Why We Need (Ethical) Wildlife Photography Now More Than Ever
By Tara Lohan
Melissa Groo learned that early on. Her unconventional path to become an award-winning wildlife photographer began with listening.
Spurred by a deep curiosity about the way animals communicate, she left a job in Ohio focused on school reform and moved to Ithaca, N.Y., to study with renowned zoologist Katy Payne, an expert in the field of bioacoustics.
During six years as a research assistant with Payne at Cornell's Center for Conservation Bioacoustics, including two field seasons in the Central African Republic, Groo built a lot of the skills she'd come to use later: waiting, watching and also listening.
Several years later, when she took a digital photography class at a community college and became hooked on the craft, she realized she could combine that new skill with her work in conservation and her compassion for animals.
Today her work is represented by the National Geographic Image Collection. She writes a regular column for Outdoor Photographer, is a contributing editor for Audubon and helped create a Guide to Ethical Bird Photography with naturalist Kenn Kaufman.
The Revelator spoke with Groo about why empathy is a key skill in wildlife photography, the challenges of an ethical practice in the social media age, and her favorite shot.
What drives you in your work, and what do you hope people learn?
The world is full of pretty pictures and digital photography has made incredible photography possible by so many of us now. But I feel that, especially given the state of the world and the environment, what's needed more than just a pretty picture is a sense of advocacy and a real sense of conservation and compassion.
I'm very much drawn to the accuracy and honesty in the depiction of an animal and really showing the challenges to that animal's life or interesting behavior that we haven't seen much in pictures before.
I'll do quite a bit of research before I share a photo or before I talk about a particular issue because I'm often seeking to educate with my photos about a particular challenge that a species is facing or ways that we can better support local wildlife.
For example, I work with a wildlife hospital and sometimes I go in to capture human-caused disturbances to local wildlife. So, let's say a great blue heron comes in that's been entangled in fishing line. I'll photograph it when it comes in and then I'll photograph it later while it's being treated and rehabilitated. And then I'll photograph the eventual release.
So I tell that complete story and then I use that story in a number of ways to try to educate people and give them information about how we can avoid things like this in our community.
That's the thing with conservation photography. It's not just about when you click the shutter. It's what do you do with those photos after, how you educate with those photos, whether it's the words that you put with them or the hands you get those photos into.
You’ve written a lot about the ethics of your field. How do wildlife photographers make sure they aren’t harming wildlife?
It's about building a caring and compassion for the subject into your fieldcraft. And I think that gets lost a lot in this day and age when social media is king and people are trying to get the most "likes." They're cutting corners sometimes at the expense of the subject.
We want to get close, as photographers, but we need to know how to minimize our disruption. It's really incumbent on us because wildlife face so many threats and challenges from all sides.
I always recommend that people study their subject before they go photograph to learn about the stressors for this animal, their habits, the signs of alarm or distress and how can we be better alert to those signs. People need to know if a particular animal is likely to abandon its nest or its den if you're hanging out there for hours.
As important as knowing the right settings on your camera is building that empathy and that care into your fieldcraft and really thinking whether a picture is worth it. To us, this is just about a photo. But to wildlife, every single moment is about survival.
It seems like some wildlife photography can actually be downright exploitative. How do we as viewers recognize those images?
I'm really passionate about the photography of captive animals and trying to educate people on how to make choices about what sorts of facilities are ethical and really do care for their animals. And what sort of facilities, such as photography game farms, are completely exploitative.
At these game farms wild animals are kept in small cages, except when they're trotted out for paying photographers. And when these photographers go away with these photos and they don't tell the truth of these animals' lives and they try to hoodwink their viewers into thinking this is authentically in the wild, it gives a lie to that animal's life. And to me, it does an injustice to the animal as well as to the field of authentic wildlife photography.
Unfortunately the onus is on us now to differentiate ourselves from the unfortunate practices that are a blemish on the entire field of wildlife photography, like baiting of raptors. I think it's really important for people to give accurate and honest captions and to let people know how you got a shot. It's one way to stand out from photographers who don't care about animal welfare and will do whatever it takes to get that stunning shot that's going to get them a lot of likes on social media.
You initially got into conservation work because of your interest in sounds, particularly how animals communicate. We think of photography as being very visual, but do you rely a lot on listening?
Yes, having learned the sounds of birds has been a great tool for me. I live next to this big state forest and I'll drive through with all my windows rolled down and I'm listening so hard. When I hear a species that I'm interested in, I know that I can stop and invest time trying to track that bird down and trying to photograph it.
I also use the sounds of other animals to alert me to something that I want to photograph.
