August 2022 Highlights

Would you like to find out more about the unusual and intriguing content added to our site this month? Read on to learn how Alejandro Prieto captured the difficult realities jaguars face in Mexico, to share Franco Banfi’s exploration of an underwater Roman city, and to get close to  polar bears with Steve Kazlowski and Danny Green. And Joel Sartore reveals more amazing creatures from the Photo Ark project. Our photographers share the stories behind the August 2022 Highlights images in their own words…

John Waters – Squirrel Athletes

Photographer John Waters would have preferred to photograph native red squirrels. However, since the 1890’s the arrival of grey squirrels from North America has decimated their population in England. Waters spent most of his professional career filming for wildlife film productions but when not filming he gets his image making fix from stills photography.

“I walk through this churchyard near Bristol most days on my way to the shops and noticed the squirrels using the gravestones as stepping stones,” says Waters. Grey Squirrels can be seen throughout the year but are more energetic and active in the Autumn months. During this time their main priority is to eat as much as possible to fatten up and store food for the winter.

“It took many hours before I started to get good photos of the squirrels jumping across the grave stones. They needed to get used to me plus my camera and long lens. The squirrels often get food scraps from local people on lunch breaks and so their trust in people made it easier for me to get close. I love gaining the trust of a wild animal and that’s what I like about these photos. They show the squirrels as they are: plucky, bold, charming and fantastically athletic!”

Alejandro Prieto – The Future of Jaguars

Solitary, beautiful and elusive, the jaguar is the biggest native feline to roam the Americas. Over the past 20 years, though, jaguars have become even more elusive as their population has dropped by more than half. With fewer than 3,500 left in the wild, they are considered a critically endangered species in many countries, including Mexico. Here they have suffered habitat fragmentation, illegal hunting, loss of prey and conflict with humans (especially ranchers trying to protect their livestock). This photo story, by Alejandro Prieto, captures the beauty of the jaguar and the difficult reality it faces in Mexico.

A Risky Shot

Jaguars have disappeared from the US in the last century, mostly due to habitat loss and control programs intended to protect livestock. “I aimed to capture a jaguar crossing the Mexico-US border,” says Prieto. “Since this task is practically impossible, it occurred to me to symbolically project an image of a wild jaguar on to a section of the US-Mexico border wall.”

Efficiency was the key to capturing this image. “The main challenge was without a doubt the insecurity,” Prieto explained. “Cartels use this area to cross drugs and people into the US. I had some scary encounters with them, but luckily it didn’t get any worse. I was able to project images of jaguars I took in Mexico onto the wall and use a long exposure to bring out the starry sky, adding more drama to the image. Eventually, I captured this image in Sky Island, between the states of Sonora and Arizona. This is the last area a jaguar was recorded crossing from Mexico to the United States.”

A New Perspective

“I wanted to show wild jaguars from an angle never seen before,” says Prieto. The vision was to capture the animals from below. However, the task proved to be very difficult and full of challenges. “First, I needed to find a path where the jaguars pass often and then locate a narrow section, channelling the jaguars to the particular spot where I will place my camera. I found a spot in ‘La Papalota’, a private reserve located in the south part of Marismas Nacionales, Nayarit. Here, I buried a camera trap pointing upwards. I had to bury everything, including all the cables, making it tricky to check the trap as I had to dig it up every time. I also had to clean the lens every two days as it was constantly getting dirt on it. Patience was definitely the key to getting these images.”

Jaguars in Local Culture

Every year on the 15th August the people of the little town of Chilapa de Alvarez in Guerrero, Mexico dress up in jaguar costumes during the festival ‘La Tigrada.’ Each costume is unique and handmade using wooden masks and the hair and teeth of wild pigs. The celebration is probably the most important celebration dedicated to any animal in the country. Jaguars have a very strong influence on both pre-Hispanic and modern cultures. During the festival people pray to the jaguar god, known as Tepeyollotl, for fertile earth and plentiful of rainfall. However, the modern reality of this town is that jaguars disappeared many years ago. Now the town is a very violent place and crime rates are among the highest in the country.

