Friday, November 11, 2011

Going Back to Ethiopia

For a long while I've been trying to give greater meaning and purpose to the images I create. I've donated work to organizations like the Marine Mammal Rescue & Rehabilitation Center to honor the volunteers who give so much and the SFBBO in support of avian science and research in the San Francisco bay area. While on Midway Atoll I took a photograph of garbage that washed ashore urging people to recycle which won a highly honored mention in the Natures Best Photography Competition and I've donated prints to the Marine Debris symposium. But I've wanted to do more.

Many of us cast about for our defining moments, for the perfect images to fill our portfolio, for the iconic image that defines us as a photographer or the perfect project to inspire us. I found my inspiration in Ethiopia this past spring.

A friend and volunteer at the Marine Mammal Center contacted me about the opportunity to travel to the Bale Mountains in Ethiopia with the premier canid researcher, Dr Claudio Sillero. I've always been shy of wildlife photography in Africa. The image that springs immediately to my mind is one of a pair of lions surrounded by five or more land rovers. This particular trip was something altogether different.

It was a hard trip, physically and mentally. I'd been struggling with plantar facitis for well over a year. Some days it was nearly impossible to stand but the opportunity to view such a remote and rugged land with the Dr Sillero was simply too good to pass up. So, I packed my bags an pushed through my pain. Frankly, there is no way I would have been able to complete the trek without my trusty steed Dama. The little ponies in Ethiopia are extremely strong and sure-footed and full of more than a little bit of personality.

The estimated 10k elevation turned into 14k. 3-5 miles a day turned into 13-16 miles. After some of the rides I had to cling to Damas saddle after dismounting for support until I could feel my knees again.

The sun was fierce but not as fierce as the wind. I learned the hard way why Ethiopians wear head scarves wrapped tightly around thier faces. The skin on my face dried, cracked and bled. One morning I awoke with horrible facial edema, I could barely open my eyes.

When we finally descended altitude at the end of the trip, I had the worst nose bleed of my life. My hotel room looked like a scene from a teenage slasher movie.

Oh and did I mention the deisel truck that crashed and burned in front of us on the highway back to Addis Ababa, the only route we could take back to the city?

Through all of this I never once asked myself 'what the hell am I doing here'?

Who could have guessed that I would fall completely in love with the elusive and enigmatic Ethiopian Wolf? This was a project I could throw myself behind.

Everyone knows about jackals, hyenas and the beautiful African Wild dog but when you mention wolves in Africa you often get a surprised stare... The most endangered canine in Africa and the vast majority of people don't even know it exists.

And so I am going back, a bit better prepared for the challenges of working at high altitude than I was on the scouting trip. My goal is to capture stunning images of the wolves and the conservation group working to save them from extinction that can be used to reach a wide audience and advocate for the species.

Just as the skin on my face was able to heal, given the right opportunity and support the Ethiopian Wolf can recover. The tireless dedication of the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Program has smoothed the way for a government approved vaccination program that will allow the wolves to resist future outbreaks of rabies and canine distemper and recover in numbers.

Due to the isolation of the region it will be hard to get updates through but I hope to be able to post to our blog and twitter feed as often as possible so you can all follow the adventure.

Twitter http://twitter.com/EWproject

-- Post From My iPhone