Masai giraffe, Naboisho Conservancy, Kenya by Pie Aerts
“One hour into my afternoon game drive I started to sense change in the air,” says Dutch photographer Pie Aerts. “Wind began to rock the grass, ghostly shapes crowded the skies and all the wildlife started to run for cover.
“The rumbling sound of thunder behind us announced one of the wildest afternoons I’ve ever experienced in Africa. Torrential rains hit us – hectic winds and flashes everywhere. But we kept pushing deeper into the storm, finding all sorts of angles in a landscape that felt like another planet. It was as if the whole world was ours – one giant playground. Then after two hours it suddenly stopped.
“For a minute, the entire bush went into pure silence, then animals started to emerge from thickets and came onto the horizon, including a few giraffes. The warm glow of sunshine emerged, as if the sky was crying and laughing at the same time. I reminded myself once again to always run into the rain, rather than away from it.”
Southern white rhino, Solio Ranch, Kenya by Joachim Schmeisser
It’s experiences like this, and a wider passion for the natural world, that led Aerts and Austrian travel photographer Marion Payr to set up Prints for Wildlife, one of the world’s most successful print sale fundraisers.
Since launching in 2020, it has raised more than $1.75 million [£1.45 million] for conservation non-profit organisation African Parks, with two editions of print sales featuring many of the world’s best photographers, including Beverly Joubert, Brent Stirton, Greg du Toit and Steve Winter, alongside emerging talent from developing nations.
The original campaign was borne out of the pandemic, which grounded many photographers. “When the world came to a standstill in 2020, Marion and myself were stuck at home with all our travels cancelled,” Aerts recalls. “Then we got the first reports from conservation areas about how the pandemic affected their efforts. This was the starting point. We quickly thought of an idea to support these places we cherish so much.”
Prints for Wildlife managed to rally global support and raise funds at a time that funding for many charities was dropping. “This success has 100% been determined by the collective energy we managed to generate across the 175 contributing photographers, as well as the thousands of people that supported us in our efforts to make a difference,” Aerts says.
“The power of community has been one of the driving forces behind our campaign, as well as our belief that African Parks is the number one organisation that deserves support due to their people-first approach to conservation as well as their continent-wide impact.”
Gentoo penguins, Antarctic peninsular, Antarctica by Lucia Griggi
Aerts adds, “Fast-forward to 2022 and, two editions later, the world has started moving again, but there’s greater need than ever to work on protecting unique ecosystems, while providing benefits for people and wildlife. The world is facing global crises like climate change and biodiversity loss, and we can’t stand witness without doing our small share to try and protect natural spaces, which serve as valuable sources of water, clean air, carbon sequestration and so much more.”
Prints for Wildlife is returning for a third edition on 28 August 2022, with limited numbers of prints on sale for $100 each from more than 100 photographers, including Will Burrard-Lucas, Drew Doggett, Joachim Schmeisser, Karim Iliya, Marsel van Oosten, Ami Vitale and Gaël Ruboneka Vande Weghe. Again, all profits will go to African Parks, who manage 20 parks in 11 countries on behalf of African governments for the benefit of local communities and wildlife, the largest and most ecologically diverse portfolio of protected areas in Africa under rehabilitation by any one organisation.
With nearly 50% of Africa’s landmass suffering degradation, and the rapidly increasing effects that biodiversity loss has on the climate crisis, the money will benefit African Parks’ mission to help safeguard 30 million hectares of Africa’s protected areas, contributing to the global target of protecting 30% of nature on Earth by 2030.
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on wildlife, conservation projects and funding, as well as communities across Africa. But it has also been a wake-up call.
“The pandemic has awakened people in various ways when it comes to awareness about the relationship between humans, wildlife and nature,” suggests Aerts. “We’re increasingly suffering from a collective disconnect, and we hope that our initiative contributes in bringing people together. We really hope it shows you don’t need to be in a powerful position to make a difference.”
Cheetahs, Mara North Conservancy, Kenya by Andy Parkinson