Jaguars are endangered across Mexico, partly due to illegal hunting. In Quintana Roo Prieto discovered a man with two jaguar skins in his house. “After a long time searching small towns, I eventually found someone with skins,” says Prieto. “He agreed to let me photograph them if I kept his identity hidden.” The increasing demand for jaguar parts in Asian markets has directly worsened the problem. “During this documentary I heard several stories of Chinese people looking for jaguar fangs and skins,” says Prieto. Unfortunately, the strict measures taken by the Chinese government against tiger poaching, has meant that China has found the perfect substitute for the lust for tiger parts: jaguars.

Franco Banfi – Atlantis

On the Italian coast near Naples lies an area of exceptional heritage known as the Phlegraean Fields or Campi Flegrei. Literally translated as the “burning fields”, this is a huge 13 kilometre wide caldera containing multiple volcanic craters. The volcanic field has seen some extremely violent eruptions, although during historic times the eruptions have only been small. However, frequent episodes of major ground deformation, in the form of large-scale uplift and collapse, have had consequential impacts on Baia. Built during the Roman era, the city was once chosen by rich Romans for holidays, vices and pleasures. Now due to the ground collapsing, the settlement is populated by fish under the sea.

Photographer Franco Banfi took the opportunity to explore and capture this underwater Atlantis, which is more than 2000 years old. As Banfi finned his way along an ancient paved road running through Baia, he saw the ruins of villas, palaces and spas. “No other place in the world has such treasures,” says Banfi.  “Swimming through the various zones of this now marine protected area, revealed what life was like in Baia.”

A Place of Royalty

Zone A covered the Villa dei Pisoni, occupying approximately 290 x 270 m of the seabed, at 5 to 8 m depth. Baia was built for nobility and was home to the imperial family. Extravagance and luxury resulted in bizarre and refined architectural forms.

Close to the villa lie the remains of the Nymphaeum Triclinium (banquet hall) of the Emperor Claudio. The entry of the building was built on the side of the sea and water came inside the rooms surrounding a U-shaped platform. On the platform were Triclinium beds on which people lay while dining and having parties. Foods were probably served on floating plates sailing on the water giving the impression of eating suspended in the waves.

Life in Baia

“I finned along spaces once frequented by the emperor, his court, his lovers and Roman statesmen. They spent time eating and drinking, making alliances and conspiracies, doing business and indulging their wildest desires,” says Banfi. “Aristocrats could come and shed their public persona and pursue pleasures in private. What happened at Baia stayed at Baia, which was a scandalous and luxurious party town.”

The building was covered with natural limestone, coloured marble and polychrome mosaics made of glass gems and shells. “I swam among statues adorning the nymphaeum that represented the family of the Emperor. The sculptural decoration seemed to incite the visitors to enjoy the joys of life.”

Sinking City

At the end of the fourth century A.C., the first signs of the slow downward movement began. Later, the entire land of Baiae dropped more than six meters when the underlying magma chamber of this volcanically active region emptied. If the sea had not swallowed the coast, much of this heritage would have been lost forever.

Now it is impossible to separate the archaeological aspects from the biological ones. The symbiosis between human history and marine life is evident since most of the marine organisms adhere, proliferate and find shelter on the submerged archaeological structures. A wide variety of organisms like octopus, small crustaceans and reef fish prowl among the submerged city. The city is also adorned by  sedentary organisms, such as algae, sponges, sea anemones, sea urchins and starfish.

Capturing the Ruins

“First, I made a reconnaissance dive and a deep study of the map and historical representations. It was important to plan my pictures so that I didn’t forget something. During the dives I followed a certified guide, who temporarily fanned away the sediments covering floors and mosaics before covering everything again after I took my photos. If he didn’t, the marine fauna and flora will attack the ruins. I often played hide and seek with schools of fishes grazing above the tiles. Everywhere the guide pointed there were treasures I was excited to capture.”