Once I found this great horned owl because I heard all these crows mobbing something in the forest and I went running into the forest with my camera, and sure enough, they were mobbing a great horned owl.
Chipmunks have different chip warning calls for aerial predators than they do for terrestrial predators. If I hear them giving that the special call for aerial predators, then I know maybe there's a Cooper's hawk out in the yard.
I think it really helps you to be a better photographer if you're a naturalist — even if you're just a real amateur naturalist, which I consider myself.
Do you have a favorite species you like to photograph?
I love birds — just my backyard birds — owls and all kinds of birds.
I'm also really passionate about predators, particularly wild dogs like coyotes and foxes. And wild cats, like bobcats and lions. I've never seen a lynx but it's high on my list.
I'm fascinated with elusive predators. I feel there's a real place for them in natural communities and I'm always trying to change minds about them. A lot of people regard these animals — mostly bobcats, foxes and coyotes — as varmint. And that makes me crazy. I think these are really special animals and knowing that they are around me where I live in upstate New York just lends so much magic and mystery and beauty to the landscape.
I love to travel to Africa and photograph the exquisite animals there. And I've loved photographing the spirit bear in British Columbia. But my favorite photo of all time was taken two miles from my house because it was two miles from my house. But also because it depicts a bobcat mother and her kit nuzzling each other. It's such a rare photo and it's such a rare moment in the wild to have been able to glimpse and to have captured on film.
It's those moments that I live for.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
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By Ana Maldonado-Contreras
- Your gut is home to trillions of bacteria that are vital for keeping you healthy.
- Some of these microbes help to regulate the immune system.
- New research, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, shows the presence of certain bacteria in the gut may reveal which people are more vulnerable to a more severe case of COVID-19.
You may not know it, but you have an army of microbes living inside of you that are essential for fighting off threats, including the virus that causes COVID-19.
How Do Resident Bacteria Keep You Healthy?<p>Our immune defense is part of a complex biological response against harmful pathogens, such as viruses or bacteria. However, because our bodies are inhabited by trillions of mostly beneficial bacteria, virus and fungi, activation of our immune response is tightly regulated to distinguish between harmful and helpful microbes.</p><p>Our bacteria are spectacular companions diligently helping prime our immune system defenses to combat infections. A seminal study found that mice treated with antibiotics that eliminate bacteria in the gut exhibited an impaired immune response. These animals had low counts of virus-fighting white blood cells, weak antibody responses and poor production of a protein that is vital for <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1019378108" target="_blank">combating viral infection and modulating the immune response</a>.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0184976" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In another study</a>, mice were fed <em>Lactobacillus</em> bacteria, commonly used as probiotic in fermented food. These microbes reduced the severity of influenza infection. The <em>Lactobacillus</em>-treated mice did not lose weight and had only mild lung damage compared with untreated mice. Similarly, others have found that treatment of mice with <em>Lactobacillus</em> protects against different <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/srep04638" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">subtypes of</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-17487-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">influenza</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008072" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">virus</a> and human respiratory syncytial virus – the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-39602-7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">major cause of viral bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children</a>.</p>
Chronic Disease and Microbes<p>Patients with chronic illnesses including Type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease exhibit a hyperactive immune system that fails to recognize a harmless stimulus and is linked to an altered gut microbiome.</p><p>In these chronic diseases, the gut microbiome lacks bacteria that activate <a href="https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1198469" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">immune cells</a> that block the response against harmless bacteria in our guts. Such alteration of the gut microbiome is also observed in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1002601107" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">babies delivered by cesarean section</a>, individuals consuming a poor <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nature12820" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">diet</a> and the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11053" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elderly</a>.</p><p>In the U.S., 117 million individuals – about half the adult population – <a href="https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/guidelines/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">suffer from Type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease or a combination of them</a>. That suggests that half of American adults carry a faulty microbiome army.</p><p>Research in my laboratory focuses on identifying gut bacteria that are critical for creating a balanced immune system, which fights life-threatening bacterial and viral infections, while tolerating the beneficial bacteria in and on us.</p><p>Given that diet affects the diversity of bacteria in the gut, <a href="https://www.umassmed.edu/nutrition/melody-trial-info/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">my lab studies show how diet can be used</a> as a therapy for chronic diseases. Using different foods, people can shift their gut microbiome to one that boosts a healthy immune response.</p><p>A fraction of patients infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease, develop severe complications that require hospitalization in intensive care units. What do many of those patients have in common? <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6912e2.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Old age</a> and chronic diet-related diseases like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.</p><p><a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jada.2008.12.019" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Black and Latinx people are disproportionately affected by obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease</a>, all of which are linked to poor nutrition. Thus, it is not a coincidence that <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6933e1.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these groups have suffered more deaths from COVID-19</a> compared with whites. This is the case not only in the U.S. but also <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/blacks-in-britain-are-four-times-as-likely-to-die-of-coronavirus-as-whites-data-show/2020/05/07/2dc76710-9067-11ea-9322-a29e75effc93_story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in Britain</a>.</p>
