Into the Wild

Mes­meris­ing images of en­dan­gered wildlife by Sean Lee-davies go on dis­play this month in a char­ity ex­hi­bi­tion. The pho­tog­ra­pher tells Madeleine Ross about his mis­sion to fight the il­le­gal wildlife trade

Hong Kong Tatler - - Life -

"Right now, there’s a world war against wildlife tak­ing place,” says en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist Sean Lee-davies. It’s hard to be­lieve such a war is tak­ing place as you gaze at the pho­tog­ra­pher and film­maker’s dream-like images of whale sharks glid­ing through azure oceans and free-divers danc­ing in whim­si­cal un­der­wa­ter land­scapes. The pho­to­graphs were cap­tured on Lee-davies’ re­cent trip to the Philip­pines and the Mal­dives and will ap­pear in Love is Wild, a char­ity ex­hi­bi­tion he hopes will in­spire peo­ple to pro­tect the world’s rarest liv­ing trea­sures and raise funds to com­bat the trade in en­dan­gered wildlife. Whale sharks are tar­geted for their fins, which are used in tra­di­tional Chi­nese shark fin soup and can fetch prices of up to US$20,000. The world’s most vi­brant reefs, too, are un­der threat from ex­ces­sive tourism and ship­ping.

There’s even more dis­tress­ing news for ma­jes­tic crea­tures of the land, such as ele­phants and rhinoceroses. Be­tween 2010 and 2013, around 100,000 African ele­phants were slaugh­tered for their tusks—most of which were il­le­gally sold in Asia. Last year, more than 1,000 rhinoceroses were poached in South Africa alone for their horns, which are worth up to US$70,000 each on the black mar­ket. The fi­brous horn, cov­eted for its fa­bled medic­i­nal qual­i­ties, is falsely be­lieved in Asia to be a rem­edy for every­thing from fevers to can­cer. At the cur­rent rate of killing, Lee-davies notes, it is es­ti­mated that the black rhino will be ex­tinct in 15 years. Other images from his re­cent trip to Mount Leuser in Su­ma­tra high­light the plight of na­tive tigers and orang­utans, the num­bers of which are de­clin­ing rapidly be­cause of il­le­gal de­for­esta­tion and poach­ing. About 12 mil­lion hectares of Su­ma­tran for­est have been cleared in the past 22 years, a loss of nearly 50 per cent, he notes.

“We in Asia must take the lion’s share of the re­spon­si­bil­ity as most of the de­mand orig­i­nates here,” says Lee-davies, who shares anec­dotes about his ex­hi­bi­tion’s key images on the fol­low­ing pages. “Ele­phants and rhi­nos are just the tip of the ice­berg. An­i­mals of all shapes and sizes are be­ing tar­geted in a trade now only sec­ond in size to the il­licit drugs trade. Love is Wild is my hum­ble at­tempt to try to ad­dress the wors­en­ing sit­u­a­tion. I hope that if I can get peo­ple to care about th­ese an­i­mals and form an emo­tional con­nec­tion, then we are more likely to do more to save them.”

Love is Wild is at the Liang Yi Mu­seum from Novem­ber 11-17 and Ga­lerie Huit from 20-24. The images go to auc­tion at the Out of Africa Char­ity Gala Ball at the Is­land Shangri-la on Novem­ber 26. For more in­for­ma­tion, visit pro­jectc­cha­

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