Danny Green – Polar Bear Battle Ground

The Males

Churchill is a small town situated on the southern shores of the Hudson Bay. This place is special as it is situated smack bang in the middle of a historic migration route for polar bears. In the Autumn a good number of polar bears cover the tundra and shores. Photographer Danny Green has been travelling here for over 10 years now to capture the spectacle.

“This is what the bears have been waiting for,” explains Green. “When four or five males come together in Churchill something special happens. The males start to play fight.” Scientists think this is to test their strength so that when the polar bears fight for the right to breed, they know which males they cannot compete with. “I personally think it is just a bit of fun to pass the time as they wait for the ice to form,” says Green. “This sparring is unique to Churchill and is one of the best things to witness in the natural world. Two of the largest predators on earth just messing around.”

The Females

Females avoid the sparring males and stay further inland. As the ice starts to form along the coast the males are the first to head out in the search for their first meal since the spring. “It is at this point you can start to see females with cubs,” says Green. “They can be very nervous at this critical stage because they could bump into a large male at any time. As a result, I haven’t had many opportunities to photograph females with young cubs. When I spotted this female and two cubs walking across the frozen lake it was pretty special (below left).”

Steven Kazlowski – Bear Necessities

Challenges of the Arctic

Photographer Steven Kazlowski has been photographing polar bears since 1999. Not a lot of photographers chose to capture the arctic environment at this time. Kazlowski decided to take on the challenge. He lived in a station wagon and worked in a local hotel in Kaktovik on Barter Island, photographing the bears in his spare time. Kaktovik was one of the best places to photograph the bears as they stay there a long time. Today Kazlowski has an incredible collection of polar bear images, including the following most recent of his images.

Photographing one of nature’s most formidable predators, weighting up to 700kg, in the harsh arctic environment does not come without its challenges. Careful assessment of weather conditions and the behaviour of the polar bears is vital, otherwise the task can be very dangerous. Kazlowski explains that 20 years of observing and learning to understand the animals has allowed him to predict where the bears will be and whether it is safe to approach them. Understanding their behaviour and biology is imperative for getting intimate shots of the animals.

Special Shots

The image below is described by Kazlowski as one of the “most special pictures I have ever taken.” By positioning a camera with a remote trigger on the end of a pole Kazlowski was able to capture this polar bear looking directly towards the camera. Multiple encounters with the bear meant its shy personality began to shine through. “He was a gentle giant, curious by nature but jumping back at any movements I made,” says Kazlowski. “I had to hold my breath to capture this image.”

Every day of photographing bears in the arctic is a new unique scenario. “The day this image was taken (bottom right) it was freezing cold. The lagoons were icing over, by a millimetre per hour, and there was going to be no boating tomorrow,” says Kazlowski. “As this polar bear shook water from its head the droplets froze mid-air.”

“Another special shot for me is this low angle, telephoto image of a polar bear at sunset (bottom left). The black silhouette of the bear is the same colour as the land, connecting the bear to its environment. The bear and the land are one and the same, symbolising the interconnected nature of our natural environment.”

 

Shin Arunrugstichai – A Marine Misunderstanding

Eight Mile Rock of the Adang-Rawi Archipelago, Thailand held no interest to divers, until the pandemic. The location was an ugly sight, covered in ghost nets from commercial fishing boats. However, “during the pandemic a few divers discovered, from local artisanal fishers of the Urak Lawoi ethnic group, that whale sharks often visit this site,” says photographer Shin Arunrugstichai. The whale sharks feed on plankton soup and the site is now reported to have the highest sightings of whale sharks in Thai waters.

However, this revelation has come with problems. The local Urak Lawoi group deploy fish traps on the pinnacles. The cleverly designed and carefully located fish traps are highly selective, targeting specific groups of fish. The catch is generally low in contrast to the destructive, non-selective fishing gear utilized by industrial fishers. These techniques largely contribute to overfishing in Thai waters. Unfortunately, recreational divers do not understand the difference and occasionally destroy the traps or release the fish caught.

