Thomas D. Mangelsen has been photographing earth’s last great wild places for more than four decades. Through extraordinary talent and patience, his portfolio contains some of the most iconic wildlife photographs of all time. But what Tom is most proud of is his contributions to conservation, and the opportunities his art has presented to him; in the way that he has been empowered to support environmental organizations through special events, projects and the sale of his photographs.
Here on the ground in Africa, Tom has been a phenomenal support to Saving the Wild in our mission to expose and eradicate corruption enabling wildlife poaching. It is critical Africa holds the line, so that when the demand is crushed, there are still animals to save. Ultimately, this war on poaching can only be won in China, in the wise words of WildAid’s mantra: When the buying stops, the killing can too.
Tom released his Legacy Reserve Collection a few weeks ago; his 40 rarest and most resonant images, numbered 1 to 20. He has donated number 8 of Amboseli Crossing ‘Elephants in the Dust’ to the WildAid Gala, taking place on 11 November in Los Angeles.
Tom has witnessed and participated in many struggles in the uphill battle for justice for wildlife, and he is particularly impressed with WildAid’s strategy to save elephants:
“Through public awareness campaigns, and the support of celebrity ambassadors that include Yao Ming and Jackie Chan, WildAid has had a positive impact on reducing China’s demand for ivory. This in turn has influenced government policies, and that is powerful stuff! I’m really looking forward to attending the gala and celebrating WildAid’s achievements.”
-Thomas D. Mangelsen
In 1989, CITES banned the global ivory trade. A failed experiment allowed Japan to buy 55 tons of ivory legally in 1999, resulting in a rise in smuggling. Then, in a bizarre move in 2008, China got the go to buy 73 tons of ivory from Africa. They built the world’s largest ivory carving factory and began opening shops to sell ivory.
Investigative reporting has shown that around 90% of the ivory that came out of China’s carving factories was post the 1989 ban – harvested from the illegal killing of elephants. A legal market had created a laundering channel for the illegal market to flourish.
The question that hangs in the air; Are you willing to own a piece of “art” that is driving an iconic species into extinction?
WildAid took ‘the elephant in the room’ to China, and through aspirational multi media campaigns, many Chinese people no longer believe tusks simply fall out like teeth, or that they grow back after being cut off without harming the elephants.
By November 2016, WildAid polls showed that 78% of Chinese who had previously bought ivory said they would not buy it again. Of these, 89% said that they had been convinced after learning that purchasing ivory can lead to the poaching of elephants. Support for a ban on the sale of ivory in China reached 95%.
In September 2015, the announcement from the United States and China that they will work together to enact “nearly complete bans” on the import and export of ivory was hailed as a game changer and a huge blow to ivory smugglers.
By the end of March this year, ivory factories in mainland China were officially shut down. The rest of the retail outlets have been ordered to close by the end of the year. Hong Kong, home to the world’s biggest retail ivory market, is procrastinating. They announced a bill in June 2017 that would ban the import and export of worked and raw ivory by 2021. There is still much work to be done.
Tom photographed his critically acclaimed, sold out Amboseli Crossing in 1994, and the impact of the 1989 ivory ban was palpable.
“My first time to Africa was in 1987,” he tells me. “And it was disturbing to see how some elephants would actually run away when they saw our game drive vehicle. The scent of humans terrified them. It got better after the ivory ban.”
Between 1979 and 1989, an estimated 600,000 elephants were murdered for their tusks.
“1994 was a very dry year for Kenya’s Amboseli Plains,” Tom continues as he explains how he captured the mesmerizing Amboseli Crossing. “During the day time the elephants would enjoy the food and water provided by the open marshes below Mt Kilamanjaro, and in the evening they would return to the canopies of the forest. On this particular day, as the sun began to set, the wind began to blow, and a steel blue sky blanketed the landscape. The dust and the low angle of the sun created a dramatic backdrop for the family of elephants approaching, at first side by side, led by the matriarch I would later come to know as Joyce.”
Tom then asked his guide to go a mile ahead, where they waited and hoped they were in the right spot. The elephants paid little attention to them, except for the final 80 yards when the matriarch communicated with her family to line up behind her, perhaps in a strategic move of caution. These sentient giants will go to great lengths to protect their family, and they have incredible communication skills which is beyond human comprehension.
“Suddenly the elephants were coming towards me in a perfect line, and their tails in synchrony. The soft evening light and the dark sky created an enchanting atmosphere. But back then I was shooting on film, and the focusing and depth of field was challenging. It would be weeks before I would see if I had been lucky enough to capture the magic.”
Amboseli Crossing is a tribute to a famous pachyderm mother named Joyce, matriarch to a much beloved sub-herd known as the “JA” Family. Their legacy as one of the most studied groups of elephants is especially poignant as poaching and habitat loss continue to reduce elephant numbers across Africa.
Cynthia Moss, founder and director of the Amboseli Trust for Elephants, is a huge admirer of the image, which she calls historic. “When you look at this 1994 Mangelsen photograph, Joyce had just taken over the role of matriarch because the “JA’s” glorious old matriarch Jezebel had died in November 1993,” Moss says.
Joyce was named after Joyce Poole who began her research career collaborating with Cynthia in 1975. “At the time Joyce was estimated to be 53 years old so she was an experienced female, well qualified to be a matriarch. She led her family successfully over the next 16 years until a devastating drought, along with a resurgence of poaching in Amboseli in 2009. Joyce died in April of that year. We suspect she was killed because of her beautiful tusks. We never found her carcass.”
Amboseli Crossing remains a powerful touchstone; an inspiration to fight on for a vanishing species that has roamed planet earth for 35 million years, and still has much to teach us humans about compassion and family.
To learn more about “Amboseli Crossing” visit http://www.mangelsen.com/legacy.
To attend the WildAid Gala, visit http://www.wildaid.org/gala2017.
When you become a collector of a Mangelsen Legacy Reserve masterwork, you also gain an unparalleled experience in art collecting. It includes a day in the field with the legendary photographer himself, searching for the iconic wildlife of Grand Teton National Park. The experience is capped off by an evening with conservationist Dr. Jane Goodall at Mangelsen’s home along the base of the Teton Mountains.