Call of the wild: Teen photographer warns Davos about animal extinction

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World-renowned wildlife activist Dame Jane Goodall and South African photographer Skye Meaker share the stage at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, in Davos. (WEF Photo)
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Skye Meaker was the recipient of the 2018 Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year award. (Courtesy Skye Meaker)
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Skye Meaker was the recipient of the 2018 Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year award. (Courtesy Skye Meaker)
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Limpy the leopard is one of Skye Meaker’s favorite subjects. (Courtesy Skye Meaker)
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Skye Meaker was the recipient of the 2018 Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year award. (Courtesy Skye Meaker)
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Limpy the leopard is one of Skye Meaker’s favorite subjects. (Courtesy Skye Meaker)
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Skye Meaker was the recipient of the 2018 Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year award. (Courtesy Skye Meaker)
Updated 25 January 2019

Call of the wild: Teen photographer warns Davos about animal extinction

  • Skye Meaker was joined onstage after his Davos speech by chimpanzee expert Dame Jane Goodall for a question and answer session
  • Meaker’s parents gave him a simple camera when he was seven and he used it during family trips into the African bush

LONDON: Teenager and award-winning photographer Skye Meaker has more years ahead of him than most people who attended the World Economic Forum in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos.

But the 17-year-old warned delegates at the annual gathering that, unless serious action was taken, some animal species were likely to die out during his lifetime.

Meaker, who lives in South Africa, was invited to Davos after being crowned Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year and used images from his portfolio to drive home his message.

“I’m talking about my story in wildlife photography to raise awareness of how the world’s wildlife population is being decimated,” he told Arab News ahead of the Davos meeting. “I’m very nervous. I got the invitation in November and I’ve been working on my speech for the past two months. Basically, I just want to show the beauty of nature.”

The photo that won him the top prize in the world’s largest international wildlife photography competition was called Lounging Leopard, a portrait of a female leopard relaxing in a tree and taken in Botswana.

He has known the portrait subject since he was 8 and feels they have developed a rapport.

“In a sense we’ve grown up together. I named her Limpy because when she was a cub she fell out of a tree and broke her leg. I can tell it’s her from her tracks because one leg drags. She also has more prominent whiskers and she’s a bit smaller than other leopards. I think she feels safe around me. She is one of the friendlier leopards. She’s never bothered by vehicles and she stretches out on our vehicle whenever I’m in it,” he said.

Meaker has been taking photographs for more than half his life. His parents gave him a simple camera when he was 7 and he used it during family trips into the African bush.

There were other events, too, that propelled him toward his passion for conservation and photography. He met the wildlife photographer Greg du Toit during a family holiday in Kenya aged 13. Du Toit, after seeing the teen’s photos, advised him to enter the Young Wildlife Photographer competition run by the Natural History Museum in London. It receives tens of thousands of entries from 96 countries.

Meaker reached the finals.

The following year, the 50th anniversary of the award, he was again placed in the under-14 category and met his hero, the celebrated naturalist and broadcaster, Sir David Attenborough.

“He signed a book of my photos for me and gave me some words of encouragement,” he said.

Last year it was Limpy who brought him the top prize. Unusually for a wildlife picture, it is not an action shot. It is a close-up and shows her gazing into the distance.

“It looks like there’s nothing going on but really there’s lots going on. What’s she looking at? What’s she thinking?”

Meaker had spotted the leopard snoozing in a tree and then drove around, hoping she would wake up. She opened her eyes just as a shaft of light fell across her face.

He was joined onstage after his Davos speech by chimpanzee expert Dame Jane Goodall for a question and answer session. She asked him to work with her Roots and Shoots program, which encourages children in 80 countries to get involved in nature exploration.

“I’d love to!” he replied.

“Good, we’ll talk about it later,” said Dame Jane.

He plans to study accounting for income support during future photography trips.

“I can quite happily live in the bush for a month or two,” he said.

As for Limpy, she recently gave birth to her second cub. Naturally, Meaker has already photographed mother and baby.