“Some engagement and understanding would help ease this conflict between small scale fishers and recreational divers,” says Arunrugstichai. “This way everybody can use the pinnacle and its marine resources in a sustainable way.”

Joel Sartore / Photo Ark – Portraits of the Weird and the Wonderful

Photo Ark is a ground breaking effort to document species before they disappear. Founder and photographer, Joel Sartore, shares his recent experience capturing the personalities of some of the quirkier species:

Naked Mole Rat

“The naked mole rat was the first species I photographed for the National Geographic Photo Ark some 16 years ago at the Lincoln Children’s Zoo in Lincoln, Nebraska, USA. I have photographed more than 13,000 species since then, including this reshoot of the naked mole rat at the St. Louis Zoo. They have a social structure similar to bees, with a queen, soldiers and workers. These fascinating animals are basically blind, living in a complex of tunnels they dig with their teeth. Really amazing in every way.”

 

 

Striped Possum

“This marsupial species is found mainly in New Guinea. Although these creatures have a strong sense of smell and a growl when angry, this one was a real sweetheart. It was an educational animal at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium and was very easy to work with during our short photo shoot.”

Talaud Bear Cuscus

“I photographed this critically endangered creature at a private collection in Jakarta, Indonesia. Inside the photo shooting tent this animal was calm. He was checking out his own reflection in my camera lens. When facing a threat or curious about new surroundings this species will often stand up on its hind legs.”

Long-Eared Jerboa

“With some of the biggest ears relative to body size of any mammal, this creature is one of the most interesting small animals on board the Photo Ark. I photographed this individual at the Moscow Zoo several years ago, which is known for having an impressive collection of unusual rodents.”

Brown-Throated Sloth

“This young sloth was photographed at the PanAmerican Conservation Association wildlife rehab centre in Gamboa, Panama. The orphaned sloth was being hand-reared for eventual release back into the wild. He is shown hanging from the arm of his primary human caregiver. So long as he could hold onto his adopted ‘mum’, he was quite content.”

Tony Wu – Live Streaming

Limpets are usually seen clamped to rocks, their cone-shaped shells benign and unmoving. But when it comes to breeding, these static sea snails suddenly live life in the fast lane. This species, Lottia emydia, was photographed by Tony Wu in a rarely-seen spawning event. A female has peeled herself from the rock into a vertical position, in order to eject a stream of bright red eggs into the water. In this vulnerable position, the tender underbelly of the limpet is exposed. The launching of eggs lasted no longer than a second or two before the no-nonsense gastropod was clinging to the rock once again.

The behaviour is known as broadcast spawning, a form of sexual reproduction that takes place in the water, rather than inside the body. In order to achieve high rates of fertilisation, female limpets must eject their gametes at the same time as the males release milky-white clouds of sperm into the water. This synchronous spawning is fundamental to success, though the exact timing and environmental cues are not well understood.

When Wu first entered the water, there were only a few limpets scattered around in the shallows. An hour later, hundreds had gathered, in a throng that appeared to be gaining momentum. But ultimately, only a handful of limpets spawned. “Exactly why they had gathered, seemingly without a mass synchronised spawning event, is a mystery,” says Wu.

Lewis Jefferies – A Vivid Underwater World

The Maxima Clam, also known as the Small Giant Clam, displays incredible vivid blue colours. The clams are found on the seabed throughout the Indo-Pacific oceans. Their beautiful, bright colours are a result of symbiotic algae living within their cells. The algae provide the clam with energy from photosynthesis and the clam contains special cells which scatter light, increasing the photosynthetic efficiency of the algae.

“Two organisms working together to survive, how awesome!” exclaims photographer Lewis Jefferies. “Capturing these beautiful creatures required achieving perfect buoyancy and good trim to hover in the water. Any sudden movement would disturb the clam and cause it to snap shut.” Jefferies felt elated to capture this image as unfortunately these molluscs are in high demand by the aquarium trade. As a result, the species is massively declining due to overfishing.

