Photographer gets close to rare animals
MANCHESTER -- It turns out there are second acts in the lives of photographers.
Ted Schiffman of Manchester has been photographing animals in the wild for more than 40 years and has thousands of visually arresting pictures to show for it. Lions, giraffes, elephants and zebras have appeared on the other side of his camera lenses since he made his first visit to Eastern Africa in the 1970s.
He has a storehouse of photographs depicting the animals at play, at rest, and in competition with each other and their environment -- and he has a foreboding about their future.
He sees "the horrors of the reduction of the species," he said. "I think we have been lazy or aloof or disconnected from the real issue of what's at stake here."
What's at stake, Schiffman thinks, is the very real possibility that many animals in the wild may be hunted into extinction.
When President Theodore Roosevelt made safari hunting one of his pastimes and made it popular, there were 7 to 10 million elephants roaming the continent of Africa, he said. Now, there are fewer than 500,000.
They are hunted for their ivory tusks, prized in certain parts of the world. Rhinoceros are even more endangered. Their horns are in demand throughout parts of Asia and the Middle East.
Last year was the worst year for rhinoceros poaching since records began being kept more than a century ago, the Los Angeles Times reported recently. At the current rate of poaching, the white rhinoceros will be extinct in 20 years, according to Popular Science Magazine, quoted in the L.A. Times story. A century ago, there were about 500,000.
It's those kinds of grim numbers that motivated Schiffman to continue photographing animals in the wild, and to extend the reach of his pictures through a series of illustrated books -- now more than 20. Nine of his books are geared especially toward younger readers, from ages 2 to 12. Four of those are coloring books, pairing his lush photographs of animals or the landscape of East Africa with black-and-white outlines that young artists can color in.
"For youngsters who are 3, 4, 5 years old, it's more about the process of having fun and exploring it; for older kids, it's the product that counts," he said, sounding like the art teacher he once was years ago. "I meant it to be a workbook in a sense."
The books are filled with interesting facts. Who knew, for instance, that grown-up giraffes can eat almost 100 pounds of food every day and spend about 20 hours per day eating? That's a lot of leaves. Or that adult elephants need to drink almost 100 gallons of water daily? And the tusks of an adult male elephant weigh about 200 pounds?
Some of the books, such as "Lions of Africa," tell stories, tracing the life of a young fictional lion and his pathway to adulthood.
While the underlying message may be a serious one, Schiffman tries to keep the tone upbeat. The books take three or four months to put together, he said. The photos are the easy part. Writing for young readers is more challenging, he said.
Beyond the moral issue of the survival of the threatened species like the rhinos, he has a real concern about how their disappearance -- or even their diminishing numbers -- would have on the economies of the East African nations like Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania that he has visited on 16 trips over the past four decades.
Bringing people to see those animals is a big business, and the revenue produced is significant, he said.
He regularly conducts photo safaris to that part of the world, and even amateur photographers, with the right equipment, can often come away with strong images, he said.
The main tool is a good telephoto lens, but on safari he will lead a group of travelers out into a nature preserve in a vehicle. Often, they can get almost startlingly close to an animal. Being quiet and not appearing threatening is, of course, a key to a good photograph, he added.
He has plans for several more books, he said, hoping to balance to fun and pleasure of seeing how animals live, and the somber reality of the threat to their existence.
"It is shocking that in the near future, perhaps in a decade, zoos may be the only place to see these wild animals," Schiffman writes in the author's foreward of "Spots and Stripes," his book about leopards, zebras, cheetahs and other felines. "This tragedy must raise some eyebrows and incite some action, if not to maintain our children's and grandchildren's ability to enjoy nature, then for the wonderful creatures whose lives in the wild will be forever lost."
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