Maleficent, Angelina Jolie’s misunderstood sorceress, returns

‘People aren’t born hard and aggressive,’ says Jolie. ‘Something happens and you don’t feel safe.’ (Supplied)
Updated 21 October 2019

Maleficent, Angelina Jolie’s misunderstood sorceress, returns

LOS ANGELES: No one is born the villain. Not Lucifer in Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, not Arthur Fleck in Todd Philips’ recent release “Joker,” and certainly not Maleficent, whom Angelina Jolie brought to life in 2014. Unlike “Joker,” however, “Maleficent,” a reimagining of Disney’s classic “Sleeping Beauty” (1959), was an open-hearted film, showing not only how the world can harden the pure of heart, but also how love can soften it once more.

“We think of her as evil and dark, and we asked why, and went deeper,” says Jolie of the character. “Most women — most people — aren’t born with a certain hardness and aggression; something happens in your life where you lose trust, you don’t feel safe, and you start to fight and you protect yourself in a different way.”

“Maleficent” shows not only how the world can harden the pure of heart, but also how love can soften it once more. (Supplied)

In “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil,” the sequel set six years later, Maleficent hardly lives up to that title, but rumor would have it otherwise. The story of the ‘sleeping beauty’ Aurora (Elle Fanning) has spread across the land, painting Maleficent as the villain, rather than the one whose love saved her. Now, as Aurora plans to marry Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson), Maleficent must meet the neighboring Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), who wishes to destroy Maleficent and her magical world.

“When you see a leader like (Ingrith), who is so angry, so hostile, and who believes that the only way to survive is to destroy the other… we make it very clear in this film that she’s afraid, she’s weak and she’s ignorant. That’s why she’s behaving that way and that’s why she’s wrong,” Jolie says. “It’s not political, it’s not trying to be, but if you’re happy about the way the film ends, and it feels right, I think that heads you in the right direction, and for children it gives a nice guide.”

In the film, Maleficent must meet the neighboring Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), who wishes to destroy Maleficent and her magical world. (Supplied)

While the film features a lot of violent spectacle, the inner conflict of the lead characters themselves is whether they are strong enough to resist becoming violent, rather than the inverse.

“That’s something that isn’t portrayed a lot on screen — a lot of princesses grew up and they said, ‘Well, we’re going to make her a strong princess, and we’re going to make her tough, so we’re going to make her fight!’ Is that what being a strong woman means? We’re going to have to have a sword and armor on and fight? Aurora can do that in a different way, in a pink dress. It’s beautiful that she keeps her softness and vulnerabilities as her strengths,” says Fanning.

Redefining the ‘strong woman’ character is not just about redefining strength, for Jolie. It’s about lifting women up without pushing men down.

Harris Dickinson plays Prince Phillip in Disney's live-action “Maleficent.” (Supplied)

“We show diverse types of women, but we have extraordinary men in the film,” she says. “I really want to press that point, because I think so often when a story is told of a ‘strong woman’ she has to beat the man, or she has to be like the man, or she has to somehow not need the man. We both very much need and love and learn from the men. I think that’s also an important message for young girls — to find their own power, but to learn from and respect the men around them.”

For Maleficent, those men include Conall and Borra (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor and Ed Skrein respectively), both of whom are of the same race as her, cast out from the rest of the world. The two play out the conflict at the center of the film — whether the only path to peace is conflict, or whether diplomacy and goodwill can help.

Elle Fanning plays Aurora in “Maleficent.” (Supplied)

Ejiofor, who was nominated for an Academy Award for 2013’s “12 Years a Slave” says he was captivated by the film’s themes.

“It was an interesting conversation about leadership — what self-sacrifice means in terms of leadership — and has a real engagement with optimism and positivity in terms of leadership and what is beneficial to most people, and what part leadership plays in that. I felt there was something very rich in the script,” he says.

Even Prince Philip was built to break stereotypes and challenge perspectives, according to Dickinson.

Angelina Jolie brought Maleficent to life in 2014. (Supplied)

“I saw him as this young man trying to figure out how to find his voice and challenge the perspectives of his parents and rule in a more inclusive way,” he says. “(Director Joachim Rønning) and I spoke about him as not just the archetype of a Disney prince who comes along and saves the day.”

While Skrein’s Borra at first seems to be the cliched hawkish brute, he too turns out to be more openminded than he appears.

“The love and understanding of Conall’s message really resonated more, and we do see Borra go on a real arc or journey of his moral stance,” Skrein says. “I think that comes from Conall and that’s why we have to try and preach empathy and peace over violence as much as we can.”