosts photography exhibitions where students can share their learnings and points of view with their local communities. With over 600 people attending last year, these events are a great opportunity to start changing perspective on the importance and value of biodiversity.
Everything we do, everything we have, comes from nature. For biodiversity to flourish, we must recognise how important our own role is in maintaining and building real connections to the natural world. Education is the first step in effecting change, and in collaboration with Wild Shots Outreach, Canon’s Young People Programme empowers young people to experience and explore wildlife through the unique experience of photography, creating an adventure which touches lives, influences change, and ultimately protects biodiversity. To learn more about the incredible achievements of the programme make sure to watch our video.