Fighting for her legacy…
I was always sobered by the experience of finding dead wild dogs while photographing for my book Underdogs. These are endangered creatures that I have dedicated the last three years of my career to and so I would like to think that my reaction is understandable. That said, nothing could have prepared me for the news that came through from South Africa that Stellar, the iconic alpha female of my Wildlife Photographer of the Year photograph Survivor, was dead.
Stellar’s life was characterised by tragic events. She had lost alpha mates and litters during her stressful and luckless existence on both Madikwe Game Reserve and Venetia Limpopo Nature Reserve. When she was translocated to KwaZulu-Natal’s Mkhuze Game Reserve in 2010 she had the chance of a fresh start and to put the troubles of the past behind her. For almost a year it seemed that she had done just that in raising a litter of four pups through their most challenging period in life. Sadly, Stellar, her alpha mate and one of their pups were recently found to be the victims of snares.
It is a difficult balance to strike for conservationists but the dropping of fences between protected reserves to create larger conservation areas often opens up land to poaching and the threat of disease. The death of Stellar and her family at the same time as other deaths in South Africa’s fragile wild dog population highlights the fight that conservation authorities, game rangers and anti-poaching scouts still have on their hands if the species is to be saved.
As I put the finishing touches to my book Underdogs, the fight on my hands is to do justice to the time that Stellar allowed me into her world. I am hoping that the book will not only raise greater awareness of these charismatic canids and the threats to their survival but that it will help to raise funds for greater protection and invaluable research. Keep an eye on my blog or website and follow me on twitter or facebook to find out when Underdogs is available and how you can help the African wild dog.