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A photographer has captured the beauty of elephants in work so powerful it may just help the species survive.
Stop Ivory, a NGO that helps protect elephants, commissioned the series from Martin Middlebrook, as a way to persuade decision-makers to tighten regulations on the illegal ivory trade that threatens the endangered species.
Middlebrook, who took the photos at various locations across Kenya, became so captivated by his subjects he almost got himself into serious trouble:
“I found myself underneath my vehicle as a herd of elephants approached too close,” Middlebrook said in a statement sent to The Huffington Post. “When looking through a long lens, you lose all sense of distance and I had no idea how near they were. Unable to scramble back in to my car, I slid out of sight. I remember lying there hoping my driver had spotted my retreat and didn’t decide to drive off to avoid the herd — and drive right over me.”
Despite his near-death experience, Middlebrook still managed to capture the magic of the majestic animals:
The photos will be exhibited at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora in Johannesburg, South Africa, in September 2016. CITES is an international agreement between governments, which provides varying levels of protection for species that are or may be in danger of extinction from international trade.
In 1989, a ban on international ivory trade was introduced by CITES after an estimated 100,000 elephants were killed per year during the 1980s, according to World Wildlife Fund. The ban allowed some populations to recover, but there are still some thriving and unregulated domestic ivory markets in a number of countries, which has fueled a recent surge in poaching, like China, which is a signatory at the upcoming convention.
Stop Ivory and Middlebrook hope these images will help maintain the international ban established by CITES in 1989, close domestic markets and put ivory stockpiles, like this one that Middlebrook shot at the Kenya Wildlife Service headquarters in Nairobi, beyond economic use:
“When I photographed the Ivory Stockpile held at the KWS HQ in Nairobi, I was angry. I was one of the few to be allowed access to their underground storage facility, and that was the moment that the true enormity of the project hit me,” Middlebrook saud,
“To photograph 140 tons of ivory, each tusk an elephant, and to witness some of the few remaining ‘tusker’ tusks, giant tusks from a genetic variation of elephants that are all but extinct now — it hit me hard. I stood in silence, a kind of ‘head bowed’ trance, trying to take it all in,” he said.
“But they are the best moments, the ones that strengthen your resolve — they provide the contrast, the beautiful herds strolling wild across African savannahs as I had just witnessed, against this bleak backdrop in an underground bunker.”