Vishal Jadhav – Unusual Behaviors in India

In Maharashtra, India photographer Vishal Jadhav witnessed fascinating and unique behaviour from the wildlife.

Blue-Bearded Bee-Eater

Deep in the jungle of the Western Ghats, Jadhav came across this blue-bearded bee-eater offering a big bee to its partner, as a nuptial gift,  part of the birds’ courtship display. The pair’s chicks had just fledged and they were ready to start nesting again. “Finding the birds performing nesting and courtship behaviour is tough due to the density of the jungle,” says Jadhav. “Staying in the same place and observing these bee-eaters for over 13 hours helped me capture these interesting behaviours.”

Otters vs Feral Dogs

In a small city called Chiplun a romp of smooth coated otters were searching for crabs and fish in the river. “The otters usually look for food here but lately there has been a big problem with an infestation of feral dogs attacking wildlife,” Jadhav says. “As I watched the otters, a pack of dogs spotted them. The dogs were on their way to a cow carcass on the other side of the bank but became side tracked with the potential of stealing food from the otters. Luckily, the otters took cover in the water and the dogs, too uncomfortable to follow, maintained their distance on the bank. I was fortunate to catch the action last minute with my drone.”

 

Guy Edwardes – Storm Hunting

“Every time there is a storm in the UK I try to capture its full effects, usually along the coast” says photographer Guy Edwardes. “I flew over from Slovenia in February to capture storm Eunice, luckily before the high winds began! I’d been tracking the approaching storm, whilst waiting at the airport, and worked out where the best place to photograph it might be. I decided the best plan would be to drive to Cornwall the night my flight landed, to catch the storm at full intensity.”

“I reached the coastal town of Porthleven at about 5am. It was still completely dark. The wind was strong but still increasing. High tide was at 6am, when the largest waves would be smashing against the coastline. I found a position that provided a clear view but some protection from the elements and began taking pictures straight way.”

“As it began to get light, I could see massive waves breaking over the cliffs, resulting in spray being blown over the town. I had to use a high ISO and a wide aperture to achieve a short enough exposure time to capture some shape and detail in the waves. The biggest challenge was eliminating vibration in the strong wind. I did this by using my largest video tripod along with camera and lens stabilisation. The wind became much stronger later in the morning, to the point where it became impossible to take pictures! Although, now the tide had dropped the waves were no longer breaking against the cliffs.”

Lukas Schäfer – Magic Moments

Ice Crystals

“Sometimes it is the moments you least expect that fill you with the most inspiration,” says photographer Lukas Schäfer. “I had been lying ill in bed for a few days when I began to get bored. It was very cold in the morning and every day I got up and saw beautiful ice crystals on my window. I had wanted to capture them for quite some time and now this was my chance. I set up my camera early and captured a time-lapse of the crystals as they formed.”

Rainbow Spray

“Every spring, when melt water fills the rivers in the Alps, I love to seek out and capture waterfalls,” says Schäfer. “There is something magical about them, particularly when the sun hits the spray, creating dancing rainbows. Getting footage of this is quite tricky, as the waterfall creates a lot of wind and moisture. To capture this particular rainbow, I stood right in the middle of the spray. I covered my camera with a rain cover and had to wipe the water droplets off of my lens after every shoot. After a few hours I was completely soaked, even though I was wearing a raincoat!”

Moon Rise

“It was a last-minute decision to hike a mountain in the Dolomites near Cortina d’Ampezzo, with the intention of seeing the full moon rise,” says Schäfer. “I have wanted to capture the moon rising behind the towers of the ‘croda da lago,’ a very unique mountain range in the dolomites, for quite sometime now. I calculated where this might happen and set up my time-lapse camera. The moon began to rise in the perfect place, right in the gap between the towers. Magical!”

 

Take a look at our August Highlights Gallery for more of our August 2022 highlights.

Or you can explore our print site where you can find our August Highlights Prints Gallery