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
"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 projectcchange.com