Discovering Microbes That Predict COVID-19 Severity<p>The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired me to shift my research and explore the role of the gut microbiome in the overly aggressive immune response against SARS-CoV-2 infection.</p><p>My colleagues and I have hypothesized that critically ill SARS-CoV-2 patients with conditions like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease exhibit an altered gut microbiome that aggravates <a href="https://theconversation.com/exercise-may-help-reduce-risk-of-deadly-covid-19-complication-ards-136922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">acute respiratory distress syndrome</a>.</p><p>Acute respiratory distress syndrome, a life-threatening lung injury, in SARS-CoV-2 patients is thought to develop from a <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cytogfr.2020.05.003" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">fatal overreaction of the immune response</a> called a <a href="https://theconversation.com/blocking-the-deadly-cytokine-storm-is-a-vital-weapon-for-treating-covid-19-137690" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cytokine storm</a> <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30216-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">that causes an uncontrolled flood</a> <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30216-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">of immune cells into the lungs</a>. In these patients, their own uncontrolled inflammatory immune response, rather than the virus itself, causes the <a href="http://doi.org/10.1007/s00134-020-05991-x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">severe lung injury and multiorgan failures</a> that lead to death.</p><p>Several studies <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trsl.2020.08.004" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">described in one recent review</a> have identified an altered gut microbiome in patients with COVID-19. However, identification of specific bacteria within the microbiome that could predict COVID-19 severity is lacking.</p><p>To address this question, my colleagues and I recruited COVID-19 hospitalized patients with severe and moderate symptoms. We collected stool and saliva samples to determine whether bacteria within the gut and oral microbiome could predict COVID-19 severity. The identification of microbiome markers that can predict the clinical outcomes of COVID-19 disease is key to help prioritize patients needing urgent treatment.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.01.05.20249061" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">We demonstrated</a>, in a paper which has not yet been peer reviewed, that the composition of the gut microbiome is the strongest predictor of COVID-19 severity compared to patient's clinical characteristics commonly used to do so. Specifically, we identified that the presence of a bacterium in the stool – called <em>Enterococcus faecalis</em>– was a robust predictor of COVID-19 severity. Not surprisingly, <em>Enterococcus faecalis</em> has been associated with <a href="https://doi.org/10.1053/j.gastro.2011.05.035" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">chronic</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/S0002-9440(10)61172-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">inflammation</a>.</p><p><em>Enterococcus faecalis</em> collected from feces can be grown outside of the body in clinical laboratories. Thus, an <em>E. faecalis</em> test might be a cost-effective, rapid and relatively easy way to identify patients who are likely to require more supportive care and therapeutic interventions to improve their chances of survival.</p><p>But it is not yet clear from our research what is the contribution of the altered microbiome in the immune response to SARS-CoV-2 infection. A recent study has shown that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.12.11.416180" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">SARS-CoV-2 infection triggers an imbalance in immune cells</a> called <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/imr.12170" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">T regulatory cells that are critical to immune balance</a>.</p><p>Bacteria from the gut microbiome are responsible for the <a href="https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.30916.001" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">proper activation</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1198469" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">of those T-regulatory</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nri.2016.36" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cells</a>. Thus, researchers like me need to take repeated patient stool, saliva and blood samples over a longer time frame to learn how the altered microbiome observed in COVID-19 patients can modulate COVID-19 disease severity, perhaps by altering the development of the T-regulatory cells.</p><p>As a Latina scientist investigating interactions between diet, microbiome and immunity, I must stress the importance of better policies to improve access to healthy foods, which lead to a healthier microbiome. It is also important to design culturally sensitive dietary interventions for Black and Latinx communities. While a good-quality diet might not prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection, it can treat the underlying conditions related to its severity.</p><p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/ana-maldonado-contreras-1152969" target="_blank">Ana Maldonado-Contreras</a> is an assistant professor of Microbiology and Physiological Systems at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.</em></p><p><em>Disclosure statement: Ana Maldonado-Contreras receives funding from The Helmsley Charitable Trust and her work has been supported by the American Gastroenterological Association. She received The Charles A. King Trust Postdoctoral Research Fellowship. She is also member of the Diversity Committee of the American Gastroenterological Association.</em></p><p><em style="">Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/a-healthy-microbiome-builds-a-strong-immune-system-that-could-help-defeat-covid-19-145668" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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