On the Front Line of Conservation
As part of a week of wildlife art from the David Shepherd Foundation, The Bigger Picture captures the work of Zambian park rangers
Article by Rupert Watkins
Anti-poaching conservation is big news – the interest shown in the area by the two Royal princes ensures that it gets it share of headlines. As part of this year’s David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation exhibition at the Mall Galleries, a visual exhibition, The Bigger Picture, looks at the efforts being made by wildlife rangers in Zambia’s remote Kafue National Park to tackle this issue.
Award winning film maker Dieter Deswarte was accompanied by photographer Dave McKay and wildlife artist Freddy Paske. Both ex-British Army, the two had met through the Heropreneurs charity, “we were the only two creative people in the room” recalls Dave with a smile. Linking up, their initial idea was to return to Afghanistan – they both did operational tours out there – to chronicle what has happened since international forces had largely left. Given this was a somewhat risky (insane Ed) venture and in Freddy’s words, “we wanted to give something back rather than simply push ourselves in our second careers” they settled on conservation and found themselves being put in contact with the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation.
Unlike other parts of Africa where a toxic mixture of Chinese money and demand for ivory has led to more or less outright warfare between poachers and rangers, the problem in Zambia is more subtle. The country still lags slightly behind other African countries in investment into conservation but the big emphasis according to Dave is, “on the people, winning hearts and minds and trying to educate them.” Much poaching is for subsistence – there is a thriving but indiscriminate bush meat trade and a lot of work is done to attempt to prevent locals from going down the route of haphazard and aimless butchery.
Based out of the main ranger camp at Hookbridge in Kafue park, Dave, Freddy and Dieter were embedded with anti-poaching teams as they went about supplying their outlying posts; as it was rainy season some of these re-supply convoys took anything up to 36 hours. “It took a long time to build up the trust” comments Dave. Even with their military experience it was only towards the end of their month’s embed that the team were trusted enough to go out on a couple of smaller patrols with the park rangers. Dave shot extensively in film producing a series of large format portraits that will be in the exhibition whilst Freddy did a series of small watercolours and preparatory sketches. The proceeds from the exhibition at the Mall Galleries will go straight back to conservation projects in Zambia.
Both Freddy and Dave came to their art through differing means. Freddy read history of art at university and has long had a passion for drawing and painting. During his time in the Light Dragoons he only had the chance to do the occasional doodle, but upon his return from his operational tour was able to place a number in a small exhibition in Piccadilly which fired his desire to make it his second career, “luckily one or two things took off just as I was leaving” he grins. Dave came to his medium after a 22 year career in the Royal Signals when he was able to use the learning credits he had accumulated to do a photography degree.
Certainly Kafue and The Bigger Picture has made the pair keen to collaborate in the future. Despite the challenges of working in Zambia, from the bureaucracy to, in Dave’s case, working with a medium format Hasselbad camera in the deepest bush, the pair still chat about picking up the treads of their Afghanistan idea… In the immediate term, they aspire to take the exhibition over to Washington DC.
The Wildlife Artist of the Year exhibition sponsored by the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation runs June 28th – July 2nd.
Enquiries: Wildlife Artist of the Year 2017, Mall Galleries, The Mall, London / www.mallgalleries.org.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/wildlife-artist-year-2017